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Telling Our Stories: Marketing MPA Programs

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By William Hatcher
May 3, 2016

In my last column, I concluded my two-part discussion on the future of MPA programs by noting how programs need to do a better job of marketing to a public that often questions the role of government and public service. MPA programs need to embrace their role in ensuring public goods are delivered in an efficient, effective and fair manner. We need to be proud of public service and the work we do to build public and nonprofit agencies and improve the governing capacity of our communities.

However, MPA programs often lack the expertise to market their assets. In many institutions, MPA directors are the primary marketers of their programs, which is often an issue because many directors are not trained in marketing. Furthermore, many programs are not given adequate financial support to help directors market their programs. Small programs often have difficulty obtaining any support for promotional materials and marketing.

Given this, MPA directors and faculty need to take marketing into their own hands by improving their knowledge of how to promoting academic programs. We need to market our programs to ensure they continue to be strong and benefit our students, alumni and community stakeholder. By becoming marketers for our programs, we will help tell our stories of how MPA programs improve the lives of our students and strengthen our communities.

What stories should we tell? 

With the public’s general distrust of government, public administration must make the case that we provide vital services to our students and communities. Below are some general areas of discussion we should emphasize:

  • MPA programs build governing capacity in our communities, but also in the bureaucracies of the federal government and the states.
  • The MPA is a versatile degree and offers graduates help in a wide range of careers. For instance, according to Network of Schools of Public Affairs, Policy and Administration (NASPAA), around 20 percent of MPA graduates nationwide work for the private sector. The MPA degree is a preferred choice even in fields where there are specialized graduate degrees, such as parks and recreation and public health.
  • MPA programs, by strengthening governance capacity, help ensure our communities, states and nation provide public goods and maintain the features of a professional bureaucracy—efficiency, effectiveness and fairness in government. 

How should we tell these stories?

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Telling our stories is so important that NASPAA has created a committee dedicated to advancing the issue. Additionally, NASPAA encourages accredited programs to communicate (or market) employment information on their websites and in other promotional items. The Web pages of many MPA programs present evidence about how the degree will help advance careers.

What else can programs do to recruit students and market their assets? What are the tools and techniques that will help programs tell their stories?

Our program at Augusta University is implementing a marketing plan that is based on the following techniques:

  • Traditional advertisement through radio, print and television
  • Face-to-face recruitment through targeted meetings with potential students, groups and public agencies
  • Social media 

Many small programs do not have the resources to engage in traditional advertising. Programs may be able to request free or affordable advertising through their local public radio and television stations. When it comes to print advertisements, programs can maintain a relationship with local print publications to send the outlets stories about students and alumni in the hopes of getting free media.

While traditional advertisement is beneficial, word-of-mouth is often the best way to market programs, especially ones with close ties to their communities. Face-to-face recruitment and social media are affordable options to help programs capitalize on their positive reputations. Having an active social media site, such as a Facebook fan page, can help recruit potential students and also maintain a sense of community among students, alumni and stakeholders.

Perhaps the best way for MPA programs to tell their stories is to have an active alumni group and advisory board. They can serve as examples to potential students of what the degree can do for communities and careers.

In my next column, I plan to explore how MPA programs need to focus on recruiting underrepresented groups in their marketing efforts to ensure a bureaucracy that resembles and represents our communities.


AuthorWilliam Hatcher, Ph.D., is an associate professor and director of the master of public administration program at Augusta University. He can be reached at [email protected].  (His opinions are his own and do not necessarily represent those of his employer.)

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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