UM’s master of public administration program earns prestigious accreditation

Faculty and staff for the University of Montana’s MPA program include, (left to right): Paul Kirgis, dean of the Alexander Blewett III School of Law; Erin Keenan, development director; Sara Rinfret, associate professor, chair, Department of Public Administration and Policy, and MPA director; and Anthony Johnstone, professor of law and affiliated professor of public administration. (Dave Stalling/Missoula Current)

After a lengthy and rigorous process, the University of Montana’s master of public administration program recently received accreditation from the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs and Administration, making it the only such accredited program in the state and one of 183 currently listed as accredited by NASPAA. 

Sara Rinfret, chair of the UM Department of Public Administration and Policy and MPA director, said the accreditation allows UM to “elevate its commitment of excellence in law, policy and public service.”

The nonprofit NASPAA is the “global standard in public service education,” Rinfret said. “Accreditation will help us draw more students, place more students in internships and help our graduates find jobs.” 

The MPA program prepares pre-career and mid-career professionals for work in the public and nonprofit sectors in fields such as public administration, public policy and public affairs.

Part of the Alexander Blewett III School of Law, program courses include human resource management, administrative law, strategic planning and leadership, legislation, nonprofit administration and policy analysis. 

“We prepare students for careers in government and nonprofits,” Rinfret said. “Our graduates might, for example, end up working as an environmental regulator, or a chief of staff, or a budget analysist.”

Established in 1976, UM’s MPA program offers students the ability to complete their degree online or in person, providing flexibility for public and nonprofit professionals to advance their careers.

The curriculum allows students to customize their degree by specializing in nonprofit administration or seek a joint degree in law or public health. Many students elect to add a certificate in public policy, nonprofit administration or natural resource conflict resolution.

In addition to being Montana’s only accredited MPA program, UM’s MPA degree is the nation’s only accredited one positioned within a law school.

The MPA program is housed within the School of Law’s Max S. Baucus Institute, named for Montana’s longest serving U.S. senator. Baucus, now retired, represented Montana in the Senate for 36 years, from 1978 to 2014, and also served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1975 to 1978, and as the U.S. ambassador to China from 2014 to 2017. 

According to its website, the Baucus Institute aims to bring together diverse policy makers, lawyers, politicians, leading academics and students as an “extension of the important bipartisan, consensus-building public service exemplified by Max S. Baucus.” 

“We are thrilled to be the only law school in America with a nationally accredited MPA program,” said Paul Kirgis, dean of the School of Law. “The MPA complements our strong emphasis on public service in our law school, while creating new opportunities for collaborations among faculty and joint programming for students.”

Criteria for accreditation included a thorough assessment and evaluation of the school’s courses, cultural awareness and diversity, integrity, ethical conduct, fairness accountability, transparency and serving the public interest. 

To maintain its accreditation, the school must submit an annual accreditation maintenance report. 

In addition, the UM School of Law’s MPA program has teamed up with Carroll College’s Department of Political Science, in Helena, to offer the first ever “4 + 1” program in Montana – allowing participating students to finish up their bachelor and MPA degrees in five years, instead of the traditional six or more years, and with less financial burden. 

“It’s a model program for our state,” said Carroll College President John Cech, “because it seeks to provide a quicker path to work force success   

The University of Montana’s MPA program has enjoyed enrollment growth since 2017, with more than 100 students.

“We have an amazing team of faculty serving our students,” Rinfret said. “Our enrollment increase is because of our department’s dedication to student success, flexibility in course delivery and cutting-edge curriculum for public service professionals.”

To learn more about UM’s MPA program, click here:  https://www.umt.edu/law/mpa/master/default.php