Q & A with Stuart Henry, Ph.D. Professor and Director, School of Public Affairs

Stuart Henry, Ph.D.

Stuart Henry, Ph.D.

Can you tell me a little about yourself – how and why are you involved with MPA online?
I am the director of SDSU’s School of Public Affairs and we have undergraduate and graduate programs in criminal justice, public administration, and city planning. The Master of Public Administration (MPA) is our flagship graduate program, ranked by US News and World Report in 2012, as fifth best in California.

Can you tell me about the program and why it was developed?
The 36-unit MPA online is the same program as the one we offer on campus, and is taught by the same faculty. The difference is that it’s fully online and the 16-month program rather than a two and a half to three years that the campus-based program takes. Students take six modules that each last two months during which time they take two courses per module. Also, the online MPA program is primarily intended for working adults who are employed at managerial-level positions in government or nonprofit organizations; the campus-based program is open to pre-employed students who then have to do an additional 12 units of internship courses. There are three main reasons why we developed the online program. First we have been offering the MPA program at off-campus locations for many years. We have offered it in the cities of Vista, Oceanside and most recently, in Carlsbad. We graduated 21 Carlsbad city employees in May 2012. The city wanted to know when we would offer the program again. We then explored the possibility of developing the program online. Second, we offer the MPA at the Imperial Valley Campus (IVC). Since the state budget crisis we have lost faculty, and particularly at the IVC, through attrition and retirements and it has been difficult to maintain the minimum standard of faculty (required by NASPAA, our accrediting agency) at that campus. As a result the online MPA will replace the IVC operation and fold in the cities’ programs. Third, the local area has a need for a more flexible teaching modality. Students working all week do not want to drive to campus for two or three nights a week, find parking, and then get out of class at 9:40 pm and drive home. This is especially true for those who are more than 40 minutes from campus.

Why should students choose this program over another?
First of all it is more convenient than face-to-face programs, although not everyone likes the online instructional format. However, we have an experienced online support person, Patricia Frosio, to help students with any issues. She also is an MPA herself from SDSU and is our internship coordinator and career advisor, so she has a unique set of assets. On top of that she is very enthusiastic and highly professional; she teaches a training course in professional ethics and has been teaching in the program for about ten years. Second, all faculty teaching in the program have been through the SDSU online course development institute which is required of SDSU online instructors. Faculty without specialized online training is not allowed to teach in the program. Third, SDSU faculty are scholar-teachers and are all involved in real-world applied research. They are engaged in the community doing what our dean, Joyce Gattas, calls projects for the public good. There are only two other California State universities offering fully online MPAs: CSU San Bernardino and CSU Dominguez Hills and the research demands on those faculty is not as intense as it is at SDSU. Fourth, we are the highest ranked MPA in the CSU. Fifth, 75% of our students graduate to practice in the San Diego region, so the local knowledge and networking contacts that are offered here are uniquely able to serve this population. The reputation of SDSU’s MPA in the region is outstanding and the program has been going for 40 years. The first bachelor’s degree in public administration at San Diego State was awarded to Tom Roberts in 1953. Tom is still connected to the program as an adviser and a donor.

Can you talk about the online aspect of the program?
All courses are offered through the popular online teaching platform called Blackboard. This is the same platform that all SDSU courses use. Registered students not only have online or telephone help from Patrica Frosio, but they can get help from the Blackboard support site. In addition, students form a cohort, as they did in the Cities programs. The first step of that is meeting at a two-day orientation in January one week before the classes start in February. Here they form relationships with their classmates, network, meet their instructors/staff, and get training in how to study and work online. Students come back together for a pregraduation weekend where they present their final capstone projects to panels of faculty and professional public administrators. The online program will also use online software for test-taking called “Proctor” to ensure that students retain utmost integrity.

What are the highlights of the program?
Fast-track, fully online, cohort-based, and solid support systems to achieve a nationally accredited professional qualification, recognized nationwide as the gold-standard in public administration and public policy.

What kind of activities/homework are part of the program?
Research papers, policy analyses, problem-solving exercises, and online discussion.

What do you see students taking away from the program?
They raise their knowledge of the latest research, theories, and practice of management, public finance, and personnel/human resource trends. They apply this knowledge and skills to real-world situations and address complex organizational problems with constructive practical solutions.

What other aspects make this program unique from other university programs?
The quality of our outstanding faculty and staff who are dedicated to provide the support and instruction necessary to make enrolled students succeed which is best captured in our motto: “We care, and we can help.”