in Public Service
Get ready to impact your community by earning a degree in public service. See the best schools, look into top degree options, and learn what it takes to complete a program online.
Last Updated: 02/18/2021
The Best Online Degrees in Public Service: STEPS 2021 Rankings
Online degrees remain one of the fastest-growing learning options out there. Thousands of colleges across the U.S. have added both fully online and hybrid programs to their catalogues, making them commonplace in just about every subject. Online programs in social work, education, criminal justice, and more than a dozen other disciplines have made it easier for students to earn degrees and start careers focused on public service and community impact. But which schools offer the best combinations of flexibility, availability, and cost? And which support the greater good through benefits like AmeriCorpse Match? Follow STEPS as we rank schools with the top online degrees in public service disciplines, using meticulous data collection and analysis from talented data scientists. Select a ranking below, read the methodology, and see who stands out in 2020.
- Criminal Justice: Best Overall, Associate, Master’s, Doctorate
- Cyber Security: Best Overall, Master’s, Doctorate
- Education & Teaching: Best Overall, Master’s, Doctorate, ECE, Elementary, Secondary, Physical Education, Special Education
- Emergency Management: Best Overall, Master’s
- Fire Science: Best Overall
- Forestry: Best Overall
- Homeland Security: Best Overall, Master’s
- Psychology: Best Overall, Master’s, PsyD, PhD
- Public Administration: Best Overall, MPA
- Public Health: Best Overall, MPH, DrPH
- Social Work: Best Overall, MSW, DSW, PhD
Featured Online Public Service Degree
Social Work. An online degree in social work gives students a flexible way to enter a career as a social worker. At the bachelor’s level, coursework focuses on ethical principles of social work, diversity training, human rights and social justice, human behavior, socioeconomic well-being, engagement and intervention techniques, and more. A Master of Social Work (MSW) often moves into more research-based and policy study and crafting innovative strategies to foster community and global change.
Online Degrees in Public Service by Subject
Public service is loosely defined as a service rendered for the public good. Here at STEPS, we focus on careers and educational pathways that make the community safer, healthier, smarter, and stronger. But when it comes to higher education, it can be difficult to identify which public service areas have online learning opportunities, who offers them, and how many programs actually exist. Here’s a look at the most popular online degrees in public service with links to pages that breakdown flexible learning options across criminal justice, education, social work, and more.
Schools & Online Degree Programs in Public Service
|# of Schools||# of Online Programs||Accreditation Needed|
|Education & Teaching||191||3,740||Institutional, CAEP, CEA|
|Public Administration||50||72||Institutional, NASPAA|
|Public Health||113||224||Institutional, CEPH|
|Social Work||95||125||Institutional, CSWE|
Source: Data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).
Only schools with verified programs were included in this table.
Online Degrees in Public Service by State
Although you can work, study, and participate in fully online programs from just about anywhere, it’s nice to explore online schools and degrees near you. Click on a state below to see which schools have online degrees in public service.
Source: Data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).
Only schools with verified programs were included in this map.
Online Public Service Degrees by Level
One of the best things about public service? You can learn and work at every level. Whether you have just a high school diploma and want a certificate, or you have a master’s and want a doctorate, a wide range of higher educational options exist. Here’s how today’s online certificates and degrees in public service break down by level.
|# of Schools||# of Online Credentials|
Source: Data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Only schools with verified programs were included in this map.
Online Degrees at Community Colleges
Community colleges and junior colleges represent some of the most affordable higher education options for students. They also focus on making education more accessible to all types of students, no matter their circumstances or career interests. Over the past decade, more and more community colleges have made online degrees a primary learning option, with fully-online and hybrid options across a wide range of subjects. Learn how online community colleges are changing the online learning landscape, and if one could be right for you.
9 Benefits of an Online Degree Program
For years, online learning was considered supplemental (and inferior) to face-to-face education. Professors would create a course that relied mostly on in-person lecture and participation, with elements of remote work sprinkled in. But for many students, these online components offered a number of benefits that made completing courses and earning degrees far more convenient. Both colleges and professors began to make online learning a featured element of their programs and courses, attracting a wider range of students who now could make their higher education goals a reality. Here are 10 of the biggest benefits of online degree programs.
Attending multiple classes face-to-face can be a challenge. There’s traffic, parking, walking to class, and juggling other in-person commitments. Yet with online programs, most if not all coursework can be done from home, a coffee shop, the doctor’s office, or anywhere you find yourself with time to log on.
With online degree programs, cost savings can occur in a couple different areas. First, the remote nature of the coursework means no car wear-and-tear commuting to campus, no parking fees, and no need to burn gas driving across town. Second, many colleges offer online programs for the same price as their in-state tuition, or even lower.
- Expanded opportunity
With campus-based courses, you’re restricted to the courses that take place on campus. With online programs and courses, there’s no geographic restriction. Many colleges and universities with multiple campuses across a state, region, or the nation, make all of their online programs available to their students regardless of where they live. You may also be more likely to get accepted into an online school. These are just some of the best online colleges with high acceptance rates.
In the early days of online learning, accreditation was tricky. A majority of programs had national accreditation or a special distance education accreditation, which isn’t the same as regional accreditation endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education. Now, a majority of online programs come from colleges and universities who hold regional accreditation, and have the same quality standards as their on-campus relatives. Learn more about accreditation for online colleges.
- Real-world readiness
Although many people work face-to-face with co-workers on a daily basis, more and more work is done online: email, applications, mobile, online collaboration tools, etc. Learning to use web-based communication and data programs in college is a great stepping-stone to using them effectively in a work environment.
Yes, you use a network when logging onto your online program, but in this case, networking means connecting more easily with peers and professors across the country. Online forums, meet-ups, and other connection hubs make talking about coursework, virtual labs, comparing notes, and asking questions a much wider activity if desired. These connections can also turn into career opportunities after the degree has been earned.
This can mean two things, as well. First, the wider selection of online courses can make customization of a specific degree program easier. There’s no need to wait for courses to become available, and more and more courses can be combined to craft unique degree programs within your major. Second, you can customize your learning experience by finding both when and where you learn the best. If you study and participate better in your home office, that works. A coffee shop? That works, too. At the library, go plug in there.
- Immediate feedback
With face-to-face classes, you take quizzes and tests in-person, and get your grade the following week or so. In some cases this may not matter, but in others, the anticipation of knowing how well you did can elevate your anxiety. In many online courses, quiz and exam results are calculated and delivered as soon as you hit Submit.
With great flexibility comes great responsibility. If you’re in an online program that lets you study and submit work at your own pace, the burden is solely on you to get it done. You need to set aside study time, quiz time, collaboration time, and more. You may have a support group (or person) to help you, but, ultimately, it’s mostly self-controlled.
Achieving Online School Success
Whether you’re a student or a teacher, online programs can be tough — at least at first. There’s new technology, new ways to communicate, and new ways of actually learning. And many of these challenges require solutions, especially insight and ideas from experts who have extensive training and experience when it comes to the digital classroom. Use the following resource to start your online learning journey.
Teacher’s Guide to Online School Success: Learn the importance of digital access, organization, having the right tech, and insight from online learning insiders.
Netiquette in the Online Classroom: How you communicate with others can be critical to your success as an online student (or teacher). Learn the do’s and don’ts of online classroom communication and discover key tips to maximize your academic relationships with others.
How to Avoid Cheating & Plagiarism in Online School: Whether you’re a teacher or a student, know the signs and learn what to avoid when you’re taking your lessons, assignments, and quizzes to the virtual classroom.
Organization & Note-Taking in Online School: The online classroom experience poses unique advantages and challenges. Learn what you can do to stay organized and on top of your note-taking as an online student with techniques, hacks, and resources.
How to Transfer Online College Credits: The idea of transferring online college credits can be daunting, but by following a few crucial steps, you can make it happen. Learn how to transfer your online college credits without losing any along the way and get answers to some of your most common questions.
Online School Tech: Resources for Students & Parents: From Canvas and Blackboard to Google Meet and Zoom, there’s a lot of tech to become familiar with as an online student. Whether you’re a student yourself or the parent of an online learner, get the resources your need to make the transition to the digital classroom smooth sailing.