Why Major in Public Administration?

Anyone who is at all familiar with the latest congressional headlines shouldn’t be surprised that America seems to be suffering from a crisis of confidence in its leaders.

A recent Gallup poll reveals that Americans’ confidence in Congress is the lowest on record for any institution since 1973. And Edelman, a public relations firm that conducts a survey each year concerning how much trust the general public has in its leaders, reports in its 2013 Trust Barometer that less than one in five respondents believe business or governmental leaders will actually tell the truth when confronted with a difficult issue. In fact, an Edelman press release about the survey reported that “academics, technical experts and a person like yourself are nearly twice as trusted as a chief executive or government official.”

Perhaps the need has never been greater for leaders with solid public administration training. For those drawn to the field, a public administration degree program provides insights into how the principles of good business — management, problem-solving, consensus-building and critical thinking — can benefit society at large, helping students go on to lead and effect responsible change through government, community groups or nonprofit organizations.

Your public administration degree in action

Henry Miller once said, “An ordinary man is involved in action; a hero acts.” Every day we are confronted by issues that affect us and stir our emotions, but few of us act to make change. Anyone compelled by news headlines to take action on gun safety laws, agitated by stalled development in the community, anxious to change a state’s educational system, motivated to provide aid in developing countries, or ready to start or lead a nonprofit arts organization is the perfect candidate for a career in public administration.

Earning a degree in public administration provides an opportunity to turn that desire for change into action. It enables students to explore the issues affecting them most, and shows them how to make a real impact on the world around them through community-building, budgeting and financial analysis, advocacy, policy change, economic development, and education and outreach.

The results of an employer survey conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities reveals that 91 percent of employers believe all students should have experiences in college that teach them how to solve problems with people whose views are different from their own. Eighty-seven percent say that students need to learn about ethical issues and public debates important to their fields, and 86 percent agree that students need experience working with others to solve important problems in their communities. Fortunately, these happen to be the chief areas of focus in public administration degree programs.

Obviously, for those interested in political careers — as legislators, lobbyists or lawyers — a degree in public administration is a great fit. Likewise for positions such as public interest advocate, social worker, political scientist or representative of a nonprofit or non-governmental organization.

But what may not be so obvious is the connection between a public administration degree and a career as a company CEO, human resources specialist, economist or urban and regional planner, but nonetheless they also may be viable options.

Which degree program is right for you?

According to PublicServiceCareers.org, a bachelor’s degree is rarely a terminal degree, meaning that most people interested in this kind of work go on to pursue graduate degrees — a master in public administration (M.P.A.) or a master in public policy (M.P.P.) — which allow them to build advanced skills, such as management techniques or quantitative methods. Usually, at least four years of study in public administration is necessary for work in this field.

However, a bachelor’s degree can help someone gain an entry-level position such as policy research associate or administrative assistant at a government agency, and the skills gained from a BA or BS program in public administration can also help graduates find entry-level positions with private businesses, such as human resources or regulatory affairs specialist. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that a bachelor’s degree may also be enough to earn a position as a social or community services manager. BLS projects employment of these professionals to grow by 27 percent nationwide from 2010 to 2020 (faster than the average for all occupations).

Earning an M.P.A. or M.P.P. can open up even more career options. With such credentials, candidates could go on to become legislators, executive directors of nonprofits, government consultants or human resources managers. A master’s degree might also lead to a research position, although academic research and teaching positions at the university level typically require doctorate degrees.

While jobs can be found in both the public and private sectors, the private sector tends to pay more; however, according to the American Society for Public Administration, the gap is not nearly as wide as it once was. For many called to this line of work, though, the greatest reward is not money — it’s the chance to change the world and earn public confidence while doing so.

“2013 Edelman Trust Barometer Finds a Crisis in Leadership,” Edelman, January 9, 2013, http://www.edelman.com/trust-downloads/press-release/
“B.A., MPA/MPP, Ph.D: Education for Public Service Careers,” 2008, Publicservicecareers.org, http://publicservicecareers.org/index.asp?pageid=519
“Americans’ Confidence in Congress Falls to Lowest on Record,” Gallup, June 13, 2013, Elizabeth Mendes and Joy Wilke, http://www.gallup.com/poll/163052/americans-confidence-congress-falls-lowest-record.aspx
“It Takes More Than a Major: Employer Priorities for College Learning and Student Success,” Hart Research Associates, Spring 2013, Vol. 99, No. 2, Association of American Colleges and Universities, http://www.aacu.org/liberaleducation/le-sp13/hartresearchassociates.cfm
“Major: Public Administration,” BigFuture by The College Board, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/majors/public-administration-social-services-public-administration
“Major: Public Administration,” The Princeton Review, http://www.princetonreview.com/Majors.aspx?cip=440401
“MPA & MPP FAQ,” The Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA), July 2012, http://www.naspaa.org/students/faq/faq.asp
“Pay Gap Between Private, Public Sector Still Exists But Not As Wide,” American Society for Public Administration, http://patimes.org/pay-gap-private-public-sector-exists-wide/
“Social and Community Service Managers,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2012-13, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/social-and-community-service-managers
“Studying Public Administration,” PublicAdministration.net, Brenda Villanueva, http://www.publicadministration.net/
“Why Public Service? The Opportunity to Make A Difference!” Publicservicecareers.org, 2008, http://publicservicecareers.org/index.asp?pageid=517

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