What Can You Do With a Public Administration Degree?

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A public administration degree can lead to a fulfilling career in government or public service. Public administrators draft, analyze, and implement policies through a wide range of government agencies and directly impact who has access to resources, general living standards, and opportunities for diverse communities. With a bachelor’s degree in public administration, you could obtain a job as a manager at your local city planning office. With a Ph.D. in public administration, you could work as a senior policy analyst in a federal government agency. No matter what degree level you pursue, you’ll have the chance to enter a rewarding career where you can effect positive change for individuals, communities, and the general public.

A public administration degree gives you an education in the functions and practices of public agencies, both governmental and otherwise. Public administration also touches on several overlapping disciplines, including economics, city management, sociology, criminal justice, and political science. At the bachelor’s and master’s of public administration levels, you’ll be able to choose a concentration that aligns with your intended career path.

A public administration degree can open up jobs at various levels of government service. Government agencies often encompass departments at the local, state, and federal levels, all which require qualified personnel and skilled leaders. The same is true of non–governmental organizations (NGOs) and non–profit organizations, which often employ public administration experts to create, analyze, and implement policies. That might mean working to develop laws and policies as a state legislator; managing a city department that concerns itself with urban development; setting emissions goals for an environmental oversight committee; or analyzing proposed healthcare policies for their impact on communities and taxpayers. Whatever you choose, you will be performing a vital service that has the potential to increase public access to essential government services.

If you’re considering a degree in public administration, you have several options. While an associate in public administration degree can open the door for entry–level jobs in various agencies, a bachelor’s or master’s degree in public administration can significantly improve your career prospects and earning potential.

What Kind of Accreditation Should My Degree Program Have?

Accreditation is the process by which colleges and universities are evaluated and validated. Colleges and universities that have earned accreditation have met the standards set by accrediting organizations. These organizations are comprised of faculty from various accredited colleges and universities. Legitimate regional and national accrediting organizations are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (ED). Typically, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) recognizes the same institutions, although CHEA recognition isn’t mandatory. A college or university must be accredited by a Department of Education-recognized accreditor in order for its students to receive federal financial aid.

For a detailed look at the differences between regional and national accreditation, check out What Do I Need to Know About College Accreditation?

What is Regional Accreditation?
Regional accreditation is the signifier of quality education; this includes the currency of curriculum, credentials of educators, and credibility of degrees. Regional accrediting agencies only accredit institutions in their geographical area.
The Six Regional Accrediting Agencies

To find out if a college or university on your list is regionally accredited, check the Department of Education’s Database of Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

What Is National Accreditation?
National accreditation is often perceived as a less rigorous standard than regional accreditation and is governed by educational accreditors agencies that are not restricted by region or geography. This means that one such agency can provide accreditation to any college or university in the U.S. that meets its criteria. National accreditation is commonplace among trade schools, religious schools, and for–profit colleges.
 
Most regionally–accredited colleges do not accept or recognize credits or degrees earned from colleges that lack regional accreditation. However, national accreditation may be a useful indicator of quality for students pursuing vocational training, competency-based education, or other education models that operate under a for-profit model.

To learn more about National Accreditation, check out Understanding National Accreditation.

For help safely navigating the For–Profit Sector, check out our Guide to For–Profit Colleges: What You Need to Know.

What is Programmatic Accreditation?
Programmatic accreditation certifies that an institution’s program, department, or college has met the standards of the programmatic accrediting agency. While programmatic accreditation agencies often have national jurisdiction, programmatic accreditation is not institutional national accreditation. In fact, programmatic accreditation often coexists with regional accreditation. In some disciplines, a degree with programmatic accreditation may even be required to earn a license or enter professional practice.
 
When it comes to public administration, the most important accreditor is the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA). They oversee the curriculum and core principles for public administration programs, and prospective employers will want to know that your program has this certification. When looking for a school from which to obtain a public administration degree, it’s very important to make sure that your school is accredited by NASPAA.

The easiest way to determine accreditation status is to contact your school of choice, or visit the website for any of the above accreditation agencies. Each provides a searchable database of accredited institutions and degree programs. You can also look at the Department of Education’s database of all recognized accreditors within its purview.

Or, to learn a little more about navigating the tricky accreditation landscape, check out Accreditation of Colleges and Universities: Who’s Accrediting the Accreditors?

What Kinds of Public Administration Degrees Are There?

Associate Degree in Public Administration

An associate degree in public administration is a two–year, 60 credit program that teaches you the fundamentals of service and leadership in the public sector. An associate in public administration program will give you a grounding in business practices, accounting, human resources, and organizational management. This degree can help you to obtain an entry–level job in the public sector, perhaps as a legislative staffer, a program administrator, or a clerk. If you plan to eventually obtain a bachelor of public administration, the associate degree can give you a jump on earning credits. Just make sure that your associate program is accredited and that your credits will transfer.

What Public Administration Courses Will You Take?

  • Administrative Law
  • Business and Public Policy
  • Business Computer Skills
  • Introduction to American Government
  • Introduction to Human Resources
  • Principles of Public Administration

What’s the Difference Between an Associate in Public Administration and an Associate in Business Administration?

While there is some overlap between the fields of public administration and business administration, they are different disciplines. Public administration has a broader focus on all aspects of public policy and management. It deals heavily with large–scale services that affect all or most members of a community, and is often funded by taxation. The business field, on the other hand, deals with profit–making organizations that have specific markets, goals, and customers. You can use either degree as a springboard to a bachelor of public administration program.

Bachelor of Public Administration

A bachelor of public administration, or BPA, is a four–year degree that provides training and education in public policy and public management. Generally, requiring 120 credit–hours, a bachelor’s in public administration degree is an interdisciplinary program, including elements from fields such as economics, sociology, and political science. With a bachelor of public administration, you’ll be prepared for several jobs, including a director of administration, a manager of public–private partnerships, a senior healthcare analyst, or a director of programs. This degree is also your window into a master of public administration, if you choose to further advance your education.

What Public Administration Courses Will You Take?

  • American Politics
  • Ethics in Policy
  • Policy Analysis
  • Program Evaluation and Accountability
  • Public Administration
  • Public Fiscal Management

What’s the Difference Between a Bachelor of Public Administration and a Bachelor’s in Public Relations?

While a public administration degree is quite distinct from a public relations degree, sometimes it can be easy to conflate the two. A bachelor of public administration focuses on public entities that affect large populations, such as government agencies and educational organizations. People who work in public administration help to shape policy or manage departments and programs. A bachelor’s degree in public relations, on the other hand, prepares you to help public or private companies or individuals to present a certain image to the world. Public relations specialists might work with politicians to help them ride out a potentially damaging scandal, or with a company who wants to be known for its environmentally sound practices. While there is some overlap (a public administration might need to hire a public relations specialist for management of its image, for example), these bachelor’s degrees are entirely distinct from one another.

Master of Public Administration

The master of public administration, or MPA, is a professional graduate degree, meaning that it prepares you for a professional career. These programs typically take about two years and 45 credits to complete, whether you pursue a traditional or online MPA. Some programs also require work experience or an internship, so those stipulations determine the overall length of your degree program. The MPA will prepare you to work as a manager, an executive, or a policy analyst in local, state, or federal government, or in non–governmental organizations (NGOs). Like the bachelor of public administration program, the master’s program takes an interdisciplinary approach that draws from fields such as law, political science, regional planning, and economics. Depending on your program, you may be able to choose from several concentrations, such as public finance administration, international relations, or city management. If you want to put yourself in the running for leadership jobs in public administration, this is the minimum degree you should aim for.

What Public Administration Courses Will You Take?

  • Community Development
  • Environmental Policy
  • International Politics
  • Microeconomics
  • Non–Profit Management and Finance
  • Organizational Leadership
  • Public Health

What’s the Difference Between a Master of Public Administration and a Master of Public Policy?

While both a master of public administration (MPA) and a master of public policy (MPP) deal with public entities and policies, there are some differences. An MPA prepares you for a range of roles managing people, projects, and money in the public sector. If you want to work as a manager or executive in a governmental or non–governmental organization, creating policy and managing teams, you may want an MPA. An MPP, on the other hand, focuses much more on analysis of policy proposal and data. If you want to evaluate data and solve problems using research methods and statistical analyses, the MPP is the program for you.

Doctor of Public Administration

The doctor of public administration, or DPA, is the terminal degree in the field. This program is designed to give you the ultimate education in public administration, and prepare you for a job at the top of your field. This degree typically takes about 90 hours of graduate coursework, including core classes, electives, research/methodology classes, and the completion of a dissertation that offers original insights. You will also be expected to defend your dissertation to a committee in an oral presentation. For a full–time student, this program typically takes 3–5 years. With a doctor of public administration degree, you can work as a senior–level public manager or senior analyst. Or, if your goal is to become a college professor and teach new generations about public administration, this is the degree for you.

What Public Administration Courses Will You Take?

  • Ethics and Social Justice
  • Governance and Public Policy
  • Public Policy and Finance
  • Quantitative Reasoning and Analysis
  • Strategic Context of Public Management and Leadership

What’s the Difference Between a Doctor of Public Administration and a Ph.D. in Public Administration?

The difference between a DPA and a Ph.D. is nearly insignificant. The U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. National Science Foundation do not discriminate between the two, and in practice, the programs are typically identical to one another. Both require academically rigorous coursework and a dissertation, and both will prepare you for the same career prospects in public administration or education. No matter which program your chosen school offers, rest assured that you will be receiving the highest degree in your field.

What Kind of Licensing or Certification Do You Need?

Specific certifications and requirements for a job in public administration will depend on the sector and position you want to obtain. For state or local jobs, there may be certification programs specific to your location that you must complete.

Certified Public Manager

This certification is for public sector managers who have completed a CPM program that is accredited by the National Certified Public Manager Consortium. This certification is for managers already working in their fields, and requires you to hold at least a bachelor’s and possibly a master’s in public administration degree. Requiring 300 hours of study, this certification helps you to increase your competency in management. These programs are open to managers in government agencies, and some states also open their enrollment to non–profit organizations. While not always required, this certification is a great way to increase your knowledge of your field and open a path to jobs with greater responsibilities and higher pay.

Learn more at American Academy of Certified Public Managers.

What Can You Do With a Public Administration Degree?

If you are wondering, “What can I do with a public administration degree?” there are plenty of options. Your public administration degree could be the key to many challenging and exciting Management Careers. For more details, check out a few of these top public administration degree jobs:

What Kind of Salary Can You Earn with a Public Administration Degree?

Your public administration degree could open the door to numerous job opportunities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides median annual salary information as of 2018 for these top public administration degree jobs:

Career Median Salary
Legislators $24,670
Property, Real Estate, and Community Association Managers $58,340
Public Relations Specialists $60,000
Social and Community Service Managers $65,320
Postsecondary Education Administrators $94,340
Administrative Services Managers $96,180
Medical and Health Services Managers $99,730
Top Executives $104,980
Human Resources Managers $113,300
Public Relations and Fundraising Managers $114,800
Compensation and Benefits Managers $121,010

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Are There Professional Public Administration Associations or Societies You Should Join?

Professional associations are a fantastic way to make connections in your field, learn about valuable seminars or certifications, and improve your own credentials. The association or associations you choose to join will depend to an extent on the career path you take. Look for public administration associations that correspond with your academic or professional concentration.

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