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Finding Opportunity as a Public Administration Grad

Graduates of master's of public administration (M.P.A.) programs can look forward to many job opportunities. Openings for M.P.As usually flip-flop between the private and public sectors. Currently, they're most in demand in the public sector.

John Noble is the director of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. "Graduates of M.P.A. programs find work in all sectors," he says.

"At Kennedy, a little less than half go to work for federal, state or local government. Twenty percent join not-for-profit organizations. And the rest find work in private companies, primarily consulting firms that do work for government."

An M.P.A. may also be called a master's of governmental administration, a master's in public affairs or a master's of international relations. All provide training toward careers in government service and related fields.

Noble says job placement numbers have been fairly steady over the years. But the increased interest in consulting in the past five years is coming to an end.

"In the early- to mid-'90s, government hiring slowed dramatically. Instead of hiring new people, government hired outside contractors to do their work. So the demand for new talent at consulting firms went way up," he says.

"Recently, however, with the economic downturn, consultants are laying off workers. And this year, we will see a sharp drop in the number of graduates going to the private sector. Fortunately, there is great demand within the federal government for new talent," says Noble.

Vincent Fordiani is the director of the Institute of Public Management at Brigham Young University. "Our graduates find work mainly in the public and nonprofit sectors," he says. "They work in a variety of jobs, including city manager, financial analyst and human resources director, to name a few."

North American instructors believe it's a good time to be working toward a degree in public administration.

"There is probably more competition for public jobs now than before because of the economy," says Fordiani. "But the number of jobs is increasing."

Leslie Pal agrees. He is a professor at Carleton University's school of public policy and administration. He says there were many government cuts over the past decade, but the trend has reversed. "It's actually a really good time for public sector employees," he says.

"It is estimated that more than 50 percent of government workers will be eligible to retire within the next five years," says Noble. "This means there will be a large gap to fill. And students with M.P.A. or [master's of public policy] degrees will be ready to fill those positions."

M.P.A. students learn a whole host of skills. These include budgeting, ethics, policy analysis, economics, nonprofit management, leadership, advocacy and a variety of other skills needed for public management.

And M.P.A. programs draw on a wide variety of subjects. Political science, economics, business administration and law are a few examples.

On the job, M.P.A.s are assigned to analyze and study problems, then find solutions or strategies to fix those problems.

"They need skills that will allow them to analyze all the financial issues. So a good understanding of economics is necessary," says Noble.

"They need to understand how government works so as to suggest which departments and managers will actually do the work to fix the problem. They need to understand politics and how their suggestions will be viewed by all sorts of people and communities."

If you're thinking about getting a degree in public administration, you'll need a great deal of commitment, says Pal. "You work hard and quickly. If you can't work something through, you're going to get into trouble," he says.

"[M.P.A.s] need to write well and speak effectively to large groups," says Noble. "And they need to care deeply about fixing problems and making a difference to the general public. This work is not about making a profit."

Writing is particularly important, says Pal. "Employers have said that if there is one thing they'd ask for, it's good writing skills."

Fordiani says starting salaries for last year's M.P.A. graduates at BYU averaged $45,000 annually.

It seems there will be an ongoing need for public administrators in both the public and private sectors. And the huge number of upcoming retirements by government workers means M.P.A. students are practically assured of well-paying jobs upon graduation.


American Society for Public Administration
Professional association for public administrators with information on education, resources and careers

National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA)
Learn about the M.P.A. degree and the institutions where it's offered

Public Service Careers
Putting your degree to work

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