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Master of Public Affairs (MPA) Program

About the Program 

Virtual Open House

Thursday, August 6th 5-7pm

Join us at one of our upcoming virtual Graduate School Open House events on Zoom! You'll have the opportunity to learn more about Western Carolina University,  understand the Graduate School application process, and meet key program representatives.

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Biltmore Park Campus


The Master of Public Affairs (MPA) Program equips students with the knowledge and skills to address public policy challenges in all levels of government and nonprofit organizations. A combination of academic, practical, and multidisciplinary study offers students the opportunity to test the ideas they learn in class in real-world situations.

Western Carolina graduates have been remarkably successful finding positions in public service as well as advancing in their current careers. The department’s extensive alumni network includes town managers, directors of non-profit organizations (NGOs), professors, police officers, and many others in public service. 

The MPA Program generally enrolls 35-50 students who are taught by full-time professors and experienced public servants. The program is housed within the Department of Political Science and Public Affairs in the College of Arts and Sciences. Classes are typically held in the evenings and are taught at the Biltmore Park Town Square instructional site in Asheville. Although most classes are taught in person, the program offers some hybrid and online coursework as well. 

The program requires 39 credit hours to complete. Applications for admission are accepted throughout the year. The typical length of the MPA degree program is two years for a student who is taking courses full-time (9 hours per semester). Most part-time students take two courses a semester and can complete the degree in three years or less with courses in summers.

Mission Statement

The Master of Public Affairs (MPA) program is a professional degree designed to prepare students to lead and manage in public affairs.  

To accomplish this, we integrate public affairs theory and practice to improve the leadership, managerial, analytical, and communication skills of students. The program promotes teaching, applied research, and service activities that enhance public and nonprofit sector governance, particularly in Western North Carolina. Our course of study provides accessibility to working professionals and flexibility for students to choose from elective courses to fit their professional goals.  

The Master of Public Affairs (MPA) degree program is designed for in-service students who possess professional experience and seek additional education to prepare for career advancement. It is also designed for pre-service students planning careers in the public service area. The program requires a minimum of 39 semester hours. NOTE: An internship is not required for in-service students. Instead, the internship credit hours may be replaced by taking an additional elective course. 

The internship experience is an important component of the MPA Program. All students without public service work experience are required to perform an internship, write an internship report, and receive a positive evaluation from the internship sponsor. An internship is not required for in-service students. Instead, the internship credit hours may be replaced by taking an additional elective course. 

Our program has been successful in placing students into rewarding internships in the government, nonprofit and private sectors. Our faculty, program alumni, and career center work with students to find an opportunity that will advance their career goals. Internships vary from year to year based on areas of student interest. In the recent past, most of our students have chosen to intern with local county, city, or regional governments. Others have chosen to serve in local or regional nonprofits. Examples of recent internship employer sponsors inlcude the following: 

  • Land of Sky Council of Government
  • Town of Franklin
  • Southwestern Commission Council of Governments
  • North Carolina Growth and SmartUp
  • Haywood County Government
  • Buncombe County Planning Department
  • Graham County Government
  • Henderson County Government
  • Town of Mills River
  • Defenders of Wildlife
  • City of Hedersonville

If you are currently working in public service or have considerable experience in public and/or nonprofit management, you may petition the MPA faculty for an internship replacement. Students replacing the internship do so by enrolling in another three-hour elective course instead of PA 685 (Internship in Public Affairs). This keeps the MPA required hours at 39 for all students.

Alumni Success

Over the decades, the MPA has prepared hundreds of students for careers in public service. Graduates of Western Carolina University’s MPA program are working at the executive level in city and county management, community development, natural resources administration, legal defense, law enforcement administration, municipal government administration, and corporate management. Hear from one of our successful graduates working in the western North Carolina region:

MPA Graduation and Employment Statistics

Graduation Statistics

Employment Statistics

MPA Program Faculty

The WCU MPA program is taught by an award-winning faculty of accomplished teachers, scholars, and public servants. The MPA has 5 core full-time, tenure-track faculty members dedicated to the governance of the program. Several other faculty in the department periodically teach in the program and several adjunct lecturers teach more specialized courses backed by years of experience in the practice of public and nonprofit service.

Todd Collins Ph.D.; Public Policy Institute Director, Professor; Public Law, Judicial Politics
Chris Cooper Ph.D.; Department Head; Professor; American Politics, Public Administration, Research Methods
Heather Rimes Ph.D; MPA Director, Assistant Professor, Public Administration, Public Policy, Nonprofit Management
JoBeth Shafran Ph.D.; Assistant Professor, Public Policy, Public Administration, American Politics
Part-Time Faculty & Staff
Andy Coburn M.E.M; Adjunct Faculty
Paul Dezendorf Ph.D.; Adjunct Faculty
Laura Jeffords MPA.; Adjunct Faculty
Ashley Fay MPA.; Adjunct Faculty
John Connet MPA; Adjunct Faculty

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