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Celebrating 20 years and a future of possibilities: Flagler College Public Administration Program

Apr 5, 2023
by Anna Boone

It’s been two decades since Flagler College launched its Public Administration (PAD) program, established with the “expressed purpose of preparing individuals for leadership roles in government agencies and other organizations.”

In 2003, President Emeritus William Abare worked alongside a team of faculty and administrators to establish the unique program – which allows students to complete their course of study in 5 semesters for a lower cost than the traditional bachelors degrees offered by the College.

Since PAD enrolled its first 35 students 20 years ago, more than 700 graduates have earned their bachelor’s degrees in Public Administration from Flagler College.

“I take great pride and satisfaction in helping to establish our public administration program,” Abare said. “In terms of its impact on the local community, I think it is one of the most significant programs offered by our institution.”

What makes Flagler’s PAD stand out from other programs at the College is its draw in the non-traditional student community.

“The majority of these graduates were working toward their degree while they were employed full-time in various positions, including law enforcement, public safety, and government agencies,” Abare said.

One PAD alumna, Kelly Purcell, who is now a registered paralegal in Florida, said a Public Administration degree from Flagler is a valuable baseline for people looking to go into a variety of professions.

“This program prepares you to lead and provides practical knowledge for everyone across all public, nonprofit, and private sectors,” Purcell said. “To be an effective public leader, one must think critically, communicate effectively, and motivate others, and I improved these skills during my time at Flagler.”

PAD offers a curriculum based on public policy, covering topics like operational structures of state and local government, public relations, administrative law, emergency management, public accounting, and grant writing.

While Bolante and Professor Richard Parker act as the only two full-time faculty members for the PAD program, they turn to experts in the community for adjunct instruction. Bolante said these instructors are eager to bring their knowledge to the students and mainly cover courses in law, accounting, and economics.

“Recruiting is not very hard because all of these adjuncts are lifelong practitioners and public servants,” Bolante said. “They want to give back, they want to share their knowledge, and they want to share their experience with students who are going to be future leaders for public organizations.”

As Flagler’s PAD program dives into its third decade, Bolante said their recent shift from offering only in-person instruction to either hybrid or fully online instruction has noticeably increased enrollment. Where before, only students within driving distance of St. Augustine could feasibly enroll, now he said PAD is seeing enrollment from Leon County, Lake County, and Volusia County.

“We’re hoping to expand on that throughout the state,” Bolante said.

To ensure PAD students are properly engaged with the program, online instructors must have synchronous classes weekly or meet the students face-to-face at least three times for a four-hour session during the eight weeks of the course.

“One of the things I tell students right up front is that if you want to go online, it takes a lot of self-discipline and self-initiation,” he said.

Through feedback from Flagler PAD alumni, Bolante said the rigor of the curriculum is comparable to the level of graduate Public Administration work former students are completing at other institutions.

“Students understand the quality of education they’re getting here at Flagler College,” Bolante said.

Julio Cruz, the St. Johns County Clerk of Court, is just one alumnus of the PAD program to recognize the invaluable nature of a Public Administration degree from Flagler College.

“Anyone aspiring to become a better leader will find so much value in the PAD program,” Cruz said. “Life is full of challenges, and none of us know what tomorrow holds, but by enrolling in PAD, you are investing in your future and preparing yourself for those unknown opportunities.”

On the horizon of the PAD program’s evolution are aspirations to establish a Master of Public Administration program at Flagler College, differing from the bachelor’s program in the rigor of coursework and level of expectations in terms of research requirements.

In a community like St. Johns, where nearly half the population age 25 or older has earned at least a bachelor’s degree, Bolante said it is especially important to hold local officials and public leaders to high standard qualifications.

“It’s my strong belief that our public servants should be just as educated as the populations they are serving and policing,” he said.

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