Why Get an MPA?

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A person takes notes while working on a laptop.Many administrative professionals are drawn to the variety of job responsibilities inherent in public sector work. Professionals in public sector roles can impact their communities in ways great and small, from improving public utilities that affect a city to drafting civil rights reforms that impact society as a whole. A career in public administration can be uniquely satisfying, and the right education can provide the expertise needed to successfully navigate a career in the public sector.

So, why get an MPA degree? A Master of Public Administration (MPA) can offer the technical, analytical, communications, and related skills that altruistic public service professionals need to advance to greater leadership roles. It can also be the gateway to a variety of diverse and satisfying career opportunities in public management, policymaking, and the nonprofit sector.

Why Get an MPA Degree Online?

An advanced degree in public administration can offer a competitive edge, both in terms of position and salary, for professionals who aspire to be city managers, chief administrative officers, government affairs directors, senior consultants, directors of public policy, or executive directors of nonprofits. This competitive edge is just as sharp for individuals who pursue and earn an MPA degree online. Advantages of an MPA include:

  • Enhanced leadership skills: MPA programs offer a well-rounded curriculum with classes on management, administration, finance, legal issues, public policy, and human resources. Programs also focus on soft skills such as critical thinking, project management, analytical and research skills, and working with diverse populations.
  • Opportunity to make an impact: Public administrators, who carry out the work of legislators, policymakers, and other elected officials, can influence some of today’s most crucial issues. Efforts to end homelessness or have an effect on homeland security, climate change, food insecurity, housing discrimination, education reform, and social justice can fall within the purview of public-sector professionals and their nonprofit peers.

There are several reasons why professionals choose to pursue an MPA degree online. Individuals interested in gaining an advanced role in public administration and building professional experience in the field turn to online MPA programs because they allow students to continue working full-time while pursuing their degrees. Other advantages of pursuing an MPA online include:

  • Flexibility: Degree-seekers often see flexibility as a primary benefit of online education. Online programs let students work in a way that fits their learning style and schedule, all while balancing work, life, family, and other responsibilities. Class formats include regular reading, assignments, and discussion boards while encouraging self-paced learning.
  • Quality of Education: Online learners today benefit from the same professors and rigorous academic standards available to on-campus students. Online graduates also receive the same diplomas as their peers in traditional brick-and-mortar programs.
  • Networking: Making and maintaining connections with other professionals is an essential skill for those working in the public sector. Online graduate-level education brings together students from diverse backgrounds and locations. In addition to sharing insights with each other, students in Ohio University’s online MPH program have access to respected faculty and the Executives in Residence at the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service.

MPA Degree Benefits

For individuals seeking a high-level administrative role in the public sector, an MPA can help them gain the knowledge and skills to excel in a range of roles. These further benefits of earning an MPA make it an even more appealing idea:

1. Discover Specializations

One of the limits of undergraduate education is that the broad base of knowledge does not permit students to explore their specific interests. The generalized approach to learning is necessary to educate an informed public, but the limited exposure to the niche areas of government service can keep good public administrators from their ideal positions. MPA programs often contain both a required core of study and a concentration or specialization in one narrow area of study. The specialization prepares students to pursue the area of service where they have the most interest, leading them to find greater fulfillment in their jobs.

Some of the most popular concentrations include:

  • Public leadership
  • Management
  • Nonprofit management
  • State and local government management
  • Crisis and emergency management

2. Gain Leadership Training

Undergraduate education in public administration teaches students about the day-to-day operations of government and the political process but sheds little light on how to manage human and financial resources. On-the-job training may provide some insight into the workings of the organization, but in most cases, it will not supply employees with the leadership skills or insights needed to move into a leadership role.

Critical MPA courses introduce students to the challenges of human resources, and the various strategies used to increase motivation and production. Further studies examine organizational behavior and communication across large organizations. Just as an MBA prepares students to enter the business world as managers and decision-makers in for-profit companies, an MPA prepares students to hold leadership positions within the government.

3. Develop Analytical Skills

Most of the work of public administrators is collecting data, analyzing it, and presenting results, especially financial and demographic data. High-level analytical tools are necessary to break down big data and find the correlations or causations that make the data useful.

An MPA builds a solid foundation in statistics and analytics that can be used for a multitude of purposes. Internal auditing and analysis enable students to balance the books and track spending within their agency or department. Studies in public finance and financial planning teach students how to draft long-term strategic plans and present those plans for public approval. Insight into the workings of federal and state budgets builds a sense of comfort with requisitions and drafting funding requests.

Analytical skills are useful but do not exist within a vacuum. Public administrators need to know how to apply their data and their findings to real-world solutions. An MPA enhances a student’s knowledge of big data by training students to use decision-making trees to solve complex problems. Decision-making abilities combined with analytical skills make for a well-rounded and highly valuable public servant.

4. Job Stability

Public administrators have a high degree of job stability, in a world where this is a concern for most people. Though the number of public sector jobs has fallen in recent years, the numbers are slightly misleading. Senior employees who continued to work well past retirement age were those most affected by the loss of jobs. In reality, new jobs for public administrators have grown steadily and will continue to do so in most segments of government.

Employees with an MPA also make more on average than an employee only holding a bachelor’s degree. Although the difference in entry-level annual salaries is approximately $3,000, the number increases significantly the longer employees are in the workforce, according to data from the compensation website PayScale.

5. Internship Opportunities

Landing the right internship is crucial to succeeding as a public servant. Students who build a strong network of contacts across multiple departments or agencies are able to call upon those contacts for favors, pursue new job openings, or seek help for complex problems. Undergraduates have some access to low-level internships during the summer or in their senior year, but the selection of potential mentors is often limited because of the student’s lack of knowledge and experience.

MPA students have access to internships in the highest levels of local, state, federal, and even international governmental organizations. The Pathways Program places current and recently graduated students into internships throughout the country. Graduate students are more likely to successfully convert their internship experience into a job offer upon completion of the program than someone with just an undergraduate degree. Many of the top-level internships available in the program are paid positions for highly qualified workers, so students can additionally earn while they receive credit.

An MPA is a point of differentiation for employees, allowing MPA graduates to make more money and pursue advanced positions in public service and nonprofit organizations. With competition for positions on the rise, an MPA creates an important point of distinction for job candidates and opens numerous employment opportunities.

MPA Salary

An MPA can position graduates for a variety of career paths, including city or county managers, program administrators or managers, human resources directors, nonprofit executives, government affairs directors, or public policy directors.

Many public service careers offer stability and excellent benefits. Salaries for MPA holders vary greatly by sector, title, location, and work experience. The median salary for individuals with an MPA degree was approximately $70,000, according to January 2022 PayScale data.

Salaries can easily exceed six figures for upper-level positions. For instance, PayScale states the annual salaries for city managers range from $50,000 to $175,000, depending on experience and location.

Your Path to a Public Role

City, county, and state governments would not be able to function without public administrators, making the work done by MPA graduates critical. By applying their knowledge and skills to administrative roles in the public sector, MPA graduates help ensure that governments effectively serve their citizens, improving the quality of life in their communities.

Ohio University’s online MPA program can help prepare you to be a public administrator who makes a difference. Through the University’s prestigious Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service, students gain an overview of the scope of public administration work while building skills in policy, finance, leadership, business, management, and communications. The program, which is 100% online, offers four concentrations: Crisis and Emergency Management, Public Leadership and Management, Non-Profit Management, and State and Local Government. Students can finish their degree program in as few as two years.

Learn how Ohio University can help you kick-start your career.

Recommended Readings

Career Spotlight: City Manager

Essential Communication Skills for Public Leaders

Master of Public Administration vs. Master of Business Administration


The Balance Careers, “The Advantages and Benefits of Public Service Work”

GovtJobs, How to Become a City Manager

Investopedia, Master of Public Administration

Management Study Guide, Role of Public Administration in the Modern State

PayScale, Average City Manager Salary

PayScale, Bachelor of Arts (BA), Public Administration

PayScale, Master of Public Administration (MPA) Degree