MPA Public Administration

The University of Montana’s graduate program in public administration leads to a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree which is typically required for many administrative positions in the public and nonprofit sectors.  The MPA degree can be completed totally online or totally on campus; or, completed using a combination of campus and online classes.

Our online MPA Nonprofit track was ranked the tenth best in the nation in 2016. Our online MPA program was ranked the 18th most affordable program in the nation.

Mission Statement and Public Sector Values

The University of Montana MPA program prepares pre-career and mid-career professionals for dynamic and impactful work in the public and nonprofit sectors by developing a core set of skills, scholarly knowledge, applied, and basic research.

Asserting public service values is at the core of the University of Montana’s mission and thus, carried out by our curriculum. In all of our core classes, we emphasize the need for integrity, ethical conduct, serving the public interest, fairness, accountability, and transparency in public service. ASPAs ethical code is used in many of our classes given that it is the primary professional organization for those in the practice of public administration.

About the Program

The University of Montana’s MPA program is created to be flexible for pre-career and mid-career professionals interested in public and nonprofit careers. The MPA program is offered online or in person. The MPA degree requires completing 36 credits of course work and a portfolio project/exit interview. The MPA program offers two tracks: the traditional MPA degree or a nonprofit administration track. Students may, with the program director’s approval, select other areas of specialization.

MPA Program Admission Standards

  1. A bachelor’s degree;
  2. Cumulative undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher;
  3. Official GRE Scores [GRE is not required if you already have a graduate degree; have ten years or more of public or nonprofit professional work experience demonstrated in resume; completed the nonprofit or public administration certificate; part of the MPA/JD program; or have taken the GMAT or LSAT];
  4. Official Transcripts;
  5. 3 letters of recommendation by professors or former employers;
  6. Personal statement (500 words) concerning the applicant’s objectives to pursue an MPA; and
  7. A resume

Students admitted under provisional status may be elevated to full standing upon successful completion of nine (9) credits of coursework and a positive review by the MPA program faculty.

The Application Process

To apply, please submit the required application form online (with a $60 application fee) via the University of Montana’s Graduate College website. If you have already been admitted to the School of Law within the last year, the application fee is $20.

Please submit the following documents directly with your application to the Graduate College:

  1. Official transcript(s) of previous college work;
  2. Three (3) letters of reference. The official evaluation form is available from the Graduate School web site.
  3. Official scores for the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). See additional information under admissions requirements above. The TOEFL, IELTS or MELAB may substitute for the GRE for international students.
  4. Personal statement (500 words) concerning the applicant’s objectives to pursue an MPA
  5. Resume

Applications are received on a rolling basis; but should be submitted at least 4 weeks before the start of a semester (Summer, Fall, Spring). Applications are reviewed by the MPA Admissions committee when they are completed. 

Graduate students may take MPA courses prior to their admission to the MPA program by applying for graduate nondegree status. Up to nine (9) credit hours taken in nondegree status may be counted toward the degree with the approval of the MPA program director. To apply for graduate nondegree status, click here: Graduate School. If you have been admitted to the School of Law, please work with the Registrar’s Office to transfer materials to the Graduate College.

Master of Public Administration Program Tracks

The MPA program requires satisfactory completion of 36 credits. An internship is suggested (not required) for pre-career students and a portfolio project/exit interview is required for all students.

1. All students in the MPA program are required to complete the following 6 core courses (18 credits):

PUAD 501 Public Administration
PUAD 503 Policy Analysis
PUAD 504 Organization Theory
PUAD 505 Budgeting and Finance
PUAD 506 MPA Applied Research Methods
PUAD 522 Human Resource Management

2. PUAD Elective Courses (students can any of the following elective courses; 18 or more credits; follow the course rotation schedule on our website to see if the class is offered online or in person)     

PUAD 507 Program Evaluation
PUAD 523 Administrative Law 
PSCI 524 Management Skills
PUAD 525 Strategic Planning and Leadership
PUAD 526 Issues in State and Local Government
PUAD 527 Performance Measurement
PUAD 529 Nonprofit Administration
PUAD 547 Legislative Relations
PUAD 561 Ethics in Public Administration
PUAD 595 Special Topics (can take a variety; must be a different topic name, however)
PUAD 596 Independent Study (can take up to 6 credits, work with MPA Director)
PUAD 598 Internship R-6 (CR / NCR only, encouraged if no prior work experience)

3. Outside Course Electives (e.g. law, environmental studies, forestry, work with MPA Director).

This track is designed to prepare students for administrative careers in nonprofit agencies by satisfying the knowledge and skill requirements of both pre-career and mid-career students.

(Note: most of the Nonprofit Administration track courses are offered only online; the standard MPA core classes and the portfolio project are required).

1. All students in Nonprofit Administration must complete the following 8 core classes (23 credits):

PUAD 501 Public Administration
PUAD 503 Policy Analysis
PUAD 504 Organization Theory
PUAD 505 Budgeting and Finance
PUAD 522 Human Resource Management
PUAD 506 MPA Applied Research Methods
PUAD 529 Introduction to Nonprofit Organizations
NPAD 405 Advocacy and Public Policy (2 cr)

2. Students must take 8 or more credits (4 courses) from among the following Nonprofit Administration track courses (these are only offered online and students register for these courses separate from Cyberbear at 

NPAD 401 Nonprofit Human Resource Management (2 cr.)
NPAD 402 Nonprofit Volunteer Management (2 cr.)
NPAD 403 Nonprofit Program Planning and Evaluation (2 cr.)
NPAD 406 Nonprofit Board Management (2 cr.)
NPAD 410 Nonprofit Strategic Planning (2 cr.)
NPAD 411 Nonprofit Grantwriting (2 cr.)
NPAD 412 Nonprofit Fundraising (2 cr.)
NPAD 413 Nonprofit Financial Management (2 cr.)
NPAD 460 Nonprofit Marketing and Social Media (2 cr.)

3. In consultation with the Program Director, students in the Nonprofit Administration track may complete their degree requirements with 5 credits in any of the following:
Approved electives in other departments  
Approved transfer credits  
Approved Independent Study or Internship credits
Optional Nonprofit Internship PUAD 598 
The internship component includes at least 300 hours of volunteer or paid hours working directly with a nonprofit organization. If the student works at a nonprofit organization, professional work that is aligned with the program focus will qualify as internship credit. Students will complete various reflection activities, including a formal, 10-page paper documenting their learning through the internship experience. 

Other Areas of Specialization

Students can concentrate in many areas of specialization with the program director's approval. The areas shown below are offered as samples.

Environmental Administration Suggested Courses

PSCI 460 Regulatory Policy
PSCI 442 Environmental Policy 
PSCI 524 Management Skills
ECON 440/ENST 440 Environmental Economics
ENST 531 Citizen Participation in Environmental Decision Making
ENST 560 Environmental Impact Analysis
ENST 573 Environmental Writing
ENST 580 Politics of Food
ENST 595 Environmental Justice Issues and Solutions
GPHY 466 Environmental Planning
GPHY 561-3 Land Use Law
GPHY 421-3 Sustainable Cities
LAW 650/ENST 564 Environmental Law
NRSM 422 Natural Resources Policy and Administration
NRSM 570 Political Ecology
NRSM 575 Environment and Development
NRSM 513 Natural Resource Dispute Resolution
NRSM 515 Environmental Negotiation and Mediation
NRSM 622 Advanced Natural Resource Policy
PHIL 591 Environmental Philosophy
PUBH 560 Environmental and Rural Health
RECM 451 W Tourism and Sustainability
RECM 582 Wilderness and Protected Area Management
WILD 410 Wildlife Policy and Biopolitics 

International Development Administration Suggested Classes

PSCI 431 Politics of Global Migration
PSCI 432 Inter-American Relations
PSCI 463 Development Administration
PUAD 529 Introduction to Nonprofit Organizations (online only)
PSCI 520 Comparative Politics
PSCI 521 Globalization
PUAD 523 Administrative Law
PSCI 524 Management Skills
PUAD 525 Strategic Planning and Leadership (online only)
ANTY 431 Ethnographic Field Methods
ANTY 444 Culture, Health, and Healing
ANTY 520 Seminar in Ethnography
ANTY 521 Applied Anthropology
COMM 451 Intercultural Communication
ECON 450 Advanced Topics in Economic Development
ECON 443/EVST 441 Environmental Economics
EVST 487 Globalization, Justice and the Environment
FOR 424 Community Forestry and Conservation
FOR 571 International Conservation and Development
GEOG 432/EVST 432 Human Role in Environmental Change
NAS 400 Tribal Sovereignty
PUBH 550 Community-based Health Research
PUBH 580 Rural Health Issues in a Global Context
SOCI 571 Seminar: Rural and Environmental change
SW 465 Social Work in a Global Context
Political Science Summer program in Mexico

Local Government Administration Suggested Courses

PUAD 526 Issues in State and Local Government (online)
PUAD 523 Administrative Law
ECON 406 Industrial Relations
EVST 560 Environmental Impact Analysis
FOR 513 Natural Resource Conflict Resolution
FOR 485 Recreation Planning
GEOG 421Towns and Rural Settlement
GEOG 442 Regionalism and the Rocky Mountain West
GEOG 465 Planning Principles and Processes
GEOG 468 Community and Regional Analysis
GEOG 561 Land Use Planning Law (same as EVST 561 and LAW 687)
SOCI 423 Sociology of Corrections
SOCI 485 Political Sociology
SOCI 530 Criminological Theories
SOCI 538 Seminar in Crime and Deviance

Natural Resource Conflict Resolution Certificate Program 

Many MPA students also enroll in the interdisciplinary Natural Resource Conflict Resolution Certificate program. The certificate is offered through the Center for Natural Resources and Environmental Policy.


Students without professional work experience can arrange 1-6 elective internship credits to count towards the required 36 credits to compete the MPA degree. Internships with a public agency (state, local, or national) or nonprofit association could be beneficial. The work of the intern must involve staffing, budgeting, policy formulation, or substantive line, staff, or auxiliary activities related to the mission of the organization. An internship within the legislative branch, if related to some aspect of administration, is also acceptable. Credit is not allowed for work positions already held by students. A student interested in an internship should, with the MPA director’s approval, complete the learning agreement provided by the Internship Services office and enroll in PSCI 598. (1 credit for each 60 hours of approved internship work, up to 3 credits per internship. A maximum of 6 internship credits can be counted toward the MPA degree).

Portfolio Project

Prior to completion of the MPA program, students must complete a portfolio project, which has written and oral components. Students are responsible for keeping the graded papers needed for the portfolio. Students are required to e-mail the program director a portfolio before or during the last week of regular classes in the semester in which they plan to graduate (e.g. an electronic Adobe Acrobat or Word document). The written portfolio should not exceed 20 pages and contain each component clearly identified by a heading or title, and organized in the following order:

1. A 2-3 page personal essay in which the student describes professional growth during the MPA program, including areas of strength and areas needing continued development.

2. Three public administration-related research papers that are individual (not group) projects; that demonstrate the student’s ability to design, conduct, and analyze research; have been completed for the requirements of a public-sector job, internship, or traditional course; and have received a grade of at least B, which grade is affixed to the project by the professor; or demonstrated by an e-mail from the professor.

3. Separate from the 3 research papers, evidence of the student’s ability to work cooperatively in a team setting, which may stem from a public-sector job, internship, or traditional course.

The oral portion of the portfolio will occur during the final week of classes or ealirer, during the semester in which students plans to graduate. Two MPA faculty members will meet with each student for one hour to review and assess the portfolio and discuss the students experience in the program (an exit interview). At the meeting questions pertaining to coursework may be asked. For campus students this will be a formal meeting on campus; for online students the meeting will use video conferencing programs, such as Skype. Students are responsible to make arrangements for the portfolio review meeting with two MPA faculty members prior to graduation.

A grade of high pass, pass, or fail will be used to evaluate the student’s written and oral portions of the portfolio project. A student must receive an average score of high pass or pass on the written and oral components of the project. Students who fail the portfolio project have a right to resubmit their work to the MPA Director and repeat the exit interview one time. Students that fail the portfolio project a second time can submit an appeal for further consideration to the MPA Director. The MPA Director will meet with the MPA Committee to determine the outcome. 

Written Work

Oral Work

High Pass (9-10   points)

Student follows instructions, provides a clearly organized/well documented portfolio/written portfolio, clear mastery of a variety of public administration   courses, clear   and well written description of professional growth.

Student is well versed in MPA core coursework, ability to apply theory to practice, strong demonstration of professional growth and ability to explain why content was included in written portion of the portfolio.

Pass (7-8 points)

Student follows instructions, professional growth is somewhat unclear, organization could be enhance, but student demonstrates overall mastery of coursework and professional growth.

Student can make some major  connections in MPA core coursework, theory to practice connections are acceptable, and student attempts to explain why elements were included in written portfolio.

Fail (6 or below)


Unorganized,instructions are not followed, does not demonstrate professional growth, and   does   not include evidence of passing level work from course curriculum.

Student presents information in an unprofessional manner, cannot apply theory to practice, does not understand core theories in MPA core courses, professional growth is not demonstrated, and student cannot explain why elements of written portion of portfolio were included.

Passing average score (written and oral) needed = 7-10

Failing average score = if a student receives a score of 6 or lower

Graduate School Rules

All students should be familiar with Graduate School rules. Those regarding continuous registration and program completion within five years may be particularly relevant to you. These rules may be found at the Graduate School.

MPA Program Check Lists and Graduation Application

Contact: Dr. Sara Rinfret at (406) 243-4702 or by e-mail



The MPA program maintains a membership with NASPAA (Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration), which is the global standard in public service education.  It is the membership organization of graduate education programs in public policy, public affairs, public administration, and public & nonprofit management. Its nearly 300 members - located across the U.S. and in 14 countries around the globe - award MPA, MPP, MPAff, and similar degrees.