MPA Handbook


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HANDBOOK:  Masters in Public Administration (MPA) Degree

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Point of contact for prospective students:  Dr. Meg Streams, Dept. Chair
Point of contact for admitted students: Advisors

Quick Links to MPA Student FORMS:

Note: All forms should be viewed and completed using Adobe Reader (free) or Adobe Acrobat.  The "Preview" application on Mac computers may not work properly with these forms.

  • Admission deadlines: April 1 (Summer); July 1 (Fall); November 1 (Spring).  We will consider applications received after the deadline when possible but please note applications received close to the start of the semester do not allow sufficient time for processing; acceptance if granted will be for the following semester.

  • APPLY by filling out the TSU Graduate School inquiry form; when you submit that form you will be taken to the GradCAS application system, where you can complete your actual application. If you need to apply for readmission after an interruption in your MPA studies, you will also do that starting from the inquiry form -- but look for the "READMIT" program application in GradCAS, do not complete another full degree application. If you applied for a program before in GradCAS, use a different email address when you complete the inquiry form or else you will just be taken back to the earlier program.

  • MPA Program of Study, Capstone Course/Project pattern (applies to all students admitted to MPA for Fall 2020 and after)
  • MPA Reflective Statement of Purpose Requirement
  • MPA Internship Exemption Instructions and Form
  • MPA Internship Forms


I. Key guiding documents

II. The purpose and uses of the MPA degree

III. TSU MPA degree Program Competencies and Student Learning Outcomes 

IV. Applying for admission to the MPA degree

V. Tuition and fees, graduate assistantships and other funding support

VI. Advising and course selection

VII. Succeeding in your coursework and making satisfactory progress towards your degree

VIII. The MPA internship requirement and exemption (must complete successfully either the six internship credits OR the exemption process with advisor approval, prior to graduation)

IX.  The MPA Reflective Statement of Purpose requirement (must complete successfully prior to graduation)

X. The MPA Capstone Course and project requirement for students admitted for the Fall 2020 semester and after (must successfully complete prior to graduation if this applies to you)

XI.  Preparing to graduate

HANDBOOK:  Masters in Public Administration (MPA) Degree 

Point of contact for prospective students:  Dr. Meg Streams, Interim Dept. Chair
Point of contact for admitted students: Advisors

I. Key guiding documents | back to Table of Contents

  1. TSU Graduate Catalog - Relevant policies are found in the Policies section of the TSU Graduate Catalog , which apply to all TSU graduate students. It's important to also visit the College of Public Service section which includes the MPA degree specifics. Please note that this handbook, while it provides useful details for prospective and current students, does not replace or supersede the Graduate Catalog, nor does it cover all the important elements of policy included in the Catalog. All applicants and students are responsible for knowing and abiding by TSU, Graduate School, and program policies outlined in the Catalog.
  2. The MPA program mission and values statement

II. The purpose and uses of the MPA degree| back to Table of Contents

  1. Why public service?  Our accreditor, the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA), provides background on the MPA degree and its uses. Information is also available from our accrediting agency on accredited programs.
  2. To learn more about our program's goals, please review our MPA program mission and program factsheet.

III. TSU MPA degree Program Competencies and Student Learning Outcomes | back to Table of Contents

  1. MPA graduates in our program are expected to achieve the following five overarching Program Competencies (PCs; derived from the standards of our accrediting body, NASPAA), consistent with our mission:
    1. Each MPA graduate will be competent to lead and manage in the public interest.
    2. Each MPA graduate will be competent to participate in, and contribute to, the policy process.
    3. Each MPA graduate will be competent to analyze, synthesize, think critically, solve problems, and make evidence-informed decisions in a complex and dynamic environment.
    4. Each MPA graduate will be competent to articulate, apply, and advance a public service perspective.
    5. Each MPA graduate will be competent to communicate and interact productively and in culturally responsive ways with a diverse and changing workforce and society at large. (see also our Communication Resources page)
  2. A set of more detailed student learning outcomes (SLOs) are associated with each of the five PCs above. To understand what specific skills, abilities and knowledge areas are included in the MPA degree at TSU, review our competency and learning outcomes by course.
  3. For more insight into how the detailed course content in various topic areas of the curriculum relate to the SLOs and program-level competencies, examine sample syllabi (these are past examples provided for prospective students; current students should always ask the instructor for a current syllabus.)
  4. Please review this advice about textbooks.

IV. Applying for admission to the TSU MPA degree | back to Table of Contents

  1. There are two paths to the MPA, which are (1) Direct Admission to the MPA - have an undergraduate GPA of 2.7 or higher from an accredited college or university, or (2) Graduate Certificate Bridge Admission to the MPA - have an undergraduate GPA between 2.5 and 2.69 from an accredited college or university, begin in one of our graduate certificate programs, and complete the selected graduate certificate program with a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Please note that because the MPA is a 100 percent online degree, admission cannot be used to support an application for a student visa to reside in the United States.
  2. Apply Today!

V. Tuition and Fees, graduate assistantships and other funding support | back to Table of Contents

  1. TUITION AND FEES; OUT-OF-STATE eRate: Tuition and fees for programs at TSU are available at the Bursar's website. All programs in the Department of Public Administration are delivered 100% online. Tennessee residency as defined by the University is required for in-state tuition and fees.  Out-of-state students taking only online courses may be eligible for the TSU graduate out-of-state eRate, which is lower than regular out-of-state graduate rates. Please learn more about this possibility at the Bursar's website and at the TSU Out Of State eRate page. Follow any instructions regarding eligibility at the TSU Out Of State eRate page. It is the student's responsibility to ensure that the proper rate for the current semester's classes was applied by monitoring their account carefully in myTSU and following up promptly with the Bursar's Office as needed. Tuition, fees, and eRate availability are determined at the University level and may change over time. [Out-of-state eRate graphic pdf]
  2. PAYMENT AND PENALTIES FOR DROPPING/WITHDRAWING: Payment due dates are available at the Bursar's website. All students using any form of aid must confirm their registration following the Bursar's instruction. Dropping (without adding a replacement) or withdrawing from a class starting on the first day of the semester on incurs a penalty that increases over time; see Bursar's site for prorate schedule. Note that withdrawing before the withdrawal deadline in the Academic Calendar means you will get a W on your transcript for that course -- but depending on exactly when you withdrew during the semester, you may still be charged for part or all of the tuition and fees for that course (Bursar's prorate schedule.) It is the student's responsibility to monitor their student account and resolve any balance issues.
  3. FINANCIAL AID: To use US federal financial aid in a given semester of graduate study in the department, at least two courses must be taken that semester. It is the student's responsibility to monitor their student email account and myTSU account records throughout the year for messages from Financial Aid, and to promptly complete any necessary steps which may apply (such as entrance counseling, Master Promissory Note, or other requirements to receive and accept a loan for a given semester.) All students using any form of aid must confirm their registration following the Bursar's instruction. Always be aware of the terms of any loan accepted for graduate study, the applicable annual and aggregate limits given your situation, and the effect a decision to drop or withdraw from, or repeat a class or poor academic performance may have on your aid and balance owed.  All questions regarding financial aid should be directed to the Financial Aid office (include your T-number); there is a financial aid counselor assigned to graduate students (contact).
  4. RISK TO FEDERAL AID ELIGIBILITY - COURSE PROGRAM OF STUDY REQUIREMENT (CPoS): Federal financial aid will NOT PAY for any courses not showing as part of your program of study in DegreeWorks (access via DegreeWorks link under Student Services in myTSU; it is farther down than Banner Services link). While some common substitutions an advisor may make have been coded into the system, less common substitutions have not. Additionally, certain courses/scenarios may not be accurately assessed by the system. It is the student's responsibility to check DegreeWorks after registering and after any change in registration to check if any registered courses are showing as "Fall Through" or “Additional Courses” (these are the course(s) that will generate a CPOS alert/flag in the financial aid system) -- those courses will NOT be covered for by financial aid unless proper, prompt action is taken. Furthermore, if a CPOS alert on one course drops your financial aid-eligible enrollment" below 6 credits, NO financial aid can be released even if the second course is in CPOS because Federal financial aid requires graduate students to be taking at least six credits. You must check DegreeWorks after every registration OR change in registration to make sure no current courses are listed under "Fall Through" or "Additional Courses" (look below the Major Requirements section). If you see any courses in those areas, contact Dr. Streams immediately at; she will advise you if it is not the right course to take or else request the Graduate School to code in the substitution in DegreeWorks. Once the change is made in DegreeWorks, it can take up to two full business days for it to reflect in CPoS so do not delay. You should also check your CPoS record in myTSU>Banner Services>Financial Aid [tab]>CPoS - Course program of study [link]. CPoS should show your current registrations – verify that it shows the same total of aid eligible credits as you are enrolled (both must be 6 or more to receive any aid). If there is a difference between the two totals, you need to seek advising right away just like with the Fall-through class in DegreeWorks. All issues must be resolved well before Day 14 into the fall or spring semester (weekends count) because after Day 14, financial aid enrollment is "frozen." The equivalent freeze date comes earlier in summer terms (ask Financial Aid for exact date); yet another reason to get any issues resolved before the first day of classes every time. Costs begin to accrue Day 1 of every semester. 
  5. USING STATE OF TENNESSEE FEE WAIVERS (state employees only): Students wishing to use a state fee waiver to pay for a course must email the completed fee waiver with all signatures directly to before class start, and never more than 14 days after semester start. Late waivers will not be processed and you will be responsible for your balance. A new waiver must be submitted EVERY semester -- they do not "roll over." Put "State Fee Waiver" in the subject header of your message to the Bursar's office. Include your name and T-number in the message with the attached waiver. Double-check to make sure you sent the waiver attached. Save a copy of your sent message for your records. Waivers sent soon after registration opens should post to your student account in myTSU by a few weeks before classes start; if not, follow up promptly with If you registered and sent a waiver close to the start of classes, check your myTSU student account daily to make sure it posts. It should post within a few days of sending in that case. It is the student's responsibility to send the fee waiver in a timely fashion prior to semester start, and it is the student's responsibility to verify that it posts properly to the student account. Do not wait till late in a semester or the next semester to try to resolve an issue -- waiver issues must be resolved promptly in the beginning of the semester of use. Questions should be sent to; visit the Bursar's website. The current state policy and FAQ on the fee waiver is available at THEC's website. Waivers may only be used for one non-overlapping course per regular semester, summer 10-week, or summer 5-week term unless a special state exemption applies based on your state position. If the exemption applies, your HR person must indicate that on the waiver, when they sign it (see the state policy). No one, with or without the exemption, may take more than 4 classes per year with a waiver. It is the student's responsibility to know the current state policy as it applies to their situation and register for classes accordingly. Error or delay in filing the waiver with the Bursar office will result in the student bearing liability for the course, and may prevent further registration as well as access to grades and transcripts until the balance is paid. Here is a graphic pdf version of fee waiver tips.
  6. COSTS OF LATE SCHEDULE ADJUSTMENT, LATE REGISTRATION, WITHDRAWING FROM CLASSES:"Late" begins the day classes start (see the relevant Academic Calendar). Late registration/add/drop incurs a fee (see the Academic Calendar for dates of add/drop). Dropping or withdrawing from a class incurs an increasing penalty beginning on the first day of the semester and rising to full cost of the course well before the withdrawal deadline itself -- see the Bursar's webpage for the proration schedule. Impact of retakes, withdrawals, and other issues with course completion or academic progress on financial aid is an individual situation -- any questions about aid must be directed to the Financial Aid Office. Non-financial aid-related questions about your balance and student account should go to the Bursar's Office. Always have your schedule set in place before the first day of classes with appropriate classes for your program of study, and with your balance or payment plan settled, to avoid problems and risk of extra costs. Students using aid of any type must confirm their attendance (review the instructions at the Bursar's Office webpage).   
  7. Students directly admitted to the MPA can apply for a graduate assistantship, subject to available openings and funds. This is a selective process and only individuals who have been directly admitted to the MPA (or current MPA students) may apply. Please note that we cannot guarantee that graduate assistantships, once awarded, will be available in subsequent years to the same student.
  8. For further details about GAships, please consult the FAQ about financial support for the MPA program.
  9. To apply for a GAship, complete the graduate assistantship application and submit to Department of Public Administration via email to Interim Department Chair Dr. Streams

VI. Advising and course selection | back to Table of Contents

  1. Advisors are assigned by program and/or certificate being pursued; see this list of advisors and their contact information.  
  2. In your first semester, you should arrange a meeting with your advisor to complete a program of study (plan for graduation) and to discuss the internship or internship waiver requirements. Continue to check in with your advisor every semester before course selection to verify that your choices are appropriate and to complete any necessary paperwork to complete program benchmarks. You should arrange a meeting with your advisor prior to your last semester in the program to discuss the necessary steps for graduation. Seeking advising regularly is your responsibility as a graduate student and will help to ensure a smooth path through the program.
  3. Admitted students may access the course schedule and register for a semester's coursework in the myTSU system.  That system is also where you confirm your registration, access information about billing and financial aid status, view your unofficial transcript and see which programs you have been admitted to, apply to graduate.
  4. Every MPA student should seek advising via email before enrolling the first time to ensure their first courses are appropriate, and then should request an in-depth advising appointment during the first semester to plan the entire course of study with their advisor. Any changes to the course of study along the way should be checked promptly with the advisor as well. Contact your advisor.
  5. Most MPA students choose to complete a graduate certificate along with their MPA. It's important that you choose your certificate early in your studies to allow for proper advising because the certificate you choose dictates what three electives you will take in the MPA. Contact your advisor to make this decision, which must be communicated to the Graduate School as well by your advisor; to receive a certificate, you should have the certificate showing as your secondary program in myTSU (Banner) and the MPA showing as your primary program. Contact your advisor.
  6. If you are pursuing a certificate as well as the MPA, read the relevant FAQ carefully. Students in the Public Administration Executive Leadership certificate must consult their advisor directly.
    - Course selection and forms - MPA plus Graduate Certificate - Public Policy
    - Course selection and forms - MPA plus Graduate Certificate - Nonprofit Management
    - Course selection and forms - MPA plus Graduate Certificate - Local Government Administration
  7. To learn more about earning a graduate certificate along with your MPA degree, review these frequently asked questions about completing both the MPA degree and one of the PA department graduate certificates.
  8. With advisor permission, under certain circumstances we allow students to substitute specific courses from the MPS program (through TN eCampus, formerly known as Regents Online Campus Collaborative) for specific required courses in the MPA program.  If your advisor gives you permission for this substitution, review this FAQ about taking an MPS course.

VII.  Succeeding in coursework and making satisfactory progress toward your degree | back to Table of Contents

  1. Review this FAQ on Taking graduate courses and maintaining good standing.
  2. Review this FAQ on Advice about textbook and other required course materials.
  3. Consult our Communication Resources selected by the program faculty, which can benefit MPA students throughout their studies,

VIII.  The MPA internship requirement and exemption | back to Table of Contents

  1. REQUIREMENT: MPA students have a six-credit internship requirement. 
    EXEMPTION: Those students with a year or more professional-level experience in public, nonprofit, or public affairs/governmental relations settings may apply for the internship exemption subject to advisor and department approval. You should discuss your professional experience with your advisor at the Program of Study advising appointment, which you should schedule during your first semester in the program.
  2. Read the frequently asked questions about the MPA internship requirement, and exemption from the requirement; including necessary forms and links to recent internship host examples. Information on recent internships by year of graduation is also included in our MPA program factsheet.
  3. INTERNSHIP INSTRUCTIONS AND FORMS: Direct links to internship documents are as follows:

    - MPA internship instructions for host organizations
    - MPA internship syllabus (instructions for students re: internships for credit requirements)
    - MPA internship details FORM (student submits to internship coordinator/dept. chair prior to starting internship)
    - MPA internship evaluation FORM (internship supervisor to complete)

  4. EXEMPTION INSTRUCTIONS AND FORM: If your advisor has approved you to apply for exemption from the internship based on your professional experience, then review the materials you will need to submit: 

    - INSTRUCTIONS and FORM for internship exemption documentation. 

    EXEMPTION MATERIALS DEADLINE: The internship exemption materials are due to your advisor as a single PDF file (by the following day: 2nd Friday in November for Fall grads; 2nd Friday in April for Spring grads; 3rd Friday in June for Summer grads).

IX.  The MPA reflective statement of purpose requirement (replaces former MPA writing portfolio requirement; change effective beginning Spring Semester 2022) | back to Table of Contents

  1. REQUIREMENT: All MPA students must submit a single PDF file containing BOTH their original statement of purpose (submitted when you applied to the MPA program) along with a reflective, revised statement of purpose prepared according to (3) below, as well as a current resume, to their advisor in their last semester.
  2. DEADLINE: The PDF file must be provided by email to your advisor by the following day in the semester you are graduating: 2nd Friday in November for Fall grads; 2nd Friday in April for Spring Grads; 3rd Friday in June for Summer Grads).
  3. TO INCLUDE: In a single PDF file, provide:

    1. A copy of your original “Statement of Purpose,” submitted with your MPA program application. If you are unable to locate this file, you may ask your advisor to provide you a copy from your application documents.

    2. A new Reflective Statement of Purpose discussing 1) how your ideas regarding public service have been affected by studying for this degree, 2) how your future goals have changed, if applicable, 3) how your current career has been affected by what you have learned, and 4) other impacts of your graduate studies in public administration. If you obtained a graduate certificate from the department as part of or prior to receiving your MPA, that part of your education is also relevant to this task). Please ensure this revised statement is carefully written and proofread to demonstrate your current, professional writing skill level as you are completing your graduate degree. You may find it helpful to review the mission and values statement for the MPA program as well as the five core program competencies and associated student learning outcomes of the MPA degree as you prepare your reflective statement of purpose. Your new Reflective statement of purpose should not exceed 2 single-spaced or 4 double-spaced pages.

    3. A current resume (updated as of your graduation semester). Please include a non-student email address so you can continue to receive updates from the department as an alum.

  4. NOTE: This requirement replaces the previous MPA writing portfolio requirement; the writing portfolio did include the reflective statement of purpose but also had other required elements. This change applies to MPA students graduating in semesters beginning Spring 2022; department faculty voted to make the change in mid-December 2021.

X. The MPA Capstone Course and Capstone project requirement for those admitted for Fall 2020 and after | back to Table of Contents

  1. All MPA students admitted to begin the program in Fall 2020 and after must successfully complete, as part of the nine required core courses, PADM 6700 Capstone Course and its associated project requirement in order to graduate with the degree (instead of taking PADM 6150 IT & the Public Sector and passing the MPA comprehensive exam.)
  2. The Capstone Project, completed during the capstone core course (PADM 6700) offers each student the opportunity to demonstrate mastery of the theory and practice of public administration by applying the knowledge and skills gained in the MPA program to a client-based project of the student’s choice (subject to the course instructor’s advanced approval). As part of this course, the student will complete a project report for the client organization that reflects application of knowledge, skills, and abilities developed in the MPA program to the project. The products from this course will serve as tangible evidence of a graduating MPA student’s qualifications and expertise. More information on the structure of the course and the nature of the project is included in this sample Capstone syllabus (note, however, that the controlling syllabus will be the one distributed by the course instructor to registrants in a given semester -- this is just a sample).
  3. The course is intended only for students who are completing their Masters of Public Administration (MPA).
  4. In order to enroll in this course, MPA students must have completed PADM 6130 (Research Methods), PADM 6500 (Internship) if required, and be no more than one (1) semester away from graduating. Therefore, a student who wants to graduate in the Spring, could take this course during the Spring when they expect to graduate or during the preceding Fall semester. Students who are unsure about whether they are eligible to take this course yet should consult their advisor.
  5. The Capstone course (PADM 6700) and project requirement became effective for all students admitted to the MPA program for the Fall 2020 semester and following. No student subject by their semester of admission (admitted for Fall 2020 and after) to the Capstone plan may choose instead to take the comprehensive exam.
  6. Students who were admitted for earlier semesters prior to Fall 2020 are required instead to take a different ninth core course - PADM 6150 Information Technology for Public Administrators - and to complete the MPA comprehensive exam successfully (there are no credits associated with the exam itself). Such students have an option to switch to the PADM 6700 Capstone Course and project requirement, as a replacement for the PADM 6150 core course and the MPA Comprehensive Exam. Students must request this change from their advisor. The advisor will go over the implications with them given their particular circumstances, particularly whether they have already taken PADM 6150 and what certificate, if any, they have pursued along with the MPA. Advisor permission is required to switch to the capstone pattern and associated curriculum, and once chosen it is not possible to revert to the earlier comprehensive exam plan.
  7. See also the MPA portion of the Graduate Catalog.

XI. Preparing to graduate | back to Table of Contents

  1. Please read this detailed FAQ on preparing to graduate. Important points are summarized below, but full information is in the FAQ.
  2. If you are planning to graduate in the upcoming semester, you must apply online inside myTSU to notify the Graduate School.  Apply to graduate inside that system separately for each program you plan to complete (MPA and/or certificate(s)).   Check the Graduate School graduation information website for the deadline. Application is mandatory whether or not you plan to attend Commencement ceremonies; instructions on how to apply to graduate are available. If you have any problems registering to graduate for all program(s) you are completing, contact your advisor immediately.
  3. Visit the TSU commencement site to obtain important information on the "Grad Finale" which you must attend to get fitted for cap and gown; this event typically occurs before mid-semester) as well as on Commencement exercises themselves. Commencement ceremonies are held only in May and in December.  In May, the ceremony for graduate students may be held at a different time than the undergraduate ceremonies; the site will have these details.
  4. Students who have achieved at a high level during their MPA studies may be eligible for membership in the Pi Alpha Alpha Public Administration honor society; please consult this FAQ.

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