The public administration job you want can help you determine which doctoral degree you should earn.

Group comes to consensus and shake hands.Even the smallest municipalities can’t operate well without people who know how to develop good policy and administrate properly. When it comes to serving the needs at a national level, the need for public policy and public administration experts is even greater—on both the government and nonprofit sides. But if you want to become such an expert, should you earn a Doctor of Public Administration (DPA) degree or a PhD in Public Policy and Administration (PhD PPA)? Below is a guide to help you decide.

Differences in Focus

DPA Degree

Doctor of Public Administration degree programs are focused on developing advanced practitioners and researchers in pursuit of social change through public administration, criminal justice, and nonprofit management. If you have a mind for—and an interest in—research and data analysis, a DPA can help you learn how to use statistics and analytics to address real-world issues and problems.

PhD PPA

A PhD in Public Policy and Administration is a leadership-focused degree designed to help you gain a detailed understanding of public policy theory, research, ethics, and practice in a global context. It’s the right degree if you want to take an academic approach to developing sustainable solutions that improve people’s quality of life.

Differences in Learning Outcomes

A DPA degree can help you learn how to:

  • Evaluate effective leadership and management principles (including theory, concepts, and practices) utilized in the public sector.
  • Evaluate solutions to practical problems in public administration using evidence-based practices and research.
  • Apply ethical concepts of public administration within organizations.
  • Apply culturally sensitive public administration research to meet the needs of diverse populations at local, state, national, and international levels of government.
  • Utilize analytic methods in making decisions related to public administration that contributes to positive social change and advance knowledge in the field.
  • Engage in scientific inquiry to advance practice in the field of public administration.
  • Evaluate models and best practices utilizing diverse perspectives in local, state, national and international public agencies by using evidence-based research.

A PhD PPA can help you learn how to:

  • Discuss leadership concepts and theories that have been used to effectively lead and manage in the public sector.
  • Analyze evidence-based research, theories, and models used to promote participation in public and nonprofit policy processes.
  • Develop solutions for problems related to public policy and public administration using theory and research.
  • Ethically apply the major theories and concepts of public policy and public administration within organizations.
  • Investigate a theory-based problem and make an original contribution of knowledge in the field.

Differences in Program Design

Both a DPA degree and the PhD PPA will require you to take advanced courses and spend time on in-depth study. However, there’s a difference in how you earn each degree. For the DPA, you will typically complete a doctoral study in which you conduct original research focused on addressing a real-world problem. For the PhD, you will typically complete a dissertation in which you conduct scholarly and original research with the goal of bringing new information to light and making an original contribution to the theory of public policy and/or public administration.

Differences—and Similarities—in Career Paths*

Common DPA careers include:

  • Senior-level public executive
  • Government affairs officer
  • Policy analyst
  • Legislative aide
  • Senior-level nonprofit manager
  • Private consultant

Common PhD PPA careers include:

  • College professor
  • Senior-level public executive
  • Government affairs officer
  • Policy analyst
  • Private consultant
  • Academic administrator
  • Legislative aide
  • Research director
  • Senior-level nonprofit manager

How You Can Earn Your Doctorate

Despite the differences between the DPA and PhD PPA degrees, they share at least one thing in common: you can earn both through an online university. This is great news, as online learning can make earning your doctoral degree more possible than ever before.

Unlike PhD degree programs at campus-based schools, online Doctor of Public Administration and PhD in Public Policy and Administration programs allow you to complete most of your coursework from home on a flexible schedule that can enable you to continue working full time. Plus, at a top online university, you’ll be guided by expert faculty and participate in in-person residencies with faculty and fellow students. When earning a DPA degree online from a university such as Walden, you’ll attend two 4-day residency sessions focused on applied problem-solving. When earning a Walden University PhD degree online, you’ll attend four 4-day residency sessions focused on dissertation preparation.

Governments and nonprofits need experts in public policy and public administration. With a Doctor of Public Administration online program or a PhD in Public Policy and Administration online program, you can become an expert in the field.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an online Doctor of Public Administration degree program and an online PhD in Public Policy and Administration degree program. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.


*Career options may require additional experience, training, or other factors beyond the successful completion of a degree program.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.

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