Top 25 Public Health Programs in the South for 2021
By Sam MacArthur

public health uark

Public health is one of the most significant issues in the South, giving the numerous colleges and university public health schools cause for alarm and urgency. Health concerns in the Southern US surround lifestyle habits and access to care.  Most locales in the South are not pedestrian-friendly, so walking and cycling aren’t as prevalent as they are in areas with higher levels of wellness.  Residents of the Southern region are more likely to be smokers.  Add to that the difficulty many people have in finding a primary care physician, and it’s easy to see how chronic illnesses often go undetected. 

However, even states that spend sizable sums on public health still have poor outcomes.  Clearly, more research is needed to improve health and wellness in the South, especially in rural areas. That’s the role of the South’s public health schools, and of the exceptional people who work, study, and research there.

Ranking the Best Public Health Programs in the South

To rank the best public health schools in the South, MPHOnline editors researched accredited, influential institutions across the region, from Virginia and the Carolinas to Texas. Institution are ranked using current data, including factors such as reputation, student satisfaction, and alumni salary.

1. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The Gillings Global Public Health School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill offers a variety of Master of Public Health – MPH programs in the south portion of the United States across a number of specialties. These available MPH programs in the south are accredited by the Council on Education of Public Health and offer rolling admissions and four-start dates each year. The available specialties for these MPH  programs include nutrition, registered dietitian, and MPH leadership.

The Chapel Hill campus of the University of North Carolina is the flagship school of the state’s university system. Established in 1789, the University of North Carolina, located in Chapel Hill is home to a student enrollment of approximately 29,960 students. The University of North Carolina is recognized as a public ivy league school and one of the oldest of all higher learning institutions across the country.

2. Texas A&M Health Science Center

The Public Health School at the Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC) offers various Master of Public Health programs that have been recognized among the best MPH programs in the south. TAMHSC’s MPH programs offer six academic concentrations to those enrolled in the program – health policy & management, environmental health, biostatistics, occupation safety/health, epidemiology, and health promotion & community health sciences. TAMHSC’s graduate degree in public health offers degree candidates an integrative approach across disciplines to hone student’s problem solve and critical thinking skills. The core coursework includes principles of environmental and investigation, and control of acute public health events, to name a few.

Established in 1999 (and merged with A&M in 2013), the Texas A&M Health Science Center offers bachelor to doctoral level degrees across the medical sciences, including public health, dentistry, pharmacy, nursing, and biomedicine. The Texas A&M Health Science Center serves approximately 550 students.

3. Johns Hopkins University

The Bloomberg Public Health School at Johns Hopkins University (JHU) offers a variety of Master of Public Health programs to meet the educational needs and objectives of most students. These MPH programs in the south portion of the United States include full and part-time options, dual degree opportunities, and online delivered formats. Johns Hopkins University’s online MPH programs in the south offer degree candidates three start dates, which can be completed in eighteen months to three years, depending on the student’s time availability.

Established in 1876 as a private higher learning institution, Johns Hopkins University began with what was then the largest philanthropic gift in US history. Johns Hopkins University’s online and Baltimore campus is home to approximately 25,970 students. Johns Hopkins University is also a space-grant school with a research budget that exceeds $2.5 billion.

4. University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

The Public Health School at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) offers one of the best accelerated MPH programs in the south. The University of Texas Health’s Master of Public Health can be completed online in only 1.5 years, which includes an orientation and final residency requirement. Degree candidates enrolled in the UT Health MPH degree program are required to complete 45 semester credits. Students complete coursework in operations management, epidemiology, ecology, and the human environment, health promotion, and introduction to biostatistics, to name a few.

The University of Texas(UT) Health Science Center is an academic health facility that was established in 1972. The Houston campus of UT Health is home to approximately 5,150 students. This Texas Medical Center is recognized among the largest academic medical facility across the globe.

5. University of Florida

The Public Health and Health Professions College at the University of Florida (UF) offers a Master of Science degree (MS) program in Public Health (MPH) that requires a degree candidate to complete 48 semester credits to meet this post-baccalaureate degree requirement. UF graduate degree is among the best online MPH programs in the south. Additionally, degree candidates must submit a capstone project, plus a public health internship worth three to six semester credits. Classes included in The University of Florida’s graduate public health program includes psychological, behavioral & social issues in public health, epidemiology in public health, and environmental health concepts in public health, to name a few.

The University of Florida is a sea-grant, land-grant, and space-grant university that was established in the mid 1850s. US News ranks UF among the top ten public universities across the country. The University of Florida holds the distinction of being recognized as one of the preeminent higher learning institutions within the state university’s system.

6. University of Maryland

The University of Maryland’s Public Health School (UM) offers a Master of Science degree (MS) program in Public Health (MPH) that mandates degree candidates to complete 45 semester credits to graduate. Students enrolled in UM’s MPH programs in the south portion of the United States complete classes in epidemiology & biostatistics, public health ethics, leadership, and policy analysis, and public health practice policy, plus a capstone project and public health internship, to name a few.

Established as the result of the Land Grant Act, the University of Maryland began in 1856 as an agricultural college. At present, UM is the flagship campus of the state’s university system, with a student enrollment that exceeds 40,950 students. The University of Maryland’s location near the nation’s capital has resulted in many important partnerships with government agencies.

7. University of South Florida

The Public Health College at the University of South Florida (USF) offers a variety of certificate and degree programs in public health that are among the best in Florida. The MPH programs in the south portion of the United States from the University of South Florida include concentrations to social marketing, nutrition, epidemiology, health and safety, infection control, public health practice, and global disaster management/humanitarian relief. These MPH programs in the south part of Florida are available entirely online through the university’s distance learning platform.

Founded in the mid 1950s, the University of South Florida is a space-grant member of the State University System of Florida. USF maintains multiple  campuses with a student enrollment that is approximately 51,550 students, the 4thlargest in the Sunshine State. The University of South Florida is recognized as the state’s preeminent research institution of higher learning.

8. Augusta University

Augusta University’s School of Graduate Studies (AU) offers one of the only MPH programs in the south (and in Georgia) to offer an academic concentration in health informatics or health management. Augusta University’s Master of Public Health degree program has received CEPH accreditation and can be completed in only two years as a full-time student. Classes for this MPH program include 45 hours of coursework like public health informatics, health management and policy, biostatistics, health data management, computerized health information systems, and introduction to epidemiology, among others. Additionally, degree candidates must complete nine hours of research, including an internship and capstone project.

Established in 1828, Augusta University is a member school of the Georgia university system with multiple campuses across the state. In addition to the Augusta campus, Augusta University is operates facilities in Albany, Athens, Rome, and Savannah – serving 9,150 students. Augusta University also maintains several hospitals and more than 75 clinics.

9. University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

The Boozman Public Health College at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) offers a Master of Public Health degree program that is recognized among the best MPH programs in the south. UAMS’s Master of Public Health program requires the completion of 42 semester credits – with six available academic tracks – rural/global public health (online), biostatistics, health policy & management, epidemiology, health behavior & health education, and environmental and occupational health.

The University of Arkansas (UArk) for Medical Sciences was established as a public higher learning institution dedicated to medicine in 1879. The University of Arkansas (UArk) for Medical Sciences is a member school of the state’s university system with six schools/colleges, plus a network of state education centers. The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences operates the state’s only high-risk pregnancy program and kidney/liver transplant programs.

10. Tulane University

The Public Health & Tropical Medicine School at Tulane University offers several online Master of Public Health degrees that can be completed entirely through the school’s distance learning platform. Tulane University’s best MPH programs in the south include concentrations in community health sciences, industrial hygiene, disaster management, occupation health & safety management, and occupation and environmental health. Tulane’s School of Public Health is recognized as the oldest public health higher learning institutions in the nation.

Founded in 1834 as a medical school, Tulane University became a research university about a decade and a half later in 1847. Tulane University’s New Orleans campus covers more than 100 acres and is home to approximately 13,890 students. Tulane University’s distinguished alumni include twelve state governors, a speaker of the house, and a Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court.

11. West Virginia University

West Virginia University School of Public Health offers a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree program that integrates five core public health topics – epidemiology, biostatistics, social/behavioral sciences, occupational/environmental health sciences, and health policy, management & leadership. Additionally, students enrolled in West Virginia University’s MPH programs in the south are required to finish at least 180 hours within a supervised applied internship experience. Previous internships for this graduate public health degree program have included the Federal Occupational Health Program & the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System – Occupational Supplement.

Founded as an agricultural college in 1867, West Virginia University is the state’s flagship school and also a land-grant institution of higher education. Additionally, as a space-grant university, West Virginia University’s multiple campuses are home to approximately 29,850 students. West Virginia University’s campus covers the acreage that once houses three separate academies.

12. Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center

Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center’s Biomedical School of Graduate Studies (TTUHSC) offers a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree that is available entirely through the school’s distance learning platform. TTUHSC’s MPH programs in the south are accredited by CEPH and available in an accelerated format that can be finished in only 15 months. Students enrolled in Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center’s MPH degree program have the option to earn a dual degree as follows – MD/MPH or MPA/MPH.

Founded as a medical school that was state-run, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center was established in 1969. Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center’s multiple campuses in Abilene, Odessa, Lubbock, Amarillo, El Paso, and Dallas serve more than 4,550 students. Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center is a separate higher learning institution that Texas Tech University, although both schools are a member school of the State’s tech university system.

13. Florida International University

The Stempel Public Health & Social Work College at Florida International University (FIU) offers a Master of Public Health degree (MPH) program that can be finished entirely through Florida International University’s distance learning platform. US News recognizes Florida International University’s MPH program among the best MPH programs in the south. Degree candidates are required to complete 45 semester credits in classes that include health policy, public health statistics, epidemiology, health behavior & public health, and introduction to public health policy & management, plus an integrative seminar and practicum to apply theoretical knowledge to real-world applications, among others.

Established as a research institution of higher education in 1965, Florida International University is a member of the state university system with a campus in sunny South Florida. Florida International University is a land-grant and space-grant school with a student enrollment that is approximately 58,650 students. With a budget that exceeds $1.5 billion, FIU has a tremendous economic impact on South Florida and the state overall.

14. University of Alabama at Birmingham

The Public Health School within the University of Alabama at Birmingham offers a Master of Public Health degree (MPH) program with a variety of delivery options for degree candidates. UA Birmingham’s MPH programs in the south include MPH with online concentrations in epidemiology, occupational health, health behavior, health care organization, child health policy, and population health. Additionally, the University of Alabama Birmingham offers a Master of Science in Public Health in Outcomes Research that is also available entirely online.

Founded in 1969 as an academic extension unit for another school, the University of Alabama at Birmingham is not an autonomous school that offers more than 125 undergraduate and graduate degree programs. The school’s Birmingham campus is home to approximately 22,450 students. the health center at the University of Alabama in Birmingham is recognized as the largest academic medical center in the nation.

15. George Washington University

George Washington University’s Milken Public Health Institute offers a Master of Public Health (MPH) that can be finished in an accelerated format in only one year. George Washington University’s MPH programs in the south are accredited by CEPH, with the Milken School of Public Health ranked among the country’s twelve top programs. Degree candidates must complete a practicum to graduate with previous internships in health care startups, nonprofits, health service delivery companies, volunteer health agencies, policy institutes, and think tanks, among others.

Established as a college in 1821, George Washington University is among only a handful of schools chartered by an act of congress. The university’s student enrollment on-campus in the nation’s capital and online is approximately 27,050 students. The distinguished alumni of George Washington University includes more than two dozen senators and 18 cabinet members, among others.

16. University of South Carolina

The Graduate School, along with the Arnold Public Health School at the University of South Carolina (UofSC), offers a Master of Public Health degree (MPH) that is available online and for those interested in an accelerated format. The University of South Carolina’s MPH degrees in the south includes an academic concentration in Health Promotion, Education & Behavior (HPEB). This degree from the University of South Carolina in public health has received accreditation from CEPH.

Established in 1801, USC – the University of South Carolina is a multiple campus institution of higher education, with its main campus near South Carolina’s statehouse in Columbia, South Carolina. The University of South Carolina is the flagship campus of the state’s university system and is home to approximately 52,550 students across all of its campuses. The University of South Carolina was the brainchild of a Reverend who graduate from Brown University, Reverend J Maxcy.

17. Emory University

The Rolling Public Health School at Emory University offers an Executive Master of Public Health degree program that has been developed for working learners and healthcare professionals. Students enrolled in Emory University’s MPH degrees in the south are required to complete 42 semester credits, and the average student completes the MPH degree from Emory in about two years. Emory University’s graduate degree in public health has received accreditation by CEPH and offers three academic emphases to degree candidates 0 applied epidemiology, prevention science, and applied public health informatics. 

Established by members of the United Methodist Church in 1936, Emory University is a private school with students that hail from all fifty states. Emory University serves approximately 15,250 students both online and from its Atlanta campus. The health care system at Emory University is the largest health care system in the Peach Tree State.

18. University of North Texas Health Science Center

The Public Health School within the University of North Texas Health Science Center (UNTHSC) offers a Master of Public Health degree (MPH) degree with an academic track in public health leadership that is among the best MPH degrees in the south.  The school offers two MPH degrees that can be completed entirely through the school’s distance learning program. The 48 semester credit program is best for those who are recent grads or seek a career change. The 42 semester credit program is designed for those who have a minimum of three years of professional experience.

Established in 1970, the University of North Texas (UNT) Health Science Center is a medical school that is a senior member school of the North Texas university system. The school’s urban campus in Fort Worth is home to approximately 2,150 students. The University of North Texas Health Science Center began as an Osteopathic school of Medicine but is now a comprehensive medical college.

19. University of Southern Mississippi

The University of Southern Mississippi offers a Master of Public Health degree program (MPH) that requires the completion of 45 credit units to graduate. The University of Southern Mississippi, MPH degrees in the south offer an accelerated option for those students who meet certain academic requirements. Students enrolled in the University of Southern Mississippi are required to complete a relevant internship of at least 400 hours of field work at a health care facility. It is noted that this program does not mandate the completion of a thesis to meet graduation requirements.

Founded as a normal school in 1910, the University of Southern Mississippi is a multiple campus school with campuses and facilities throughout the state. The school, as a space-grant and sea-grant higher learning institution, has a student enrollment that is approximately 14,550 students. Southern Miss operates campuses in Biloxi, Hattiesburg, and Gulf Park.

20. Baylor University

The Robbins Health and Human Sciences College at Baylor University offers a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree program with an academic track in Community Health. Baylor University’s MPH degrees in the south can be completed entirely through Baylor’s distance learning platform. Students enrolled in this graduate degree in public health can complete this 42 semester credit program as full-time (18 months) or part-time students (24 months).  The Council on Education for Public Health – CEPH – has fully accredited the MPH program from Baylor University.

Founded by the Baptist General Convention of Texas in 1845, Baylor University was founded prior to Texas reaching statehood. Baylor University holds the distinction of being the longest operating institution of higher education in the Lone Star State and one of the first to be founded west of the Mississippi.

21. Georgia Southern University

Georgia Southern University’s Hsu Public Health College offers a Master of Applied Public Health degree program that is also accredited by CEPH. Georgia Southern University’s MPH degrees in the south can be completed entirely online through Georgia Southern University’s distance learning platform. GSU’s applied public health graduate degree program requires the completion of 45 credit units, plus a practicum of 20 – 25 hours during one semester. Classes for this degree include epidemiology, biostatistics, public health preparedness, and applied planning & evaluation methods for public health promotion, to name a few.

Georgia Southern University was established in 1906 and is a member school of the state’s university system. Georgia Southern University’s campuses are home to approximately 25,950 students. Additionally, Georgia Southern University is a land-grant and space-grant school. Students attending classes at Georgia Southern University hail from 50 states and from more than 75 international locations.

22. Florida A&M University

Florida A&M University’s Public Health Institute (FAMU) offers a Master of Public Health degree program that was the first distance learning degree offered by Florida A&M University. Florida A&M University graduates the most African American public health professionals than any other school. Florida A&M University’s MPH degrees in the south is offered in conjunction with the school’s Pharmacy College, which allows for training in public health issues that impact underserved populations. The program focuses primarily on public health practice.

Florida A&M University is a member school of the state’s university system that was founded in 1909. Florida A&M University is recognized as an HBCU university and is ranked second best among all HBCUs by US News. The school is a space-grant higher learning institution that serves approximately 10,000 students.

23. Old Dominion University

Old Dominion University’s Health Science College offers a Master of Public Health degree (MPH) program that is available both online & on Old Dominion’s Norfolk campus. These MPH degrees in the south provided by Old Dominion University requires the completion of 32 semesters credits, plus a relevant public health practicum. These graduate public health degree programs from Old Dominion University have received accreditation from CEPH. Students graduate prepared for rewarding careers in environmental health, public health, or health care advocacy, among others. 

Established as an extension of another college, Old Dominion University now operates as a research higher learning facility that has one of the commonwealth’s largest student enrollments, 25,100+ students. Old Dominion University’s impact on the regional economy is estimated to exceed 2 billion dollars.

24. University of West Florida

The University of West Florida offers a Master of Public Health degree program that offers degree candidates several concentrations. Among the available concentrations in these MPH degrees in the south are global health, generalist, health education, promotion & behavior. Coursework for the University of West Florida’s online MPH degree includes public health policy, environmental health, social & behavioral sciences in public health, and epidemiology for public health professionals, to name a few. Additionally, degree candidates enrolled in the program are required to complete a six-credit practicum.

Founded in 1963 as a space-grant school, the University of West Florida is a member of the state university system of the Sunshine State. The school’s 1,500+ acre campus is the 3rd largest in the state and home to approximately 9,550 students. The University of West Florida’s mascot is Argie, the Argonaut.

25. Nova Southeastern University

The Patel College of Osteopath Medicine at Nova Southeastern University offers a Master of Public Health degree program that is available on-campus and through the school’s online platform. Nova Southeastern University’s MPH degrees in the south have received accreditation from CEPH. Classes for this degree include public health policy, environmental and occupational health, research methods in public health, epidemiology, and biostatistics, plus a public health practicum, to name a few.

Founded as a technology college in 1964, Nova Southeastern University is a multiple campus institution of higher education that is organized into eighteen colleges/schools. Additionally, these recognized Hispanic-serving school is home to approximately 20 450 students. Nova Southeastern University is built upon a former naval outlying field.

Why is Public Health Such a Concern in the South?

For at least the last 25 years, the Southern United States has ranked as the least healthy part of the country.  Health concerns in the Southern US stem from several factors.  One of these is disproportionately high levels of chronic illness and premature death.  According to America’s Health Rankings, West Virginia residents are more than twice as likely to develop diabetes as residents of Colorado, one of the healthiest states.  Rates of premature death — often from chronic conditions such as heart disease — are nearly twice as high in Southern states as in areas that rank among the healthiest.

Where are the Most Public Health Jobs in the South?

Go online and type a public health jobs query in the search box and you will see a plethora of results, many of which are in the Carolinas and Florida.  To get an idea of the job climate, here’s a sample of public health jobs available in these states.  

North Carolina public health jobs span several sectors.  If you have a background in this field, you may serve as a community outreach coordinator, case manager, or occupational health and safety director.  Other public health jobs in North Carolina include senior services coordinator, health workshop instructor, and environmental educator.  Public health jobs in North Carolina certainly aren’t limited to the ones listed here.  You can find North Carolina public health jobs in other specialties, too, such as health marketing and disease prevention.

Likewise, public health jobs in South Carolina provide opportunities to serve in many different capacities.  Public health officers play a vital role in the military.  Private companies need researchers and community health workers.  A number of South Carolina public health jobs are available in the public sector.  Working for the state or county, applicants may land positions in research, community education, and environmental health.

Considering its large elderly population, another hotspot for public health jobs is Florida.  Public health jobs in Florida are widely-available in both the public and private sectors.  In this coastal state, one promising possibility is the travel industry.  Cruise lines are on the lookout for ways to promote the health of guests and staff.   Similarly, Disney World® is in search of qualified professionals to maximize safety on its premises.  Other Florida public health jobs include community health associate and environmental safety specialist.

Public health jobs in Florida allow you to provide direct services or work behind the scenes to improve healthcare.  Your skills will be in high demand in a variety of settings, from hospitals and laboratories to universities and non-profits.   When it comes to Florida public health jobs, the possibilities for putting your skills to work are virtually limitless. 

Are There Public Health Jobs in the Rural South?

Rural public health jobs are available in the South.  Many people in this role serve as public health nurses working in community clinics and other settings.  Part nurse and part public health advocate, healthcare workers in this position provide routine health services.  But they also have opportunities to develop strategies to improve community health.  

There are other ways to serve rural populations, too.  You may find employment as a healthcare administrator or community health educator, improving awareness of health risks and how to minimize them.  Depending on the needs of the community, you may be able to specialize in a particular area, such as maternal and child health.  Your responsibilities could include anything from providing nursing services to educating pregnant women about the importance of nutrition.

The realm of public health is broader than most of us realize and spans several disciplines besides healthcare, such as statistics, ethics, management, and law.  For instance, rural public health jobs may include serving as the director of a local health department or studying health and wellness trends in sparsely-populated, underserved communities.  If you are employed as a public health biostatistician or research analyst, you can specialize in areas related to public health in rural communities.  Some people with degrees in public health end up in academia in research or teaching capacities.  Similarly, if you’re involved in drafting public health policy, you can focus on legislation and other initiatives intended to benefit rural populations.  These are examples of rural public health jobs that are not necessarily limited to rural areas.

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