What is Public Administration?
Public administration is a field of careers that center on the management of public agencies. Also known as administrative services, public administration is involved in every level of government, from town and city councils to state legislatures to the far reaches of federal government. As a result, careers in this field offer an abundance of opportunities for different types of work.
When considering what public administration is, the focus is on managerial-related duties. For example, some workers in this field specialize in finance or accounting and are responsible for the oversight and management of an agency’s budget and expenditures.
As another example, a public administrator that has specialized in criminal justice might be tasked with managing the juvenile detention center for a municipality or county.
Some public administrators specialize in city management and urban planning as well. City managers typically fulfill a role in which they are responsible for acting as a liaison between city officials and the public at large.
Urban planners, meanwhile, are responsible for long-term planning for city growth. For example, they might be in charge of developing a master plan for a city’s street grid and obtaining rights of way to extend existing streets into new areas.
As another example, public administration is also closely tied to health care. A worker with a background in public administration might be employed as a community health specialist, a career that focuses on devising, developing, and implementing health-promotion programs for specific communities.
For example, a community health specialist might spearhead a program aimed at helping reduce the incidence of diabetes among elderly citizens by creating an informational campaign about health and wellness.
Regardless of the area of public administration in which one specializes, one thing is certain – this job requires workers to collect, analyze, and interpret a lot of information such that they are fully capable of managing the resources of the agency for which they work.
Having all the requisite information to analyze is critical for these workers to develop solutions to problems that allow a public agency to realize its goals and work effectively for citizens.
What is a Public Administration Degree?
A public administration degree focuses student learning on areas that relate to management, especially those careers that fall under the realm of public service, government, and education, though the industries in which one can be employed with a public administration degree varies to a much greater extent.
The type of job one qualifies for depends greatly on their level of education. The types of public administration degrees that are available are described below.
Associate Degree in Public Administration
Though rare, there are opportunities to get a two-year degree in public administration. Typically, these degrees require approximately 60 credit hours of study, of which 30 hours are in fields directly related to public administration, like business, finance, and management.
Associate degree programs are usually offered at junior colleges, which tend to have less stringent admissions requirements. In fact, many students might find that having a high school diploma or GED is sufficient enough to be admitted to programs at this level.
Common courses for associate degrees in public administration include:
- American government – This course helps students develop an understanding of the American system of government, its various entities, and its structure and function.
- Introduction to business – Introductory-level courses in business give students basic knowledge of business principles, from supply and demand to marketing to business management.
- Information technology – Coursework in information technology introduces public administration students to concepts related to using software, apps, computer programs, and other technologies to track and analyze data, create reports, and the like.
Public Administration Bachelor’s Degrees
Bachelor’s degrees in public administration usually require 120 credit hours of study, which can be completed in four years’ time. These programs allow students to specialize their studies much more than an associate degree program. For example, at the bachelor’s level, a student interested in specializing in educational administration could begin that process by taking courses related to teaching and learning, education administration, or curriculum and development.
Since bachelor’s degree programs are more robust in their scope of study, they have more stringent admissions requirements than associate degree programs. For example, in addition to demonstrating a satisfactory high school GPA, students have to also have a high school diploma or GED, as well as satisfactory scores on a college entrance exam like the ACT or SAT.
Once admitted, public administration students in a bachelor’s degree program will complete general education courses like science, language arts, social studies, and mathematics, as well as courses specific to their major. Common courses that are required to complete a bachelor’s degree in public administration include:
- Public relations – Courses in public relations often focus on building skills related to written and verbal communication. For example, students might learn techniques related to writing press releases or strategies for public speaking.
- Management – Whether students wish to work in finance, information technology, or some other area within the public administration sphere, understanding the principles of management, how to manage people, and how to manage budgets is a must-have.
- Economics – Microeconomics, or the study of economics at the individual level, and macroeconomics, or the study of economics at the state, national, or global level, are important courses for students to learn about supply and demand, market trends, and understanding the factors that influence the expansion or retraction of economies.
Public Administration Master’s (MPA) Degrees
A master’s degree in public administration is perhaps the most popular degree for students in this field. That’s because a master’s degree offers even further opportunities to learn new skills, acquire knowledge, and get further training in a specialized area of public administration.
Degrees at this level vary widely in their duration and requirements – at one institution, a student might need to complete just 30-33 credit hours, which might take three semesters to finish. At another institution, however, a student might have to complete upwards of 60 credit hours to graduate, which can take three or more years to complete.
Master’s degree programs usually have strict admissions requirements due to the rigor of studies at this level. Generally speaking, students must hold a bachelor’s degree in a related area from an accredited institution in addition to having a satisfactory undergraduate GPA. Letters of recommendation from undergraduate faculty are often required, as are test scores from the Graduate Record Exam (GRE).
Common courses at the master’s level might include:
- Human resources management – Human resources management courses focus on topics like how to recruit and select new hires, training and development of employees, occupational safety, and organizational behavior, to name a few.
- Policy formation and implementation – This course gives students an opportunity to learn how to propose, create, and implement public policies, like new health standards for restaurant workers or rolling out new regulations regarding a city’s utility fees.
- Non-profit law – Coursework in non-profit law helps learners understand the legal underpinnings of operating a non-profit organization, such as adhering to legal restrictions for registering as a non-profit organization.
Public Administration Ph.D. Degrees
The terminal degree in the field of public administration is a Ph.D. These degrees require much time, effort, and commitment, as they often involved three or more years of post-graduate study. Likewise, due to the highly advanced nature of Ph.D. studies, admissions requirements for these programs are quite robust.
For example, a typical Ph.D. program in public administration might require, among other things, a graduate degree from an accredited institution, demonstrable experience working in the public administration sphere, a satisfactory interview with an admissions board, and letters of recommendation, as well as a personal statement.
Because Ph.D. programs are so specialized, the types of coursework that students complete varies greatly. For example:
- Students that want to focus on research would likely be required to take an extended term in colloquium, or a collection of intensive seminars on various research topics in public administration.
- Students interested in working in finance administration would typically take courses in public finance and financial management, to further develop their skills related to managing large budgets for public institutions.
- Students that wish to specialize in urban development would take courses in urban policy and planning, to learn the ins and outs of managing the development of public works projects like transportation systems.
What is an Accelerated Public Administration Degree?
An accelerated public administration degree is a pathway to graduation on a shorter timetable. Typically, these programs are reserved for students that demonstrate above-average academic capabilities as the workload associated with accelerated programs is often rigorous and advanced.
Usually, accelerated programs in this field of study result in a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in about five years’ time, which is a year or possibly two years faster than students are usually able to complete both degrees.
In this arrangement, students begin their studies as freshmen, with completion of the bachelor’s degree usually occurring after three years instead of the more typical four years. Then students automatically begin graduate studies with completion of that portion of their education in just two years.
In some cases, students that already have a bachelor’s degree might be able to undertake an accelerated program to complete a master’s degree. These programs usually take one year to one-and-a-half years, cutting the study time from two or three years in half.
Usually, these accelerated master’s degree programs are designed for people already in the public administration workforce who are working towards obtaining a higher position of authority and need advanced skills to do so.
What is an Online Public Administration Degree?
One of the benefits of studying public administration is that there are many online options at all levels of study. That means that students that wish to get an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, or a master’s degree in public administration or a related area will have no problem finding reputable, accredited online degree programs.
Perhaps even better, online programs in this field of study offer students all the advantages of studying on-campus. For example, students can utilize tools like video conferencing and chat rooms to communicate with their professors and other students.
Likewise, many bachelor’s and master’s level online degree programs in public administration also plan for students to participate in practicum and internship experiences, just like on-campus students enjoy.
Of course, these benefits come with the added advantages of being able to study on one’s own schedule, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all from the comfort of one’s home.
What Does It Take To Get a Degree in Public Administration?
To be successful in pursuit of a degree in public administration, students must possess certain personal qualities and traits, as well as develop specific hard and soft skills.
Among the most important of these are:
- Ability to translate theory into practice – One of the most critical hard skills that students of public administration should develop is the ability to take what they learn in their studies and apply them to real-world situations. This allows them to address challenges, evaluate issues facing public administrators, and reflect on their strengths and weaknesses as an emerging public administrator.
- Project management skills – Public administrators are often tasked with managing vast projects, often which involve many different stakeholders and a lot of money as well. Learning the skills needed to manage such large projects is a crucial step to becoming a public administration worker.
- Communications management skills – In a fast-paced world of instantaneous news, public administration students need to master the hard skill of managing communication. This includes learning how to deliver timely messages to the public that are on-point and on-message.
- Understanding of government – Students in this field of study should have a deep understanding of how government works, including separation of powers and checks and balances.
- Interpersonal communication skills – Working in this filed requires that students first acquire highly developed interpersonal communication skills that allow them to work with a wide range of people.
- Leadership skills – No matter which realm of public administration one studies, acquiring the skills needed to be a strong leader and make critical decisions is of the utmost importance.
- An appreciation of important issues – Whether one concentrates their studies on business or finance, non-profit work, criminal justice, communications, or one of the other realms within public administration, having an intimate knowledge of important issues is critical to one’s success.
- Ability to work disparate groups – Public administration is all about solving problems and ensuring that public institutions work efficiently to meet the needs of citizens. Without an ability to work with and understand different points of view from different people, it is nearly impossible to find success in this line of work.
What Tools and Technologies are Used by Public Administration Professionals?
Public administration officials rely on a wide variety of tools and technologies to help them do their job and achieve their goals.
Though the following is not a complete list, it offers insight into some of the most common tools that these professionals use.
Cloud-based Records Systems
Many agencies have transitioned from paper-based records to digital record-keeping. What’s more, it’s increasingly popular to use cloud-based systems to store data for ease of access and improved security.
AS Advanced Analytics
This predictive analytics software allows people in public administration to analyze large amounts of data efficiently while also giving them the option to create visual representations of the data for easier analysis.
Halo is used in business applications to manage the supply chain. Not only is it used to analyze data, but it has predictive tools that allow it to determine “what-if” scenarios if critical data points change. For example, Halo might determine based on an analysis of data that changing the time that deliveries go out each morning from 6am to 6:30am actually makes delivery of products faster.
Citizen Engagement Measurement/Evaluation Tool
This tool, which was devised by the United Nations, gives public administrators a means by which to evaluate how public and private agencies can better engage the community in the process of governance.
ONESolution Work Management
Developed by Superion, ONESolution helps agencies streamline their services with a single, consistent method by which workers can identify, track, and respond to requests.
Also from Superion, Click2Gov helps citizens organize and pay their city and county bills, fees, and fines. Bringing these tasks into a suite of software and offering access via a smartphone app helps public administrators make it simpler for citizens to pay their bills.
Some public administration officials use the popular Python platform for building predictive models that provide detailed information about how to better plan. For example, Python might be used by a police administrator to determine the times and locations that accidents are most likely to occur and use that information to position officers nearby to prevent accidents or, at the very least, respond to the accident more quickly.
Using technologies like chatbots helps government organizations to engage more thoroughly with citizens. For example, by using a chatbot, a small town’s public works office can handle more service calls and address more issues for more customers because the chatbot helps identify what the specific problem is and what might need to be done to address it.
Where Can a Public Administration Professional Work?
Having a degree in public administration opens up a wealth of employment possibilities. Though many people that pursue studies in this field end up working in the public sector, say, for example, for a government agency, that’s not always the case.
Government jobs are available for public administration professionals at all levels, from small towns to massive federal agencies. Studies in this field could prepare students to work as a city administrator or city manager, as director of communications for a public official’s office, to oversee financial services for a state-level agency, or to work on improving transportation corridors for an agency like the Department of Transportation.
Specializing in educational administrative studies prepares students for a totally different career path, one in the public or private educational system. Popular careers for this pathway include working as a school principal, a school district administrator, or perhaps as a liaison for state departments of education that visits schools to train teachers in new and emerging educational research.
Additionally, specialization in certain fields within public administration could open up job opportunities in the finance and communications fields, business and marketing, health care, and social services, to name a few.
What are the Benefits of a Degree in Public Administration?
Studying public administration offers many benefits that make this a worthy career to pursue. Among the most popular benefits are:
- Many different possible careers – Studying public administration opens up many avenues for employment in the public sector.
- Opportunities for advancement – Even with a just a bachelor’s degree, workers in this field can advance to positions that offer better pay after just a couple of years on the job.
- Low educational barriers – In some cases, entry-level positions in public administration can be found with nothing more than an associate’s degree.
- Opportunities to help others – Working in public administration means there are opportunities every day to improve one’s community and the lives of people living in that community.
- Opportunities to learn many subjects – Public administration spans all kinds of disciplines, from construction to finance to criminal justice. Pursuing a degree in this field means have the chance to learn many different skills.
- Excellent benefits – Having the educational background to procure employment in the public sector typically means finding a job with excellent benefits, including health insurance and retirement.
- Consistent hours – For the most part, workers in public administration enjoy typical work hours, Monday through Friday, 8am to 5pm.
What are the Disadvantages of a Career in Public Administration?
Though there are many benefits that come with working in the field of public administration, there are some negative aspects of which to be aware:
- Intense competition for jobs – Though this career field is expected to grow faster than average in the coming years, there are still more qualified workers than there are jobs, meaning competition for open positions can be fierce.
- High-stress work – Working for a public agency and overseeing large projects, budgets, and staffs, as well as meeting deadlines and working with many different stakeholders, can cause a lot of on-the-job stress.
- Dealing with bureaucracy – Working in a public agency means lots of red tape, regulations, and other frustrations that come with bureaucracy.
- High turnover – Though some public officials are on the job for the long-term, many have higher aspirations. That means that a supervisory or management position could be somewhat of a revolving door, with new ways of doing things being implemented with each new person filling the job. For lower-ranking workers, this could lead to a lot of frustration.
How Much Can You Make With a Public Administration Degree?
As noted earlier, with a degree in public administration, there are many different career paths one can take. How much money you earn, however, is dependent upon the area of expertise. The area in which one works also influences the salary that’s earned. For example, urban areas tend to have higher-paying jobs, but urban areas also have a higher cost of living.
Of the highest paying careers in this field, working as a human resources director is one of the most popular. As of December 2022, according to PayScale, these workers have an average annual salary of $73,000 per year.
Executive directors, which serve as the highest-ranking manager in an organization, also earn a good salary. On average, they can expect to earn $73,998 per year. Another career that offers good pay for workers with a public administration degree is director of development for a non-profit agency. These workers make $66,165 per year, on average.
As noted earlier, the geographic location in which one works can also influence one’s salary. For example, public administrators in Washington, D.C. can earn up to $103,149 per year, according to PayScale.
Washington state is another hotbed for public administrators, where the average annual salary can range up to $90,823. Workers with a background in public administration would be well-served working in New York as well, because the average yearly wages there for public administrators is $91,178.
What is the Job Outlook for Public Administration Careers?
Fortunately, the long-term job outlook for careers in public administration is fairly robust. According to a 2021 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, public administration careers are expected to grow at a 7 percent rate through 2031. Though this doesn’t make it the fastest-growing career, it certainly represents higher-than-average growth.
A central reason why job growth is expected to expand in public administration is that many workers in this field are approaching retirement age. As workers retire, many agencies will need new workers to replace them.
Likewise, as many cities and urban areas experience rapid growth, public agencies in those areas continue to need additional workers to fill the need for administrative services managers in a host of specialties, from public works to information technology to the courts systems.
Additionally, the continued shift to greener building and living is creating an increased need for public administrators in the facility management and construction sectors. For example, as city governments upgrade their facilities, doing so in an environmentally-friendly manner helps the city set an example for its citizens while also reducing operating costs.
Such projects must be directed and overseen by public administrators, making this specialty one of the most in-demand of public administration jobs in the foreseeable future.
What Degrees are Similar to Public Administration?
For people that find public administration interesting to study, but wish to have a slightly different work experience or work environment upon graduation, one of the following degree areas might be of interest:
Human Resources Management
Degrees in human resources management prepare students for a wide variety of careers in the human resources field. Core training revolves around studies in finance, marketing, information technology, and accounting, to name a few. Though associate’s degrees are available in this field, most jobs require at least a bachelor’s degree for a position higher than entry-level.
Studies in business management prepare students for tackling the important responsibility of managing various administrative tasks for a business or corporation. Management activities for a business could include developing and overseeing marketing plans, developing a program to recruit new hires, overseeing a change in accounting procedures, hiring and firing workers, and so forth.
Education administration degree programs prepare students for supervising the day-to-day activities of educational systems, like an elementary school or a high school. In addition to courses that focus on personnel management, budgeting, accounting, and other business-related studies, students in these programs also take numerous education courses like curriculum and instruction to develop the skills needed to guide and direct teachers effectively.
Degree programs in financial management seek to help students develop the analytical, problem solving, and quantitative reasoning skills that are needed to manage large sums of money on behalf of others. In addition to coursework in finance, accounting, and business, students also develop skills related to communications, business oversight, employee supervision, and the like.