One of the enduring grand challenges is how we collectively, creatively, and democratically respond to key challenges facing our communities, nation, and the world. Among these challenges are environmental change, including an increased incidence and intensity of disasters such as flooding, sea level rise, and wildfires attributable to climate change; health care; an aging population; addiction; inadequate infrastructure; inequality; unaffordable housing; racism; transportation; immigration; economic development; and public safety.

In response, the Master of Public Affairs program trains future leaders to systematically and creatively address these and other challenges in the coming years. With its interdisciplinary public affairs infrastructure—representing colleges, departments, and centers across campus—the University of Iowa is a leader in public affairs locally and nationally. The program educates public affairs leaders who will creatively and knowledgeably address society’s most critical issues and contribute to addressing the grand challenges of the 21st century.

Learning Outcomes

Ability to Lead and Manage in Public Governance

  • Understand public administration and management theories and practices.
  • Apply public administration and management theories and practices to achieve the goals of public and nonprofit organizations.
  • Understand budgeting, financing, and human resource management in public and nonprofit organizations.
  • Develop leadership and team-building skills.

Ability to Participate in, and Contribute to, the Public Policy Process

  • Understand the policymaking process in the institutional and market context.
  • Identify key stakeholders in the policy process and understand their interactions with the public policy process.
  • Conduct policy analysis and make policy recommendations.

Ability to Analyze, Synthesize, Think Critically, Solve Problems, and Make Evidence-Informed Decisions in a Complex and Dynamic Environment

  • Properly frame policy problems, policy goals, and policy alternatives.
  • Collect, analyze and report data, and apply economic, statistical and spatial analysis methods in data analysis.
  • Synthesize quantitative and qualitive evidence to inform policymaking.

Ability to Articulate and Apply a Public Service Perspective

  • Recognize competing values in public interest and engage the general public in decision making.
  • Understand the importance of accountability in public administration.
  • Apply professional codes of ethics in policy analysis, policymaking, and administering policy.

Ability to Communicate and Interact Productively with a Diverse and Changing Workforce and Society at Large

  • Understand the changing demographics and values of society and the implications of these changes for public service and public policymaking.
  • Value and identify ways to engage and represent the public in the public sector.
  • Develop oral, writing, and media skills for effective communication with diverse stakeholders.

Ability to Pursue Sustainable Outcomes Through Public Policy, Public Administration, and Public Management (Program-Specific Competency)

  • Understand complex interactions between public, private, and nonprofit organizations and the role of these organizations within human and natural systems.
  • Articulate and apply a sustainability perspective (the implementation of policies, processes, and practices that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs) to public administration, management, and policy.
  • Analyze real-world problems through multidisciplinary perspectives and work collaboratively to solve problems.

The graduate Master of Public Affairs (M.P.Aff.) requires a minimum of 42 s.h. of credit. Students must earn a grade of B-minus or higher in all core and concentration area courses and must maintain an overall program g.p.a. of at least 3.00.

The required curriculum includes eight core courses, an internship, electives (including those taken within a concentration area), a one-semester capstone project, and an internship. Courses are offered by the School of Planning and Public Affairs (Graduate College), the Departments of Management and Entrepreneurship (Tippie College of Business), Civil and Environmental Engineering (College of Engineering), Educational Policy and Leadership Studies (College of Education), Geographical and Sustainability Sciences, Political Science, Sociology and Criminology, the M.A. in strategic communication program in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication (College of Liberal Arts and Sciences), the College of Public Health, and the Larned A. Waterman Iowa Nonprofit Resource Center (College of Law).

The Master of Public Affairs requires the following work.

Core Courses

All of these:
PBAF:5117Bureaucratic Politics and Public Administration3
PBAF:6200Analytic Methods I3
PBAF:6205Economics for Policy Analysis3
PBAF:6208Program Seminar1
PBAF:6225Applied GIS for Planning and Policy Making1
PBAF:6233Public Finance and Budgeting3
PBAF:6240Public Management3
One of these:
PBAF:5120Public Policy Process3
PBAF:6340Public Policy Analysis3

Concentration Area

Students complete a total of 15 s.h. in consultation with their advisor, with at least 9 s.h. in coursework taken in the public and nonprofit management or public policy concentration area, and 6 s.h. in coursework from any of the two concentration areas or other courses as deemed appropriate. Students further develop in their concentration area by applying the concepts and skills gained in core coursework.

Students in the public policy concentration complete one of the required courses as well as an additional 6 s.h. within the public policy concentration.

Public and Nonprofit Management Concentration

Nonprofit Management

LAW:8753Nonprofit Organizations: Structure, Governance, and Strategy3
LAW:8755Nonprofit Organizations: Advocacy, Collaboration, and Fundraising3
MGMT:3500Nonprofit Organizational Effectiveness I3
MGMT:3600Nonprofit Organizational Effectiveness II3
MGMT:4600Nonprofit Ethics and Governance3

Public Management

PBAF:6238Public Human Resource Management1
PBAF:6239Organizational Dynamics and Leadership3
PBAF:6241Strategic Management of Public and Nonprofit Organizations3
URP:6282Grant Writing2

Strategic Communication

PBAF:3560Public Policy and Persuasion3
JMC:5200Topics in Strategic Communication3
JMC:5240Digital Strategic Communication3
JMC:5270Leadership Communication3
JMC:5300Foundations of Strategic Communication3

Public Policy Concentration

Required Courses

One of these:
PBAF:6201Analytic Methods II3
PBAF:6340Public Policy Analysis3

Criminal Justice

CRIM:3416Race, Crime, and Justice3
CRIM:3417Community Corrections3
CRIM:3600Crime and Public Policy3
CRIM:3425Women, Crime, and Justice3

Economic Development Policy

URP:6295Economic Development Policy3
URP:6297Financing Economic Development for Poverty Alleviation3

Educational Policy

EPLS:6222Introduction to Educational Policy3
EPLS:6225Higher Education Policy3
EPLS:6228K-12 Education Finance and Policy3

Environmental Policy

URP:5800Environmental Economics and Policy3
URP:6256Environmental Policy3
URP:6257Environmental Management3
URP:6258Systems and Scenario Thinking3
CEE:3790Resilient Infrastructure and Emergency Response3
CEE:5410Politics and Economics of the Food, Energy, Water Nexus3
LAW:8433Environmental Law3
LAW:8622International Environmental Law3
POLI:3518Water Wars: Conflict and Cooperation3

Health Policy

URP:6253Designing Sustainable and Healthy Cities1-3
HMP:5610Health Policy3
HMP:5650Health Policy Analysis3
HMP:6710Federalism and Health Policy3

Housing and Community Development Policy

URP:6271Housing Policy3
URP:6273Community Development Through Creative Placemaking3


PBAF:6201Analytic Methods II3
PBAF:6340Public Policy Analysis3

Politics of Public Policy Making

PBAF:5120Public Policy Process3
PBAF:5200American State Politics3
JMC:5248Strategic Political Communication3
POLI:3102The U.S. Congress3
POLI:3104Immigration Politics3
POLI:3118Interest Groups3
POLI:3123State Politics in Iowa3
POLI:3203Campaigns, Elections, and Voting Behavior3
POLI:3204Public Opinion3
POLI:3519Politics of Aging3

Sustainable Development

URP:5800Environmental Economics and Policy3
CEE:4107Sustainable Systems3
CEE:5410Politics and Economics of the Food, Energy, Water Nexus3
GEOG:3420Sustainable and Green Building Concepts3
GEOG:4750Environmental Impact Analysis3
GEOG:4770Environmental Justice3

Transportation Policy

URP:6260Transportation Policy and Planning3
URP:6265Planning Sustainable Transportation3
URP:6266Transportation and Land Use Planning3

Capstone Course

Students take the public affairs capstone course, typically in their final semester. They work on a community, state, federal, or nonprofit project in which they focus their efforts on an analysis of a contemporary public policy problem, research, development of policy proposals, and recommended action steps. This is done in tandem with the University’s Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities (IISC), that for ten years has been providing public consultation to communities in Iowa.

This course:
PBAF:6210Public Affairs Capstone4

Internship Course

Students are required to complete an approved internship with a public agency or a nonprofit organization. They engage in 240 hours of internship work under the supervision of a public affairs professional.

This course:

Final Examination

An oral and written exam constitute the final examination. If the oral exam is passed, then the written exam does not need to be taken.

Undergraduate Degree/M.P.Aff.

Students working on an undergraduate degree program in the Tippie College of Business or the Colleges of Education, Engineering, Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Public Health who are interested in earning the Master of Public Affairs degree may apply to a combined undergraduate degree/M.P.Aff. graduate degree program. The Undergraduate to Graduate (U2G) program enables students to begin work on the M.P.Aff. degree as they complete their baccalaureate degree. Combined degree programs enable students to earn both degrees in less time than it would take to earn the two degrees separately.

Separate application to each degree program is required. Applicants must be admitted to both programs before they may be admitted to the combined degree program. For more information, visit Undergraduate to Graduate (U2G) on the Graduate College website.

Admission requires an undergraduate degree and fulfillment of the minimum requirements of the Graduate College.

The priority deadline for funding consideration is January 15 for fall admission. Funding for those who submit materials after these dates is considered only as funding permits. Applications for admission are accepted until July 15; April 15 for international students. For spring admission, applications are accepted until December 1.

To apply, follow the directions on the Graduate Admissions website. Applicants can apply online and upload all supporting materials. International students without a U.S. degree or whose first language is not English must submit official Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), International English Language Testing System (IELTS), or Duolingo English Test (DET) scores before admission and then funding decisions can be made. All students requesting funding also must complete and upload the Funding Application/Award Form.

Students receive financial support from the program primarily from teaching or research assistantships and from contract or grant-funded assistantships. Assistantships typically require 13-20 hours of work per week under the direction of a faculty member and are accompanied by a tuition scholarship.

Students initiate applications for financial support, and awards are made on the basis of merit, experience, and interests. Assistantships may be renewed for a total of up to four semesters.

Fellowships are offered to new students and awarded as a flat sum of money. There is no work requirement for a fellowship.

Students applying for financial support are encouraged to submit application materials and requests for support by January 15 for fall enrollment and November 1 for spring enrollment. Students who apply after January 15 (fall or spring) are considered as remaining funds permit.

Graduates land positions in professional policy analytical and/or managerial service in the public and nonprofit sectors. The degree builds knowledge and skills in a mix of topics that includes policy, economics, statistics, research, and management and prepares students for professions that influence public policy through analysis, application, or management. They have a number of career choices available, many of which lead to executive positions in federal, state, and local governments, or in nonprofit agencies.

Example positions in the local, state, federal, nonprofit, and private sectors include:

  • local—government specialist leading to a city manager, community health director, or public housing manager;
  • state—program manager for a state housing authority or a policy analyst/program manager for a variety of state agencies;
  • federal—presidential management fellow, or starting as a GS-9 position in the federal government in a variety of federal agencies;
  • nonprofit—program director leading to a nonprofit organization director; and
  • public, private, and nonprofit—public and government relations specialist, lobbyist, or elected official.

The School of Planning and Public Affairs provides career assistance efforts for both internship and post-graduation job seekers. It offers job information access and one-on-one advising support from the school's career services coordinator.