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NIU MPA ranks among nation’s best: U.S. News & World Report

March 17, 2016
Kurt Thurmaier

Kurt Thurmaier

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

The MPA program was ranked sixth in the nation in the specialty field of city management and urban policy and tied for 14th in the nation with Harvard in the field of public finance and budgeting. The program also made its debut in the field of public management administration, ranking 30th.

NIU’s rankings in these programs are ahead of all Illinois public and private institutions as well as many elite schools nationwide.

“The fact that we have again earned top rankings is a sign of the overall strength of our program,” said Kurt Thurmaier, Presidential Engagement Professor and chair of NIU’s Department of Public Administration. “It is pretty stiff competition – almost 300 MPA programs – and is a testament about the quality of our faculty and program.”

Thurmaier noted that the program’s first appearance in the top 30 public management and administration programs is most likely a result of NIU’s newly created School of Public and Global Affairs, which enhanced the program’s visibility. It is comprised of the departments of Economics, Political Science and Public Administration, as well as the Center for NGO Leadership and Development and NIU’s Center for Governmental Studies.

“The high rankings in three different fields are wide recognition by our peer MPA programs that NIU is committed to engaging in the broad, interdisciplinary issues and engagement in public affairs issues,” Thurmaier said.

Recently celebrating its 50th anniversary, NIU’s MPA program is the oldest in the state and is recognized internationally for its excellence. The university has a long tradition of working closely with Illinois communities, including the nearby Chicago suburbs, which are natural consumers of the MPA program’s graduates.


NIU MPA students are recruited for jobs at the state conference
of the Illinois City/County Management Association.

NIU has a strong alumni network throughout the Chicago area, and alums are at the administrative helms of such cities as: Addison, Algonquin, Aurora, Bartlett, Carol Stream, Clarendon Hills, Crystal Lake, Deerfield, DeKalb, Elk Grove Village, Elmhurst, Flossmoor, Geneva, Glen Ellyn, Glencoe, Glenview, Hoffman Estates, Lake in the Hills, Lombard, Rockford, Schaumburg, Sycamore, Tinley Park, Warrenville, Western Springs, Winfield and Winnetka.

NIU faculty and alumni have played a major role in efforts to professionalize municipal staffs statewide and advance the national good government movement.

Along with producing about one-third of all Illinois city managers, NIU’s MPA program grads also hold key public-service posts across the country in such states as Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Iowa and Wisconsin.

Brian W. Caputo

Brian W. Caputo

“NIU’s high ranking doesn’t surprise me at all,” said NIU alumnus Brian Caputo, a 1999 MPA grad and the City of Aurora chief financial officer and treasurer. “It’s an extraordinary program with accomplished and energetic professors; students recognize that and they are engaged.”

Caputo, who also serves on the prestigious Governmental Accounting Standards Board, said while the MPA program has its basis in theory, practical experiences are incorporated throughout the curriculum. In addition to the challenging coursework, faculty members believe the internship requirement – a two-year paid internship with a public or non-profit organization – sets the NIU MPA program apart from other universities.

Second year MPA student Anthony Isom shared the sentiment.

“The internship program is probably one of the most recognizable and appreciated features of the MPA program,” said Isom, who will graduate in May. “NIU stands firm behind their competencies and various ways of acquiring these practical skills; this is an incredible opportunity to obtain the core competencies the MPA program requires all students to have prior to graduation.”

Thurmaier said the internship program is the best in the country, and it “ensures that an undergraduate student who goes directly into the MPA program is going to get almost two years of professional experience before they go into the job market.”

An NIU MPA student interns at the Elgin Fire Department.

An NIU MPA student interns at the Elgin Fire Department.

“One of the reasons we have a 95 percent placement record within six months of graduation is because the employers – especially those in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin – realize that these students are well prepared to hit the ground running when they are hired,” Thurmaier said.

NIU Career Services works closely with the Department of Public Administration to ensure students are well-suited for their internship placements, and the employment rate of the 1,400 alumni reflects that.

“The MPA program is challenging and rewarding for the simple fact that there is a continuous support base that gives students the hope and motivation necessary for the completion of the program,” Isom said. “I highly recommend the MPA program to any student who seeks to develop into a professional with a team of faculty and staff who want you to achieve the greatest success.”

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

by Jane Donahue