Michael Johnston

You must be motivated to succeed in online learning. Be sure to use the faculty, staff and other students in the program as resources, and don’t stop asking for feedback until your work is perfect.


Walden University


Master of Arts in Public Administration, Iowa State University (2010); Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Psychology, Buena Vista University (2007); Associate of Arts in General Studies, Indian Hill Community College (2005)


PhD in Public Administration


Why did you decide to attend Walden University to get your doctoral degree in public administration?

I decided to study at Walden University for my PhD in public administration after I didn’t earn admission to Iowa State University. Initially, I was thinking about earning a PhD in educational leadership and policy studies from Iowa State, but for the most part, the students in the program were school principals and directors in the education field. I wasn’t, so I was not accepted.

When I was looking into other options, Walden caught my eye. I spoke with an admissions counselor and found it to be a good fit for me. I enjoy the school, the faculty, my colleagues and the program.

What are your school’s biggest strengths?

Walden’s biggest strength is its faculty, who are all professionals in their fields. They know what they are doing, they are very up to date, and a lot of the instructors not only teach but are also actively working in the field. I would consider another degree from Walden if that was part of my career plan.

Do you view Walden University as a community?

Walden is certainly a community. Especially through residencies, I have had the ability to meet and work with other students. I frequently talk on the phone with most of the students I’ve met in person, and I now call many of them my close friends.

So far, I would rate my school pride as 8 on a scale of 10, only because I have not had the same experience as I did at a brick-and-mortar college. It is not a bad school by any means, but at Iowa State University there were opportunities to show school pride in a public way, at assemblies, gatherings and sporting events, and I enjoyed that.

Does Walden University have brick-and-mortar campuses?

Walden has no brick-and-mortar campuses. To my knowledge, the only physical representation is the administrative offices in Minneapolis.

The only way that employers will be able to find out that I attended an online university is if they are familiar with the university being in an online format. However, I would be okay with that because I have faith in the university and would not earn a degree anywhere else. Online education is gaining more and more representation in the work force. Employers are more likely to consider online degrees as equal to degrees from brick-and-mortar schools, and many brick-and-mortar schools now have online programs in conjunction with their regular programs.


How are you paying for college?

To pay my tuition I have taken out student loans. Beyond tuition, costs are minimal. I pay for some of these costs out of pocket.

How helpful was your school in assisting your financial aid process?

Walden was very helpful to me when I applied for my loans. They had a direct number that I could call to speak with a representative at any time and receive help with the paperwork. They made sure that everything about my financial aid application was correct.

Do you feel like your overall cost of education is more or less than the cost of a degree at a traditional institution?

The cost of education would vary depending on the institution, but I feel that the same degree would be similarly priced anywhere. I do not feel like I am saving any money by learning online, but I do think that it is a more accessible and flexible way to attend class and complete coursework.

Admissions Requirements

Can you describe the admissions process from start to finish?

The admissions process was quick and easy. After I sent the required materials, went through the interview process, and spoke with an admissions advisor, I was accepted within a few months.

What did you write about in your personal statement?

For my personal statement, I had to write a detailed description of myself, my experiences, why I want a PhD in public administration and what my dissertation plans are. Walden University promotes creating positive change. In my statement, I detailed the positive changes that I intended to work toward by completing my degree.

How many letters of recommendation did you submit in your application?

I submitted 3 letters of recommendation in my application. I selected faculty who I felt were highly qualified, had made an impact on my life and contributed to my education. One professor that recommended me was an advisor during my undergraduate studies at Buena Vista University, another was an advisor at Iowa State University, and the third was a professor with whom I took graduate courses at Iowa State University. They all contributed substantially to my education.

During the admissions process, did you interact with an admissions advisor?

I was helped by an admissions advisor at Walden that answered all of my questions and was available throughout the process, 24 hours a day. Any prospective student with a problem can call the Walden admissions advisors.

Classroom Experience

How is class material presented?

Classes occur in moderated discussion boards, and all writing assignments are submitted to an online drop box. There are no live lectures, live chat or audio material involved as part of our classes. Some video materials are available, but they are pre-recorded. All communication is done through discussion posts and e-mail.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of this style of presentation?

One benefit of this presentation style is that instructors are required to step in and join discussions. This enhances the personal feel of the courses. All of my instructors are active in class discussions and respond to our posts frequently.

The only drawback to this style is that it is somewhat impersonal. If students are not self-motivated, there is no one personally connected to them who will keep them on track.

Are you able to stay engaged in your online coursework?

I can easily stay engaged in my coursework, and I feel that I learn just as much as I would in a traditional program, if not more. The online class style allows for an international perspective on different topics discussed. Students at Walden University come from many countries all over the world, which I find engaging. For example, I often have good discussions with students from Africa.

Do your professors encourage class participation?

There is no minimum requirement for discussion posts. The quality rather than quantity of discussion posts is considered by instructors when grading, though I am not sure how they measure quality. I suppose the number of citations, quotes and resources we relate to topics in our posts are counted to determine our posts’ overall quality.

What method of communication do you use to keep in touch with your professors?

We interact with instructors through discussion board posts, e-mail and phone conversations. We respond to instructors’ discussion posts on a regular basis. They leave notes on my papers and occasionally e-mail me to let me know how I am doing. They give compliments and critique of students’ discussion board activities on a regular basis.

In addition, instructors keep office hours and supply students with home phone numbers and e-mail addresses. I take advantage of all of those avenues of communication. I also communicate with the instructors who are on my committee chair at least once a month by phone.

Throughout the process, I feel like I get to know my instructors personally. Even though there is no brick-and-mortar campus, they make every effort to be available to students.

Can you rate the faculty on a scale of: Excellent, Good, Average, Poor, Extremely Poor, in terms of:

Criteria Rating Reasons
Overall Excellent Of all the instructors in all of the courses I have taken, I found only 1 who was difficult to work with. She was qualified but did not communicate sufficiently. Overall I would rate the faculty 9 out of 10.
Qualifications Excellent Instructors are all highly qualified, and list those qualifications with their bios. They all have PhDs and work actively in the field.
Knowledgeable Excellent All of my instructors are knowledgeable.


1) Content: Excellent

2) Clarity: Excellent

Lecture content is clearly presented and of high quality.


1)Relevance: Excellent

2)Reasonable: Excellent

3)Clarity: Excellent

4)Assistance Provided: Excellent 

5)Feedback Given: Excellent

The assignments are relevant and challenging, which I find to be the program's most rewarding aspect. I do not feel an easy program is worth a degree. Feedback is very thorough.
Grading Excellent Grading is very reflective of effort put into assignments.
Responsiveness Excellent Instructors are required to respond quickly and reliably to all questions, usually within 2 days.
Reliability Excellent Instructors can be counted on to keep office hours and communicate effectively.
Interest taken in class as a whole Excellent Instructors definitely take an interest in the courses that they teach and in students’ progress. They ask for student feedback and take student recommendations and critiques seriously.
Interest taken in student as an individual Excellent I feel instructors definitely take an interest in my work on a personal level.

What resources does Walden University provide to help you succeed in the classroom?

I am frequently helped by a variety of resources that are provided by Walden. There are academic advisors and enrollment advisors that students can speak with around the clock. Outside of class there are live chats where students can talk with instructors and advisors. There is an online database instead of a library too, which has been very helpful.

What advice would you give to students to help them succeed in an online classroom?

You must be motivated to succeed in online learning. Be sure to use the faculty, staff and other students in the program as resources, and don’t stop asking for feedback until your work is perfect.


Why did you choose to enroll in your public administration program?

I chose Walden’s public administration PhD program because I needed a program that would allow me to study public administration. There are no comparable PhD in public administration programs in Iowa that offered all that I needed or that sufficiently interested me.

Does your program include a dissertation component?

I am writing my dissertation right now. Two committee members have to approve my dissertation once I have taken 2 oral exams, 1 for my proposal and another for the completed research. There are no deadlines for my dissertation, but students are encouraged to complete their dissertations within 2 years. After 2 years, students tend to lack the drive to finish.

Are you given an advisor to assist you through the dissertation process?

My committee chair is my dissertation advisor. Students request faculty to advise them, and faculty either accept or reject them. I communicate with my advisor at least once a month by e-mail or phone. He reviews all of the work I produce during the dissertation process. I keep a written record of my progress, and he reviews that as well. I often find that having a remote advisor keeps me accountable for completing my dissertation. I do not have the opportunity to visit him and ask for extensions.

Does your program have a residency requirement?

Each student must complete 5 different residencies over the course of the program. The curriculum for each ranges from learning APA standards, to exploring different technologies. The residencies require students to write longer papers in preparation for their dissertation. The benefit of the residencies is the opportunity to meet students and faculty face to face. Residencies make me realize that Walden University is more than a logo on the Internet.

The drawback to residencies, however, is the time commitment. Students may have to take days off from work, or leave home when they actually want to spend time with their families.

What are your program’s biggest strengths and weaknesses?

The quality of instruction and convenience of online learning are the best aspects of Walden's doctoral program in public administration. I cannot really think of any weaknesses. The school and program have both been very rewarding.

If you were to do it again, would you sign up for Walden University's doctoral program in public administration?

I would absolutely sign up again for Walden’s PhD program in public administration. I enjoy the program, and it has been everything that I have hoped for.


What general advice would you give to a student who is considering a doctoral degree in public administration at Walden University?

Walden is an online university, so if students are not self-driven, they probably will not be successful in the program. Students have to put in extra effort and take time out of their day to sit at their computers and finish homework. There is no brick-and-mortar campus with classrooms where you can meet your instructors face to face and collaborate with them. Walden students must be self-motivated and self-driven.