MBA vs MPA Degree Differences

Professionals who want to advance their career either in the business or public sector may be weighing earning either a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or a Master of Public Administration (MPA). While these degrees have some amount of overlap and both take approximately two years to earn, they are quite different in several areas.

MBA and MPA Differences

The largest difference between these graduate degrees comes down to the focus. If you are more driven by profits and business growth, you may want to lean more towards an MBA. You will be working on the inner functions of economies, finance, customer development and operations at the corporate level.

An MBA also can be a good choice for the budding entrepreneur who wants to become an entrepreneur. Some MBA programs allow the beginning or experienced entrepreneur to take courses that are especially tailored to building one’s own business.

On the other hand, the MPA is specifically designed for nonprofit and government organizations. Some say it is the MBA for the public sector. The MPA curriculum focuses on how many business principles apply to the public sector. This degree is usually a good fit for the professional who is more interested in public policy and politics.

Any professional who is weighing an MBA or MPA should carefully consider the various aspects of both after doing ample research. These degrees are substantially different and will result in career paths that bear little similarity to another.

More Differences

Work in the public sector is often more unmeasurable. The goal of most non-profit organizations is to complete some sort of social mission; after all, nonprofits cannot distribute profits. Meanwhile, a strong business is one that provides the most profits. And the best nonprofit helps the most people. For those who are interested in more measurable performance, the MBA is the best choice.

Also, an MBA focuses on studying the market, and an MPA looks at where the market comes up short. MBAs are hired to make a company more profitable, and MPA is hired to make the organization function better to improve on its mission. Which is better? Neither. It simply depends upon one’s priorities.

Below are more details about an MBA and MPA. Students who are potentially interested in both should carefully consider the focus area of both degrees so a good educational decision can be made.

What Is an MBA?

An MBA is designed to improve the business management skills of business professionals at various levels of their career. The typical MBA degree is two or three years in length, and it offers a strong foundation in business principles, finance, accounting, taxes, management and marketing.

An MBA is the most common choice of a working business professional who desires additional business education to move higher in all types of corporations in the US and abroad.

For the student or professional who wants to develop their skills in a specific industry or area, most MBA programs offer several specialities. The most common are:

  • Accounting
  • Finance
  • International business
  • Marketing
  • Sports management
  • Supply chain management

There also are concentrations available for many MBA programs in a specific field, including health care, education, criminal justice and IT.

Generally, most business professionals who obtain their MBA report that earning an MBA results in a higher salary and job mobility in the corporate world.

MBA Online Degree Program

Today there are a wide variety of quality, online MBA programs from which professionals can choose. An online MBA program is valuable for working professionals who need to continue to earn income while they are in school.

For example, George Washington University offers a highly ranked MBA program that may be fully finished online. The two year, accredited degree program offers the following concentrations:

  • Consulting
  • Finance
  • Global management
  • Government contracts
  • IT and technology management
  • Project management

The curriculum is as follows:

  • Financial Accounting
  • Global Perspectives
  • Business Ethics
  • Judgment, Uncertainty, and Decisions
  • Nature of Markets
  • Data Analysis and Decisions
  • Marketing Decisions
  • Microeconomics for the Global Economy
  • Organizations and Leadership
  • Macroeconomics for the Global Economy
  • Managing Human Capital

A student in this MBA program does not have to focus on a particular concentration. If you believe that your career is going to be spent in one particular industry or area, you may want to consider specializing. Otherwise, a general MBA will provide you with a good overall skillset that applies to many industries.

MBA Program Accreditation

An important part of evaluating an online MBA program is to determine its accreditation status. By ensuring that the program is accredited by a respected body, the business student can be confident that the program will provide a high quality education. Potential MBA students should look for accreditation by the AACSB, or the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.

This organization is regarded as the most highly respected for accrediting online MBA programs.

What Is an MPA?

An MPA, or master of public administration, is designed for the professional who wants to obtain a leadership role in either the public or nonprofit sector. An MPA degree helps the student to hone important skills in project and program management, financial management in public entities, policy implementation, and human capital.

MPA graduates emerge ready for an exciting career in the nonprofit sector, or possibly in government at the local, state or federal levels. This outcome is the result of a rigorous public sector-oriented curriculum.

Villanova University states there are three general types of classes that make up the typical MPA curriculum:

  • Design, implementation and evaluation of public policy, including qualitative and quantitative research skills
  • Management courses that center on managing both people and public sector systems
  • Public sector leadership skills with courses in decision making and ethics

MPA Online Degree Program

One of the most highly regarded, online MPA programs to consider is at Penn State University. This MPA program is designed to help public sector oriented students to improve their ability to understand, analyze and control a public sector environment. This leads to positive changes in one’s government or nonprofit organization.

Penn State’s program is 36 credits in total, with 18 core credits and 15 elective credits. There also is a three credit master’s project. Elective courses are available in research methods, organizational behavior, fiscal decision making, public management and organization, and HR in the public sector.

Core classes include:

  • Public Organization and Management
  • Government Fiscal Decision Making
  • Research Methods
  • Human Resources in the Public and Nonprofit Sectors
  • Introduction to Public Policy Analysis
  • Organizational Behavior
  • Research Topics

MPA Program Accreditation

It is advisable to seek an MPA program that is fully accredited by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs and Administration (NASPAA). With this valuable accreditation, the student will be able to find an upper management level position in the public sector.


Earning either an MBA or MPA degree can be a smart investment in one’s career. Which is preferable depends upon one’s career goals. Are you more interested in a private sector business career or a public sector career in government or nonprofit work?

Whichever is of greater interest, the career potential for both master’s degree paths is bright. The Bureau of Labor Statistics or BLS states that the job market for business executives will increase by 6% by 2024. For public administrators, job demand will increase by 8% by 2024.

Both degrees will provide you with higher earning potential and better career prospects. Carefully weigh if your passion is more geared towards the public or private sector, and then conduct careful research on different programs in both areas to make the best choice.

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Written by Robert Sanchez
Robert Sanchez is's Chief Editorialist. Robert Sanchez has over 10 years experience in the Healthcare field and more recently has become an avid writer advising on career and job topics in this exciting field.

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