What is a Master's of Public Administration?

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  • Written By: S.R. Morris-Gray
  • Edited By: J.T. Gale
  • Last Modified Date: 27 February 2020
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A Master’s in Public Administration (MPA) is an advanced education degree from an accredited college or university that allows a person to work in a variety of employment at the local, regional, and national levels. Examples of employment include jobs in nonprofit agencies, lobbying groups, and political parties. Graduates with a Master’s of Public Administration regularly work in private businesses and with companies providing health and medical care as well. The work typically is diverse and involves coursework that integrates employee management, research, finance, budgeting, planning, and administration.

Training for the Master’s of Public Administration degree typically involves applying to a college that includes the study of public administration and public policy. Required coursework might include public management, economics, microeconomics, financial management, systems analysis, and policymaking. Additional coursework in public and private management might also be required. A course dealing with ethics and values typically is part of an MPA program as well. Once the basic master's-level classes are complete, the student typically will take advanced coursework in a specialty area.

Advanced specialized coursework typically involves understanding the systems and work of a particular branch of government or industry, in addition to the principles of public administration. For instance, students working toward a Master’s of Public Administration with an emphasis in environmental science and policy are typically required to take courses in environmental chemistry, climatology, and ecology. The degree requirements might also include a course in applied policy analysis with a focus in the environment.


Graduate schools in public administration sometimes combine study in related fields, such as a Master's of Public Affairs or Master's of Nonprofit Organizations. Other related fields offered include a Master's of Business Administration (MBA) or a Master's of Public Policy. The student may earn a double master’s degree to offer skills that match a desired field of work. Employment in the field in the highest levels of business and national government might require the employee to hold a Doctor of Public Administration (DPA).

MPA holders interested in the area of public affairs typically will take courses that focus on working with the general public. Specialized coursework in journalism, communications, public relations, and marketing usually are adjunct requirements to the general Master's of Public Administration. A practicum or internship for an MPA with this emphasis typically includes working in an official public affairs office for a governmental agency or business.

A nonprofit emphasis for a Master's of Public Administration program typically involves coursework managing and recruiting volunteers. Development of a base of support in the community and promoting a nonprofit among local and regional businesses usually are part of the specialty curriculum as well. The internship for this program specialty generally emphasizes working with an actual nonprofit organization and shadowing a professional in the area. Shadowed professional may be the head of the non-profit, the person responsible for development, or the human resources officer.

Courses for an MPA candidate interested in public policy typically include history courses emphasizing the development of political institutions and processes, public management, and government bureaucracy. The student may be required to also take statistical methods with a focus on policy analysis. Themes for this course usually include making statistical inferences, testing a hypothesis, and exploration of the concepts of data sampling, probability, and statistical sampling. Coursework examining the international political economy, policy analysis, and public management typically round out the program requirements. Depending on the specific emphasis of the student, additional coursework and an internship dealing with child welfare, mental health, poverty, health, crime, or transportation might be incorporated into the program requirements.


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