Public Administration

Graduate Program HeadL. Marvin Overby
Program CodePADM

Harrisburg (Ph.D., M.P.A.)

World Campus (M.P.A.)

Degrees Conferred

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Master of Public Administration (M.P.A.)

Joint J.D./M.P.A. with Dickinson Law

The Graduate Faculty


The mission of the Master of Public Administration (MPA) program is to advance the knowledge and skills necessary to manage and lead organizations engaged in public service in democratic and diverse societies. As the MPA program intends to assist those interested in public service careers in public management, public policy, and nonprofit fields, the curriculum balances theoretical and applied concepts to build students' abilities to understand, analyze, and manage environments with real-world experiences. The MPA program is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA).

The mission of the Ph.D. program in Public Administration is to provide advanced graduate education in theory and research in the field to prepare students for academic, research, and advanced professional careers in public administration. Each student is expected to graduate with:

  1. Research experience working with public administration faculty
  2. Experience in presentation of scholarly papers and posters at national and regional conferences
  3. Experience in developing, authoring, or co-authoring with a faculty member, and submitting at least one article for a refereed publication
  4. Teaching experience at the college/university level

Admission Requirements

Applicants apply for admission to the program via the Graduate School application for admission. Requirements listed here are in addition to Graduate Council policies listed under GCAC-300 Admissions Policies.

Master of Public Administration (M.P.A.)

Applicants who are still completing their baccalaureate requirements at the time of application may be provisionally admitted to the Graduate School conditional on the awarding of the baccalaureate degree.

Admission to the MPA program is based on clear suitability for the program as demonstrated by the application as a whole, including the following:

  • a completed application with the nonrefundable application fee; 
  • official transcripts from all post-secondary institutions attended;
  • a statement of career and educational goals;
  • a successful undergraduate record with a grade-point average of 3.00 (either as the cumulative GPA or for the last 60 hours of relevant course work);
  • satisfactory scores on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), or Law School Admission Test (LSAT) if the GPA is less than 3.0; and
  • recommendations from three references.

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Individuals with superior academic records and a strong interest in careers emphasizing research and scholarship are encouraged to apply to the program. The program typically admits a Ph.D. cohort of full-time students to begin each fall semester.

Admission to the Ph.D. program is based on the applicant's undergraduate and graduate academic records, standardized test scores, letters of reference, and the compatibility of their backgrounds and interests with those of the program faculty members, as expressed in the applicant’s statement of goals and research interests. All applicants must have completed a master’s degree. A completed master of public administration (M.P.A.) degree is preferred, but students with master’s degrees in related areas (political science, public policy, economics, sociology, anthropology, social work, business management, and health administration, for example) or Juris Doctorate degrees (law) will also be considered.

Application Deadlines

There are two deadlines for applications for the fall semester of the following academic year: January 15 and March 15 of each year. For those applicants seeking research or teaching assistantships, the deadline to submit all application materials is January 15. Late applications may be considered if assistantships are still available. Applicants who wish to finance their education with their own funds or other sources (foreign governments that fund international students for Ph.D. studies in the United States and other funding agencies, such as Fulbright commissions) must submit all application materials by March 15.

Application Package

A complete application must include:

  1. A completed online Graduate School application
  2. Payment of a non-refundable application fee
  3. Official Graduate Record Examination scores (verbal, quantitative, and analytical) taken within the five years prior to the date of application
  4. A resume  that includes:
    1. work experience,
    2. volunteer activities,
    3. academic and professional honors,
    4. honorary societies,
    5. extracurricular activities,
    6. offices held,
    7. any publications and
    8. other significant activities
  5. A statement of goals and research interests, including evidence of research aptitude and interest as well as “fit” with the faculty interests in the Ph.D. program at Penn State Harrisburg. The applicant should make the case why this Ph.D. program at Penn State Harrisburg would be a good fit for them
  6. A writing sample that reflects the applicant’s background in conducting academic research and potential to conduct academic research in the future
  7. At least three letters of recommendation, preferably from faculty members who can comment upon the applicant's potential as a doctoral student
  8. Official transcripts from all post-secondary institutions attended.

The language of instruction at Penn State is English. English proficiency test scores (TOEFL/IELTS) may be required for international applicants. See GCAC-305 Admission Requirements for International Students for more information.

Degree Requirements

Master of Public Administration (M.P.A.)

Requirements listed here are in addition to Graduate Council policies listed under GCAC-700 Professional Degree Policies.

Students may begin the program in any semester. Three courses (or 9 credits) per semester are considered a normal course load for full-time students. Part-time students typically take one or two 3-credit courses each semester and one or two courses during the summer session to maintain steady progress toward the degree. The program, including an internship in a public agency or nonprofit organization for those without three years of managerial, supervisory, or professional experience, requires eighteen to twenty-four months of full-time study, or three to five years on a part-time basis.

Time Limitation

All degree requirements for the Master of Public Administration must be met within five years of admission to degree status.

The M.P.A. degree program requires a minimum of 39 credits at the 400, 500, or 800 level, with a minimum of 18 credits at the 500 or 800 levels, and at least 6 credits at the 500 level:

  • 21 credits in core courses,
  • 12 credits in electives,
  • 3 credits for the capstone course that serves as the culminating experience for the degree, and
  • a 3 credit internship.

The 3-credit internship may be waived at the discretion of the program for students who have at least two years of full-time relevant work experience that consists of supervisory, managerial, or professional work, or who gain this experience while enrolled in the program. Students for whom the internship requirement is waived can complete the program with a minimum of 36 credits. Up to 6 credits of 400-level courses may be taken as electives, with the approval of an adviser.

Required Courses
PADM 800Foundations of Public Administration3
PADM 502Governmental Fiscal Decision Making3
PADM 503Research Design3
PADM 504Data Analysis for Policy and Administration3
PADM 505Human Resources in the Public and Nonprofit Sectors3
PADM 507Introduction to Public Policy Analysis3
PADM 510Organization Behavior3
Internship in Public Administration
PADM 595Internship3
With the faculty adviser's approval, a student selects 12 credits of electives from a list of approved electives maintained by the program office.12
Culminating Experience
PADM 594Research Topics (Capstone Course)3
Total Credits39

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Requirements listed here are in addition to Graduate Council policies listed under GCAC-600 Research Degree Policies.

A Ph.D. student must first successfully complete the prerequisite courses specified by the program to make up for deficiencies, if any exist. After these are completed, students must take a minimum of 36 credits:

  • four 3-credit foundation courses, 
  • four 3-credit specialization area courses, and
  • four 3-credit research methods courses.

All doctoral students must pass a qualifying examination, a comprehensive written and oral examination, and a final oral examination (the dissertation defense). To earn the Ph.D. degree, doctoral students must also write a dissertation that is accepted by the Ph.D. committee, the head of the graduate program, and the Graduate School.

Foundations of Public Administration

All the students in the program will be required to take the following foundational courses before they are eligible to take the qualifying examination:

Required Courses
PADM 570Scope and Methods of Public Administration3
PADM 571Seminar in Organizational Theory3
PADM 572Research and Theory in Public Budgeting and Finance3
PADM 573Research and Theory in Public Policy and Governance3
Total Credits12

Specialization Area Courses

In consultation with the student’s adviser and Ph.D. committee, each doctoral student will develop a public administration specialization that consists of four 3-credit courses. These specialization areas are not pre-defined. They may be tailor-made by the student and his/her committee, based on the student’s interests and the availability of the courses in the School of Public Affairs and other colleges and graduate programs at Penn State. Examples of possible specialization areas are 

  • public and nonprofit management,
  • organizations and human resource management,
  • public budgeting and finance,
  • public policy analysis,
  • state and local government administration,
  • criminal justice,
  • health administration, and
  • homeland security.

Research Methods Courses

Students are required to take four 3-credit research methods courses. The following three research methods courses are required for all Public Administration Ph.D. students:

Required Courses
PADM 503Research Design3
PADM 504Data Analysis for Policy and Administration3
PADM 575Advanced Research Design3
Total Credits9

Students also will select one in-depth 3-credit research methods course on the basis of their research interests (quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods), suitability of the courses in preparing students for their dissertation studies, and the availability of the courses.

Students may find suitable courses in the Ph.D. program in Public Administration or other graduate programs at Penn State. This one in-depth methods course should be approved in advance by the student’s Ph.D. committee. A student’s committee may also allow them to take an in-depth methods course that is offered by other universities or research institutions if an equivalent course cannot be found within Penn State, if the equivalency of this course to a 3-credit graduate-level course offered at Penn State can be verified by Graduate Enrollment Services, and if the costs of taking this course can be covered by the student or another arrangement can be made to cover the cost.

Qualifying Examination

Only students who complete 18 credits, including the required courses in the Foundations of Public Administration successfully, with a minimum 3.0 GPA, may take the qualifying examination. The qualifying examination will cover topics about the intellectual history and enduring questions in the field. Many of these subjects are covered in the required foundational doctoral courses; they include such topics as public administration and democratic theory, public organizations and management, and constitutional and legal foundations. The exam is written and graded by the Public Administration Graduate Faculty.

Comprehensive Examination

Upon successful completion of the specialization courses and research methods courses, with a minimum 3.0 GPA, a doctoral student takes a comprehensive written and oral examination. Comprehensive examinations are administered by the student’s Ph.D. committee. In comprehensive examinations, students are tested about the contents of their specialization areas and they will be required to propose a research design on a relevant topic.


After passing the comprehensive examination, a student must work with his or her adviser and Ph.D. committee to develop a full dissertation proposal within three months of the exam. Once the Ph.D. committee approves the full proposal, dissertation research can begin. Students will be required to conduct their dissertation research and write and defend their dissertations in accordance with Graduate Council policy and as agreed on by their Ph.D. committees. The dissertation must be accepted by the Ph.D. committee, the head of the graduate program, and the Graduate School, and the student must pass a final oral examination (the dissertation defense).

Grade Point Average and Time Limit

Full-time students are expected to finish the program in four to five years. Graduate Council policy requires that a student must complete the program within eight years after passing the qualifying examination. The Ph.D. program in Public Administration requires that students have at least a 3.00 grade-point average in order to graduate.

Joint Degrees  

Joint J.D./M.P.A. witH Dickinson Law

Requirements listed here are in addition to requirements listed in GCAC-211 Joint Degree Programs.

Penn State Dickinson Law and the School of Public Affairs, Penn State Harrisburg, the Capital College, offer a joint degree program leading to the degrees of Juris Doctor, granted by Dickinson Law, and Master of Public Administration, granted by Penn State Harrisburg.

Admission Requirements

In order to be admitted to the program, students must first be admitted to Penn State Dickinson Law under its regular admission procedures. Subsequently, the student must be recommended for admission to the M.P.A. program by Dickinson Law, and must apply for admission to the M.P.A. degree program as described on the Admission Requirements tab. Penn State Harrisburg will make independent admissions decisions as to all joint degree applicants.

Admissions requirements and applications for Dickinson Law are available at the Admissions & Aid section of its website.

Degree Requirements

Students must fulfill all requirements for each degree in order to be awarded that degree, subject to the double-counting of credits as outlined below. Degree requirements for the J.D. program are listed on the Dickinson Law website. Degree requirements for the M.P.A. degree are listed on the Degree Requirements tab.

A maximum of 9 credits of Dickinson Law course work may be double-counted for credit toward the M.P.A. degree at Penn State Harrisburg, subject to program approval based on relevance to the M.P.A. degree.

A maximum of 9 credits of M.P.A. course work with a grade of B or better may be double-counted for credit toward the J.D. degree at Dickinson Law, subject to approval by Penn State Dickinson Law.

A student in the joint degree program can graduate with one degree prior to completing the other, if all requirements for that degree have been completed. Students must earn at least a 3.0 grade-point average to be eligible for the M.P.A. degree. If students accepted into the joint degree program are unable to complete the J.D. degree, they are still eligible to receive the M.P.A. degree if all the M.P.A. degree requirements have been satisfied.


A graduate minor is available in any approved graduate major or dual-title program. The default requirements for a graduate minor are stated in Graduate Council policies listed under GCAC-600 Research Degree Policies and GCAC-700 Professional Degree Policies, depending on the type of degree the student is pursuing:

Student Aid

Graduate assistantships available to students in this program and other forms of student aid are described in the Tuition & Funding section of The Graduate School’s website. Students on graduate assistantships must adhere to the course load limits set by The Graduate School.

Qualified Ph.D. students will be supported with 9-month merit-based research or teaching assistantships. The assistantship granted to a student may be renewed at the end of each academic year, based on the student’s academic performance in the program. While these are not guaranteed, funding opportunities may also be available for admitted students during the summer semesters. Such opportunities may include, but are not limited to, teaching and involvement in faculty-sponsored research. Students may also apply for other financial aid programs through the University’s Office of Student Aid.

In addition, the program faculty may admit to the program qualified full-time students who will finance their educations with scholarships from sources outside Penn State or with personal funds. These sources may include foreign governments that fund international students for Ph.D. studies in the United States and other funding agencies, such as Fulbright commissions.

World Campus students in graduate degree programs may be eligible for financial aid. Refer to the Tuition and Financial Aid section of the World Campus website for more information.


Graduate courses carry numbers from 500 to 699 and 800 to 899. Advanced undergraduate courses numbered between 400 and 499 may be used to meet some graduate degree requirements when taken by graduate students. Courses below the 400 level may not. A graduate student may register for or audit these courses in order to make up deficiencies or to fill in gaps in previous education but not to meet requirements for an advanced degree.

Public Administration (PADM) Course List

Learning Outcomes

  1. Graduates will demonstrate in-depth knowledge of the foundations (major concepts and theories) of public administration and policy processes.
  2. Graduates will demonstrate in-depth knowledge of relevant research methods to be used in their dissertation studies and publications.
  3. Graduates will demonstrate in-depth knowledge of the specialization area of their choice.
  4. Graduates will demonstrate their ability to apply relevant research methods in their class papers and dissertation studies.
  5. Graduates will demonstrate their ability to communicate their conceptual knowledge of foundational topics, specialization area topics, and research methods in written and oral forms.
  6. Graduates will demonstrate their analytical and critical thinking abilities on the topics relevant to public policymaking and public administration processes.
  7. Graduates will demonstrate their knowledge of the rules of ethics and professional conduct in public policy and administrative processes and the knowledge of ethical research practices and apply them in their studies in the program.


Campus Harrisburg
Graduate Program Head L. Marvin Overby
Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) or Professor-in-Charge (PIC) Dan Mallinson
Program Contact

Autumn D Wise
School of Public Affairs
777 West Harrisburg Pike, 159W Olmsted Bldg.
Middletown PA 17057-4898
(717) 948-6773

Program Website View
Campus World Campus
Graduate Program Head L. Marvin Overby
Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) or Professor-in-Charge (PIC) Dan Mallinson
Program Contact

Autumn D Wise
School of Public Affairs
777 West Harrisburg Pike, 159W Olmsted Building
Harrisburg PA 17057
(717) 948-6773

Program Website View