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Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy is launching an executive Master of Public Affairs (MPA) degree program to equip mid-career professionals with the knowledge and leadership skills needed to address complex societal challenges.

The new program is designed for working professionals in all sectors with at least seven years of work experience. Its hybrid format will combine brief residencies on Duke’s main campus and in Washington, DC with a state-of-the-art online curriculum, allowing students to continue working while completing their degree in as little as 15 months.

The executive MPA will welcome its first cohort of students in summer 2025, with applications opening in August 2024.

The MPA program will offer a unique curriculum designed and taught by both experienced practitioners and Sanford faculty, blending rigorous academic training with hands-on practical experience. Initial concentrations will include leadership, management, and ethics, offering courses in decision-making, public management, ethical analysis, communications, community engagement, and other valuable skills for public affairs leaders. Duke is ranked No. 6 in public policy analysis among graduate programs nationwide by US News & World Report.

“Our new executive Master of Public Affairs will be a great addition to Sanford's variety of degree offerings and will allow the School to have greater flexibility of modality while allowing a new student population to join our learning community who cannot, through work or geography, make it on campus fulltime,” Sanford Dean Judith Kelley said. “This program will be a next step in our offering of hybrid programs following our Master of National Security Policy (MNSP) degree, which has established high standards to provide purposeful digital programming, host campus immersions for students, reach mid-career professionals with practice-based education, and offer unique networking opportunities.”

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Asher Hildebrand, the MPA program’s inaugural director

The MPA program’s inaugural director will be Sanford Associate Professor of the Practice Asher Hildebrand. Hildebrand brings more than 15 years of experience as a public affairs practitioner, including senior leadership roles as a congressional chief of staff and the policy director for a presidential campaign. Since joining the Sanford faculty in 2019, he has taught graduate-level courses in policy analysis, American politics, lobbying and advocacy, and democracy reform, and he appears regularly in the media as a commentator on politics and public policy.

Hildebrand said the MPA program will benefit professionals and employers nationwide.

“Today’s public affairs leaders must navigate an unprecedented range of challenges, from misinformation and artificial intelligence to emerging threats to democracy and national security,” Hildebrand said. “This program is designed for experienced public affairs professionals to deepen their knowledge, enhance their skills, and refresh their commitment to public service at a crucial moment in their careers.”

The program is also an opportunity for mid-career professionals in other fields to transition into public service, Hildebrand said.

“For employers, it offers advanced training for established or emerging leaders within their organizations and a chance to support their employees’ professional development — all without any disruption to their workforce,” he said.

The MPA also draws on Duke’s recognized strengths in experiential learning, integrating real-world experience and engagement in the program. The program’s capstone project will challenge students to analyze and develop a plan of action for a public affairs scenario within their organization or area of practice, creating a valuable final product for students and employers alike.

Mark Hart, Sanford’s director of digital learning, said the new master’s program has been designed to balance skill building while connecting to professional practice and goals at an advanced level – to give leaders the greatest value and experience.

“The executive MPA is a progressive academic program that maximizes work experience and real-time world events, just as our executive MNSP program has,” Hart said. “The cohort model allows students to benefit from Duke's faculty, while having a collective experience with other executives. This program leverages advancements of online teaching and technology, in a way where students can work at their own pace each week, while also connecting live with their professors and classmates.”

The new program will enroll its first class of students to begin the program in summer 2025. Applications will open in August 2024. The priority deadline for applications will be Jan. 5, 2025.

Learn more about the MPA program.

  • For more information about the program, contact: Mark Hart (919) 613-7355 Email: mark.hart@duke.edu

About the Duke Sanford School of Public Policy

The Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University is among the nation’s leading public policy schools, offering undergraduate, master’s and doctoral-level degrees in public policy and international development policy. Launched in 1971 as the Institute of Policy Sciences and Public Affairs by Terry Sanford — president of Duke, former governor of North Carolina, and later a U.S. senator — it is one of the oldest and largest public policy programs in the nation. Sanford is a community of excellence committed to producing knowledge and leadership to truly transform policy challenges. Faculty are working to improve lives and communities by researching the most pressing public policy issues and preparing students for lives of leadership, civic engagement and public service. Sanford’s 9,500+ alumni are making an impact worldwide. The community of 700+ students pursues the Sanford approach of analysis + action.

Ranked among the nation’s top graduate schools in public policy and specialty areas, Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy also offers a two-year residential Master of Public Policy, an executive Master of National Security Policy program, and a Master of International Development Policy program. In collaboration with the Nicholas School of the Environment, the school also offers a two-year international Master of Environmental Policy at Duke Kunshan University in China.

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Details & Contact

Applications open: August 2024

Priority deadline for applications: Jan. 5, 2025

First cohort begins: Summer 2025

Questions? Contact: Mark Hart (919) 613-7355 / Email: mark.hart@duke.edu

Learn more about the MPA program
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New MPA for Leaders to Solve Tomorrow’s Challenges on the Job

Dean Judith Kelley's most recent blog post explores Duke Sanford's MPA.

Read blog post