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2003 Strategic Planning Initiative:

Report to National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) Executive Council by Strategic Planning Work Group [B.J. Reed (chair), Genia Toma, Dan Mazmanian]: April 4-5, 2003

2003 Strategic Planning Initiative: Process and Timetable

A central goal of the NASPAA strategic planning initiative is to understand and respond to the challenges, needs, and interests shared by NASPAA’s 250 diverse public affairs, public administration, and public policy member programs. To achieve this goal, NASPAA has provided various opportunities for its members to address the initiative’s objectives, both in small groups (e.g., regional conversations among NASPAA deans/directors and principal representatives, Executive Council members, and NASPAA staff) and individually (e.g., through the NASPAA website, e-mail, letters, phone calls, and visits with NASPAA staff in Washington).

Through their responses, members have been invited to reflect on current NASPAA program priorities and react to them, reaffirm them, revise them – or argue that they are relatively unimportant in NASPAA’s strategic planning agenda. We have encouraged respondents to think beyond current priorities. For instance, we asked respondents: Are there new strategic directions within these priority areas that deserve greater attention from NASPAA than they now receive? Are there other pressing concerns or exciting opportunities that NASPAA might address as priorities over the next three to five years – and how important are they relative to the current priorities? Or is NASPAA already focusing on its members’ key priorities?

To encourage member participation in the planning process, NASPAA organized dialogues during the first quarter of 2003. NASPAA members in six sites around the country each hosted a session for NASPAA deans/directors and principal representatives; in addition, a session was held at the ASPA Annual Conference. The sites included:

  • Oakland University
  • Texas A&M University
  • George Washington University
  • New York University
  • Clark Atlanta University
  • University of Southern California
  • ASPA National Conference (Washington, DC)

Executive Director Tolo facilitated these sessions, with one or more Council members attending five of the seven sessions. In addition, a questionnaire with the same questions used in the dialogue sessions was posted on the NASPAA website to enable NASPAA members throughout the country to provide their insights and suggestions. Other initiatives also are being considered to use the internet to solicit comments from NASPAA institutions.
This report summarizes the themes that emerged from the regional dialogue discussions and on-line web questionnaire responses and serves as the basis for a preliminary strategic planning document being prepared by the Strategic Planning Work Group for review by the Executive Council April 4-5, 2003. [See] After Council review and discussion, the Work Group and NASPAA staff will prepare a (revised) strategic planning document for review by the NASPAA membership prior to or at the October 2003 NASPAA Annual Conference in Pittsburgh.

Dialogue Session/Web Questionnaire Findings

Dialogue session participants and web questionnaire respondents answered the following key questions:

1. What challenges external to your university are of greatest concern to you as a NASPAA member? Why? What opportunities external to your university particularly excite you as a NASPAA member? Why?

2. What challenges within your university are of greatest concern to you as a NASPAA member? Why? What opportunities within your university particularly excite you as a NASPAA member? Why?

3. Please rank order the NASPAA programs, services, and activities that are most important to you as a NASPAA member. Why are they most important?

4. How could NASPAA improve the effectiveness of its programs, services, and activities that are most important to you (see #3)?

5. Which current NASPAA programs, services, or activities, if any, are relatively unimportant to you? Why?

6. Please rank order no more than three additional programs, services, and activities (including new initiatives within current NASPAA programs, services, and activities) that are very important for you as a NASPAA member. Why are these important to you? How?

External Challenges

Fiscal issues dominate the members’ concerns. However, beyond these concerns a number of issues surfaced across most dialogue sessions.

Changing Nature of Public Service and Students

Many participants identified trends that were potential threats to or opportunities for NASPAA schools. There were a series of comments focused on the changing market for MPA programs. Those in Michigan focused on the changing structure of governance, particularly the blending of public, private, and nonprofit delivery systems responsible for public service programs. This issue was also raised in Washington, D.C., where concerns existed about how well we teach students to manage and lead in this environment of increased complexity. Texas participants noted the growth in the nonprofit sector, and in Atlanta NASPAA schools suggested the need for more integrated approaches. New York participants were concerned with the need to adapt programs to new realities resulting from terrorism and security concerns.

Another topic raised in several dialogue groups related to changing student focus and expectations. New York and California participants reflected on students’ low opinions of government. This was also mentioned in the respondents to the web-based questionnaire. Texas schools raised concerns about the low number of MPA students represented among a large number of public employees. Several groups raised concerns about the globalization of public affairs education, recruitment of international students, barriers raised by INS and security concerns, and ability of public affairs programs to adjust to these changes. Several dialogue sites also raised the point about students rapidly changing careers and the challenge that NASPAA programs face to respond to the needs generated from this trend.


The issue of the external identity of public affairs programs and degrees was raised at several sites, as well as by respondents to the web questionnaire. In Washington, D.C., concerns focused on the erosion of public affairs core values and the lack of an external identity of the MPA/MPP. Atlanta participants raised issues regarding the difficulty in communicating program quality to public officials in competition with non-NASPAA schools. New York and California participants were concerned with declining trust in the public sector (resulting in a decline in PA/PP resources) and the difficulty in persuading government agencies about the value of MPA/MPP degrees. California participants also noted the negative impact this is having on doctoral students pursuing PA doctorates.

Several groups, including the Oakland University session participants, observed the need to better position MPA degrees in an external environment (under a state of constant flux) in which external audiences rank business programs more highly in terms of quality than comparable MPA/MPP programs. New York participants also noted that employer expectations regarding written and oral communication skills are a challenge. A web respondent expressed concern about the struggle to convince employers that the MPA degree is appropriate for meeting their human resource needs.


Several dialogue groups noted the increasing diversity of society and of potential students, as well as the difficulties associated with reflecting that diversity in our programs. Washington, D.C. participants commented on the increasing diversity of civil service employment, reflecting on NASPAA’s role in addressing educational needs of these employees. Similarly, New York schools witnessed the lack of diversity in faculty recruitment and hiring and the lack of success in recruitment over the past decade. California participants noted the difficulty in recruiting Hispanic faculty and the challenges of competing with other professions for quality, diverse faculty.

External Opportunities

Changing Nature of Public Service and Students

Dialogue group participants saw opportunities as well as challenges in terms of changing governance structures and the blended nature of public service delivery. Participants in Washington, D.C. as well as a web respondent saw this as a chance to reaffirm PA/PP values and better position our programs to expand in new and different directions. Atlanta schools saw this as creating more opportunities for our graduates. The rapid growth of nonprofit agencies provides an opportunity to expand our programs, according to the Michigan participants; and the Texas participants emphasized that emerging transformational leadership also provides opportunities to capitalize on student excitement about working in complex organizations.

International Arena

Several programs recognized the expanding nature of international interest and that global perspectives create opportunities for students and faculty alike. One group noted that globalization is increasing the demand for the kinds of accreditation activities NASPAA undertakes.

Internal Opportunities

Collaboration and Partnerships

There appears to be an increasing willingness across disciplines to work together within higher education institutions. New York participants noted the willingness to form partnerships at the master’s level to help recruit minority students. Washington, D.C. programs saw strong interest in collaboration (as well as student interest) from other disciplines in PA/PP course offerings. Texas participants noted this willingness in wide ranging disciplines, including education, criminal justice, and journalism; Atlanta schools saw the same with business programs and health care; and Michigan participants mentioned fields like nursing and library science. California schools pointed to collaboration among private and public institutions in doctoral education.

Internal Challenges

Awareness/Support within Universities

Several programs were concerned about the lack of awareness of PA/PP within their institutions. For instance, Michigan, Georgia, and Texas participants noted a lack of awareness of the importance and impact of MPA/MPP programs. Washington, D.C. programs observed an inability within their institutions to distinguish between high- and low-quality programs. Texas, New York, and California participants noted the “continual fight” by MPA/MPP programs to gain respect within the University, especially when the programs were located within larger colleges such as nursing, business, and social work. The New York schools also noted the importance of recognizing the diversity of faculty scholarship appropriate to MPA/MPP programs. Additionally, participants in Atlanta and Michigan, as well as web respondents, have found that an MPA program located within an arts and sciences college or a political science department is often “subsumed in competition” with more visible programs. At the same time, other participants emphasized that their programs had been selected as high priority within their institutions.

Institutional Push and Pull

Some programs mentioned institutional barriers that limit the growth and development of MPA/MPP programs. Atlanta schools perceived an inability or unwillingness of business schools to allow course access by MPA students. New York participants mentioned that they were being “pushed” into specializations because of decisions at higher administrative or policy levels within their institutions. Washington, D.C. participants noted the demand to create “cash cows” resulting in movement away from more core degree responsibilities. They also suggested that universities are “dinosaur organizations” with respect to reappointment, tenure, and promotion guidelines that do not recognize the changing nature of faculty and program quality. Atlanta programs observed tension between MPA programs and other graduate programs concerning teaching and research expectations. Michigan schools focused on the problem of parochialism and demands to raise external dollars, and on their effects on program quality and development.

Most Important NASPAA Programs and Services

A number of issues were identified as important for NASPAA.


Across all dialogue groups, accreditation was viewed as the most important NASPAA program or service. A number of comments and suggestions were provided about the process. Among the most common were:
  • Provide information on “best practices” and innovative approaches and methods
  • Help provide clearer guidance on how best to prepare for the accreditation process
  • Consider accreditation of undergraduate programs or accreditation in other disciplines associated with PA/PP (e.g., criminal justice)
  • Continue the mission-based accreditation approach
  • Ensure practitioners are on site visit teams
  • Improve the selection of site visit teams
  • Continue to encourage non-accredited programs to go through accreditation and market values of accreditation (e.g., through an ambassadors program)
  • Share information collected with all NASPAA member schools
Annual Conference

Participants also found the annual conference of substantial importance. Among the comments were:
  • Distinguish the NASPAA annual conference from others (e.g., annual meetings of APPAM, ASPA, and APSA)
  • Ensure equal opportunity for individuals interested in participating in annual conference program panels
  • Design the conference so participants can attend both “content” and accreditation sessions
  • Increase student involvement in the conference
Website, Listserv, and Data Collection and Reporting
  • Use for comparative data about NASPAA programs
  • Increase attention to student career services
  • Use for on-line surveys
  • Market programs to prospective students
  • Share white papers of use to directors of programs
  • Use as databank for job announcements
  • Use to disseminate curricular materials
  • Use for on-line publishing
  • Promote NASPAA visibility
  • Promote MPA effectively to other disciplines/fields
  • Increase the publication of articles relevant to faculty tenure review
  • Add an “innovations column”
  • Distribute issues electronically
Standards and Policy
  • Clarify differences between standards, policies, and guidelines

Pi Alpha Alpha

  • Clarify role as honor society
  • Show diversity of chapter programs and services
  • Involve in promoting literacy and as ambassadors to high schools
  • List all student inductees and student recognitions
Promotion and Marketing of NASPAA (New York Discussion)
  • Enhance visibility and identity of PA/PP as a field
  • Market PA as a field embracing change
  • Celebrate PA/PP alumni
  • Emphasize leadership in public service
  • Promote PA/PP as distinct academic discipline
International (New York Discussion)
  • Define NASPAA as international organization
  • Define preferred international outcomes
  • Explore opportunities for support of an African network of public administration schools and institutes
  • Internationalize NASPAA member students and programs
  • Disseminate information about member international programs and partnerships

Less Important NASPAA Programs

There were very few comments with respect to this question, with the exception of suggesting that JPAE be provided exclusively on-line.

Additional NASPAA Priority Programs/Initiatives/Directions


Comments concerning accreditation were a primary focus of dialogue groups’ discussions of additional priority initiatives. Michigan participants discussed the value of accrediting health sector management education programs. Washington, D.C. participants suggested expanding the accreditation focus to address school participation in the broader field of public affairs, administration, and policy and to expand into specific concentrations such as nonprofit management. Another suggestion was to expand accreditation to PA components of doctoral programs in political science, and the Washington, D.C. participants suggested developing a Certified Public Executive (CPE) designation. Texas suggested that any expansion in accreditation include fees to fully cover costs associated with that expansion. California participants raised concerns about keeping guidelines and standards updated and focusing on outcomes more than inputs.

Other suggested accreditation initiatives included developing guidelines for undergraduate programs, certifying students as well as programs, and gaining recognition for accredited programs from federal agencies.

Policy Advocacy

Participants in Michigan, Texas, and Washington, D.C. discussed NASPAA’s policy advocacy role. Michigan schools encouraged more policy advocacy for civic engagement and reaffirmation of the importance of government and civil service. Washington, D.C. representatives discussed the need to “rebrand” the organization and redefine who we are. There was also support for monitoring policy issues and identifying policy-related trends in curricula development. Texas representatives urged caution in focusing on civic/citizen engagement but also urged more public stands on issues. They affirmed the importance of positioning NASPAA as the voice of public affairs education. California participants raised strong concerns about the U.S. News and World Report rankings; they expressed the need for NASPAA and APPAM either to become more engaged in shaping this process or to do our own rankings.

Other Suggestions

Michigan participants made some suggestions regarding the annual conference, including expanding web-based dissemination of presentations, adding on-line education components, and expanding sponsorship and revenue support.

Atlanta participants encouraged greater NASPAA visibility at regional meetings of state and local government officials, closer links with ICMA, and revitalized
support for the Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA). They also advocated greater attention to diversity and linkages to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

Washington, D.C. participants suggested a mentoring program that would provide a way to match member schools seeking institutional mentors and those willing to serve in that role. They also emphasized the need to form strategic partnerships to promote NASPAA priorities.

Texas participants suggested greater facilitation of research collaboration among members and the creation of a NASPAA Committee on Research Development to explore funding opportunities. They also suggested recruiting local governments as associate members of NASPAA.

California participants suggested a fee-based consulting/technical assistance unit be developed within NASPAA to assist other member schools with organization and reorganization issues.