The Master of Public Administration (MPA) is a professional degree for those pursuing administrative careers in government and non-profit organizations. The MPA is a growing field in the US for American as well as international students because governments are growing, and the public demand for accountability and efficiency in government is growing.
With the transformation of the economic and political systems in the Newly Independent States, there is a pressing need in the public sector - national, regional, and local governments - to lead the process of change and restructuring to perform effectively in new financial and political situations. The establishment of this new public sector is complex and demanding. It requires that decision makers in the public sector, including government officials, health care organizers, and managers of non-profit organizations (such as museums, foundations, and charities) understand and be able to apply the skills and concepts of management and policy-making.
While the most common degree title is the master of public administration (MPA), the degree may have a different name (master of governmental administration, master in nonprofit management, master of public policy, etc.), depending on the institution and the program's emphasis. Degrees in public administration may be offered in a separate school of public administration, within a school of business or liberal arts, or by a political science department.
While an MPA may seem very similar to the master of business administration (MBA), the main difference between them lies in the former degree's focus on the formulation, implementation, and analysis of policy. While private organizations may have goals beyond earning a profit, they must in the end measure their success in financial terms. In the public sector, sound management of available resources remains essential, but achievement in the area of the particular agency's mission is more important than monetary gain. The balance between management concerns and policy concerns will vary in different public administration programs.
MPA students should have a background in the social sciences and course work in quantitative areas. The study of public administration includes basic concepts of management, organization theory, decision making processes, systems analysis, statistics, political economics, and research. The major specialization areas include: national and international public policy, urban and regional planning, management of the public sector, energy and environmental policy, transportation, education, criminal justice, parks and recreation management, and community and health services.
Most MPA's are approximately 40 credits and many include an internship. The curriculum usually includes: problem solving, information systems, interpersonal skills, management techniques, organizational theory, and information through field research, case studies, and agency internships. Core courses should cover the areas: political and legal institutions and processes; economic and social systems and forces; organizational and managerial skills and practices; concepts and techniques of financial administration; and techniques of analysis including quantitative, economical, and statistical methods, and computer systems. The courses covering these core areas are generally most of the following:
- Public Administration and Society
- Public Policy Analysis
- Human Behavior in Public Organizations
- Public Organizations and Management
- Finance of the Public Sector
- Quantitative Analysis
- Computer Application in Public Administration
- Intermediate Social Science Statistics
- Management of Non-Profit Organizations
The courses are organized into areas that address the different problems that managers and policy makers in public organizations face. Management courses focus on setting goals and designing and implementing programs to meet these goals. Included are diverse approaches ranging from human resource management to operations management. Policy courses concentrate on the formulation, implementation, and evaluation of policy, using political, economic, and organizational approaches. Finance classes examine how to raise and spend scarce resources through effective and equitable approaches.
The objectives of an MPA program are to provide fundamental understanding of the context and dynamics of the public sector, to develop generic managerial and analytic skills necessary for effective professional performance, and to offer opportunities for specialized study in a number of fields. The future leaders of public organizations need the ability to merge contemporary research and practices in management, policy, and finance with the skills and techniques necessary to implement these ideas in the real world.
MPA students can work towards becoming managers, but they can also prepare to become analysts (who do research to inform decision makers about social, economic, or environmental problems or to evaluate the effectiveness of programs in meeting their objectives), or policy specialists (who monitor legislation and try to ensure that their organization's concerns are presented and protected). Programs may be designed for particular public sector settings: city or county administration, court administration, international public administration, or administration of development programs, for instance. As in an MBA program, students may be able to concentrate in a particular functional area, such as finance or human resources management. Or they can focus their coursework on a particular policy area, such as health and human services or energy and the environment.
When choosing an MPA program, students should check to be sure that the program is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA).
Many factors affect the admission decision. The most important is the undergraduate academic record. The GRE is the next most important. Students who have been successful in the MPA program generally have scores of 500 for the verbal and 500 for the quantitative parts. Strong letters of recommendation are also important.
Some MPA programs offer paid internships at local government agencies. The agency agrees to educate and coach the intern while providing practical experience. The intern works 20 hours/week, receiving a stipend and waiver of tuition. Other programs may offer research or teaching assistantships. Since TA's usually assist in undergraduate American government courses, this is not a definite option for foreign students. The school may also offer graduate fellowships. NIS students interested in pursuing a MPA degree should check for current information regarding the Muskie Fellowship Program and Freedom Support Act.