John (Jay) Gerlach, Ph.D., Director
343 Stillwell
Cullowhee, NC 28723
828.227.3855 tel


What is the difference between public affairs and public administration?

The short answer is not much. The MPA generally stands for either Master of Public Affairs or Master of Public Administration. Jobs which require a Master of Public Administration will also accept a Master of Public Affairs degree (and vice-versa). The national accrediting body is NASPAA, which stands for the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration.

Do I have to take the GRE?

Yes.  The GRE is one of many factors we consider when making admissions decisions. If you are applying late and cannot complete the GRE in time, however, you are eligible to take classes as a non-degree seeking student for one semester before completing the GRE.

What is the minimum GPA/GRE for admission?

Although admission to our program is competitive, we do not have a formal minimum for either the GRE or GPA; each part of a student’s application is taken into consideration. For example, a student with a high GPA might be admitted with a lower GRE. Similarly, a student with extensive work experience in the public sector would not need as high a GRE as a recent college graduate with no experience.

What is the application deadline?

There is no official application deadline; we accept applications throughout the year on a continuous basis. Students are admitted for fall, spring, and summer semesters. 

How long does it typically take to complete the program?

The length of time varies according to student need. Some students finish in as little as a year and a half. Others take one class a semester and stretch their program out over five to six years. Most students complete the program in two years.

In 2013, we completed a self study for NASPAA accreditation which provided data on our graduation rates. Beginning with a cohort of students that began five years prior to 2013, we discovered that of students that began our program full-time, 50% of our students graduated in 2 years and 67% of our students graduated within 4 years. Of students that started the program part-time, 40% completed the degree in 2 years and 70% completed the program within 4 years. Completion rates vary. Some students shift from part-time to full-time (or vice versa). Those students that did not graduate left the program for personal or academic reasons. Common personal reasons for leaving the program include the lack of time due to family and work, moving, transferring or lack of financial support.

What is the difference between an MPA and an MBA?

The MPA is meant for students who wish to work in or around government—whether directly for government, non-profit groups, or government relations offices within for-profit businesses. Although some graduates of our program work for business, Western’s MPA program is designed to allow students to understand both government and non-profit worlds, each with its separate organizational and incentive structures and different goals than for-profit businesses. If you would like to work for business, we encourage you to contact our excellent MBA program.

How many students are enrolled in the program?

At any given time in a semester, there are between 50-60 students enrolled in the MPA program.

How much does the MPA program cost?

In 2015-2016, tuition and fees for a full-time in-state graduate student total $4396.00 per semester. Out-of-state students are charged $9599.50 per semester for tuition and fees. Students may also choose to attend the MPA part-time and pay per credit hour. Additional funds are needed for books and living expenses. For the most current tuition and fees information including per credit hour costs, please visit

What financial aid opportunities are available?

MPA Students are eligible for a variety of competitive financial aid opportunities including Graduate Assistantships, tuition remission, and scholarships. Students may also qualify for federal financial aid assistance. Please click here for a list of opportunities offered on campus. Please click here for students interested in receiving federal financial aid.

Currently, MPA graduate assistantships pay $8000 per year. They require a student to work 20 hours a week for department faculty or our Public Policy Institute. There are also several other scholarships provided to MPA students by outside agencies like the City of Asheville and NC City and County Management Association.

How many students have prior experience in public service? How many are involved in public service?

About half of our students come to us directly after receiving an undergraduate degree. The other half are already at work in a variety of occupations in and out of the public sector.

What happens to students after they graduate?

Graduates from Western’s thriving MPA program have been remarkably successful finding meaningful and rewarding employment after graduation, especially throughout North Carolina and the region.  Alumni serve as town managers, police chiefs, county administrators, non-profit directors, planning directors, and a variety of other positions in and around government. 

Please click here for a table with statistics on the employment rates and types of jobs that MPAs obtained within six months of graduation. These data are from the 2010 to 2013 graduating classes.

Is the MPA program accredited?

Yes. In the summer of 2014 the MPA program received a full 7-year accreditation from NASPAA, the global standard in public service education. NASPAA is a membership organization of graduate programs in public policy, public affairs, public administration, and public & nonprofit management. It has nearly 300 member schools located across the U.S. and in 14 other countries around the globe, including WCU. Prospective students can be assured that the WCU MPA program, like all NASPAA accredited programs, have successfully met NASPAA Standards for Professional Master's Degree Programs in Public Affairs, Policy and Administration.

 NASPAA's accreditation process is mission-based and driven by public service values. Accredited programs must contribute to the knowledge, research, and practice of public service, establish observable goals and outcomes, and use information about their performance to guide program improvement. They must practice truth in advertising and ensure their students achieve learning objectives in five domains essential to public service.

Who do I contact for more information?

Dr. Jay Gerlach, MPA Director


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