Cities Amenable to Public Administration Field Placements for Online Students
Start a public administration degree at American Military University.
By Dr. Stephen Schwalbe, Faculty Member, Public Administration, American Military University and Gilbert Glenn Harvey, Jr., 2018 AMU Master of Public Administration Degree Graduate
Based on federal data from more than 4,700 colleges and universities, more than 6.3 million students in the U.S. – most of whom were undergraduates – took at least one online course in the fall of 2016. That represents a 5.6 percent increase from the previous year. This is the 14th consecutive year that the Babson Survey Research Group has reported growth in online enrollment.
The growing number of students participating in online universities should receive the same opportunities as students in traditional brick-and-mortar universities. One area of concern in university graduate programs is field placements in areas such as social welfare, nursing and education. Field placement programs for university graduate students are a marriage of academic theory and practical application.
Students Benefit from Field Placement Programs
Previous studies have analyzed the benefits of field placement programs for public policy and public administration students. These studies found that students and public policy organizations both benefited from the intern experience in education and employment opportunities.
One such study by Garris, Madden, and Rodgers in 2008 surveyed 65 traditional universities with public policy and public administration programs. Of these programs, 68 percent offered field placements and 72 percent required students to participate in field placement programs.
Today, 155 traditional universities require graduate students of public administration to participate in field placement programs.
Current Guidelines for Public Administration Field Placements
The Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA) provides accreditation for public administration programs at higher learning institutions nationwide. Its guidelines suggest that students of public administration should participate in field placement programs for a minimum of 20 hours a week for 15 weeks for part-time interns or 40 hours a week for eight weeks for full-time interns.
Although these guidelines were published in 1977, they are still current and are being used by over 155 traditional universities. For example, East Carolina University and Arkansas State University each requires 300 hours of field placement to complete a master’s in public administration degree.
Conducting a Case Study for AMU Public Administration Students
American Military University (AMU) was the case study for a recent project designed to determine how receptive city governments would be to create partnerships with online universities and establish field placements for public administration students. To determine the level of interest by local city governments in AMU graduate students performing field placement work, Schwalbe and Harvey conducted a nationwide survey consisting of nine questions. The survey was disseminated to 100 cities that had a council-manager form of government.
In a council-manager form of government, the city council makes decisions concerning policy. Implementation of those decisions is the responsibility of a city manager or professional administrator.
Furthermore, each city had to have an official webpage with an e-mail address or a contact page capable of uploading the survey. This criterion was established to match 21st-century technology. Altogether, 35 of 50 states were represented in this study.
Each city also had to be located within a 50-miles radius of a military installation because the majority of AMU students are active duty or retired military. This criterion was established to ensure that the commute times for AMU students to the field placement programs would be within a reasonable distance.
For the purpose of this study, military installations were defined as bases where active-duty Army, Air Force, Navy, or Marine Corps personnel were stationed. Cities located near National Guard, Air National Guard and Reserve units were not considered.
Of the 100 selected cities from the Military.com webpage, 31 were near Army installations, 31 were near Air Force bases, 30 were near Navy or Marine bases, and two were near Unified Command Centers.
Each eligible city was entered into the Google search engine to determine if it matched the established criteria. Then, each city manager was sent an e-mail that consisted of an introduction letter, a general consent form and the brief nine-question survey.
The letter and the consent form made it clear that no personal data would be sought and that the survey was anonymous and voluntary. Only the participant’s title and the name of the city would be used in the analysis.
The participants were sent the following survey:
Question 1: “Does your city currently offer field placement opportunities for graduate students of traditional universities?”
Response: 53 percent of the responding cities currently accept graduate students of public administration for field placements or internships.
Question 2: “If Yes to Question 1, how many field placement students do you currently have? How many per year?”
Response: 53 percent of responding cities currently have between one and five students working in field placement positions every year.
Question 3: “If No to Question 1, would your city be interested in creating field placement opportunities for graduate students of traditional universities?”
Response: 37 percent of responding cities would be interested in establishing such field placement opportunities.
Question 4: “Would your city be interested in creating field placement opportunities for graduate students of accredited online universities?”
Response: 60 percent of the responding cities were interested in creating field placement opportunities for online students. In addition, of the 14 cities answering no to question #1, seven of those cities indicated that they wanted to create field placement opportunities for online students.
Question 5: “Do you believe online graduate students can make a valuable contribution to your efforts?”
Response: 90 percent answered in the affirmative. They believe online students can make a valuable contribution to their efforts. (This response is extraordinary. Just a decade ago, online universities were perceived to be less creditable than traditional universities.)
In addition, of the 12 cities responding no to Question 5, indicating they did not wish to create field placements for online students, nine (or 75 percent) indicated they believed in the abilities of online universities and their students. Therefore, their response of No to Question 5 may have been due to other consideration, such as budget constraints or policy questions.
Question 6: “Do you believe current technology can be used to offer field placement opportunities to graduate students of online universities?”
Response: 80 percent agreed that current technology can be used to create field placement opportunities.
Question 7: “Has your city used applications such as Adobe Connect, Skype, GoToMeeting, or Zoom Video Conferencing, etc.?”
Response: 90 percent reported that their city has used at least one of these applications. This information is encouraging because cities that are using this form of communication will have a much easier time and be more receptive to incorporating the technology into field placement opportunities.
Question 8: “Should an online field placement position be paid or unpaid?”
Response: 80 percent reported that students should be paid, 20 percent said no. However, 50 percent said a combination of paid and unpaid positions could be made available. (Whether the position is paid or unpaid, it would still be an opportunity to work with city staff.)
Question 9: “Would you consider hiring an online student who performed well during a field placement?”
Response: 93 percent said they would hire a student who performed well in a field placement position. This reaffirmed a 2014 study by Stanford University professors Mary Sprague and Olivia Hu, which indicated that it was not uncommon for host organizations to offer jobs to students who had completed their field placement within their organization.
Thirty of the 100 cities responded. This return rate of 30 percent is close to the overall average return rate of 33% for online surveys, as reported by Griffith University professor Duncan Nulty. Of the 30 responding cities, seven came from the East Coast, seven from the South, seven from the Midwest, three from the West and six from the West Coast.
The return rate per region represented an even balance with a mean average of six responses per region. The number of responding cities near Army installations, Air Force bases, and Navy or Marine bases were 10 each.
As the return rate across the United States was well balanced in both regional and military installation samplings, the 30 returned surveys represented a well-balanced consensus of city governments’ attitudes toward the creation of field placement programs for online graduate students of public administration.
City Governments Are Willing to Embrace Partnerships with Online Universities and Employ Their Students
The goal of this study was to prove that by creating partnerships between online universities and city governments, students seeking degrees in public administration will be better prepared to enter the public-sector workforce.
According to the results of the survey, 18 of the 30 responding cities were willing to create field placements with online universities, seven of which did not currently host any students for field placements.
While this number seems small, it’s important to remember that the survey was disseminated to only 100 of 19,505 cities nationwide and was limited to cities located within a 50-mile radius of a military installation. This means there likely are many other opportunities for online universities to get in on the ground floor and build new educational partnerships.
In addition, such partnerships between city governments and online universities for field placements of students of public administration could be beneficial to the city governments, the universities, and the students.
About the Authors
Dr. Stephen Schwalbe is an associate professor at American Military University. He is also an adjunct professor at Columbia College. Stephen received a Ph.D. in Public Administration and Public Policy from Auburn University in 2006.
Gilbert Glenn Harvey, Jr. served in the U.S. Army for 22 years. Upon retirement, he served as a correction officer at the Southeast Correction Center in Charleston, Missouri. Glenn earned a B.S. in Public Health from AMU in 2015 and a M.A. in Public Administration in 2018.