The Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree is a professional degree that prepares students for careers in public service.
The MPA program provides training in policy analysis, management, and administration. Students who earn the MPA degree can pursue careers in government, nonprofit organizations, and the private sector.
MPA graduate programs are highly competitive and offer a solid academic background in public policy, management, and leadership. Some students earn their PhDs after completing an MPA program, although most students have completed undergraduate degrees before entering the program. This article will explore career paths for MPA graduates.
1. What Is an MPA?
The Master of Public Administration degree was first introduced in the early 1920s when the Ford Foundation established training programs for top-level civil service professionals. MPA programs have since evolved to include leadership, organizational behavior, strategic planning, policy development, and financial management.
MPA graduate students take courses covering a wide range of public service administration topics, such as:
- Public health
- International development
- Economic welfare
- Environmental management
- Public finance
- Program evaluation
MPA students may also take elective courses in related areas, such as law and economics. There are more than 180 MPA programs across the United States. These programs typically require at least two years of full-time graduate study.
2. What Jobs Do MPA Graduates Hold?
Students who earn an MPA degree can focus their studies on a specific area, such as health care or international affairs. Many students choose to pursue careers in the public sector after earning an MPA degree.
According to American University’s Center for Public Policy and Administration, approximately 20 percent of MPA students enter the state and local government. Twelve percent work in the federal government, with about 7 percent working for non-profit organizations or private firms.
Following are some of the job titles MPA graduates hold:
- Assistant director
- Community services manager
- Corporate planner
- Economic development coordinator
- Emergency management specialist
- Grant writer
- Health care administrator
- Human resources manager
- Information technology analyst
- International affairs officer
- Nonprofit program director
- Policy analyst Public relations director
- Regulatory compliance specialist
- Senior legislative assistant
3. What Skills Do I Need to Develop as an MPA Graduate?
MPA graduates are increasingly required to think strategically, act ethically and lead effectively. They must work collaboratively across organizations, cultures, and political jurisdictions in public and private sectors. They need well-honed research skills and interpersonal skills so they can negotiate agreements, build relationships and gain support for initiatives essential for organizational success.
These essential skills can be developed in various ways, including academic coursework, practicums (internships), professional association involvement, and individual certifications/training programs. More advanced programs like the Master of Public Administration degree may require students to take more undergraduate courses allowing them to get an early start on developing these critical abilities for in-demand careers in public service.
4. What Is the Current Demand for MPA Graduates?
Given the benefits of an MPA degree, both in terms of training and salary potential, it should come as no surprise that there are many career opportunities available to graduates. According to AU’s Center for Public Policy and Administration, approximately 8 percent job growth is expected in state government through 2020, with another five percent in local government.
While these jobs are readily available, they can often be competitive. Graduates should consider developing skills that set them apart from other candidates, like fluency in a foreign language or knowledge of an international system (such as the U.N.). Those with hands-on professional experience will also stand out when applying for jobs.
5. What Is the Average Starting Salary for MPA Graduates?
According to one study, public service managers make an average of $64,000 a year. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that professionals employed in state and local government earned an average wage of $68,810 as of May 2015.
Many graduates can also expect to earn more than their base pay because of additional incentives like overtime, bonuses, and generous benefits packages.
6. What Is the Projected Employment Growth for MPA Graduates?
According to AU’s Center for Public Policy and Administration, 8% job growth is expected in state government through 2020, with another five percent in local government. The U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that professionals employed in state and local government earned an average wage of $68,810 as of May 2015.
Among those who enter the field with an advanced degree, more than 54 percent hold a doctorate or law degree.
Public policy analysts are expected to experience some of the best wage growth between 2014 and 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The median salary for this profession is estimated to be $83,590 as of 2015.
7. Which Companies Hire MPA Graduates?
The public sector is the largest employer of MPA graduates, but many go to work in the private sector. The following list illustrates where some of our graduates find jobs after graduation.
- American Red Cross
- Bureau of Public Debt
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Central Intelligence Agency
- Department of Defense
- Department of Education
- Department of Energy
- Environmental Protection Agency
- Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
- General Service Administration (GSA)
- Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
- National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
- National Institutes of Health (NIH)
8. Is an MPA a Good Degree?
A Master of Public Administration degree is undoubtedly a good investment. Graduates are well trained for careers in the public sector but can also work effectively in private industry.
With an MPA degree, graduates have the opportunity to pursue rewarding career paths with above-average salaries and job security. And because it’s also offered online, students across the country can earn the same degree that students who choose to study on campus earn.
9. Can I Work in HR with an MPA?
Yes, you can. There are several types of jobs within Human Resources that an MPA graduate might hold.
In the public sector and private sector, there are various roles for people with an MPA degree. The following list illustrates some possible positions for MPA graduates:
- HR generalist
- HR manager
- Compensation and benefits specialist
- Employee relations specialist
- Leadership development program coordinator
- Recruitment and retention specialist
- Training and organizational development manager
10. How Long Does It Take to Get an MPA Degree?
While there are several different Master of Public Administration programs available, each requires about two years to complete. This boils down to about 60 credit hours of coursework, plus a thesis.
A Master of Public Administration is generally a 30-40 credit program and can be completed in as little as two years with full-time attendance. For those that don’t want to complete the degree in 1 year, some schools offer part-time attendance options, which can extend the program completion time to 3 years.
11. Does an MPA Qualify a Person for a Ph.D.? Program?
An MPA is a terminal degree and does not provide the foundation necessary to pursue scholarly study at the doctoral level. Most students who wish to continue their education pursuing a Ph.D. degree will need additional coursework or experience that provides a foundation to pursue scholarly study.
12. Is Getting an MPA a Good Substitute for Having Work Experience?
An MPA can provide you with the tools and knowledge needed to succeed in the field, but it is by no means a substitute for professional experience. People with an MPA degree are often hired into positions that require at least some amount of experience.
13. What’s Better MBA or MPA?
A Master of Public Administration degree is an excellent choice for anybody looking to advance their career in the public sector. Still, it’s also essential to think about what you’re hoping to get out of your education.
If you are looking for a degree specifically focused on leadership and human resources, then an MBA would probably be better suited for your needs. If you are looking for a degree more focused on public administration, then an MPA might be the better choice.
14. How Much Does an MPA Degree Cost?
The price of an MPA degree generally ranges from $25,000 to $40,000 and varies depending on tuition rates at different schools and whether or not you qualify for financial aid.
The cost of a Master of Public Administration degree varies depending on whether or not you attend a public university or a private university, as well as how many classes you take per semester and whether or not the school offers scholarships.
Some programs offer full-time study options, while others encourage part-time or flexible options. Online MPA programs can also be a factor in determining cost because many require students to attend classes on campus at least once every few years.
If you need help financing your degree, check out our list of scholarships and fellowships for Master of Public Administration students, as well as our advice on government financial aid.
15. Best Colleges to Study MPA
While there are public and private universities that offer MPA programs, most of the better-ranked schools tend to be private. The following list includes some of the best Master of Public Administration programs:
- University of Southern California
- American University
- Washington University in St. Louis
- University of Maryland, College Park
- Drexel University
- New School University
- University of Denver
- University of Oklahoma
- Indiana University, Bloomington
- Boston University
- Fordham University
MPA career path can be advantageous. It allows you to make a real impact in your community and work with talented people to solve significant problems. You also have the opportunity to learn new things and grow as a professional. If you’re looking for a career that is both challenging and fulfilling, then consider pursuing an MPA degree.