Public Administration & Policy

Is an MPA Degree Worth It? Here’s How to Know.

Is an MPA Degree Worth It? Here’s How to Know.
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Paige Cerulli profile
Paige Cerulli March 18, 2019

If you’re considering getting a master of public administration, consider what job (and what salary level) you hope to find with an MPA degree.

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Maybe you’re a natural born leader, instinctively jumping in and working to improve situations that you feel strongly about. Or maybe you’re determined to make a difference in the healthcare industry, both for the employees and for the clients they serve. If you’re highly ethical, passionate, and driven, then you’re a natural fit for a public administration career. But should you take the next step in earning your master of public administration (MPA) degree?

A bachelor’s in public administration gives you a foundation on topics like ethics and management, but an MPA degree prepares you for an administrative position. These upper-level roles bring with them higher salaries and the opportunity to make positive healthcare policy changes. You can enact change, help others, and become the leader that you’ve always wanted to be.

Getting an MPA degree is no small choice, though, and it’s a decision that you need to carefully weigh. A master of public administration requires time, money, and dedication, and balancing your education with a full-time job, family, or your life, in general, can be a challenge. If you’re considering getting a master of public administration, think carefully about the advantages and disadvantages of this degree.

MPA job opportunities

An MPA degree isn’t one that traditionally leads to a healthcare career. Rather, an MPA degree was intended for government officials who wanted to hold positions in federal, state, or local agencies. According to Healthcare Administration EDU, that’s all changing, thanks to the availability of MPA degrees with specific concentrations in healthcare administration.

A master of public administrationprepares you to work in many different industries, including for nonprofits and the local, state, or national government. For instance, you might work with agencies that regulate healthcare, like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Or, you might work with employees who focus on healthcare and public health. There are countless roles that you could hold.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the MPA jobs outlook for healthcare administrators is strong. Between 2016 and 2026, medical and health service manager jobs should grow by about 20 percent—which ismuch faster than average, and very positive for anyone considering a master of public administration.

MPA salary and earning potential

If you feel uncertain about going back to school for several years and shelling out thousands of dollars to cover your tuition, that’s completely understandable.It can be difficult to finance a master’s degree, and taking out student loans is never a desirable option.

However, earning your master of public administration will absolutely help you earn a higher salary. According to PayScale, the average MPA salary is $65,000 per year. While your salary will fluctuate with experience, specialization, where you live, and more, the specific position you hold could mean your salary will be even higher.

One of the unique benefits of a master of public administration degree is that it prepares you for a huge range of different jobs. You’ll find MPA jobs in federal agencies, state and local health agencies, and nonprofits, and different options within each sector. Here’s a small sampling of jobs available to people with an MPA degree, along with their average annual salary ranges from Health Care Administration EDU:

  • Deputy Public Health Officer ($193,000 to $247,640)
  • Director of Public Safety ($129,972 to $157,980)
  • Director of Environmental Health ($107,730 to $150,306)
  • Chief Executive Officer of a nonprofit ($120,000 to $300,000)
  • Director of Public Affairs of a nonprofit ($80,000 to $130,000)

While these salaries can be enticing, don’t let compensation be the only driving factor behind your choice to get an MPA degree. It’s also important to feel driven and passionate about the work that you’re doing.

What will you learn in a master of public administrationprogram?
MPA degrees prepare you for administrative roles, but you’ll also learn about policy as it relates to the healthcare field. You can expect to take courses in topics like policy analysis, finance, budgeting, organizational management, healthcare ethics, and more. Many MPA programs incorporate an internship where you’ll gain real-life work experience and guidance in an organization. You should also be prepared to create a capstone project or thesis toward the end of your program.

Completing your master’s degree usually takes two years of full-time study. Worried about completing your degreewhile balancing work and family obligations? Many schools offer part-time and online MPA programs to give you the flexibility to study while continuing to work (and have an income). Be sure to review the requirements of any MPA program that you’re considering to make sure it’s a good fit for your life.

Is an MPA degree worth it?

What you’ll get out of an MPA degree depends on your career goals and even your personality traits. If you’re driven and eager to make a change in the healthcare industry, then the opportunities offered by your MPA can be highly rewarding.

To weigh the benefits of an MPA, consider:

  • The types of roles you want to hold in healthcare, the degrees and skills they require, and if career you want aligns with typical MPA jobs
  • The amount of time you can dedicate to an MPA program, and if an online MPA program might be right for you
  • Whether or not the average MPA salary is within your anticipated range
  • Your level of passion for holding a leadership position, and if an MPA degree will help you pursue that goal

A bachelor’s in public administration can certainly get you started in the field, but if you have hopes of upper-level leadership and management positions, you’ll probably find that you’re wanting more than entry-level positions. An MPA degree may be the right choice for you if you’re driven to make a difference, hold many responsibilities, and positively impact the healthcare industry.

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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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