As we approach the 2020 U.S. presidential election, our collective interest in public sector activities remains incredibly strong. With so many changes occurring within the federal government and daily stories breaking about public organizations and agencies, it truly feels like both an important and enriching time to be associated with (or at least “in the know” about) government in America. Elected officials, top cabinet members, and appointees receive the lion’s share of the spotlight, so they must run the government—right?
Well…yes and no.
While much of formal public policy and the general “direction” of the country (as well as states and cities) are directed by the collective priorities of politicians, the men and women who engage in the daily operations that allow governments across the country to effectively, efficiently, and equitably provide necessary goods and services to their respective populations are far more numerous than the number of personnel that Air Force One can accommodate. This group of diverse and specialized civil servants are the personnel who make up the field of public administration.
What is Public Administration?
Public administration is typically defined as the implementation and management of government policies and programs at the local, state and federal levels. Though most public administration professionals work in government, many find careers in the private sector, whether it be a hospital or nonprofit.
Although the public sector is comprised of proficient experts from all types of professional and educational backgrounds, many have one qualifying credential in common: a master of public administration degree or an MPA.
MPA at a Glance
An MPA degree is unique in a few ways, most notably since programs are very interdisciplinary in nature, drawing on fields such as political science, economics, sociology, psychology, and general business. The degree is also relatively new because over time, it became evident that none of the “feeder fields” alone were capable of providing the requisite combination of knowledge, skills, and abilities that were necessary for maximizing success in the public sector workforce. By carefully assessing areas that are perceived to be of utmost importance and combining them into a challenging and enriching curriculum, the MPA was born.
The MPA is almost universally recognized as a top credential for those working in the public sector. However, this lofty perception is not based on name recognition alone and program courses are designed with practical and actionable knowledge and activity components. Because strong underlying theoretical frameworks are concurrently presented, students simultaneously become proficient in both the “how” and the “why” of public service. This is why governments often hire fresh MPA graduates into mid-level positions, sometimes without previous public sector experience.
Most MPA programs require students to complete a standard core curriculum and many programs also give students specialization options. At Johnson & Wales University College of Online Education, we offer an MPA – General, MPA – Nonprofit Management, MPA – Criminal Justice, MPA - Homeland Security, and MPA - Human Resource Management. Specialization options vary by program and oftentimes reflect student preferences and general trends related to areas of interest. Over the last decade, the nonprofit sector has grown at a brisk pace and many students have expressed interest in learning about general public administration principles as well as third sector best practices. Additionally, an ever-growing interest in criminal justice administration, and its numerous sub-fields and areas, has resulted in the area becoming a popular specialization area.
In general, MPA programs usually include a comprehensive introductory course as well as core courses in public sector budgeting and finance, public sector management, public personnel administration, organizational theory, and public policy analysis.
Upon finishing an MPA program, graduates have a large and diverse number of options regarding employment type, location, and even sector. While many flock to the nation’s capital to be right in the middle of the action, others prefer working for a federal entity in their preferred region or city. State and local governments are always in the market for fresh, motivated MPA graduates, and there are also positions available to those looking to work in foreign government organizations. Additionally, MPA grads have found homes in traditional private sector organizations as well as in the previously mentioned and ever-expanding nonprofit sector, both in domestic as well as in international positions.
The time has never been better to pursue an MPA! With the sheer number of options that the degree provides graduates, the rigorous, yet comprehensive curriculum, and outcomes that involve honorably serving in some form or another, it truly is a degree that has something for everyone.