The Villanova Master of Public Administration (MPA) Program in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Villanova University was fully accredited for the first time by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) this July. The accreditation is for a period of seven years, the maximum length possible.
This honor indicates that the MPA Program meets a set of standards established by NASPAA regarding topics such as curriculum, administration, program mission, student admissions, faculty quality, and alumni success. The Program’s evaluation on these points included a year-long self-study, a rigorous accreditation commission review, and a site visit by three external reviewers. Villanova is the only Catholic institution of higher education in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that is accredited by NASPAA.
“We are delighted that NASPAA has recognized the excellence of the Villanova MPA Program,” said MPA Director and faculty member, Christine Palus, Ph.D. “Our faculty, staff, and administration all worked very hard for many years to achieve this milestone.”
The mission of the Master of Public Administration (MPA) program is to offer graduates the knowledge of values, roles, skills, and practices that will help them become competent professionals capable of ethical, intelligent, and creative leadership and management in public service. Public Administration at Villanova began in the early 1980s as a concentration within the Human Organization Science Program.
In 1997, we began offering the MPA degree. In 2005, we added a specialization in City Management. Since 1997, 95 students have graduated from the MPA Program. Our alumni are working in a variety of public service positions as township and borough managers and assistant managers, leaders of non-profits, and federal employees. We currently have approximately 60 students enrolled in the program.
For more information, please contact Dr. Palus or visit the program's Web site.
A Q&A With MPA Program Director Christine Palus, Ph.D.
1. Please describe why accreditation by the National Association for Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) marks an important milestone and major accomplishment for the MPA program.
This honor indicates that the MPA Program meets a set of standards established by NASPAA regarding topics such as curriculum, administration, program mission, student admissions, faculty quality, and alumni success.
NASPAA’s accreditation process is organized around a program’s mission. Programs essentially draft a mission statement, set program objectives, use assessment to evaluate the achievement of these objectives, and then incorporate what has been learned back into the program. It is very much focused on evaluating both where a Program has been as well as planning for its future.
Villanova is the only Catholic institution of higher education in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that is accredited by NASPAA. There are only three other accredited universities in Pennsylvania – Carnegie Mellon, Penn State-Harrisburg, and the University of Pittsburgh. As of 2008 (they have not released the most recent data yet, which we are included in), NASPAA’s membership consists of 264 member institutions. Of the total number of programs eligible to participate in peer review, 164 programs at 156 schools (62% of member institutions) have been accredited.
The tangible benefit of accreditation is that we can now report being “NASPAA accredited” and use the accreditation logo. More broadly, though, it means that we have been party of a rigorous peer review process. NASPAA accreditation is not a requirement. It is a choice that programs make – but one that reflects commitment to accountability and to being part of the broader conversation about education in the public service. Essentially, accreditation is all about quality.
2. Please describe the process to earn the accreditation. I understand that it has been a two-year process, involving a major self-study and a site visit by three external reviewers. What did you learn from this extensive process?
The process to earn accreditation involved the following steps:
• a year-long self-study written by the faculty
• a rigorous accreditation commission review, (the commission is called COPRA – “the Commission on Peer Review and Accreditation") and is part of NASPAA. It is made up of scholars from across the country. This commission reviews all of the Program’s written materials and the site visit report, and is the ultimate decision-making body on accreditation.
• a two-day site visit by three external reviewers. Ours occurred in February. The visit involved meetings with the Program Director, the full-time and part-time faculty, university administrators, current students, and alumni.
The Program was evaluated on its compliance with eight standards.
Some of the things we learned through the process are:
• The process affirmed the strength of our curriculum and general program requirements.
• The reviewers noted the strength of our City Management Certificate and the accompanying curriculum.
• The reviewers noted our use of practitioners as part-time faculty and commented on their active engagement in the program.
• The site review team complimented us on how well our faculty, students, and alumni discussed how the Augustinian mission of the university was reflected in courses and in the general spirit of the program.
3. How does the MPA Program fit into the broader educational mission of Villanova?
The mission of the MPA program is to offer graduates the knowledge of values, roles, skills, and practices that will help them become competent professionals capable of ethical, intelligent, and creative leadership in the public service.
This mission is realized through the pursuit of four goals:
(1) stress the study of how values from political (constitutional and legal), philosophical, and religious traditions guide the actions of successful public administrators;
(2) offer an interdisciplinary curriculum featuring the integration of knowledge from sociology, political science, economics, psychology, communication, history, philosophy, and statistics;
(3) nurture a sense of service to community by (a) featuring the study of successful public administrators as roles models and (b) exploring the traditions and approaches in public administration theory; and
(4) emphasize the importance of practical experience by (a) discussing case studies of public administration in practice, (b) using simulations and other exercises to use knowledge in the safe environment of the classroom, and (c) stressing the need for work experience in the application of public administration knowledge by requiring an internship for students lacking such experience.
The mission and the four specific goals delineated above contribute to Villanova University’s mission in three distinct ways. First, they offer graduate students a holistic education integrating knowledge from several academic disciplines grounded in the liberal arts. Second, they incorporate the study of values and ethical action on both the required and elective courses. Third and finally, they make experience as a practitioner a key requirement for graduation.
4. Please share any other reflections that you may have about the MPA Program at Villanova.
Our curriculum is rooted in an appreciation for the complexity of public administration and is guided by NASPAA standards and practices as well as by current research in public administration. The program requirements, elective classes, optional specialization in City Management, and internship requirement offer students a broad vision of public administration and management in conjunction with the flexibility to tailor coursework to their own interests and career objectives. The internship requirement not only provides necessary practical engagement and experience, but it also fosters connections with local municipalities, organizations, and constituencies which the program serves. We have a vast alumni network in the greater Philadelphia region serving as important partners in this regard. The achievements of our alumni also speak to the successes of the program. The engagement of our full-time faculty as well as our practitioner adjuncts in university, local, regional, and national networks (both academic and non-academic) promotes an educational culture dedicated to the development of a varied skill set in leadership and management.
Since its inception, the MPA program has clearly forged a path marked by continued improvements and consistent development and enrollment growth. Through it all, the primary focus on preparing students for active, successful careers in the public service has remained the primary mission. Over time, the number and quality of our students have improved. The MPA faculty are actively engaged in research, publishing in the discipline's top journals and university presses and regularly presenting their work to both academic and practitioner audiences.
Our alumni are also experiencing great success, working in a number of exciting positions – for example, as city, township, and borough managers, as employees in federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Defense, and in a variety of non-profit organizations such as Catholic Relief Services, the Committee of Seventy, and the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.
The future is very bright for the Villanova University MPA program. We hope to build upon our successes, embracing the wealth of opportunities afforded to us thanks to the support of the University administration, the productivity and excitement of our faculty, the loyalty of our alumni, and the contributions of our practitioner teachers. We hope to continue to foster partnerships with the community and react to the needs and interests of our constituencies.