What is Public Administration?
Public Administration is a relatively young discipline that has developed increasing importance in our complex society. It functions as both an academic discipline and an applied practice, managing public programs and implementing the results of politics into everyday life. Many government employees and most public servants are considered public administrators. Degrees in public administration are helpful for anyone who seeks to work in government, companies that work with government agencies, such as consultants, organized interest groups, and charities.
In the US, Woodrow Wilson is considered the father of Modern Public Administration, as the future president published an essay in 1887 titled “The Study of Administration,” which argued that Public Administration should not merely be considered a subset of Political Science (as it was in the 1880s), but instead be valued as its own program. Additionally, he put forth that public administrators should be held accountable to political leaders, who in turn should be transparent with and accountable to the citizenry.
The academic pursuit of Public Administration sets out a network of interdisciplinary “pillars,” the primary six are: human resources, organizational theory, policy analysis, statistics, budgeting, and ethics. Public Administration draws from the academic resources of Economics, Statistics, Sociology, and Psychology, in addition to its deep roots in Political Science. Having a strong quantitative background, while useful, is not necessary to pursue a degree or career in public administration.
What is Public Policy and Administration?
Public Policy and Administration is the scientific study of the politics of institutions, structures, and organizations. Public Policy specifically targets how government and non-government actors engage with public problems and interact with each other, analyzing both the creation process of solutions and the implementation of those solutions. The intended and unintended consequences are evaluated to ensure that organized interests and government work towards positive results for the citizens.
Public Administration takes a more inward lens on government agencies and bureaucracies, examining the actions and conduct of officials and public servants vertically within one agency and also how those agencies attempt to productively interact with each other. Political institutions, legal structures, and historical context all comprise areas of study for public administration.
The two branches work in concert to analyze the breadth of American and comparative politics, sifting through tradition to discover best practices and optimize the function of the state. These disciplines are perfect for people who are considering working for the government, consulting, or non-profits; essentially any role in government or that partners with government agencies. MPA students are often specialized in management and concern themselves with the technical implementation of policy. Students earning their MPP work more with the analyzation of policies and to recognize and recommend sound institutional policies.
Additionally, programs like these are inherently multi-disciplinary, so degree holders are not limited to specific subsets of industry, but instead are broadly prepared to tackle institutional problems with a developed and varied skillset.
So, Why Public Administration? What Can You Do With a Public Administration Degree?
Public Administration is an excellent fit for people who care about the common good and social welfare. The discipline is founded on critically examining the function of government and trying to improve the efficacy and productivity of the implementation and application of policy. Additionally, the integral relationships with lobbying groups, contractors, consulting firms, non-profits, and charitable organizations mean that a Public Administration degree can be useful in almost any industrial or social sphere that interacts with government.
So if there is a particular issue that a prospective student cares about, such as shoreline preservation, education equity, or healthcare access, a public administration degree is a viable entry point into that sphere. Whether the hiring company is Shell or Chevron employing Public Policy hirees in the Gulf region, or charter networks lobbying for increased funding, or even a health insurance company trying to ensure they are following all their legal responsibilities, the multi-disciplinary nature of these programs gives students a well-rounded understanding in ways such as:
- how to acquire and apply statistical insights
- breakdown complex ideas to persuade stakeholders to buy into the course of action
- and prepare them to deal with all sorts of real-world problems.
Even a simple Bachelors degree in Public Administration has a median salary of $65,000, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. With each increased level of degree, the median salary jumps up a significant amount, with those holding Master’s degrees in the discipline earning a median of $92,000.
What Can I Do With a Masters in Public Administration?
A Masters in Public Administration is one of the most flexible and relevant masters degrees that a graduate student can pursue. The multi-disciplinary pillars of Public Administration, reaching across human resources, organizational theory, policy analysis, statistics, budgeting, and ethics, provide a strong basis for any student to breach the professional world. The Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration tracked the fields that Master of Public Policy or Administration were employed in six months after graduation in 2015 and they include:
- 23% are working for a domestic nonprofit
- 7% for a local government
- 15% for a state/provincial/regional government
- 12% for a non-research/consulting business
- 11% for a national or central government
- 8% are in the research/consulting private sector
- 5% are in a government not in the same country as the program the graduate completed
- 4% are in an international nonprofit and pursuing further higher education (i.e. a PhD)
- 1% has entered military service.
The sheer variety displayed here demonstrates how valuable and applicable the skill set developed by a Master of Public Policy or Administration can be. The ability to process and interpret data while aligning those analyses with a directive or critique of efficacy is tremendously relevant in almost every sphere of industry.
Specific roles across different sectors can include:
- Government relations manager
- Program analyst
- Program manager
- Public relations and marketing manager
- Community relations manager
- Advancement or development manager
- Policy research assistant/associate/fellow
- Program manager
- Government relations advocate
- Community outreach manager
- Assistant professor/lecturer
- Legislative aide
- Program analyst/administrator/manager
- Budget analyst/manager
- City manager
- Representative/senator/elected official
What Can I Do With a PhD in Public Administration?
Anyone considering a PhD in Public Administration should be intrigued by comparative policy, smirk at the Economist’s snark, and be endlessly fascinated by the tinkering of technocrats. A PhD, or, Doctor of Philosophy, is a specific type of doctorate that usually focuses on an academic specialty. The National Science Foundation and the Department of Education do not differentiate or discriminate between a PhD in Public Administration/Public Policy or a Doctorate in PA/PP (DPA/DPP). Therefore someone pursuing Public Administration to this level is likely to be very passionate about developing theory and conducting specialized scholarly research.
The bulk of PhDs work remains a balance between teaching college students, staying abreast of the new work in their field, and trying to publish academic papers. Publishing new and original research is often a periodic requirement for tenured professors, so that means having a breadth of knowledge about what research questions are currently being asked and having ideas about how to refine, broaden, or add on to the expanding body of literature.
Life in the ivory tower has its perks, but leaving the academy to join a consulting firm or deigning to join leadership at a government agency is also a viable path for a PhD, depending on whether the pursuit of dollars or public service is the aspiration.
What Can I Do With a Doctor of Public Administration Degree?
A Doctor of Public Administration, or DPA, is a terminal degree of study, considered by the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation to be functionally equivalent to a PhD (Doctorate of Philosophy) in Public Administration. Technically a PhD is a more academic, research focused endpoint, while a Doctorate is a broader term with more of a professional practice connotation.
So while the research and teaching roles available to a PhD are also available to DPA/DPPs, the DPP/DPA is more likely to be for people working in either the private sector or for the government. This higher level of certification is for those with career ambitions of reaching for senior leadership roles, such as board members, directors, vice presidents, or even members of the Cabinet. Having the academic affirmation of expertise in addition to professional experience lends extra weight to a candidates application and in work communications.
Most programs require 90 credit hours of coursework to earn the title DPA/DPP, taking 3-5 years of full-time work or 7-10 of part-time study. Additionally, many have a specialized focus of research to reach expert level knowledge in a smaller realm, as opposed to the more generalist expectations of a Master of Public Administration.
Where Can I Work If I Study Public Administration?
Public Administration is an incredibly flexible degree that can be used in almost any professional sphere besides the biggest employer of Public Administration degrees, the government. Any large bureaucratic corporations as well as any organizations that interact with the government frequently actively recruit Public Administration degree-holders.
Obviously, the US government and associated agencies, plus state and local governments are always looking for people with a background in Public Administration. Things like the Department of Transportation, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and the Department of Agriculture all need employees who can interpret legislation and directives from the White House, process data from varied sources, and apply those insights to those directives.
Beyond being on the public payroll, organizations like Teach for America, Habitat for Humanity, and the Red Cross are frequent employers of Public Administration degree-holders. Any non-profit, charity or organized interest group that interacts with the government is likely to strongly consider hiring anyone who has a background or degree in Public Administration.
Journalism is also a popular landing place for workers with Public Administration degrees. Sifting through the breadth of information passing through a news headquarters like CNN or MSNBC requires a keen mind that has been trained to siphon out the crucial aspects of an unfolding story or current event.
The multi-disciplinary background and emphasis on effective communication skills make PA degree holders tremendously valuable. Even in large traditional corporations, a background in analyzing complex data, critiquing the bureaucratic processes while implementing efficient changes is a highly sought after skill set.
What is the Average Public Administration Salary?
The average salary under the search “Public Policy” on Glassdoor is $67,690. This includes any job postings that have that phrase, so incorporates a wide range of industries, roles, experiences levels, and degrees that Glassdoor has access to. A more pertinent way of breaking down the earning potentials of Public Policy and Administration degree-holders is parsing it by the level of degree held.
According to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, the median salary for someone with a Bachelor’s degree in Public Policy and Administration is $65,000.
After attaining a higher level degree that earning potential will increase. A Master’s degree in the same field yields a median income of 92,000 annually, again according to the Georgetown University CEW, with the 75th percentile of earners that have a Master’s in Public Administration and Public Policy reach up to $142,000. Considering that the US median income overall was a mere $59,000 in 2017, it seems like a Master’s in Public Administration/Public Policy is a very worthy investment.
Glassdoor’s sample size is more limited, whereas the professional academic researchers of Georgetown likely provide a more accurate data sample and a snapshot of the productivity of MPA/PP degree-holders.
What Organizations or Associations Can I Join When Working in Public Administration?
No matter what field you work in it can be useful to join a professional organization or association that can help you develop your professional skills, provide support and guidance, as well as help you network within the industry and develop contacts. The Graduate School of Public Policy University of Berkeley compiled a short list of professional associations that are relevant to those who work in Public Policy, including:
- American Association for Budget and Program Analysis (AABPA)
- American Evaluation Association
- American Society of Public Administration
- The Association for Public Policy Analysis & Management
- Emerging Local Government Leaders (ELGL)
- Government Finance Officers Association
- International City/County Management Association (ICMA)
- Municipal Management Association of Northern California
- State and Local Government Management Associations (via ICMA)
- National Associations Related to State and Local Government (via ICMA)
- National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers and Treasurers
- National Association of Counties
- National Forum for Black Public Administrators
- National League of Cities
- International Local Government Associations (via ICMA)
- US Conference of Mayors
These are prime examples of professional organizations designed to help public servants find support in a community of peers, learn from shared experiences, and find new professional opportunities. This is hardly an exhaustive compilation of the resources available to Public Administration and Policy support groups but is a focused example of how specific these groups can be. Regardless of how niche a role or job may seem, it is highly likely that some sort of professional society exists to assist people in that position.
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