MPA Comprehensive Examination
1. The exam will consist of two parts, theory and practice. The theory part will emphasize conceptual and analytical knowledge garnered from the core courses in the MPA curriculum. The practice part will emphasize problem solving and knowledge application employing a situation scenario or examples based on the student's experience. Competence in responding to Part II will be judged on the ability of the student to deal with a problem situation in a creative and imaginative manner while adhering to best practices in public administration.
This exam is intended to be integrative of material rather than course specific. Thus, students should strive to address the question or issue from a broad, holistic, rather than narrow, course driven perspective. These questions do not imply pre-formed canned answers the graders are looking for. Instead, integrative thinking, creativity, analytical skill, and knowledge of public administration practices and concepts broadly conceived should guide your response.
2. Each part will contain three questions and the student is expected to answer one question in each part.
3. The exam will be conducted in a single day, with the student sitting for a two hour theory session in the a.m. and a two hour practice session in the p.m. with a break for lunch. At the conclusion of each two-hour session, students will be allowed time to print the exam responses.
4. A committee of four professors will separately read and evaluate in blind review the responses to both questions. Each evaluator will assign letter grades to each response which will then be averaged to arrive at an overall mark. Where significant differences exist in the evaluations, the chair of the evaluation committee will convene the committee to resolve those differences.
1. How should I prepare for the exam?
Students should think of the larger conceptual issues addressed in their MPA courses, especially those in the core course area. Students ought to be familiar with the major theoretical development in organization theory, scope of PA, budgeting, personnel, and program evaluation. Students should ask themselves "how do these theories apply in the real world and what issues and concerns do practitioners have about them?" A cookbook approach to responding should be avoided. By practical PA we are referring to the practical issues that surface when PA techniques, structures, and policies are implemented on a routine and non-routine basis in governmental and non-profit agencies.
Students are likely to discern relevant concepts and information as much from notes as from standard textbooks and formal reading assignments. The theory questions will be similar to the traditional theory questions asked in the past.
2. Where can I find sample questions?
Sample questions are available below.
3. Who will prepare and evaluate the examination?
A four-member faculty committee prepares and evaluates the responses. The committee composition rotates each academic semester, with typically two members serving overlapping terms to provide continuity.
4. Will I know who is a member of the committee in a given semester?
No, this information is confidential.
A. Harold Seidman recently died, probably the last of the generation of PA founders who participated in the New Deal. Seidman strongly believed in the capacity of government to help people and the importance of accountability. With the passing of the generation of the founders (Herbert Simon, Paul Appleby, Norton Long, Luther Gulick, Donald Stone and others), what has happened to public administration theory? How would you describe its main themes over the last generation? Feel free to describe reform themes such as the National Performance Review and developments in organization theory, public personnel management, and public budgeting.
B. Communication in organizations has changed significantly over the past 15 years. Information Technology (IT) has grown rapidly and introduced many new forms of communication. Most of the attention given to IT and its impact on communication has been directed at its impact on the formal system and formal communications. But organizational theory tells us that the informal system and informal communication are extremely important. Using your knowledge of organizational theory and information technology, write an essay in which you discuss how IT has influenced the informal system in organizations. Likewise, has the informal system influenced the success of IT? Describe what impacts it has had on information technology. Be sure to employ as references to appropriate literatures such as those of organizational theory and IT.
C. Assume that you are either the director of personnel management in your agency or the budget director. Discuss how your role as either the director of personnel or budgeting interacts with the other role. Describe the points of overlap and differentiation, spelling out the ways that personnel issues influence budgets and budgets influence personnel issues. Please put forward a list of five areas of overlap and differentiation and explain each one. What do you imagine to be the primary orientation of the budget director? The personnel director? Are the personnel and budget perspectives always at odds? If not, why not?
D. Pick out an important problem or challenge facing a public organization with which you are familiar and describe the problem/challenge in detail. Discuss the strategies that your organization has used to address this problem/challenge. How successful have these efforts been? Why or why not? Also discuss what aspects of your MPA education have been useful in dealing with the problem/challenge. Discuss any limitations or weaknesses that you think exist in your education in terms of dealing with this important problem or challenge.