Why teach in a Distance MPA?

Starting in August, I will be teaching a distance course at the MPA (Master’s of Public Administration) level for the first time.  The School of Policy, Planning and Development is launching a new distance program this fall and my course is among the initial offerings.  The distance medium is intensely challenging for a beginner like me.  Why am I doing this?  Here is one reason.

I’ve become convinced that distance teaching in MPA programs is important.  Back in 2007, I wrote a paper about turnover intention in the federal service that launched an interest the sustainability of the public sector workforce.   Around the time I published my study, an OPM report suggested that about 18 percent of the federal workforce had become eligible to retire and that the median length service after becoming retirement eligible was four years.  In the 2010 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, fully 42% of the more than 247,000 respondents reported being with their current agency for longer than 20 years. Statistics for my home state of California are likewise striking with fully 51% of of the service comprised of Baby Boomers and only 11% Milennials according to the Department of Personnel Administration.  That imbalance warns that pre-service MPAs are not sending graduates into public service positions, and retirements are on their way.

With the dramatic cuts in budgets in these uncertain economic times, fewer of these positions are going to be filled and those that are require more training and skill to be productive in a leaner workforce.  Our training has to be more flexible if we who provide MPAs are going to meet those needs.  We have to recognize that our pre-service students will continue to find appealing jobs in the non-profit and private sectors and that our efforts to train the next generation of public servants must broaden.

If the need is there, we have to fill it with quality instruction.  I’m currently designing a first course in public management with the help of a team from Embanet-Compass and a teaching assistant, Anne Dobson, who took the course in residence last fall.  In future posts, I’ll share some of the challenges that translation to the new medium presents and how we have addressed them.