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Should I Earn My Master's Degree in Public Administration?

Doing good? Affecting a system? Furthering a cause?

That’s public service, one of the most fulfilling and rewarding careers around.

And for someone like you who’s considering pushing even further into it by getting your master of public administration (MPA) degree, the opportunities are equally satisfying.

Here are just a few of them:

  • Administrative Officer
  • Administrative Services Manager
  • Agency Director
  • Business Services Director
  • Cabinet Secretary
  • Chief Executive Officer (CEO)
  • Chief Operating Officer (COO)
  • City Manager
  • Compliance Program Director
  • Deputy Executive Director
  • Director of Government Relations
  • Director of Planning
  • Economic Development Specialist
  • Executive Director
  • Finance Director
  • Financial Analyst
  • Grants Development Director
  • Policy Advisor or Analyst
  • Program Administrator, Advisor or Director
  • Quality Management Director
  • Research Analyst
  • State Medicaid Director
  • Strategist or Strategy Consultant

Mid- and senior-level leaders with advanced degrees are needed in government and nonprofits, which may include such organizations as United Way, Girl Scouts, Mid-Ohio Foodbank, churches and more.

But the biggest difference between profit and nonprofit organizations is that nonprofits are not run for the benefits of owners; rather they are run to advance a mission and typically overseen by a board of trustees.

And demand for MPA graduates is growing. In fact, in 2012, there were more than 6 job openings in public administration for every MPA graduate.

MPA vs. MBA?

Many people who are considering graduate-level courses or a master’s degree wonder if they should go for their master of business administration (MBA) instead.

The answer? Depends.

If you want to become a leader or manager, or move up to middle, upper and even the highest levels of management and leadership in a government sector or nonprofit arena, then an MPA can be a very valuable degree and critical part of your management and leadership training.

Dr. Alex Heckman, public administration department chair at Franklin University in Columbus, Ohio, says unprecedented changes and challenges are driving government and nonprofits to rethink leadership, ethics, performance and mission.

“Whether or not you pursue an MBA or MPA really depends on what you want to do,” he explains. “The critical differences between an MBA and MPA are that government entities and nonprofit organizations have a fundamentally different purpose and values. In my assessment, this has a profound impact on organizational operation and decision making.”

Dr. Heckman says that the right degree program will teach you some of the same theories and technical skills you might find in an MBA, including how to analyze financial data and learning how to plan and execute process improvement.

“But,” he says, “the other half of what an MPA program like ours focuses is on is values. This is the radical difference. If you make a decision that nets a good financial return in business, that’s a success. But for government and nonprofits, financial return alone is far from the end of the story. Yes, you have to understand the financial implications, but you also must know if your decision advances fairness, equality or democracy or improves the lives of people. How we think and act in government and nonprofit is not the same as it is in business. An MPA is similar to an MBA but it is the application of organizational and management theories within the context of government and nonprofits that is utterly and completely unique.”

What matters most when choosing a master’s program? Compare features, benefits and cost to find the right school for you.

Are you up for the challenge?

You can be with a master of public administration.

Earning your master’s can help you become a better, more effective leader –one who can think strategically, critically and ethically to implement programs that serve the public interest and our communities.

With the right degree program, you’ll develop specific competencies in these key areas:

  • Budgeting
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Decision Making
  • Financial Management
  • Government & Nonprofit Leadership
  • Human Resources
  • Information Systems
  • Legislative Analysis
  • Management
  • Personnel Administration
  • Political Advocacy
  • Process Improvement
  • Strategic Management

The right MPA degree program can help expand your repertoire of competencies with the introduction of broad-based theories, perspectives and skills that are needed to lead and manage public programs.

Dr. Heckman notes that MPA programs that teach professionalism and introduce students to the values they should be thinking about to make decisions is of the utmost importance.

“Part of learning values through an MPA program,” he says, “is understanding some of the basic requirements one has under our constitution. If, as a government official or nonprofit employee working under a government contract, you take action that violates well-established constitutional rights, you could be personally held liable for that decision. This is such a critical difference that we make sure we give our students a basic understanding of citizen rights and administrative constitutional law.”

A well-rounded program with an emphasis on general management, says Heckman, along with the opportunity to get some depth in a particular area of interest (e.g., human resources or criminal justice), can help you excel at public leadership.

Are you equipped to make a real difference?

Whether or not a master’s in public administration is right for you is ultimately up to you; however, we can tell you this:

It’s a benevolent thing to want to serve the public interest, but it takes a visionary to serve it with excellence.

An MPA can help you do just that – and more:

  • Improve organizational performance to serve the public interest
  • Apply technology, critical thinking and communication skills to effectively engage constituents
  • Make decisions about policies, programs and administration through a public service perspective
  • Empower transformational change through effective leadership and skillful project management
  • Build critical skills, including methodological reasoning, strategic organizational communication and applied analytical techniques for decision making and problem solving

Is an MPA is worth it?

Whether you want to work as a public servant, start your own nonprofit or desire to become involved in government or nonprofit work at a higher level, an MPA can help you move in, up and forward.

Here are a few more reasons an MPA may be worth it:

  • An MPA can equip to you better lead.
  • It can make you more effective at influencing change.
  • A master’s in public admin can help you advance and accomplish the organizational mission.
  • It can be personally and professionally rewarding.

Ready to lead the way and make a difference?

Find out how you can earn your Master's in Public Administration in as little as 17 months at Franklin University.

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