Are you looking for a versatile graduate degree that has broad applications and lets you specialize in an area that holds particular interest for you? Consider the very flexible Master of Public Administration (MPA). This professional degree qualifies you to pursue a nearly unlimited number of career opportunities and holds great value for anyone who wants to chart their own course in public and nonprofit sectors.
What is an MPA? Ann Steele of CareersinPublicHealth.net refers to the MPA as “a terminal degree,” meaning that once you complete your course of study, you need no further education to land a career that’s personally fulfilling and financially rewarding. Whether you aspire to make a big impact on your local community as a civic leader or play a large role on the world stage as an international policymaker, the MPA degree can get you there.
What’s the typical MPA curriculum like?
You’ll find significant differences between schools that offer an MPA in terms of specific areas of concentration, so it’s important to be clear from the start about your personal goals. Are you interested in international development, or are you more attuned to supporting community-based, grassroots organizations? Some common areas of MPA specialization include:
- International affairs
- Health care
- Human rights
- Urban policy
- Specific geographic regions
Regardless of the program you choose, you can expect to study graduate-level public administration and business courses that include a heavy focus on management topics such as human resource management, finance, and strategy. You’ll develop a strong knowledge base that equips you for positions in nonprofit organizations, governmental agencies, and the private sector. You’ll sharpen your decision-making and problem-solving skills while mastering the ability to analyze and implement policies and perform research.
Most MPA degree programs have a core curriculum that features a strong focus on administration. Required courses might include:
- Ethics in Public Administration
- Public Policy
- Labor Law and Labor Relations
- Public Finance Policy and Application
- Risk Management for Public Administrators
- Research Methods for Public and Nonprofit Administrators
- Organizational Creativity, Discovery, and Innovation
- The Future of Management and Leadership
- Organizational Dynamics and Effectiveness
- Project Management
Do MPA programs offer concentrations? Yes. Many schools encourage students to choose an area of specialization or concentration that aligns with their previous experience and career interests. Some programs even offer the flexibility to design your own concentration in partnership with an academic advisor.
Popular MPA concentrations include Nonprofit Management, Local Government Management, International Development, and Health Policy. If you’ve got a specific area in which you hope to find employment – perhaps Energy, Sustainability, Environmental Policy, or Emergency Management and Homeland Security – choosing a graduate program that offers a specialization in one of those areas makes you a very attractive candidate to potential employers in those sectors.
How long is the MPA program?
Most MPA programs require two years of study, but it’s possible to complete a program in as few as 18 months. Taking advantage of a flexible 100 percent online MPA program like Post’s allows you to continue working at your current position while improving your skill set and enhancing your knowledge base.
You’ll typically conclude your studies with an internship or a capstone project. In Post University’s MPA program, Capstone I finds you performing the background research necessary for your Policy Implementation Plan. In Capstone II, you bring the project through to completion, presentation, and defense.
Your graduate public administration degree makes you a more valuable contributor to your current employer and also prepares you to advance to administrative, managerial, or supervisory public administration careers in state, federal and local government. If you’re looking to move out of a government position, you’ll also be an attractive candidate eligible for hire in a variety of nonprofit, private, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
What’s a good undergraduate degree to have for the MPA?
One of the beauties of this flexible public administration program is that students from a variety of backgrounds and undergraduate programs can feel at home while earning their master’s degree. It’s a natural progression for those with a B.S. in emergency management and homeland security or criminal justice.
Students who hold undergraduate degrees in legal studies, human services, political science, sociology, and economics find the advanced MPA program invaluable for helping them actualize their full potential in a chosen field of contribution.
How does an MPA differ from an MBA?
Although both a Master of Public Administration (MPA) and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) focus on organizational management with a great deal of coursework overlap, there’s a big difference in program priorities.
An MBA program trains you for private sector management where success is primarily measured by profitably. Business schools place emphasis on economics, finance, and marketing to prepare students to lead business organizations where profit generation is the goal.
An MPA program trains you for a management role in nonprofit and organizations in the public sector where the guiding mission is to serve humanity, improve social conditions, and make the world a better place. “Success” is much harder to measure, and unlike private businesses that are funded by profits, public sector organizations are usually funded by donations, foundations, and government grants.
Practically speaking, an MPA is often more affordable than an MBA. PublicServiceCareers.org reports that tuition fees for MPA programs are often much lower than business school fees. While MPA programs offer financial aid and grants to students, not as many business schools can say the same. Consequently, business school graduates often incur large amounts of student loan debt that must be repaid early in their working careers.
Remember, too, that certain student loan forgiveness programs exist specifically for students who go into public service employment. “The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program forgives the remaining balance on your Direct Loans after you have made 120 qualifying monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan while working full-time for a qualifying employer,” explains the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid Office.
For a candid look at the differences between these two degrees and what might motivate a person to choose an MPA over an MBA, check out Colleen Dilenschneider’s great blog post on “Know Your Own Bone” that shares her reasons for choosing to pursue an MPA as opposed to an MBA.
What can you do with your MPA?
Although not quite as well known as the MBA, you’ll find “MPA” after the names of international and national policymakers around the globe. This degree continues to grow in popularity as managers are increasingly challenged to be proficient in both traditional business practices as well as other professional aspects required by the evolving global marketplace, including cultural considerations and ethical concerns.
Your coursework in economics, policy analysis, implementation, and effective leadership will prepare you for career options in both the nonprofit and for-profit sectors as well as governmental positions, international NGOs, and financial institutions. Let’s look at some of the most common ways you can leverage your MPA into exciting career opportunities.
Local government positions: With approximately 90,000 local governments in the U.S. comprised of counties, cities, towns, school districts, and other special districts, civic-minded MPA graduates can find rewarding career paths as:
- Urban Planning and Development Director
- Community Health Director
- Parks and Recreation Director
- Police Commissioner
- Public Housing Manager
- Transportation Manager
- Local Government Analyst
- Environmental Policy Program Coordinator
A role as a City Manager puts you in charge of supervising all operations, administrative tasks, and budgets for each underlying department in your city. You manage policies, create new public programs, maintain the city budget, deal with personnel matters, and advise the city council. Although you work closely with various city departments and city officials, you act as the chief executive of the city.
State and federal government positions: Acquiring valuable experience at the city level or in nonprofits first can help you gain access to more prestigious and lucrative positions at the state and federal government levels. Career paths include:
- Law Enforcement
- Information Technology
- Program Analyst with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)
- Working in the CIA, FBI, or State Department
- Cabinet Member to the President
- United Nations Representative
Did you know that former Secretary of the U.S. Army, John M. McHugh, earned a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the State University of New York’s Nelson A. Rockefeller Graduate School of Public Affairs in 1977? You never know the heights you can reach with an MPA.
Nonprofit manager or director: If you’d like to make a huge difference on the local level, use your MPA to oversee a community charitable organization or to found one of your own. You’ll put your leadership skills to work in recruiting and training staff and volunteers, while developing policies and programs, setting goals, and educating the public about the importance of your work.
Nonprofit fundraising: If procuring financing for a cause you care about calls to you, look into a position with a larger charitable organization as a Grants Manager, Director of Development, or Manager of Philanthropic Programs.
Public affairs director: If you enjoy the action and people focus involved in publicity, marketing, and event management, this position finds you helping nonprofits, NGOs, and government agencies to increase, improve, and strengthen their image with the public. You might conduct outreach programs, be the face of the organization in media interviews, write press releases and speeches, and conduct outreach programs.
Global health research: Want to put your advocacy and policy-making skills to the test on the world stage? Join one of the many NGOs that provide valuable resources, tools, and funding in the field of global health research. A position with the World Bank, World Health Organization (WHO), or Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation might be your ticket to a lifetime of change-making contribution.
Public administration consultant: Once you’ve got some impressive experience on your resume, you might decide to go into business for yourself as an independent consultant. In this capacity, you’d help public or private sector organizations improve efficiency and reach goals by performing a thorough analysis of their operations. You might help with developing and implementing new policies, or assist with fundraising efforts.
There really is no limit to how you can use your versatile and flexible MPA degree to craft a rewarding career path. The evolving global marketplace needs dedicated and skilled professionals in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors who can lead others while shaping policy and improving social conditions.
Make the world a better place and move forward in your career by exploring Post University’s 100 percent online master’s in public administration degree program.