In 2019, the Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management’s Master of Public Policy degree (MPP) became fully-accredited by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA) in Washington, DC (NASPAA) (https://www.naspaa.org/).

NASPAA accreditation is the most prestigious award a public policy and management school can receive. The School became one of only 11 non-US schools to be accredited worldwide: only 187 schools in total have to meet NASPAA’s rigorous standards. There are nearly 400 public policy graduate programs in the US seeking this accreditation. No other Vietnamese or ASEAN school has achieved a western accreditation at this level.

Whereas nearly every school usually fails to achieve accreditation in its first year, and most candidate schools have not yet attained NASPAA standards, the School did so on its first try. Not only that, but NASPAA found no major deficiencies, but cited many best practices that might be employed by others.

Earlier in 2008, the School became the first graduate school in Vietnam to offer an MPP degree. In 2016, the School was authorized to award the MPP under its own imperator. Prior to this, the School awarded the MPP under the National University of Economics in Saigon, with which it had partnered for two decades.

NASPAA accreditation is daunting.

Dr. Terry Buss, Fulbright School’s Senior Advisor on international accreditation

The NASPAA Process

NASPAA requires approximately two years of intensive work to complete the accreditation process. The first step is for schools to submit detailed information and statistics, demonstrating that they are eligible to undergo the process.

Next, schools prepare a report demonstrating that they have met NASPAA’s rigorous standards that reflect state-of-the-art best practices, innovations, and performance characteristics of the world’s most prestigious universities.

NASPAA is evidence-based, looking at a school’s mission, goals, and objectives; faculty qualifications and performance; student achievement academically and in the job market; infrastructure and financial resources; classroom facilities; strategic plans, and curriculum.

Some, but not all, of the evidence developed by the Fulbright School included…

  • Surveys of alumni; employers; and government and business leaders.
  • Surveys of current students upon enrollment and graduation; student class evaluations; and student opinions on student services.
  • Outside expert evaluations of course curricula; student exams; student homework; and graduate thesis evaluation.
  • Verification that students had mastered the policy and management curriculum.
  • Studies of alumni jobs (types and salaries) obtained after graduation; program satisfaction; use of knowledge on the job.
  • Analyses of admission practices, enrollments, grading, marketing, and counseling/advising.
  • Assessment of the School’s website, brochures, and marketing materials.
  • Comprehensive program evaluations.

The School chose several exemplar universities in the region to see how closely it mirrored their best practices.

A report documenting evidence is then prepared and submitted to a panel of 20 or so NASPAA members who are experts in all aspects of administering policy and management schools. The panel reviews the report and requests additional information or documentation as necessary. The School also employed outside experts to review the report before submission to NASPAA.

School leadership and faculty met with NASPAA leadership in Beijing to here presentations on state-or-the-art practices. For example, how to succeed in employing video conferencing and online classes.

Next, a site-visit team is sent to the school to verify the claims in the report to NASPAA in a four-day visit. The team consists of two senior faculty persons from NASPAA accredited schools and a public administration practitioner. All three must have expertise in theory and practice. Site visitors may review any data, reports, student exams, and theses, or documentation they like. This usually includes confidential interviews with faculty and students.

The site visit team then reports back to the panel who thoroughly review their findings against claims and achievements in the report.

NASPAA insists on in-depth faculty and student participation in preparing the report.

The faculty gathered data, prepared sections of the report, and voted on any changes in School policy, procedures, or data gathering. Students and alumni participated in focus groups to offer their opinions about the School.

In addition, the School enlisted internationally-recognized experts in policy and management to help the faculty think about best practices, options, and strategies necessary to become a world-class program. Part of this effort included “in-service” capacity-building opportunities for faculty to stay abreast of the latest learning in public policy and management. For example: developing and writing up case study materials geared to the Vietnamese experience, but based on the Harvard University case study model.

Dr. Terry Buss at a seminar in the Fulbright School.

Why Pursue Accreditation 

NASPAA accreditation has numerous advantages.

Students graduating from the School can rightly claim that they received a world-class education, recognized everywhere. This helps in applying for jobs, seeking a doctoral degree, or transferring course credits to US and western universities.

Faculty can burnish their credentials when changing jobs, seeking grants and contracts, or competing for academic rewards.

The School can attract visiting professors and guest speakers to embellish the program. Accreditation helps attract outside funding.

The School has numerous partnerships made possible through accreditation. For example, the School recently partnered with the National Academy of Public Administration (www.napawash.org) in Washington to pursue joint projects, exchange faculty and fellows, and offer courses and seminars. NAPA is an organization, chartered by the US Congress, whose members are elected for their lifetime contributions to public policy and management. It is considered the highest honor for practitioners and academics.

So, with this foundation, the School now has the potential to become a leading institution in the Asia-Pacific region. It is already well on its way to doing so.

Evidence of Success

Receiving accreditation is the ultimate indication of a successful program. The most important indicator in my view is the 1,300 alumni. Whenever the School offers a program, the alumni show up. Whenever the School needs help or support, the alumni respond “whatever you need.”

Other indicators are that 90% graduated from the program, and 95% are employed in public policy and management positions.

When the school held an information session for this year’s class, several hundred potential students showed up, and another 10,000 viewed the event online.

Dr. Terry Buss (NAPA Fellow, Fulbright School’s Senior Advisor on international accreditation)