What is an MPA?
Professors answer the question: What is an MPA? "Master of Public Administration (MPA) is the professional degree for people who seek careers in public service as managers, decision-makers and executives."
“What someone can do with a public administration degree will depend on their personality and commitments. I have seen it lead to a range of things: from deeply wonky policy research to shiny hip philanthropy PR to the long hard slog of building new human service organizations from the ground up. And everything in between.”--
“The UIC MPA program is a curriculum of the basic components of public administration (budgeting, human resource management, economics, legal context, data analysis/statistics, and policy analysis) and a student-selected concentration in either public management, financial management, non-profit management, or local government administration. “A number of students (part-time) in our program are UIC employees who use the MPA to advance their careers at UIC. Others employed in various local public sector organizations (e.g., local governments,state government, police, etc.)are also part-time, and use the MPA in a similar fashion."
"Many of our graduates work for local governments and non-profit organizations. Former students are city managers, HR managers, policy analysts, program evaluators, etc. Many graduates use the degree to get promotions or obtain better employment."
So in a nutshell: MPA degrees provide the skills needed to run programs and implement policies for the public good. The degree qualifies graduates to work in a wide range of public service positions, including non-profit organizations, government agencies and private companies.
Your MPA Timeline
An MPA program typically requires two years of study (usually four semesters of full-time course work and a summer internship), though some students require additional time to complete a thesis for the degree. Thankfully, dozens of graduate schools in the U.S. offer full-time and part-time MPA programs, as well as executive for professional students. These give nine-to-fivers the freedom to schedule coursework around their job commitments. There's also the option to get your MPA online. Benefits of going this route include self paced coursework and flexible timing, along with access to the same faculty and hands-on professional experience you'd get in a live classroom.MPA Areas of Concentration MPA students have a great deal of flexibility when it comes to choosing a field to enter following graduation. Examples of topics you can specialize in include:
- Public health care
- Nonprofit management
- Environmental policy
- Development of philanthropic organizations
- Urban planning
- Criminal justice
For the best career prep, it's recommended that MPA students select a program that offers specialization topics in line with their interests and goals--or one they already have work experience in.
Core Curriculum of an MPA
An MPA degree typically requires courses related to--surprise, surprise--administrating! Most MPA curriculum includes the following subject areas, as well as coursework more specific to your area of focus:
General Areas of Study:
- Problem solving
- Decision making
- Research methods
- Management concepts
Concentration-Specific Areas of Study:
- Public finance
- Policy formulation
- Program implementation
- Information systems
There is some overlap between MPA and MPP (Master of Public Policy) degrees, but MPP programs are typically concerned with policy design and analysis--as opposed to the program implementation and management that MPA programs focus on. That said, the curriculum for the two degrees have converged in recent years, so students should look beyond the degree title for a program that best aligns with their career goals. As far as the degree title itself, the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA), recognizes graduate schools that use a variety of different names for MPA/MPP programs, including "Master of Public Affairs," "Master of Public Service," "Master of Government Service" and "Master of Government Administration." The ASPA considers all of these degrees to fall under the classification of MPA/MPP, so don't sweat the wording.
The Last Diploma You'll Need
An MPA is described as a terminal degree, meaning that graduates will not require additional education beyond the masters for career advancement. Over the past 50 years, it's become increasingly important for national and international policymakers and leaders in the public sector, so once earned, your MPA can take you to big places.