A Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree is a graduate degree designed for students who want a career in nonprofit management or public service. The MPA degree will help you to develop your skills and techniques that you will need as a manager in the public sphere.
The MPA will prepare you to serve in many managerial and possibly executive positions in local, state and federal government and all types of non governmental organizations. Most MPA programs focus on the core principles of public administration, policy development and management, and how to implement public policy effectively.
The MPA degree is considered by many experts to be the public sector equal of an MBA. The MPA degree also shares some similarities with the Master of Public Policy (MPP) degree. The focus of the MPP is more on policy design and analysis, while the MPA centers on implementing public policy.
Earning an MPA degree will make you more employable in many public sector organizations. And, the Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington has found that its MPA graduates enjoy an average salary increase of 31%.
If you think that a career in public service or nonprofit management is for you, there are some key requirements that you should consider as you are choosing an MPA program:
Requirement #1: Selecting a Specialty
As you conduct research about a career in public service and an MPA degree, you will probably see that most online MPA degree programs offer a number of specialties. The one that you select will naturally depend upon your career interests. You also would be wise to choose a speciality that has the most job potential in the area of the country in which you live.
The types of specializations available in online MPA programs will vary by university, but you will see some common ones:
- Homeland security: Terrorism is a major worry in the 21st century, and this speciality focuses on the implementation of programs and policies that are designed to prevent terror attacks on the US and on US assets around the world.
- Non profit management: Many nonprofit organizations need people who are skilled at developing programs that are made to improve the efficiency and mission of the organization. You will need to take special courses to understand how to develop good programs for these groups, which are quite different from regular businesses.
- International affairs: There is very high demand for public affairs professionals who can come up with new programs and policies that help international organizations and nonprofits. You could have the chance to work with UN officials and international businesses to develop new programs.
- Health care: Public administration managers are often involved in developing new public health policies that can help to prevent diseases before they become a problem.
- Urban development: Public administration professionals learn how to track and analyze data that pertains to urban growth and development. That data can be used on ways to have positive effects on urban growth.
- Criminal justice: Many programs and policies in the justice system need to be evaluated, updated and changed over time. A public administration professional will work to tailor such programs to suit the needs of the community.
Requirement #2: Accreditation
As you evaluate potential MPA programs, you will want to find an online program that is properly accredited. When an online MPA program is accredited, you know that the education that you are getting will provide you with the skills and knowledge to be employed in the public administration field.
Your potential employers also will check to ensure that your MPA degree has been accredited by a respected organization.
MPA programs that have been accredited by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) are ones that you know have met the highest standards of quality.
Requirement #3: Length of the Program
For an MPA program to meet NASPAA standards, it must have a certain number of credit hours, and it must be able to be completed generally in two or three years of full time study.
Many online MPA degree programs, such as the one offered by USC, may be completed in two or three years full time. The time limit to complete the degree part time is five years.
You may be able to find a limited number of programs that can be completed in a year to 18 months. But that is an accelerated program that will take a great deal of commitment to finish that quickly.
Requirement #4: Prerequisites for Admission
Most online MPA degree programs have certain prerequisites that you must fulfill to qualify for admission. These can vary, but often include:
- Undergraduate political science courses
- Undergraduate economics courses
- Minimum GPA of 2.5-3.0, depending upon the institution
Some programs also may require that you have courses in statistics, sociology and psychology.
Requirement #5: Core Coursework
All online MPA programs will have a set of core courses that you must complete, whatever concentration you select. These core public administration courses serve as a vital foundation for your later studies, as well as your public administration career.
For instance, the MPA program at the University of Illinois at Chicago requires all students in the MPA program to take the following core classes. You will find that the names and subject matter will differ slightly between different schools, but by and large, you will cover much of the same ground with your required core classes:
- Public Administration Theory
- Principles of Data Analysis
- Economics for Management and Policy
- Principles of Financial Management and Budgeting
- Public Management Practices
- Public Policy Development and Process
- Public Administration Capstone
This particular degree program also requires you to select one of five concentration areas:
- Public Management
- Nonprofit Management
- Financial Management
- Urban Governance and Management
- Public Policy
Requirement #6: Choose Your Online MPA Program
So, you have done your research about MPA degree programs and the likely career path and concentration that you want. Now you need to decide which online MPA program best matches with your long term career goals, your level of experience, prerequisites and how much time you have. When you consider all of these key factors, you should be able to find a solid online MPA program that fits your needs.
An NASPAA-accredited, online MPA degree program that may suit your needs is Arizona State University’s excellent two year program. The ASU program offers the following:
- An online MPA program that is nationally ranked for people who want to be leaders and managers in many public sector organizations
- Internationally known faculty who conduct research that is on the leading edge of innovation in public management
- Expert faculty who currently hold high level executive positions in many public sector entities in the Phoenix AZ area
- MPA courses that are made to fit your schedule, and offer you real world skills that will rapidly advance your career
- Listed as one of the top online MPA programs by US News and World Report
The mission of this program is to ready a new generation of professionals in public service who have the skills and knowledge to address many of the problems and shortcomings of democratic governance in public administration at all levels of society.
Graduates of the program are expected to work in communities and neighborhoods around them as well as in urban areas around the country and world. ASU wants all graduates to be able to analyze public policy problems successfully and be able to collaborate with stakeholders to come to solid solutions.
The online MPA degree program at ASU totals 42 credit hours and includes core classes, concentration classes and approved electives. You are required to have completed the following prerequisites prior to admission into the program:
- American government
ASU’s program also requires you to complete a capstone project. This is a client-based, applied project class that is taken after you have finished your core classes.
You also are strongly recommended to take a public service internship if you enter this program without prior administrative experience in government.
Your core classes are:
- Public Service Research 1 and 2
- Public Affairs
- Microeconomics of Public Policy
- Public Policy Analysis
- Public Budgeting and Finance
- Public Human Resource Management
- Organization Behavior
- Public Affairs Capstone
ASU offers the following three concentrations, one of which you must choose when you complete your core classes:
- Urban management
- Nonprofit administration
- Public finance
- Emergency management
For professionals who are interested in a dynamic career in public service, and want to develop the skills that they need to develop and implement practical solutions to public policy problems, earning an online MPA degree may be a good fit for your career goals.
You should be sure to follow all of the above requirements as you are contemplating which program and concentration to choose. Selecting the right MPA program based upon your career goals and interests is vital to giving you the best chance to succeed in public administration.