The Duke MPA will prepare you for leadership positions within an organization. It can also help mid-career professionals in other fields transition into a rewarding career in public affairs.
Why an MPA?
The Duke MPA combines the rigorous analytical tools of a public policy degree with the management and leadership skills taught in many public administration programs. While many of our students work (or plan to work) in the public sector, the MPA is also designed for students in the non-profit and philanthropic sectors and in a range of private-sector professions such as consulting, government relations, and social entrepreneurship.
On Campus and Online: Purpose-Built Hybrid
The Duke MPA combines in-person residencies with state-of-the-art online instruction, providing opportunities for networking and cohort development along with the flexibility of remote learning.
The Duke MPA is an accelerated program designed to accommodate the needs of working professionals through its hybrid format, convenient meeting times, and flexible degree options. Full-time students will earn the 30-credit degree in 15 months (four terms), taking no more than three courses per term. Part-time students will earn their degrees in 18 months (five terms), taking no more than two courses per term.
The Duke MPA curriculum is tailored to the unique educational needs of mid-career practitioners. While some courses include a review of foundational theories and concepts, the main emphasis is on practical training, inviting you both to draw on your significant prior experience and to apply the skills you develop in the program back in your area of professional practice.
As a student in the program, you will strengthen your analytical and decision-making skills, prepare yourself for executive leadership roles, develop additional competencies tailored to your specific career trajectory, and deepen your understanding of cross-cutting challenges facing public affairs practitioners in all sectors.
Specifically, the MPA degree combines a core curriculum in public affairs with a concentration in leadership, management, and ethics. Students will complete four core courses, three concentration courses, and three elective courses, for a total of 10 courses (30 credits).
In lieu of a traditional master’s thesis, the Duke MPA culminates in a capstone project that challenges students to apply the knowledge and analytical skills they have acquired in the program to a real-world challenge within their employing organization or field of study. This capstone project will be conducted under the guidance of a Sanford faculty member and counts toward the program’s core curriculum requirements.
As an accelerated, hybrid program in which many students will continue working while earning their degrees, the Duke MPA does not require internships, teaching assistantships, or research assistantships as a degree requirement. Our academic and career services advisors are available to work with students who are interested in pursuing off-campus internships or on-campus research or teaching opportunities in conjunction with their degree.
The Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA), which accredits the Sanford School of Public Policy and other leading policy schools, makes no distinction among the three degrees. Broadly speaking, however, Master of Public Policy programs tend to emphasize policy analysis and evaluation, while Public Administration programs tend to emphasize management and leadership of public organizations.
The Duke MPA combines the rigorous analytical tools of a public policy degree with the
management and leadership skills taught in many public administration programs. While many of our students work (or plan to work) in the public sector, the MPA is also designed for students in the non-profit and philanthropic sectors and in a range of private-sector professions such as consulting, government relations, and social entrepreneurship.
About Hybrid Learning
While many universities now offer “online” or “hybrid” degree programs, many of these programs simply allow students to join traditional campus-based classes remotely. By contrast, the Duke MPA combines in-person residencies with state-of-the-art online instruction, providing opportunities for networking and cohort development along with the flexibility of remote learning. Every course in our core curriculum and leadership, management, and ethics concentration has been custom-built for the program and includes both synchronous elements (in which all students meet remotely in real time) and asynchronous elements (which students complete on their own time).
Sanford’s Office of Digital Learning works with every instructor in the program to help them incorporate the latest advances in remote learning pedagogy into their courses. Our goal is to ensure the program meets Duke’s rigorous standards of academic excellence, while also meeting the needs of working professionals.
The Duke MPA’s in-person residencies fall at the beginning of each semester, with longer residencies (lasting approximately one week) in early June and shorter residencies (lasting approximately a long weekend) in late August/early September and in January. Two of these residencies will occur on Duke’s Durham, North Carolina campus, while two will occur at Duke’s Washington, DC office.
Following the initial residency period, your courses will continue online, combining synchronous elements (in which all students meet remotely in real time) and asynchronous elements (which students complete on their own time). While the exact balance of synchronous and asynchronous elements will vary by course, all MPA courses will meet Duke's rigorous standards for direct contact between instructors and students.
While the Duke MPA is designed to meet the needs of working professionals, it is also a demanding program designed to meet rigorous academic standards. Full-time students must take up to three courses per semester to earn their degree in 15 months, while part-time students must take up to two courses per semester to earn their degree in 18 months. Students should be prepared for a significant time commitment (15-20 hours per week, on average) that will impact their other obligations. Students who intend to keep working while earning their degree are required to secure their employer’s support before enrolling.
Unlike some online programs, our custom-built hybrid curriculum includes significant “face-to-face” learning components. While this approach produces stronger cohort development and better learning outcomes, it also requires students to prepare for, and participate in, regular class or small group meetings.
This program seeks to minimize the number of technical tools and platforms needed to participate. At a minimum, students must have a Windows or iOS computer with a working camera and microphone and a reliable internet connection. Most of your online coursework will occur via Canvas, Duke’s Learning Management System, which can be accessed via your web browser (Chrome is recommended). Some instructors may choose to use commonly available applications such as Zoom, Google Suite, or Slack for course activities. All students will be assigned a Duke ID and password through the university system and will have access to 24/7 technical support. Students must comply with all Duke University IT regulations.
While the Duke MPA offers the flexibility of a hybrid program, we strive to create a true learning community within each cohort of students. This starts with our in-person residencies at the beginning of each semester, which will include networking and social activities in addition to course immersions, as well as opportunities to interact with Duke faculty, staff, and students both within and outside of Sanford.
Once courses move online, students will have the time and opportunity to continue to engage with their classmates both formally (e.g., during synchronous online discussions or asynchronous chats) and informally (e.g., unstructured time before/after class, during breaks, etc.). Students also will have an opportunity to work with their peers on group projects, communicate with their cohort via messaging platforms, and schedule virtual appointments for career services, academic advising, and other student services.
While each Duke MPA course is distinct, all are offered on Duke’s Canvas Learning Management System, offering a familiar template across courses. Students will open a new module at the start of each week, and the requirements, readings, lectures, assignments, and live elements will be clearly defined, allowing you to complete the work at your pace. Any materials for the course will either be preloaded in Canvas or purchased through an identified vendor.
Assessment methods also vary by course but will generally include a mix of written assignments, team-based projects, presentations, scenario-based exercises, and participation.
MPA Program Leadership
Asher Hildebrand leads graduate studies in the MPA program. He teaches core courses on politics and policy analysis and leads seminars on legislative advocacy and current threats to American democracy. His academic interests include American politics, legislative institutions, civic participation and advocacy, democracy reform, and U.S. foreign policy.
Prior to Duke, Asher served for nearly 15 years in Congress and on political campaigns. He was Chief of Staff to U.S. Representative David Price (D-NC) and Director of Policy and Research for President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign in North Carolina.
Hybrid & Sanford: One Student's Perspective
"The hybrid model is what makes this program so unique. The immersion, in-person periods are invaluable, and the caliber of professors we have cannot be overstated. It is astounding the people that are brought in as guest lecturers for us to learn from. And obviously my cohort -- I’m sitting in class with these unbelievably intelligent and hardworking people. For me the best part of the program is the people, 100%." - Victoria Weece MNSP'24 (hybrid)
Questions? Contact us.
Director, Digital Learning
Mark Hart is the Director of Digital Learning at Sanford and leads digital initiatives both on-campus and through specialized hybrid programs like the Master of National Security Policy and the Master of Public Affairs program. In addition to overseeing administrative efforts for the MNSP, Mark is instrumental in faculty professional development, optimizing the use of Duke's Learning Management System (Canvas), managing the recording studio, and providing instructional design support for all courses.
With a doctorate degree in Curriculum, Instruction & Educational Technology from the University of Florida, a master's degree in Liberal Studies from Loyola College in Maryland, and a bachelor's degree in History and Education from Indiana University, Mark's academic background greatly benefits the Sanford community. He served as the Director of Online Learning for the Masters and PhD in Public Health - Social Behavioral Sciences at the University of Florida for ten years, and in 2019 recognized for Faculty Excellence. Before working in High Education, Mark was a K-12 administrator and teacher for over 15 years.
Beyond his professional pursuits, Mark finds solace in walking, listening to podcasts and indulging in reading.