MPA Degree Comparisons:
Which Professional Degree Is Right for Me?

When it comes to deciding between professional degrees, one letter makes a big difference. That’s why we’re here to help you make an educated decision. We’ve compared the top alternative degrees to a Master’s in Public Administration and highlighted the advantages and disadvantages. Find out which degree is right for you now.

MPA vs. MBA

While MPA and MBA programs both focus on organizational management and leadership, there are a lot of differences between the two degrees. To help you make an informed choice for your future, we’ve dissected both programs and determined the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Career Flexibility
The skills you learn with an MPA can lead you to a variety of pathways, including private, nonprofit and government sectors. While an MBA does focus on leadership and finance, which is an asset in any industry, it is more geared toward professionals interested in the private sector. That means MPA graduates have more flexibility to move between sectors than MBA graduates.

Motivation
MPA programs are mission-driven and built on a foundation of passion.

While many MBA graduates are passionate and intrinsically driven to solve social issues, MBA programs are not typically built on those ideals. The end goal of a good MPA program is to help students increase social good, whereas MBA programs tend to focus on improving a business’ bottom line.

If you’re unsure about choosing an MPA over an MBA, consider your concentration and certificate options. USC’s online MPA offers a Public Policy concentration, Nonprofit concentration and Public Policy Certificate, which offers the leadership development of an MBA without sacrificing the flexibility and specialization of an MPA.

Industry Outlook
The public administration workforce is aging, which means the demand for MPA graduates is growing. In fact, nonprofit organizations alone continue to grow at a rate that surpasses the business sector. Even in the private sector, the demand for MPA professionals is rising. Today, more private organizations are blending for-profit business models with public service ideals, a mindset ideal for MPA professionals.

Beyond the wide-ranging application of an MPA degree, MPA graduates have an advantage in the job market due to an oversaturation of MBA degrees. In fact, in 2014 MBA degrees became the most popular postgraduate degree in the U.S., with more than a quarter of all master’s degrees being earned by MBA graduates (Fortune.com).

What kind of careers can I pursue?

Master of Business Administration Careers

  • Top Executive
  • Marketing Manager
  • Financial Advisor

Master of Public Administration Careers

  • Program Administrator
  • Top Executive
  • Consultant
  • Executive Director

Financial Advantage
The financial difference for an MBA and MPA is not limited to salaries, but also to the average cost of the programs. An average MBA student can expect to pay anywhere from $60,000 to $120,000 for a two-year program, while an average MPA student can expect to pay anywhere from $20,000 to $75,000. Both program costs highly depend on location and university prestige (OnlineMPADegrees.com).

For MPA graduates, the financial advantages don’t end there. Professionals entering public service may qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, a program ideal for MPA graduates. Financial aid for professional degrees can be hard to come by. Without many financial aid options and few grants available, MBA students are limited in their funding options.

Choosing between professional degrees is difficult. When deciding your pathway, it’s important to consider your personal motivations, professional goals and financial priorities. If you’re still not sure which degree is right for you, explore our online blog to learn more about the public administration field and your place in it.

MPA vs. MPP

While an MPA and Master of Public Policy may seem interchangeable, the two degrees help develop different skill sets and prepare for different, yet related career paths. An MPA focuses on program management, leadership, and policy analysis and implementation, while an MPP is more focused on data management, financial analysis and policy creation. Which pathway is right for you?

Career Flexibility
Both degrees can lead to positions in the public, private and nonprofit sectors, but an MPA offers more opportunities for upward mobility. An MPP typically focuses on analytical skill development, while an MPA helps you develop analytical, qualitative, communication and leadership skills. These additional skills allow MPA graduates to move into higher administrative positions or even health care or private sector roles that may not be open to MPP graduates who are more limited in their skill set.

Motivation
Both public administration and public policy graduates are mission-driven, which means their ultimate goal is to solve social issues and improve the community. The difference is that MPP graduates are often limited to the research and mathematical aspects of public policy. A good MPA program focuses on public policy creation and implementation through research while also exploring leadership skills. That’s why MPA graduates are able to go beyond policy creation and into implementation.

If you’re unsure about choosing an MPA over an MPP, consider your concentration and certificate options. USC’s online MPA offers a Public Policy concentration and Local Government concentration as well as a Public Policy certificate and City/County Management certificate, which closely aligns to the specialization of an MPP without sacrificing the flexibility and leadership development of an MPA.

Industry Outlook
Many MPA and MPP graduates work in the nonprofit and government sectors — fields that are growing rapidly due to aging workforces and consumer trends. Due to the flexible nature of an MPA, these graduates are also able to pursue roles in the private sector and health care — another field with growing job opportunities due to an impending health care professional shortage.

What kind of careers can I pursue?

Master of Public Policy Careers

  • Local Government Analyst
  • Statistician
  • Research Associate

Master of Public Administration Careers

  • Program Administrator
  • Urban Planner
  • City Manager
  • Local Government Analyst

Financial Advantage
To determine the ROI of a program, you can analyze the cost vs. benefits of each, especially when you look at the average graduate’s starting salary. For a Master’s in Public Policy, the average starting salary is $46,333, according to Payscale.com. MPA graduates can expect to earn an average of $50,950 (Payscale.com), which means that compared to an MPP, an MPA really pays off.

MPA vs. MPH

For many, choosing between a Master’s in Public Administration and Master’s in Public Health is difficult. Both degrees focus on organizational management and can lead to health care administration roles, but the two programs differ in many ways, starting with flexibility.

Career Flexibility
Both an MPA and MPH can help you develop your skills in organizational management, leadership and health care administration, but an MPA goes beyond that. An MPH is ideal for professionals determined to stay within the health care field for the duration of their careers. An MPA offers greater flexibility. A great MPA program can help you develop the skills you need to move into any sector, which means more opportunities.

Motivation
Graduates in both fields are mission-driven in their purpose. Whether you choose an MPA or MPH, your ultimate goal will be to solve social issues and improve your community. Both MPH and MPA graduates can work in a specific health care facility or at a federal, state, or local agency to create and implement policies. The difference is that as an MPA graduate you can also create and implement policies that reach beyond the health care field if your focus shifts.

If you’re unsure about choosing an MPA over an MPH, consider your concentration and certificate options. USC’s online MPA offers a Nonprofit concentration and Public Policy certificate, which closely aligns to the specialization of a MPH without sacrificing the flexibility and leadership development of a MPA.

Industry Outlook
Today’s public administration workforce is aging rapidly. In fact,
19% of the 2012 public administration workforce reached the average retirement age in 2014 (Governing magazine). By 2018, this figure is expected to rise to 28%. This shortage in public administration professionals is beneficial to MPA graduates and to a lesser extent some MPH professionals.

What kind of careers can I pursue?

Master of Public Health Careers

  • Human Resources Director
  • Health Educator
  • Medical and Health Service Manager
  • Health Care Practice Manager

Master of Public Administration Careers

  • Program Administrator
  • Purchasing Manager
  • Government Affairs Executive
  • Human Resources Director

Financial Advantage
A degree is an investment, and you can compare the cost and benefits to the ROI of each. The average recent MPH graduate earns $45,497 annually (Payscale.com), while the average recent MPA graduate earns $50,950. That makes average MPA starting salaries higher than MPH salaries nationwide.