Public Administration & Policy

Can You Make Good Money With a Master’s in Public Administration?

Can You Make Good Money With a Master’s in Public Administration?
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Paige Cerulli profile
Paige Cerulli May 28, 2019

This degree may be more about the impact you make than the paycheck you cash.

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Maybe you consider yourself an ethical person who’s interested in making a difference in the world. Or perhaps you’re thinking more specifically, and looking to apply your skills to help further a cause in public service or the private sector. Which is where a master’s degree in public administration comes into play.

While a bachelor of arts in public administration qualifies you for some public administration jobs, with an MPA degree you’ll have the additional training necessary to advance your career and boost your earning potential. An MPA degree prepares you for a variety of administrative positions in healthcare, such as overseeing a business or nonprofit, or becoming a research analyst or human resources manager.

When considering labor statistics, the healthcare employment outlook is especially positive, which can mean promising job security. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that healthcare occupations will grow by 18 percent between 2016 and 2026—adding about 2.4 million jobs to the sector.

Of course, you want to know about earning potential.

With a master’s degree in public administration, you’ll be on track to earn a higher salary than you would with a bachelor’s degree alone—but only slightly.

PayScale lists the average salary for people with an MPA degree at $65,000 per year. Compared to the average for those with a bachelor of arts in public administration, around $61,000 annually, you might be surprised by such a small jump in earnings. It’s possible that people who pursue this degree may be less motivated by earning potential, and more concerned with improving their ability to make create change and influence decisions in their local and global communities. That said, it’s important to consider what kinds of jobs you’ll find—and how much they vary in compensation.

The five most popular jobs for public administrators with an MPA degree?

Executive director: As a senior manager, an executive director fulfills a leadership role for a company by motivating and mentoring employees. They also play a hand in program development and have a major influence on organizational culture. On average, this role makes $77,489 annually.

Nonprofit program manager: A program manager monitors an organization’s mission, and oversees their program’s budget, strategies, and goals to manage efficient, well-run projects that have a high impact on their targeted demographic. When it comes to salary, they average about $50,163 a year.

Project manager: This profession plans, oversees and manages projects in all areas. This includes budgeting, timelines, resources, along with troubleshooting any problems that arise during the completion of a project. The average project manager salary is $72,675.

Nonprofit director of development: Here, duties include managing fundraising initiatives, building strong and successful relationships with donors, and collaborating with staff to execute successful fundraising events. The average salary for a nonprofit director of development is $63,605.

Research analyst: With skills in data interpretation, a research analyst examines and verifies information related to the organization they work for—whether that’s markets, customers, or operations—and applies that information to best supports their employer’s goals. They earn
average salary of $53,974.

What other factors impact earning potential?

While average salaries give you an idea of what you might earn with a master’s of public administration, many factors can affect your salary—starting with where in country you work. According to PayScale, an MPH degree could impact your public administration job salary to varying degrees. In the below cities, you’ll see that the range in average earnings for MPH graduates is substantial:

  • New York, New York: $45,805-$92,634
  • Washington, District of Columbia $48,062-$105,961
  • Seattle, Washington $42,552-$90,174
  • Atlanta, Georgia $40,089-$92,301
  • Chicago, Illinois $44,698-$91,880

The cost of living in your area will also affect the value of your salary when compared to your living expenses. MIT’s Living Wage calculator shows the hourly rate that you must earn to support yourself when working 40 hours per week. While New York and the District of Columbia have higher average salaries, they come with a much higher cost of living. Illinois and Georgia have lower costs of living—and average salaries to match:

  • New York: $15.09
  • District of Columbia: $17.76
  • Washington: $13.30
  • Georgia: $12.46
  • Illinois: $12.77

How can you maximize your salary?

A master’s of public administration qualifies you for positions in federal departments, state and local agencies, and non-profit organizations, and depending on your employer, your salary will reflect that.

At nonprofits, for example, salaries vary according to the size of the organization you to work for. Large nonprofits often pay higher salaries than smaller regional organizations, while public administration salaries at state and local agencies vary depending on the size and prosperity of the locations.

And don’t forget about experience.

The amount of time you’ve spent in your field also plays a major role in your public administration salary. For example, PayScale estimates the average salary for an entry-level human resources director as $59,000. Once that director has 5 to 10 years of experience, the average salary increases to $79,000. With between 10 and 20 years of experience, the salary increases to $94,000.

So, should you go for your degree?

Still undecided about whether a master’s of public administration is the right career move for you? Consider these nine reasons to go for it—and set the foundation for a career focused on finding solutions to problems, and improving lives around the world.

Questions or feedback? Email

About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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