DEFINITION of 'Master of Public Administration - MPA'

A master's level degree in public affairs that prepares recipients of the degree to serve in executive positions in municipal, state and federal levels of government, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The focus of the program centers on principles of public administration, policy development and management, and implementation of policies. It also prepares the candidate to deal with specific challenges faced in public administration.

As a professional level degree, the Master of Public Administration (MPA) requires students first have an undergraduate level degree from eligible universities. Students enrolled in an MPA program are expected to possess above-average leadership skills and competence in economic and quantitative analysis, among other skill requirements.

BREAKING DOWN 'Master of Public Administration - MPA'

The MPA is considered the public sector equivalent of the Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree in the private sector. It is also closely related to the more theoretical Master in Public Policy (MPP) degree. The MPP focuses on policy analysis and design, while the MPA focuses on program implementation. Many graduate schools offer a combined J.D. (law degree) and MPA; a few offer combined MBA/MPA programs.


The first master's degree program in public administration was established at the University of Michigan in 1914 as part of the Department of Political Science. The goal was to improve efficiency in municipal government and eliminate corruption. The program was developed by department chairman Jesse S. Reeves, who later served as a technical adviser to the League of Nations Hague Conference in 1930. The program has since expanded to a full graduate school, which is known as the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

The Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and the Woodrow Wilson School of Government at Princeton University were both founded in the middle of the Great Depression as part of a broader move to give government and social services a scientific and professional grounding. The New Deal programs of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt greatly increased the scope of the U.S. government and its programs, creating a need for skilled, professional managers.

Course Requirements

MPA students are required to have a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university; many graduate schools also require applicants to take the Graduate Records Exam (GRE) before they apply. Programs are interdisciplinary, and include classes in economics, sociology, law, anthropology and political science. Most programs take two years to complete. Some executive MPA programs designed for experienced, mid-career professionals can be finished in one year. There are also a limited number of programs that grant a Doctor of Public Administration (D.P.A.), which is a terminal degree usually intended for research. The D.P.A. is considered on par with a Ph.D.

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