Cheer Squad member with Kansas megaphone


Tradition of Excellence. Reputation for Preparing Tomorrow's Leaders.

Our History

The KU School of Public Affairs and Administration has its roots in the late 1930s and early 1940s when Professors Edwin O. Stene and Ethan Allen, in the Department of Political Science, conducted seminars to aid practicing city managers in their professional development. Following World War II, these efforts took the form of workshops and seminars offered at an annual spring “school” for city managers. In 1948, with support from the Carnegie Foundation, the first students enrolled in the MPA program established under the direction of Edwin O. Stene.

The most important traditions from our beginnings continue through today. Students study cutting-edge social science research combined with practical experience. Professor Stene’s use of the case study method and the close working relationships between students, alumni, practitioners, and faculty, are unique factors and still hallmarks of our programs today.

How Our Program Expanded Through the Years

In the 1970s the program expanded both in the number of students and in the breadth of the curriculum; health care administration and general public management were included as MPA concentrations.  Classes were offered for the first time in Topeka in 1975 accompanied by a KU investment of resources in what was to become the Capitol Complex.  State government employees were able to obtain their KU MPA degree while continuing to work full-time because of a commitment to professionalize the state government workforce. In 1978, the MPA program began offering classes in the Kansas City area. 

By the 1980s, the public health concentration became a freestanding department at KU, and the Capitol Complex suffered from state funding cuts, eventually ending the program.  The School redoubled its efforts on excellence in local government management. 

In 2002, a bachelor's degree in public administration was added at the Edwards Campus in Overland Park, Kansas.  Since that time we have added another bachelor's degree, in law and society, and both are also offered as minors.  In 2004 we formed the departmental doctorate public administration.

In 2008, the Public Management Center, located in Topeka, Kansas, which provides professional development to public service managers and staff, came under the administrative direction of SPAA.

In 2017, the KU Urban Planning Program joined SPAA and offered another master's degree option to students, the Master of Urban Planning.  The program was not new to KU, it was established in 1975 and has graduated more than 550 Jayhawk planning professionals.  Previously housed in the Department of Architecture and Design, it was a natural fit with SPAA as both programs focus on local government, improving communities, and working for equity and justice in our built environment. 

Our MPA and MUP students have nearly 100% placement rate within 6 months of graduation.

  • We are unique in offering students both academic and workplace-based professional development education to strengthen the provision of public services in society.

  • It is this signature combination, rigorous academic study, and practical experience that consistently places us among the top-ranked programs in the country by U.S. News and World Report.

  • Our students are ready and able to step into their communities equipped with the knowledge and skills to serve.

Are you ready to make a difference?

Photo of first KU MPA class, 1948

That Was Then...

So much has changed in the nearly 75 years since we admitted our first MPA class in 1948. The communities we serve have diversified and our School as too. We have expanded our program to meet the needs of today's students.
SPAA Community Day February 2024

This Is Now...

Our faculty have dedicated their careers to researching issues of systemic social injustice and examining systems that perpetuate inequality. In 2019, our School was recognized by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA) as the program winner of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion award.