Atlas Standards

BenchmarkOur vision for the Atlas as a comparative assessment tool

The Atlas of Public Management will provide a set of topics, concepts, readings, learning outcomes, study expectations, and assessment questions that fairly reflects the core curricular requirements of leading MPP and MPA programs.

What are the Atlas Standards?

We use the term Atlas Standards to summarize our findings on what leading MPP and MPA programs appear to have in common in their core curriculum, study expectations, and learning outcomes.

What do we mean by leading MPP and MPA programs?

As described in Reference Programs, we draw heavily on four programs that are highly ranked on the U.S. News and World Report (based on a fall 2015 survey of deans and directors, see, accessed 23 May 2016) and which make available online syllabi for most of their courses: Harvard Kennedy MPP; Michigan Ford MPP; New York Wagner MPA; and Wisconsin La Follette MPA. Because these four programs are ranked 3, 8, 11 and 13 on the 2015 U.S. News ranking and would likely be included in most lists of “the world’s top-twenty MPP and MPA programs,” our term “leading programs” can be interpreted as “top twenty in the world.” In the same vein, the Atlas Standards can be thought of as the “Top-Twenty Standards.”

The core curriculum standard

A principal aim of the Atlas project has been to determine the extent to which there is a body of curricular content that is common to highly ranked MPP and MPA programs.

Our analysis of 119 programs offering MPP, MPA, and similarly titled degrees (see MPP/MPA Curricular Types, Program Rankings by Attributes, and Curriculum Comparison Tables) illustrates that the required courses in most leading programs, regardless of whether their flagship degree is called MPP or MPA, cover similar subject matter. In particular, highly ranked programs tend to have required courses in economics and in other mathematically intensive subjects such as quantitative methods. For example, of the leading 25 programs in the US News and World Report’s 2015 ranking of American public affairs programs, all but one (Kansas) are in the “higher math-economics content” column of MPP/MPA Curricular Types.

The Atlas core curriculum standard is described at Core Curriculum.

The hours of study standard

In comparing different MPP and MPA programs, one of the crucial factors to consider is the amount of instruction and study involved. As explained in our analysis of Credit and Course Equivalencies, the Atlas hours of learning standard is:

1 course-week = 10 hours of study (typically 2-3 hours in class and 7-8 hours outside class)

1 course = 12 course-weeks = 120 hours of study

The learning outcomes standard

The Atlas learning outcomes standard will be articulated in the Atlas Examination Standards – a set of 120 topic-level learning outcomes, with a grading rubric and Concept Comprehension Questions, covering the full MPP/MPA Core Curriculum.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified 2 February 2017.

Images: IT Benchmark Blog, at, accessed 13 April 2016.