With the public health job market growing at an astonishing rate – as high as 25% for some careers, such as community health workers – public health looks like one of the smartest career choices possible for students who are interested in making people healthier. It’s no coincidence that public health is one of the highest-paying fields today, as well. For public health professionals, or aspiring public health students, population health is an area that gets too little attention, but it could be just right for you.
Why Get a Population Health Degree?
Population health differs from other areas of public health in some key ways. As the American Journal of Accountable Care explains, population health is far more oriented toward management and data analysis than other aspects of public health. While traditional community care-based public health focuses on improving health opportunity and care for specific communities, population health is a lot bigger, and a little more abstract. Population health looks at the numbers – things like heart disease rates and cancer rates over whole populations – and works on an administrative level to enact policies to change those numbers.
For that reason, many public health professionals explain that population health is almost purely analytical; healthcare managers who specialize in population health aren’t working directly with patients or communities, but instead coming up with the systems that will impact the data. But for many public health professionals, working in an office, managing teams, and analyzing data is the ideal; not everyone in public health is made for direct care, but they still have a real desire to see public health improve. For those professionals, many colleges and universities are instituting online, hybrid, and low-residency population health degree programs to increase their expertise, while still staying in the field.
Ranking the Top 10 Population Health Graduate Degrees
Online MPH has looked at the need for population health experts, and put together a ranking of the best population health graduate degrees students can get completely, or mostly, online. These aren’t necessarily all MPH degree; population health degrees come in a lot of different forms, including Master of Health Administration and Master of Applied Science. But they all focus on giving working professionals the analytical, business, and leadership skills to impact population health.
Programs are ranked based on three data categories:
- Cost (current IPEDS data)
- Reputation (current Niche grade)
- ROI (current College Scorecard alumni salary data)
All of the programs featured on the MPH Online ranking are regionally accredited, and many have program-specific accreditations for public health, business, or health administration. These are the top options out there for population health management training, seen through MPH Online’s unique perspective.
1. Johns Hopkins University – Baltimore, MD
Johns Hopkins University may be the first name that comes to people’s minds when they think of medicine, thanks to its status as one of the world’s leading medical research universities. Founded in 1876, JHU was revolutionary at the time, using the largest donation ever made (up to that time) to form what would be known as the first research university in the US – where expert faculty members not only taught, but engaged in cutting edge research. JHU also started the first public health school in America, solidifying the concept of public health and creating a model that would spread throughout universities all over the world. The Bloomberg School of Public Health, in fact, remains highest-ranked public health school in the nation.
JHU’s Master of Applied Science in Population Health Management is an unusual sort of degree program from the Bloomberg School. As an Applied Science degree, the MAS is focused primarily on usefulness – on helping working clinicians learn the skills and expertise they need to better serve their communities as leaders and managers. It’s just the facts, ma’am, designed for nurse practitioners, health educators, physicians, pharmacists, and other professionals in the trenches of the public health system. This fully online degree program can be completed in as little as 12 to 24 months, with no residency requirements, giving graduates the name recognition and value of the one and only Johns Hopkins University.
Degree: Master of Applied Science in Population Health Management
2. University of South Florida – Tampa, FL
Founded in 1956, the University of South Florida was a long-considered and carefully developed response to growth in the southern region of the southern-most state, and would become the first public research university to be started from the ground up in the 20th century. The initial vision for USF was a “metropolitan university” dedicated solely to academic excellence and leadership (in fact, the founders thought athletics would be a distraction). In the 1980s, USF made huge strides, especially in health sciences and medicine, and today USF Health is recognized as one of the leading academic healthcare centers in the nation, forming Florida’s first College of Public Health.
The USF MPH in Public Health Practice degree program comes from the most trusted public health school in the State University System of Florida. In the 21st century, Florida has emerged as a national and international center for healthcare research and practice, and USF’s MPH program demonstrates why. The Public Health Practice concentration focuses on the needs of local, community-level providers and leaders, providing the leadership skills, advanced practice, and data-driven problem-solving they need to improve health for populations. All coursework can be completed entirely online, but students will need to take part in a Field Experience, either organized with USF or independently.
Degree: MPH in Public Health Practice
3. George Washington University – Washington, DC
For any career path that involves public service, George Washington University is, quite possibly, the best choice imaginable. Founded in 1821, GWU is named for the first president, who advocated, in his retirement, for a national university that would prove the US to be worthy of standing on the world stage. While he did not live to see it, GWU has lived up to Washington’s expectations, regularly ranking as one of the greatest private research institutions in the world. With its deep connections to government agencies, research institutions, and private industry, GWU’s Milken Institute School of Public Health is also one of the strongest, most respected public health schools anywhere.
The GWU online Executive Master of Health Administration degree program shows the qualities that make GWU a world leader in public health. Designed specifically for high-ranking managers and administrators in the healthcare field, or in some other facet of public health, the EMHA program focuses on leadership skills, communication, and applying business expertise to decision-making. With busy professionals in mind, the EMHA program is delivered in a hybrid format, with 8 fully online courses, and 4 short intensive residential courses, allowing students to work around their current schedules and earn their degree without leaving their careers. Applicants must have at least 3 years of experience and be currently employed in healthcare.
Degree: Executive Master of Health Administration
4. University of Alabama – Tuscaloosa, AL
Founded in 1820, the University of Alabama is Alabama’s oldest institution of higher education, and was one of the first universities founded in what was then the American frontier. As such, Bama has played a central role not only in the development of the state of Alabama, but throughout the Deep South, exerting a huge influence over fields as vast as agriculture and engineering to law and medicine. In the 21st century, the University of Alabama has made its mark as an online educator as well, with Bama By Distance emerging as a model of distance education. Alabama’s College of Community Health Sciences is also crucial to the state’s public health system, educating physicians, nurses, and managers for the field.
The University of Alabama’s MS in Population Health Sciences brings both of these strengths together – the College of Community Health Sciences and Bama by Distance – to offer a fully online program tailor-made for Alabama’s health professionals. The Population Health Science MS is designed for clinicians, researchers, and behavioral health professionals who need a stronger grounding in the science of public health, including quantitative research and data analytics. With fully online courses led by some of Alabama’s top public health experts, and access to the most current and cutting-edge research in the field, students can trust UA’s Population Health Sciences degree to enhance their career and their service.
Degree: MS in Population Health Sciences
5. University of Mississippi Medical Center – Jackson, MS
When the University of Mississippi Medical Center was founded in 1955, Mississippi, incredibly, had no full medical school; medical students studied for two years at the flagship Oxford campus, and then had to travel to another state to complete the medical doctorate. With the UMMC, Mississippi’s first medical school, the University of Mississippi became the center of medical research and education for Mississippi, giving the state the tools necessary to build its own healthcare system with doctors who know Mississippi and its needs. Today, the UMMC is critical to everything medical, from physician education to public health and healthcare administration, as well as operating the state’s only academic medical complex.
The UMMC online Executive MS in Population Health Management is taking on the important job of training leaders in Mississippi’s public health system. Designed for working clinical professionals, the Executive MS provides students with a comprehensive view of modern healthcare management, including the nitty gritty of electronic medical records, team building, service bundling, and practice design. The Executive MS is designed as a hybrid program, with fully online coursework, a 1-week summer intensive, and a 3-day weekend intensive each semester. The hybrid format allows students to keep their current jobs, while still developing their connections as a cohort with face-to-face work.
Degree: Executive MS in Population Health Management
6. Maryville University – St. Louis, MO
Maryville University of St. Louis was founded by the Religious of the Sacred Heart, a Catholic order focused on the needs of underserved children, youth, and women. That was the mission of Maryville when it began in 1872, and while its focus has changed over a century and a half, one thing has remained crucial to Maryville’s philosophy – service to St. Louis, MO. While the Maryville campus has been praised for its beauty, just as important is the dedicated School of Adult and Online Education, which continues Maryville’s long-standing vision of outreach and accessibility. Education at Maryville is not just for traditional students, but for everyone who wants to make the most of their potential.
Maryville University’s online Master’s in Health Administration degree program is built around leadership, designed with the mission of helping healthcare professionals become leaders who change healthcare for the better. The MHA program revolves around management, analytics, marketing, and collaboration, providing a multidisciplinary approach to healthcare leadership that recognizes the complexities of the contemporary healthcare system. The MHA prepares working clinicians and administrators for high-level positions in clinical settings, in the private healthcare industry, and as independent consultants, broadening the career prospects for graduates while allowing them to keep their current jobs and study online.
Degree: Master’s in Health Administration
7. University of Vermont – Burlington, VT
Named one of the original Public Ivies – the public research universities with the reputation to compete with the Ivy League – the University of Vermont is also one of the oldest universities in the US, founded in 1791. In 1862 UVM became the state’s land-grant university after the passage of the Morrill Land Grant Act, and the university has built on that foundation to become one of the leading public research institutions in New England. UVM is also the home of the University of Vermont Medical Center, Vermont’s only academic medical complex, and the Larner College of Medicine, the state’s only public medical school, as well as one of the nation’s oldest and most respected.
The Larner College offers UVM’s online Master of Public Health degree program, one of the top-ranked online MPH programs in the nation. While the online MPH is a generalist degree, one of the key areas of focus is Health Policy, Leadership, and Advocacy, an area of emphasis of most interest to prospective administrators and executives. The 42-credit MPH program is specifically designed for working professionals, and requires no residencies to take students away from their careers or home. Full-time students can complete the program in as little as 2 years; in fact, students who start during a summer session can finish their MPH in just 4 semesters.
8. Thomas Jefferson University – Philadelphia, PA
Thomas Jefferson University has been going against the grain from the start, when the founders battled the University of Pennsylvania for the right to open a private medical school in the city of Philadelphia. They won in 1825, and right away began demonstrating why Philadelphia could accommodate two medical schools. Jefferson pioneered the practice of combining medical education with care, being the first medical school to open a clinic on-campus – now a standard for medical training. In 2018 Thomas Jefferson University merged with Philadelphia University, bringing together their resources to transform the 21st century as they have done since the 19th.
Jefferson’s online MS in Population Health degree program comes from the Jefferson College of Population Health, and claims to be the first population health master’s program designed specifically for working healthcare professionals. The MS-PopH focuses on building clinician’s management skills, with courses in areas like policy development, outcomes analysis, and coalition building. Made for working professionals, applicants to the MS program must have at least 3-5 years of experience in the healthcare field. Students who do not want the full MS can also choose the Graduate Certificate in Population Health to add credentials to their existing education.
Degree: MS in Population Health (MS-PopH) or Population Health Graduate Certificate
9. Concordia University Nebraska – Seward, NE
One of the nine schools in the renowned Concordia University System, Concordia University Nebraska is a private Lutheran university noted for its academic excellence. Concordia Nebraska was founded in 1894 as a teacher-training school for local German-American immigrants in Seward, NE. In 1940 Concordia Nebraska became a four-year teacher’s college, growing steadily over the years until the Concordia University System united the Lutheran colleges in 1995. Today, like the other Concordia colleges, Concordia Nebraska is also well-known for its exceptional online programs, one of the greatest strengths of the Concordia system.
Concordia Nebraska’s online MHA in Population health degree program is a 36-credit master’s degree intended for working professionals in the public health system. The MHA program is designed for future leaders, teaching students the necessary skills and concepts to build an effective healthcare network for specific populations, from the ground up if necessary. As a Lutheran college, Concordia builds the MHA around Christian ethics, focusing on meeting needs and practicing holistic care. As a fully-online program, Concordia Nebraska’s MHA requires no on-campus residencies, and students can complete their degree in just two years.
Degree: MHA in Population Health
10. Penn State World Campus
The University of Pennsylvania might be Ivy League, but Pennsylvania State University has long been named a Public Ivy, giving Penn a run for its money for more than a century and a half. Founded in 1855 as an agricultural school, Penn State won Pennsylvania’s federal land-grant in 1862, laying the foundation to become the state’s leading public research institution and one of the most dominant public universities in the North. Penn State also virtually created distance education, offering correspondence courses to farmers in 1892; more than 100 years later, Penn State World Campus is one of the most recognizable online educators in the world, and one of the first fully online university campuses.
Penn State’s online MHA in Health Policy & Administration degree program brings together business and healthcare into a program that makes experiences healthcare practitioners into effective leaders. The MHA is designed with working clinicians and health providers in mind, building on their experience in the field with theory, research, and specialized knowledge. Penn State’s MHA program is a quarter-century old, and accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME), making it one of the most accomplished and trusted online MHA programs in the world. It’s also one of the most convenient and affordable, making Penn State a sound investment.
Degree: MHA in Health Policy & Administration