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Our History


The Master of Public Administration degree was introduced at the University of Memphis in 1971.  It was placed within the Department of Political Science as a direct response to a request by government leaders in Memphis and Shelby County to help to enhance the professional capacity of public administrators in the region. 

The program began with three concentrations: General Public Administration, Urban Management and Planning, and Comparative Development Administration.    Serving as the principal medical center for a broad region that encompasses western Kentucky and Tennessee, eastern Missouri and Arkansas, and northern Mississippi, the MPA program soon responded to the needs of the health sector by adding a concentration in Health Administration in 1975. 

Growth and Change

Through the 1980s, the program’s health services concentration experienced strong enrollments growing to become over two-thirds of the MPA program’s students.  Faculty members took the lead in developing a proposed Master of Health Administration degree program in 1991. Although the creation of the new MHA had an initial negative effect on student enrollment in the MPA, program changes undertaken by the Division began attract new students.   The faculty and students had a new mission.

Memphis area public and nonprofit community leaders had identified a need for graduate level nonprofit administration education through program surveys and focus groups in the early 1990s.  Faculty members educated themselves through workshops, literature, and consultants on the emerging field of nonprofit administration. As a result, a Nonprofit Administration concentration was created in 1994 and linkages were made to the University College’s Bachelors of Professional Studies program in nonprofit development and administration.  To further recognize the nonprofit emphasis of the Program, Division faculty requested a name change to the Division of Public and Nonprofit Administration (DPNA).  The change was approved by the Tennessee Board of Regents in June 2001.

There was one other significant change affecting governance of the Program  when the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences appointed an ad hoc committee to consider the development of a new interdisciplinary school related to urban issues and policy.  The school, titled the School of Urban Affairs and Public Policy (SUAPP), was approved as a unit within the College of Arts and Sciences by the Tennessee State Board of Regents in June, 1999. The constituent units  included the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, the Division of City and Regional Planning (from the Department of Geography), the Program in Health Administration (from the Department of Political Science), the Program in Public Administration (from the Department of Political Science), and the Division of Social Work (from the Department of Sociology).

The newly independent Division was assigned responsibility for two academic programs, the MPA and the Bachelors of Science minor in Public Administration degree programs. The divisions function with the same responsibilities as departments in the University.  Raising the MPA Program from a subunit within a Department of Political Science to a primary program in a major University unit has increased its authority, control, visibility, and stature. 


The story of The University of Memphis MPA Program is one of continual assessment of the local environment, community and regional needs, as well as national and global trends. Program faculty members have responded and provided leadership in creating new curricula and programs, engaging in personal professional development and directing their research and outreach agendas to address local and national needs, opportunities and changes in public and nonprofit administration.  In the last five years, the Division as added professional graduate certificates in Local and Nonprofit Management. The Division has also embraced new technologies, and now offers fully online and hybrid classes to meet the needs of Mid South learners. The mission of the Program and the Division t continue to advance the primary foci of the University, engagement with community and region in scholarship and instruction addressing urban issues. 

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Last Updated: 4/4/14