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Overview of an Associates in Public Administration

If you'd like to enter the career field of public administration, you may be confused about which degree you should pursue. If you're considering entering an associate degree in public administration program, there are both positive and negative aspects to this choice and a variety of online and in-person options. Graduation from public administration programs offered by community colleges or universities prepares students for careers in the public sector, state and local government, law enforcement, political positions, and further academic learning in higher-level degree programs, whether a bachelor's in information technology or organizational leadership or a Master of Public Administration. The content of an online or traditional associate degree in public administration program can prepare students for the public sector and allow them to skip as much as half of the credit hours of a future liberal arts bachelor's program, no matter where their studies take them.

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  • An associate degree only takes about two years to complete, so you can enter the job market fairly soon whether you choose to earn an online degree or not.
  • If you didn't do great in high school, you won't have to worry about being accepted into a four-year bachelor program that typically requires a minimum GPA. Most community college programs are relatively easy to get into and still offer financial aid with the right accreditation.
  • Because they are offered at community colleges, an associate degree in public administration is low-cost compared to four-year colleges and many still offer the option for online courses and online programs.
  • With an associate degree, you will typically earn more and have more opportunities than someone who holds no degree because your knowledge and skills will be better.
  • When you graduate, you'll have a solid understanding of public administration and will be eligible for support roles within the public sector.
  • When you finish, you will have half the credit hours needed for a bachelor's degree.
  • You'll gain exposure to different careers with a public administration degree and be able to focus your goals more clearly.


  • The majority of entry-level jobs in public administration require at least a bachelor’s level degree so you probably won't qualify for most positions within the field.
  • Your curriculum will be limited, and you may not be able to take the courses you want; this may be an issue if there is a specific career or area of public administration you'd like to enter.
  • Even if the curriculum is available, it may not be as likely to be available online from a community college. Or, if there are courses available online, you may need to complete the program through a hybrid (online and in-person courses) program or fully in-person.
  • All of your credits may not transfer to a four-year college, so you have to track transfer qualifications, this may be especially true with an online public administration program.
  • With an Associate of Arts degree in public administration, you won't qualify to earn special certifications within the field of public administration.
  • If you're competing for a position with someone who holds a bachelor's degree, the other person will have a distinct advantage.
  • You will most likely earn less than a person with a bachelor's degree, even if you hold the same position and seniority.

Best Online Associate Programs in Public Administration


Hudson Valley Community College

Score: 88.94

  • Undergraduate Tuition
    • In-State: $6,694
    • Out-of-State: $11,750
  • Net Price: $7,815
  • Acceptance Rate: 100%
  • Retention Rate: 62%
  • Graduation Rate: 29%
  • Total Enrollment: 9,140
  • Undergrad Students: 9,140
  • Graduate Students: N/A
  • Grads Salary: $38,600
  • Student-to-faculty: 16:1
  • Hudson Valley Community College

Rio Salado College

Score: 77.71

  • Undergraduate Tuition
    • In-State: $2,358
    • Out-of-State: $8,958
  • Net Price: $6,834
  • Acceptance Rate: 100%
  • Retention Rate: 60%
  • Graduation Rate: 10%
  • Total Enrollment: 17,078
  • Undergrad Students: 17,078
  • Graduate Students: N/A
  • Grads Salary: $45,300
  • Student-to-faculty: 28:1
  • Rio Salado College
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  • Undergraduate Tuition
    • In-State: $8,618
    • Out-of-State: $21,548
  • Net Price: $9,973
  • Acceptance Rate: 100%
  • Retention Rate: 66%
  • Graduation Rate: 23%
  • Total Enrollment: 4,446
  • Undergrad Students: 4,384
  • Graduate Students: 62
  • Grads Salary: $37,400
  • Student-to-faculty: 15:1
  • University of Maine at Augusta
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Tyler Junior College

Score: 69.41

  • Undergraduate Tuition
    • In-State: $5,002
    • Out-of-State: $5,752
  • Net Price: $10,375
  • Acceptance Rate: 100%
  • Retention Rate: 65%
  • Graduation Rate: 21%
  • Total Enrollment: 11,901
  • Undergrad Students: 11,901
  • Graduate Students: N/A
  • Grads Salary: $37,800
  • Student-to-faculty: 20:1
  • Tyler Junior College

Certificate vs. Associates

Certification in public administration fields is restricted to higher degrees. For the most part, certification is for someone who holds an online bachelor or master degree in another field who wishes to switch careers to public administration. Certificate programs are also used when one holds an online bachelor's degree and is applying for a master's program and wants to expedite their knowledge base before earning their graduate degree. These certifications can often be earned online, but may not be available to those who have online earned an associate degree, whether it was earned online or not.

What Public Administration Associate Degrees are Available?

There are two degrees available for public administration:

  • Associate of Arts (AA)
  • Associate of Science (AS)

For the most part, an AA program will allow you more flexibility when choosing your elective courses. Your curriculum will be open to opt for classes in art, physical education, language, or any other subjects offered online or on campus at your school of choice.

On the other hand, an AS degree program is more restrictive in regard to electives. Your choices will be narrowed to several specific classes related to the subject of public administration.

Both types of public administration degrees have merit. If your primary concern is raising your GPA for acceptance into a bachelor's degree program, you might find easier classes with an AA. On the other hand, with an AS you may find courses that are prerequisites to courses found in a bachelor program or are subjects within the career you plan to pursue. Your best bet is to compare the curriculum of each to several bachelor degree programs and see which aligns best with your long-term plans. You might even compare online vs. in-person degrees from around the country or near you to see what the differences are.

Admission Requirements

For the most part, the only requirement to enter an online or traditional associate program in public administration is a high school diploma or GED. That being said, in your first year of college you will need to take basic college courses in English and mathematics. If you are weak in one or both of these subjects, you may wish to take a refresher or remedial course before entering a full-time online program or even an in-person campus where you will have more access to assistance.

It's important to note that entry into an online bachelor's program is more challenging so you should strive to keep your GPA high throughout your associate degree program so you can easily enter a four-year college as your next educational step.

How long does it take to earn an online Public Administration Associates?

An online associate degree is considered a two-year program in that you can earn the degree in two years if you attend school full-time. Even online programs usually take around two years. You will need to complete 60 credit hours, which is about 20 college courses. Some schools offer expedited online degrees that only take 18 months to complete. You can also shorten your time in school by testing out of certain subjects such as English and mathematics.

If you're still in high school, you may qualify to take college courses in your junior and senior years. You should opt to do so whenever possible as you can complete one or more semesters of college before graduating high school.

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Potential Careers in Public Administration with an Associates

Although your online associate degree won't qualify you for entry-level positions as a public administrator there are still many positions you might find once you earn your degree. Here's a look at some examples of positions you might find in non-profit organizations, government agencies, and similar employers and the average salary of each.

  • Program Administrator:
    You’ll organize and lead a team in fundraising, planning missions and projects, and gathering donations within a non-profit organization. Program administrator is a middle management position that reports to a program manager and earns an average annual income of $55,500.
  • Grant Writer:
    You’ll write, apply for, and report on grants, most often for non-profit organizations. Grant writers often have flexible hours and may also work in a freelance capacity. They may be required to travel, depending on the company or agency of employment and earn an average annual salary of $48,900.
  • City Clerk:
    You’ll draft the bylaws and general agenda for city meetings, record the minutes of meetings, prepare reports, and answer correspondence as required. A city clerk may work with the public, maintain documents, and prepare ordinances for public notification. City clerks earn an average annual salary of $48,300.
  • Occupational Safety Coordinator:
    You’ll supervise the safety of a company's employees by ensuring safety requirements are in place and safety protocols are being followed by all employees. An occupational safety coordinator may also be charged with training employees in best safety practices as set by the employer. Their average annual salary is $55,200.
  • Accounting Clerk:
    An accounting clerk is well-trained in maintaining the ledgers of a business and must be fluent with accounts payable and receivable, cash transactions, and similar bookkeeping tasks. In a smaller company they may work on all aspects of record keeping, while in a larger corporation they may be in charge of a single aspect of an account. Their average annual income is $39,400.

Options to Advance

To advance in the field of public administration you should plan on earning at least an online bachelor’s degree. This will qualify you to apply for entry-level positions as an administrator. Once you are sure which area of public administration you prefer, you should enroll in a master degree program in order to become an expert in your field.

With an online master's degree, you’ll be eligible for positions in upper management. Your choice of specialization may also require you to earn one or more certificates, so you should research the requirements once you know what area of concentration you will study.

Frequently Asked Questions

Will an associate degree get me a job in public administration?

There are definitely associate degrees in this field, but you might be wondering if that is really enough education for you to make your way into a management role in this field. That’s where this becomes more complicated. You can certainly obtain a role with an associate degree in this field, but it may not be a management or administrative role. These degrees are excellent for those who wish to get started in the field right away, and they can provide you with access to entry-level roles in public administration departments, non-profits, and more. However, most public administration roles are offered only to those with at least a bachelor’s degree in the field. With years of experience, you might be able to rise to this level without the education to go along with it, but it will likely take a very long time. You are likely better off, if you want to work at the highest levels, going back to school after you get your first job and earning the next degree level.

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