Is an MPA Worth It?

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Are you the type of person who wants a challenging career that will enable you to make a difference in your community? Or are you looking for an education that will prepare you for a profession with multiple opportunities? If you answered yes to either question, then a master’s degree in public administration could be right for you.

Here’s an overview of the degree program, what career options are available, and what it takes to earn an MPA at Ashford University.

What is an MPA Degree?

The Master of Public Administration is an IACBE-accredited degree program at Ashford University. The two-year, multi-disciplinary, 36-credit-hour-program is designed to help students develop or enhance the broad skill set necessary to succeed professionally in the field of public administration. Public administration encompasses a variety of occupational paths in non-profit, non-governmental, and all levels of government service, as well as private or corporate businesses. Public administration professionals also work in a variety of occupations from law enforcement and health services to urban planning and emergency management fields.  

Today’s communities face complicated social, political, and economic challenges while providing service to a broad range of stakeholders, all of which must be accomplished with limited resources. According to Life, Well Run, “local governments are in the midst of a major reinvention” because they are “increasingly expected to accomplish their mission alone, with little help from federal or state governments.” 

In addition, Life, Well Run argues that professional managers must be innovative, while balancing fiscal challenges against the expectations for services, which requires looking beyond the traditional and “making meaningful changes” in the way local governments do business. Averting public crisis on a local or national stage will require in-depth understandings of law, policy, and the will of the citizenry. From the Boston Tea party to handling Superstorm Sandy, today’s qualified public leaders need to have in-depth and advanced knowledge of how to help leading government agencies survive and thrive.

What can I do with an MPA Degree?

According to the International City-County Management Association (ICMA), public administration may be “the hottest career you’ve probably never heard of.” The Bureau of Labor Statistics (2018) Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) supports that argument. Indications are that jobs in public administration will continue to grow and will grow faster than average for several years throughout both the government and non-profit sectors. According to The Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA) MPA Degree, many people who earn their MPA end up working as policy analysts, county officials, city managers, bureaucratic managers, or managers of nonprofit charitable and activist organizations.
Today’s society is also more cognizant of social priorities, and corporations are taking notice. Many companies hire individuals with an MPA degree to help develop more socially conscious programs and policies. 

An MPA degree is flexible and is useful across multiple occupations and sectors. It is because of that flexibility that there is so much potential in government, non-profit, and corporate organizations for those with an MPA. ICMA noted in 2006 that “nearly two-thirds of city, town, and county managers surveyed, possessed a master’s degree in public administration, public policy… or other advanced degree” and that’s just local government. 

According to Time, the U.S. government is the largest employer in America. In the non-profit arena, individuals in positions such as community service program managers and providers also hold master’s degrees (OOH, 2018). Other opportunities exist in emergency management, research, and the growing number of non-governmental organizations engaged in public-private partnerships. Each of these positions require professionals who understand the unique challenges of mission-based public management, as well as public service values. Careers in Government noted that “options are endless and the services in the government are always changing.” 

Why should I consider an MPA Degree?

When deciding if going back to school is right for you, it’s important to consider whether the cost will pay off. An MPA degree is an investment in your future. According to Careers in Government, you must “invest… if you want to achieve your dreams.” The Ashford MPA is accredited by IACBE and the curriculum is closely aligned with published standards of both the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) and Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA) standards to ensure you have the attributes employers are looking for in candidates. 

Even those already working in a profession related to public administration know employers place a lot of value on a post-graduate degree because it shows that you are serious about your career, and you have the increased professional knowledge and skills needed to hold a leadership position. 
Having an MPA degree can also help you stand out when applying for positions because the advanced degree teaches practitioners how to pull together partnerships and network resources when solving public problems, a critical skill required for effective leadership. 

So, when you ask yourself, “Is an MPA worth it?” consider your long-term aspirations and what it will take to get there. Really, the question is: are you worth investing in? The answer is clearly YES!


Written by Genea Stephens, EdD, MPA, MSCJ, Assistant Professor and Program Chair in the BA in Public Administration and MPA degree programs, and Mark Pantaleo, PhD, Assistant Professor and Core Faculty in the BA in Public Administration and MPA degree programs, both at Ashford University.

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