Beyond the Usual Complaints: The Front-Line Challenges and Opportunities of Small MPA Programs

his article uses narratives to consider our experiences administering a small, regionally focused Master of Public Administration (MPA) program accredited by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration. Small programs are the majority of public administration programs in the United States, and they have unexpected challenges and opportunities. As directors and department chair, we have identified the following particular challenges: (1) explaining the MPA program and its merit to internal constituencies within the university, (2) valuing a graduate program in an institution that emphasizes undergraduate education, (3) being the program’s only advocate, (4) contending with perverse incentives regarding the best and brightest prospective students, (5) capitalizing on the undergraduate emphasis and including graduate students, (6) existing in the world of both undergraduate and graduate education, and (7) grappling with the changing public sector landscape in the region the program serves. This article explores these challenges through personal stories, drawing lessons and offering suggestions.