Duke Launches Executive Master of Public Affairs Program

"This program is designed for experienced public affairs professionals to deepen their knowledge, enhance their skills, and refresh their commitment to public service at a crucial moment in their careers."

Asher Hildebrand

The MPA program will offer a curriculum designed and taught by both experienced practitioners and Sanford faculty, blending rigorous academic training with hands-on practical experience. Initial concentrations will include leadership, management and ethics, offering courses in decision-making, public management, ethical analysis, communications, community engagement and other valuable skills for public affairs leaders.

Duke is ranked No. 6 in public policy analysis among graduate programs nationwide by US News & World Report.

“Our new executive Master of Public Affairs will be a great addition to Sanford's variety of degree offerings and will allow the school to have greater flexibility of modality while allowing a new student population to join our learning community who cannot, through work or geography, make it on campus full time,” Sanford Dean Judith Kelley said.

“This program will be the next step in our offering of hybrid programs following our Master of National Security Policy (MNSP) degree, which has established high standards to provide purposeful digital programming, host campus immersions for students, reach mid-career professionals with practice-based education and offer unique networking opportunities.”

The MPA program’s inaugural director will be Asher Hildebrand, a Sanford School associate professor of the practice. Hildebrand brings more than 15 years of experience as a public affairs practitioner, including senior leadership roles as a congressional chief of staff and the policy director for a presidential campaign.

Since joining the Sanford faculty in 2019, he has taught graduate-level courses in policy analysis, American politics, lobbying and advocacy, and democracy reform, and he appears regularly in the media as a commentator on politics and public policy.

Hildebrand said the MPA program will benefit professionals and employers nationwide.

“Today’s public affairs leaders must navigate an unprecedented range of challenges, from misinformation and artificial intelligence to emerging threats to democracy and national security,” Hildebrand said. “This program is designed for experienced public affairs professionals to deepen their knowledge, enhance their skills, and refresh their commitment to public service at a crucial moment in their careers.”

The program is also an opportunity for mid-career professionals in other fields to transition into public service, Hildebrand said.

“For employers, it offers advanced training for established or emerging leaders within their organizations and a chance to support their employees’ professional development — all without any disruption to their workforce,” he said.

The MPA also draws on Duke’s recognized strengths in experiential learning, integrating real-world experience and engagement in the program. The program’s capstone project will challenge students to analyze and develop a plan of action for a public affairs scenario within their organization or area of practice, creating a valuable final product for students and employers alike.

Mark Hart, Sanford’s director of digital learning, said the new master’s program has been designed to balance skill building while connecting to professional practice and goals at an advanced level – to give leaders the greatest value and experience.

“The executive MPA is a progressive academic program that maximizes work experience and real-time world events, just as our executive MNSP program has,” Hart said. “The cohort model allows students to benefit from Duke's faculty, while having a collective experience with other executives. This program leverages advancements of online teaching and technology in a way where students can work at their own pace each week, while also connecting live with their professors and classmates.”