Is a Public Administration Degree Worth It?

public administration

Key Takeaways

  • A public administration degree can lead to a variety of fulfilling careers in government, non-profits, and private sectors.
  • The level of degree in public administration directly influences potential career advancement and earning power.
  • Studying public administration offers both tangible career benefits and the intangible reward of serving the public interest.

Introduction to Public Administration

Is an online public administration degree worth it? Yes, it is. Public administration professionals perform crucial roles in society, including effective governance. Their average annual salaries and career advancement opportunities make their degree worth it. 

But public administration careers aren’t for everyone. If you’re interested, you must be aware of the risks and rewards for an informed decision. Here, we’ll discuss public administration education and careers for your information. 

Public administration covers the entire implementation of the policies and programs of governments. The POSDCORB acronym summarizes the process:  

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  • P – Planning 
  • O – Organizing
  • S – Staffing 
  • D – Directing 
  • C – Coordinating 
  • R – Reporting 
  • B – Budgeting 

Public administration professionals translate politics into the public services that citizens experience daily. Indeed, their profession has the power to drive positive change in modern society.

  • Implementation of policies into programs for the general public and specific populations 
  • Provide responsive public services in infrastructure, education, and healthcare, among others.
  • Enforcement of laws for workplace safety, environmental sustainability, and more.
  • Set budgets, track expenditures, and ensure cost efficiency in public services.
  • Provide advice to elected government officials in policy development and other government-related matters. 
  • Manage emergencies and crises. 

Public administration professionals play critical roles in the nonprofit sector, too, including: 

  • Fulfill the mission and vision of nonprofit organizations.
  • Manage their resources and use their funds as intended.
  • Ensure compliance with the law. 
  • Maintain effective stakeholder engagement.
  • Ensure the nonprofit organizations’ long-term sustainability.
  • Meet performance standards.

Indeed, public administration has a positive and profound impact on individuals and communities. If you decide to pursue it, you have opportunities to contribute to society’s betterment. Your contributions can be to economic development and social welfare, among others.

Keep in mind, too, that you can apply your public administration degree in diverse fields. Aside from government agencies and nonprofits, explore the business and finance sectors, too.

Degree Levels in Public Administration: Options and Considerations

Undergraduate and graduate degrees in public administration are available. Note that there’s a logical progression among these degree levels. 

Bachelor’s Degree

The four-year bachelor’s degree provides comprehensive knowledge and skills in public administration. Students learn its fundamental theories, principles, and practices. Courses cover public finance, policy, and management, as well as ethics. 

Graduates qualify for entry-level positions in government offices and agencies, nonprofit organizations, and non-governmental organizations. Note that a bachelor’s degree meets employment requirements for entry-level public administration occupations.

It’s also required for admission into Master in Public Administration (MPA) programs. Most programs also consider relevant work experience for admission.  

Master’s Degree

The two-year MPA degree provides advanced knowledge and skills in public administration. Students mine their work experiences for insights into their advanced courses, too. These cover public management, policy, and leadership, as well as specialized areas.

Students focus on acquiring depth of knowledge instead of breadth of knowledge. Their specialized knowledge enables them to conduct in-depth analyses of public administration issues. Case studies, research, and capstone projects are their learning tools.

Graduates qualify for leadership positions in government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and non-governmental organizations. International organizations also seek their expertise for global development programs.

Note that there’s a significant time and cost investment involved. But the higher earning potential makes it a worthwhile investment.

Doctoral Degree  

Students choose from three doctoral degrees:

  • Doctor of Public Administration (DPA)
  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Public Administration
  • Doctor of Management (DM) in Public Administration

These post-graduate degrees involve advanced courses and research in public administration. Students take 3-5 years to complete a doctoral degree. The significant cost and time investment can be a hindrance.

However, the personal and professional benefits make a doctoral degree a worthwhile investment. You will qualify for high-paying jobs in universities, government agencies, and nonprofits. Research organizations and think tanks are also popular workplaces. You also have excellent opportunities for research contributions and thought influence. 

Every degree has its pros and cons. Your job is to determine whether its benefits outweigh its costs. MPA degree careers, for example, have higher earning potential. But earning a master’s degree involves significant investments in time and money. 

Career Outcomes with a Public Administration Degree

The specific public administration salary will depend on many factors. Industry, geographical location, and type of organization are among these factors. Your degree level, work experience, and past performance will also determine your compensation. 

In general, the higher your degree level, the higher your salary can be. This is true for public administration professionals with master’s and doctoral degrees. A bachelor’s degree will open the door, but climbing the corporate ladder involves a master’s degree.

For perspective, workers in management occupations earn $116,880 in median annual wage. Public administration professionals qualify for many management occupations. 

The public administration degree is also versatile. Public administration professionals work in these sectors: 

  • Government (Revenue services, transportation, urban planning, public sector education)
  • Social services (Food and housing, health, and human services) 
  • Business (Marketing analysis, human resources management, and training and development) 
  • Education (Curriculum development, instruction coordination, and strategic planning) 

Graduates of public administration programs qualify for these positions. 

  • Public relations managers 
  • Administrative officers 
  • Public affairs specialists 
  • Economic consultants 
  • Publicists 
  • Fundraising managers
  • Philanthropy managers
  • Policy analysts 
  • Political analysts 
  • Regulatory affairs managers 
  • Human resources specialists 
  • News analysts 
  • Urban and regional planners 
  • Operations research analysts 

Keep in mind that getting the job is only the beginning. You must leverage your degree and prove your worth to get ahead. 

Furthermore, public administration professionals are in high demand for many reasons. 

  • Their specialized knowledge and skills are vital in dealing with complex government systems. These include regulatory laws and policy creation and implementation.  
  • The emphasis on effective and efficient government operations contributes to their high demand. 
  • Their ability to start trends and keep up with the times is vital in an ever-changing society. The integration of technology in the public and private sectors is an example.

Indeed, now is the best time to consider public administration programs.

Evaluating the Investment: Costs Versus Benefits

Of course, it’s still best to make a cost-and-benefit analysis.

Bachelor’s Degree 

The cost of education is a significant hindrance. Tuition and fees in bachelor’s degree programs range from $25,000 to $68,000 in total. Be sure to account for incidental, living, and miscellaneous expenses. Apply to as many financial aid programs as possible. Start by submitting your complete FAFSA form on time.

Every program has its specific tuition and fee structure, too. The University of Central Florida charges $25,500 in total tuition. New York University charges $260,000 in total tuition.

Entry-level positions have average salary ranges between $45,000 and $60,000 per year. The potential for higher earnings increases with work experience.

Master’s Degree

There’s a wide variation in tuition and fees among MPA programs. Two-year programs can charge between $30,000 and $120,000 in total tuition and fees. Kennesaw State University charges $34,704 in total in-state tuition for program completion. Harvard University charges $65,904 in annual tuition and fees.

But when you’re hired for management positions, you can recoup your investment in less time. Starting salaries for managers range from $60,000 to $90,000 per year. But it can exceed $120,000 with work experience and standout performance.

Doctoral Degree  

Candidates in doctoral degree programs pay varying tuition and fees. Their expenses aren’t limited to tuition and fees either. The dissertation process itself involves money, both actual and opportunity costs.

The University of Nebraska Omaha offers an affordable program. Students pay $7,978 in tuition and fees for an academic year. George Washington University has a more expensive program. Students pay about $150,000 for the entire program. Financial aid can decrease the actual amount paid. 

Candidates can spend 3-5 years earning their doctoral degrees. But with work commitments and dissertation challenges, it can be as long as seven years. 

The significant rewards make these challenges trivial afterward. If you’re interested in high-paying positions with leadership potential, go for it. 

The Broader Impact of Studying Public Administration

The personal and professional benefits that come with a public administration degree are enough reasons. But it also has a broader impact that makes it more attractive to idealistic and pragmatic individuals.

As a public administration professional, you have these opportunities for societal impact. 

  • Create and implement public sector policies. You can contribute to shaping education, social services, and healthcare programs. 
  • Develop, implement, and evaluate community development projects with direct community impact. Affordable housing, efficient public transportation, and accessible community services are current issues. 
  • Strengthen safety and security programs in communities. Your skills and connections can be instrumental in maintaining peace and order in underserved communities. 

Of course, you will also gain soft skills essential to your success. Communication, collaboration, and critical thinking are the skills that are considered most vital. Conflict resolution, leadership, and strategic thinking are a must, too.