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What is an MPA?

The Master of Public Affairs degree is a professional degree that prepares students for careers in a variety of public service fields, including both the government and nonprofit spheres. At WCU, our areas of emphasis include local government and nonprofit management. Our curriculum covers managerial, leadership, analysis, and communication skills as well as introducing students to the study of public policy.  The MPA is beneficial to students who have recently completed undergraduate degrees and want to gain further applied knowledge of governance, policy, and public service management. It is equally beneficial to students who are seeking to further existing careers or make career changes that will allow them to advance to managerial and leadership positions.  

What is the difference between public affairs and public administration?

The short answer is not much. The MPA generally stands for either Master of Public Affairs or Master of Public Administration. Jobs which require a Master of Public Administration will also accept a Master of Public Affairs degree (and vice-versa). The national accrediting body is NASPAA, which stands for the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration.

What is the difference between an MPA and an MBA?

The MPA is meant for students who wish to work in or around public service—whether directly for government and non-profit organizations or indirectly (for instance, through government relations offices within for-profit businesses). Although some graduates of our program are employed in the private sector, Western’s MPA program is designed to allow students to develop deeper understandings of and hand-on experience with the government and non-profit spheres, particularly in the Western North Carolina Region, emphasizing the different organizational and incentive structures and different goals of these organizations than for-profit businesses. The following organizational chart displays where our MPA program fits within the university's organizational structure. 

Do I have to take the GRE?

No. As of Fall 2018, the MPA program no longer requires a GRE score for application and admission to the program.

What is the application deadline?

We accept applications throughout the year on a continuous basis. Students are admitted for fall, spring, and summer semesters. Applications must be received at least one week prior to the start of the term for which the student wishes to enroll. Students who want to be considered for graduate assistantships or other program scholarships, should apply approximately six months prior to the term for which they wish to enroll. 

How long does it typically take to complete the program and what happens to students after they graduate?

The program requires 39 credit hours. The length of time to complete those hours varies according to student need. Some students finish in as little as a year and a half. Others take one class a semester and stretch their program out over five to six years. Full-time students (9 credit hours per semester fall/spring) can expect to complete the program in two years.

Graduates from Western’s thriving MPA program have been remarkably successful finding meaningful and rewarding employment after graduation, especially throughout North Carolina and the region. Alumni serve as town managers, police chiefs, county administrators, non-profit directors, planning directors, and a variety of other positions in and around government and nonprofit leadership.

For time to completion and placement information for recent graduates please visit

MPA Graduation and Employment Statistics

 How many students are enrolled in the program?

At any given time in a semester, there are between 35-50 students enrolled in the MPA program.

How much does the MPA program cost?

For the 2019-2020 academic year, tuition and fees for a full-time in-state graduate student total $5020.20 per semester. Out-of-state students are charged $10224 per semester for tuition and fees. Fees include a proposed $1313.50 for student health insurance which may be waived by verifying existing coverage. Students may also choose to attend the MPA part-time and pay per credit hour. Additional funds are needed for books and living expenses. For the most current tuition and fees information including per credit hour costs, please visit

Graduate Tuition and Fees

What financial aid opportunities are available?

MPA Students are eligible for a variety of competitive financial aid opportunities including Graduate Assistantships, tuition remission, and scholarships. Students may also qualify for federal financial aid assistance.

Currently, the MPA program has 9 graduate assistantship positions which pay $9000 per year. They require a student to be enrolled in the program full-time and work 20 hours a week for department faculty or our Public Policy Institute. Students with assitantships are prohibited from other employment in addition to the assistantship unless approved by the Dean of the Graduate School. Students are able to indicate their interest in being considered for a graduate assistantship on the MPA application form. The number of positions available varies per semester based on when current graduate assistants complete the program.

Several other scholarships are provided to MPA students by outside agencies like the City of Asheville and the North Carolina City and County Management Association. Contact the MPA Program Director for more information about assistantships and scholarships. 

How many students have prior experience in public service? How many are involved in public service?

About half of our students come to us directly after receiving an undergraduate degree. The other half are already at work in a variety of occupations in and out of the public sector.

Is the MPA program accredited?

Yes. In the summer of 2014 the MPA program received a full 7-year accreditation from NASPAA, the global standard in public service education. NASPAA is a membership organization of graduate programs in public policy, public affairs, public administration, and public & nonprofit management. It has more than 300 member schools located across the U.S. and in 25 other countries around the globe. Prospective students can be assured that the WCU MPA program, like all NASPAA accredited programs, has successfully met NASPAA Standards for Professional Master's Degree Programs in Public Affairs, Policy and Administration.

NASPAA's accreditation process is mission-based and driven by public service values. Accredited programs must contribute to the knowledge, research, and practice of public service, establish observable goals and outcomes, and use information about their performance to guide program improvement. They must practice truth in advertising and ensure their students achieve learning objectives in five domains essential to public service.

Who do I contact for more information?

Dr. Heather Rimes, MPA Director

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