What Is a Master of Public Administration (MPA)?

A master of public administration (MPA) is a master's degree in public affairs that prepares recipients to serve in executive positions in municipal, state, and federal government and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

The program's focus 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.

Key Takeaways

  • An MPA is a master's degree in public affairs that prepares recipients of the degree to serve in executive-level government positions and nongovernmental organizations.
  • The Master of Public Administration (MPA) is the public sector equivalent of an MBA.
  • If you are interested in working globally, an MPA is a good choice.
  • MPA candidates must possess a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university.
  • MPA graduates will often find jobs in upper-level management positions.

Understanding the Master of Public Administration (MPA)

A master of public administration (MPA) is considered the public sector equivalent of a 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.

As a professional level degree, the MPA requires students first to 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.

Graduating with an MPA degree allows students to apply for work in various upper-management positions in the federal government, nonprofits, global NGOs, and private companies. MPA holders may find employment as public policy advocates and researchers, as well.

History of the Master of Public Administration

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 chair 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 known as the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and the Woodrow Wilson School of Government at Princeton University were founded in the middle of the Great Depression as part of a broader move to give the government and social services a scientific and professional grounding.

The New Deal programs of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt significantly increased the scope of the US 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 applying. Programs are interdisciplinary and include classes in economics, sociology, law, anthropology, and political science.

Most programs require two years for completion. Some executive MPA programs designed for experienced, mid-career professionals can be completed in one year. Also, a limited number of programs 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.

The pay for MPA-required jobs varies. For example, according to PayScale, the average starting salary for someone with an MPA is approximately $68,599. However, employment as a political scientist, which often requires an MPA, starts at an annual median salary of $125,350, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

 Career Applications

Graduates with an MPA degree are primed for leadership roles within private, public, and nonprofit agencies. Those who earn an MPA are often well-rounded in various areas, including policy, law, business, finance, and management.

Often, newly minted MPA graduates start as analysts, researchers, grant writers, and program managers, but these entry-level positions usually become executive positions. For those with experience and an MPA, there is a likelihood of being directly hired at a senior level.

Because MPA graduates usually possess a keen knowledge of policy and public affairs, plus an understanding of how policies impact business and economics, there are plenty of job opportunities in the private and nonprofit sectors.

Having an MPA offers opportunities to work with human rights groups, schools, nonprofit medical centers, charitable organizations, public media, such as radio and broadcasting, development groups, and international organizations, to name a few career paths.

Advantages and Disadvantages of a Master of Public Administration

Getting an MPA, like any advanced degree, takes time and money. If you decide to get an MPA, you will most likely take a variety of exciting courses. Unlike some master's programs, you don't need any particular undergraduate degree to be accepted into an MPA program.

Individuals with MPAs may graduate into multiple job opportunities in a broad spectrum of career paths. There are many advantages to getting an MPA beyond money and prestige, and earning an MPA often means enrolling in a variety of interesting courses, from international affairs to environmental law,

However, these jobs may be highly competitive, and public administrators may find themselves in high-stress jobs with low turnover rates. Executive positions are often not vacated until someone retires, especially if the pay and profile are high. High-profile positions in public administration mean working one-on-one with individuals and groups, so these jobs may be challenging for those who prefer to work independently or without drawing attention to themselves.

Pros
  • Provides entry into a variety of careers, including overseas

  • High-paying jobs

  • Studying for an MPA often means Interesting coursework.

  • You don't need a specific undergraduate degree to apply to an MPA program.


Cons
  • Getting your MPA may be expensive depending on the program.

  • Jobs that call for an MPA may mean long hours and high stress.

  • Highly competitive

  • Coursework to earn an MPA can be challenging.


MPA vs. MBA

Trying to decide between getting an MPA versus an MBA degree will depend on whether or not you prefer studying business or public policy, although there is some crossover. Most graduates with an MBA work in finance in the private sector, and MPA graduates often end up in executive roles in nonprofits and government.

MBA graduates don't usually work on the policy side of finance and economics. In contrast, an MPA holder may work in the private sector studying the policies behind financial markets and why they succeed or fail. MPAs tend to work in organizations focused on improving the world, like nonprofits or non-governmental organizations.

Both MPA and MBA holders may find work abroad and will have (most likely) earned the credentials to work for global companies. Neither is a better degree than the other, and both can be useful in many different industries and job markets.

What Is the Salary of an MPA Degree?

The salary of someone who has an MPA degree depends on their job, but according to PayScale and Northeastern University, the average salary for someone with an MPA degree is $68,599.

What Jobs Do MPA Grads Get?

A graduate with an MPA will qualify for a job at a nonprofit, working for a federal or state government agency, a nongovernmental organization, or a private institution.

How Long is an MPA?

It usually takes two years to earn an MPA degree.

What Is Taught In an MPA?

An MPA program often consists of coursework in law, international affairs, political theory, urban planning, nonprofit organizations, and public service leadership, among other subjects.