If you’ve pursued higher education but never earned your bachelor’s degree, you’re not alone. Many people begin bachelor’s degree programs but don’t finish the coursework required to graduate because life gets in the way. Some leave college after earning associate’s degrees because they need to work. Others leave school to care for children or aging family members. Former students with some college credits but not enough to meet bachelor’s program graduation requirements come from many walks of life, socio-economic backgrounds, and professions—and there are lots of them. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, approximately 10 percent of Americans between the ages of 25 and 29 have associate’s degrees but no bachelor’s degrees. What they tend to have in common is that they do want to go back to college and earn degrees. Someday. When the time is right.
If that resonates, ask yourself whether the right time might be now. When you consider what a significant impact upgrading to a bachelor’s degree in the liberal arts can have on your job prospects, it’s worth looking into what it takes to complete a bachelor’s degree online or on campus. Non-traditional learners have more degree completion options than ever before. Online bachelor’s degree programs give working professionals and parents easy access to higher education. And the “Great Resignation” that is making headlines is really a “Great Reshuffle” for many workers. This may be the best time to reflect on what you want your career to look like, look at programs such as the Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Programs at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and finally trade in your day job for a dream job.
The University of Tennessee can help you create a career you really want by making online education work for you. If you have the requisite transfer credits and an approved associate degree from a community college with full Tennessee Board of Regents accreditation, you may meet the admissions requirements to enroll in the university’s flexible online bachelor’s degree program. Unlike full-time undergraduate degree programs, the Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Programs accommodates the needs of working professionals and otherwise busy adults who want to go back to college. The program offers two areas of emphasis: Cultures and Societies or Public Policy and Administration. If you have dreamed of driving change in the public, nonprofit, and government sectors, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in public policy and administration is an intelligent first step.
The classes in this concentration teach the foundational knowledge you’ll need to become a decision-maker in your organization or a policymaker in local and state government agencies or nonprofits. Elective courses cover policy analysis, research methods, nonprofit management, and economics. Students can choose the classes that best suit their interests and career goals, such as Contemporary Issues in American Public Policy, Law in American Society, and Conflict Processes.
As to where these and other courses in the Public Policy and Administration track can take you, the sky’s the limit. Employers no longer look down upon distance learning—or online colleges, online learning, or online degree programs offered by accredited schools. There are numerous career pathways in public policy and administration you can follow once you complete your bachelor’s degree online.
Part-time online bachelor’s degree programs for non-traditional college students tend to be career-focused, and the University of Tennessee’s general studies program is no different. The online classes in the public policy and administration-focused undergraduate track can help you step into any of the following roles.
Community organizers work for nonprofit and other nongovernmental organizations that advocate for underrepresented and disenfranchised groups. These organizations may be committed to a specific cause—e.g., criminal justice reform, public health, early childhood education quality, and healthcare access—or address the broader human services needs of their communities. Community organizers are responsible for grassroots recruiting, training local activists, overseeing community groups, and running educational campaigns at the community level. They organize transformational initiatives, execute on communication plans, perform administrative duties, and contribute to fundraising efforts.
Elected officials serve in local, state, and federal governments in executive, legislative, and judicial positions. There isn’t a minimum educational requirement to become an elected official, but most politicians hold bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, or doctoral degrees. Politicians must have a highly developed understanding of public policy and administration to be effective leaders. They also need communication skills, change management skills, people skills, and leadership skills, as well as a firm grasp of economics and law.
How much elected officials earn varies significantly by location and position. School board officials in Clark County, Nevada, for example, earn just $9,000 per year while U.S. senators earn $174,000.
Legislative aides or assistants perform a range of tasks to support legislators. After studying policy, government, and administration, you’ll be qualified to step into this role and get a closer look at the legislative process. Legislative aides perform administrative duties, manage legislators’ schedules, assist with constituent services, draft communications for the press and public, and conduct research related to legislation, committee assignments, and constituent concerns.
Legislative assistants in the U.S. Congress earn about $53,000, while those at the state level typically earn less. The job can be a stepping stone to a career in political science because legislative aides meet many influential people and learn about how governments work.
Lobbyists advocate for industries, organizations, or causes. For example, industry lobbies include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Realtors. Cause-related lobbies include the National Affordable Housing Network and the Sierra Club. Lobbyists identify and champion legislative causes, arguing their positions before legislators, power brokers, and the media. They cultivate relationships with legislators and their staff to build influence in government and coordinate public relations campaigns to influence public opinion.
Your earning potential in this public policy and administration career may be higher than in others. The average lobbyist earns about $117,000, and some earn a lot more.
Paralegals are legal administrative assistants, and paralegals who work in public defense and the criminal justice system can benefit from public policy and administration knowledge. They prepare documents, manage due diligence materials, submit motions, keep track of files, and conduct research and routine discovery.
Paralegals earn about $49,000, and many eventually attend law school and become attorneys.
Policy analysts work in several industries and in several types of organizations, including think tanks, institutes, universities, lobbies, and government agencies. Policy analysts conduct research, analyze policy options, develop and recommend policies, and communicate their findings to the appropriate parties.
This is another relatively high-paying role for public policy degree holders. Policy analysts typically earn about $80,000, and some go on to earn more as political advisors, lobbyists, and researchers.
If you love policy and administration and your writing skills are sharp, your future may lie in political reporting. Political reporters cover political news related to the goings-on of local, state, and foreign governments around the world. Members of the media play a vital role in preserving open government and democracy, but political reporters must, by necessity, have a thick skin. The most successful people in this role are masters of outreach, communication, listening, and taking criticism.
Becoming a political reporter is, for many, a labor of love. Political reporters must be experts in their craft but earn an average salary of just about $35,000.
Program administrators oversee programs that help people and solve problems. Their responsibilities include managing daily operations, overseeing program budgets, and supervising services. They also develop strategies, set long-term program goals, and solicit funding from government agencies, endowments, and individual donors. Program administrators with bachelor’s degrees typically manage just one operational function (e.g., resource management) or assist administrators with master’s degrees.
Though the responsibilities of novice program administrators are often limited, they can still make a good living. The average program administrator earns more than $60,000.
Public relations professionals are responsible for showcasing the best qualities of the organizations, individuals, and causes they represent. Political figures and governments, in particular, are in constant communication with stakeholders, the media, and the public at large. Public relations professionals in politics develop PR strategies and manage communications campaigns for politicians, government agencies, election campaigns, and lobbies. They create and send out press releases, emails, and other public-facing forms of communication. They also cultivate partnerships with organizations and influencers to reach more people.
Public relations specialists earn about $56,000 but can earn a lot more when they work for high-profile politicians or causes.
Because there is a teacher shortage across much of the United States, many districts have launched programs in which bachelor’s degree holders who studied subjects other than education can start teaching with any college degree. In some areas, aspiring teachers with undergraduate degrees in public policy and administration can teach high school civics and social studies classes while attending accelerated programs for teacher training such as Teach For America or teacher residencies.
High school teachers earn about $63,000, though teachers with master’s degrees and significant work experience can earn more.
There’s something to be said for finishing what you started quickly. Once you decide you have waited long enough, enrollment is easy. You can apply online and then complete your bachelor’s degree in about two years by pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Programs. You’ll earn a highly respected degree from a nationally recognized state university for a cost-effective tuition rate of $378 per credit hour for in-state students. Completing 60 credit hours—the average required number for program enrollees—costs just $22,680. UT even has financial aid options and scholarships specifically for transfer students.
You can also complete this program and start working in a public policy or administration career without sacrificing income or time with family. The Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Programs is a year-round distance education program, so you can fit coursework into your busy schedule in whatever way works for you. It offers more flexibility than full-time, on-campus programs. You may find that fitting online courses into your schedule is easier than you expect.
Finally, you’ll learn more than public policy and administration fundamentals in this degree completion program. The online bachelor’s degree completion curriculum at UT teaches a range of transferable, career-ready skills useful in the modern workplace, including critical reasoning, leadership, networking, and collaboration. The professional studies program attracts both career advancers and career switchers, so you’ll benefit whether you’re already pursuing a career in policy, communications, or education or you’re trying to take your career in an entirely new direction.
Ready to apply? UT’s Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Programs admits new online students in the spring, summer, and fall semesters. You can start your application online now.