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U.S. News: Grad programs in city management, public finance at NIU rank among nation’s best

April 25, 2012
Kurt Thurmaier

Kurt Thurmaier

NIU’s Master of Public Administration (MPA) program once again received top marks in the latest U.S. News and World Report rankings of graduate schools.

The MPA program was ranked fifth in the nation in the specialty field of city management and urban policy and 12th in the field of public finance and budgeting. Those rankings are ahead of programs at all public and private institutions in Illinois and at many elite schools nationwide.

The specialty rankings are based on ratings by educators at peer schools, according to U.S. News.

“This is a world-class program that for many years has consistently received top national rankings,” NIU Provost Raymond Alden says. “What is even more impressive, however, is the positive impact that the program has had on the quality of life for people in the northern Illinois region and well beyond.”

A division of the NIU Department of Political Science, the MPA program is one of the oldest of its kind in the state. Faculty and alumni have played a major role in efforts to professionalize municipal staffs statewide and advance the national good government movement.

“Our program launches careers in public service, with many of our graduates becoming city or county managers, finance directors or even police and fire chiefs,” says professor Kurt Thurmaier, director of the Division of Public Administration.

Indeed, the NIU MPA program produces about one-third of all Illinois city managers.

NIU alums are at the administrative helms of such cities as Addison, Algonquin, Bartlett, Carol Stream, Clarendon Hills, Crystal Lake, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Elmhurst, Geneva, Glen Ellyn, Hoffman Estates, Kenilworth, Lake in the Hills, Lombard, Manhattan, Oak Brook, Rockford, Schaumburg, St. Charles, Streator, Tinley Park, Warrenville, Western Springs, Winfield and Winnetka.

They also hold key public-service posts across the country in such states as Arizona, Iowa, Rhode Island, Utah and Wisconsin.

Additionally, the NIU MPA program offers students emphases in non-profit management and public management and leadership. Each semester the program welcomes about 20 students, many of whom are already working professionals.

Second-year MPA student Ashley Stambaugh enjoys “the close-knit community” within the program. “We will still be able to tap one another on the shoulder, both professors and students, for help or advice throughout our careers,” she says.

In addition to the challenging coursework, faculty members believe the internship requirement sets the NIU MPA program apart from other universities.

“We have the best internship program in the country,” Thurmaier says.

“Students must complete a two-year paid internship with a public or non-profit organization while simultaneously completing their coursework. They get to connect theory from the classroom with practice in the workplace, and vice versa,” he adds.

Alicia Schatteman

Alicia Schatteman

The Division of Public Administration works closely with NIU Career Services to ensure students are well-suited for their internship placements. It helps to be located near Chicago’s dynamic suburban region.

“This truly sets our program apart, with the emphasis on theory and practice from day one through graduation,” says Alicia Schatteman, professor in the Division of Public Administration. “Our employment rate reflects this.”

More than 95 percent of MPA students are hired within six months of graduation. The program boasts a total alumni network of 1,200.

“The program is academically rigorous,” Thurmaier says. “And each of our graduates is proud to be an NIU MPA.”

by Constance Ervins