Public affairs graduate program earns accreditation

Western Carolina University’s master’s degree program in public affairs has earned accreditation from the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs and Administration.

The accreditation, which means that WCU’s MPA program is in compliance with the NASPAA’s standards, is valid for a period of seven years. Accreditation signifies that the graduate-level program is contributing to the knowledge, research and practice of public service, establishing observable goals and outcomes, and using information about its performance to guide program improvements.

“By pursuing and achieving accreditation through a rigorous peer review, your program has demonstrated a substantial commitment to quality public service education,” RaJade M. Berry-Jones, chair of the NASPAA Commission on Peer Review and Accreditation, said in a letter to the WCU program’s leaders announcing the decision. “You are part of the global community of over 180 accredited graduate programs in public service.”

Chris Cooper, head of the Department of Political Science and Public Affairs, called the accreditation, the program’s first, a “monumental accomplishment” that verifies that the Western Carolina MPA program is among the nation’s best.

“What sets our program apart from the pack is our exceptional commitment to the region,” Cooper said. “We are very explicit in our mission statement, coursework and assessment that we are interested in training the next generation of public servants to serve Western North Carolina. We are a regional program with our sights firmly set on improving governance in Western North Carolina. Accreditation certifies that we’ve achieved this goal.”

Roger Hartley, director of WCU’s MPA program, said that the formal accreditation reflects much work on the part of the program’s faculty, staff, students and alumni.

“The very process of applying for accreditation is very hard work, and what NASPAA asks of accredited programs improves the quality of the program,” Hartley said. “Our program always has been fantastic, and earning accreditation places that additional stamp of quality on what we do here at Western Carolina.”

Cooper, a former director of the program, acknowledged the contributions of other previous program directors and department heads who helped build the program.

“Many folks have a reason to be proud today – from our current faculty, staff and students to former MPA directors, including Gordon Mercer, Ken Wink and Gibbs Knotts; former department heads, including Don Livingston, Charles Stevens and Niall Michelsen; former faculty; and hundreds of successful and committed alumni. All of these dedicated public servants contributed to achieving this important goal,” he said. “We are particularly indebted to Gordon Mercer, the founder of our program. Gordon’s intellect, vision, commitment to public service and sheer force of personality are reflected in everything we do.”

Since the program’s founding in 1980, it has graduated more than 400 MPA students, Hartley said. “These fantastic individuals serve the region, state and nation as leaders in government and nonprofit administration,” he said. “Graduates serve as city and county managers, planning and economic development officials, leaders in nonprofits, and hosts of others in positions in state and county government departments and our criminal justice system.”

WCU’s MPA program currently enrolls between 55 and 60 students per semester. Most courses are taught in the evenings at WCU’s instructional site at Biltmore Park Town Square in Asheville, with other elective courses offered in Cullowhee and online.

The program has scheduled a reception to celebrate the accreditation milestone beginning at 4:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 26, at the Thirsty Monk in Biltmore Park, and faculty, students, alumni and friends of the MPA program are invited. For information on the reception, contact Hartley at rehartley@wcu.edu.

For more information about the MPA program at WCU, visit the website mpa.wcu.edu.

Roger Hartley leads a discussion of tort reform.

Roger Hartley leads a discussion of tort reform.