Pursuing a graduate degree usually means a big payoff for your future but it can feel counterintuitive to take off a whole year or two from your career. That’s where part-time degree programs come in. Earning your degree as a part-time student means you can continue to work while you gain relevant skills to move your public sector career forward. But there’s more to it than just avoiding a break in your resume.
The number of students enrolling in part-time degree programs grew 13.5% between the fall of 2019 and fall of 2020. While a number of students likely were pushed to pursue online part-time programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on on-campus learning, many others are simply embracing the opportunity presented by part-time graduate degree programs. Keep reading to take a closer look at the pros and cons of earning your Master of Public Administration part-time.
The Advantages of a Part-Time MPA
Work While You Learn
One of the struggles that looms largest for professionals considering returning to school for a graduate degree is the feeling that taking a break will be giving up the ground they’ve gained in their career. If you’re interested in an MPA and you’re already working in the public sector, you know that resources are often tight at not-for-profit organizations and highly regulated in governmental agencies. Those types of organizations often can’t hold positions while their employees take time off. Further, you may really love what you do and not want to leave in the middle of certain projects or give up spending time with coworkers and getting satisfaction from your work.
Fortunately, many universities now offer part-time programs online that are designed for working professionals. These programs allow for the coupled goals of keeping a job and gaining an education that will fuel career advancement. Although splitting your time may initially feel like you’re making a compromise, working while pursuing a degree actually has a lot of benefits.
Maintain a Paycheck
Of course, the number one benefit of working while in school is that you can maintain an income. Whether you cut back on working hours or rearrange your schedule or don’t have to change anything about your work, is up to you and your employer. In any case, having a consistent paycheck while you earn your degree will certainly provide you with peace-of-mind and might help minimize the amount of scholarship funds or loans you have to seek out while you earn your degree.
Seek Tuition Assistance
Along with using your income to cover tuition costs, another benefit to keeping a job while you’re in school is the opportunity to receive tuition assistance. Tuition assistance programs are a type of benefit offered at some companies in which an employer reimburses employees for the costs associated with continuing education.2 In 2019, one research firm found that 56 percent of employers offered undergraduate or graduate school tuition assistance to their employees,3 so it’s definitely worth asking your human resources or benefits department if that’s something available to you. If you’re pursuing an MPA degree to increase your skills and improve outcomes at your organization, you have an even better argument for your employer to aid you in your academic pursuit. While it’s unlikely that your employer will cover your entire tuition, any little bit helps. You can also consider negotiating an agreement to receive a raise once you’ve completed your MPA program.
Gain Immediately Applicable, Relevant Skills
The nature of MPA programs is to provide courses that will make you a more competent public sector professional. MPA curricula are often made up of more practical skills courses than theoretical ones. This means that as you progress through your program and learn things like public personnel administration, budgeting and financial management, nonprofit law and other skills, you’ll be able to turn around and bring those into work with you. Pursuing a part-time MPA and maintaining your career could lead to an improvement in your work and could even help you earn a raise or a new title before you graduate. If you’re looking to change careers or organizations, working while you’re in school will give you a solid opportunity to practice your new skills and add experiences to your resume.
Contribute to a Positive Cohort Experience
One selfless reason to consider a part-time MPA degree is that professionals who are actively working tend to have a positive impact on their peers. Class discussions are livelier, more in-depth, and offer better insights when a diverse group of students are involved. The experiences you bring from your job could help better illustrate a lesson or you could even potentially get assistance from your instructors and peers about any challenges you’re facing at work that relate to the coursework. Keeping your job while pursuing a graduate degree can really give you and your peers a more well-rounded perspective on the field. Further, a cohort of current and future public administration professionals is a perfect opportunity to network with like-minded individuals.
Embrace the Opportunities of Flexibility
Contributing to the number of students choosing to pursue part-time MPA programs rather than full-time degrees is the availability of online NASPAA-accredited programs. Online degrees offer additional flexibility to part-time students because it means you can take classes from anywhere. While there are still due dates and occasional mandatory class meetings or testing times, in some online programs, you can even complete assignments and learning modules at whatever time works best for you. That means you don’t have to worry about days when you end up working late or missing important work meetings.
The Challenges of a Part-Time Graduate Degree
Spend More Time Completing Your Degree
Naturally, the biggest potential downside to a part-time MPA program is that it will take you longer to complete the course and graduate. Generally, students need 36 credits to graduate with an MPA. Depending on the number of courses that are available each semester, you might be able to complete an MPA in about one year full-time, but many programs will take longer.
Juggle More Responsibilities
While part-time and online MPA programs do offer a lot of flexibility, you’ll need to be organized enough to handle your various responsibilities. Some people love that they’re able to go to work, take care of their kids and go to school at the same time. But others feel that adding one more thing to their to-do list could put them overboard. A part-time degree program definitely isn’t for everyone, but if you’re interested in it, make sure you have some plans in place for how you’ll manage your time.
Miss Some On-Campus Experiences
Another oft-cited concern from students completing part-time programs is that they’ll miss out on the experiences of full-time students like graduate conferences, on-campus events or office hours. While it’s true that you might miss some of the spontaneity of a university campus, you also won’t have to deal with commuting, parking, packing food, or other additional campus challenges and expenses. Plus, when it comes to online programs, they’re often a lot more collaborative than you may think. Many universities offer robust online learning management systems that include chat features and the ability for professors to hold virtual office hours on video conferencing platforms.
Earn your MPA Online in as Few as Twenty-Four Months
When you break down the pros and cons, it’s clear that a part-time MPA program offers quite a few advantages. The Kent State University online Master in Public Administration offers an accredited, comprehensive public administration curriculum online and part-time for working professionals looking to advance their careers. If you think the program is right for you, apply today.
- Retrieved on January 11, 2022, from insidehighered.com/news/2021/10/18/graduate-enrollment-grew-2020-despite-pandemic
- Retrieved on January 11, 2022, from inc.com/encyclopedia/tuition-assistance-programs.html
- Retrieved on January 11, 2022, from statista.com/statistics/554081/percent-of-us-employers-offering-education-benefits/