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Public Administration vs. Business Administration Degrees

When selecting a degree, prospective students must take into consideration the demands, strengths, and skills relative to each program. This is especially important when evaluating a Master of Public Administration program versus a Master of Business Administration program. Public administrators are at the forefront of public service, working with individuals, communities, and government agencies to navigate fiscal, ethical, and public safety issues that help cities thrive. Similarly, business administrators are critical to organizations’ administrative success, though their focuses are on increasing the efficiency and profitability of corporations. Assessing the major differences as far as public administration vs. business administration is concerned helps potential students determine which postgraduate degree aligns most with their career interests and which may provide them with the confidence they need to take the next step in their education.   

What Is an Administrator?

While employees in an organization may excel at their own individual trades, they will not be able to optimize their performance without an administrative team’s support. Administrators direct business activities and create plans for other employees to follow. They also participate in human resources decisions and help with critical tasks, such as determining an organization’s staffing needs, organizing recruitment processes, and monitoring new employees’ progress.

Administrators also develop relationships between employees and management personnel. In most cases, administrators engage with both groups to ensure that information is spread throughout an organization. Administrators who excel at this can help organizations develop a communicative culture that improves efficiency and boosts employee satisfaction.

MPA vs. MBA: The Difference Between Public Administration and Business Administration

When prospective students are considering the relative benefits of careers in public administration vs. business administration, they see that the fields diverge at a single point: overall purpose. While all administrators aim to maximize performance and minimize costs, their individual primary objectives tend to differ. Administrators in the public sector implement plans to improve the well-being of society. Organizations operating within the public sector typically follow a more bureaucratic structure, meaning there are far more rules and regulations governing their operations. In the private sector, business administrators implement plans to increase a company’s shareholder value. Business administrators must comply with the laws that relate to their companies, but these laws are typically less stringent than the regulatory standards to which those in government positions must adhere. 

What Is a Master of Public Administration (MPA)?

The MPA is a terminal degree for professionals in the public administration field. Part of the curriculum’s aim is to teach students how they can run institutions in the public sector. Through their coursework, students can learn techniques and tactics for leading nongovernmental organizations, nonprofit firms, and government institutions at the local, state, and federal levels.

MPA programs feature classes that help students comprehend the foundations of public administration and policy-making. These core courses teach students acceptable administrative behaviors as they relate to governance, policies, strategic planning, public needs, social change, and politics. To refine students’ expertise further, MPA programs often offer a diverse range of concentrations, such as the following:

  • Criminal Justice and Public Safety. Educated public administrators are well-suited for law enforcement because this public service frequently involves decision-making and policy enforcement. Within this concentration, students learn how law enforcement agencies are operated. They learn the best practices for police leadership, as well as the best ways to manage corrections facilities and partner with communities to reduce crime. Students also gain situational knowledge, such as how to respond when a man-made or natural crisis strikes their communities.

  • Fiscal Management. Like any business, public organizations must manage their budgets to maximize their efficiency and prevent loss. Public administrators who study fiscal management learn how to navigate the legal and regulatory side of accounting for public organizations. Administrators with this skill set are valuable everywhere, because they are able to help their employers get the most value out of their money.  

  • International Development and Influence. The United States is a key player in the global community; as such, this concentration allows students to learn how the U.S. can affect other countries and vice versa. Understanding these concepts allows public administrators to identify how they can keep the U.S. secure while promoting development abroad.

  • Municipal Governance. Local governments serve the immediate needs of communities. This specialization highlights the core responsibilities of municipal government leaders, like how to work with other communities, how to partner with other organizations and officials, and how to liaise with members of the press.

  • Nonprofit Management. Nonprofit organizations provide charitable work to benefit underserved populations and the social good. This concentration teaches MPA students how to lead nonprofit groups without encountering legal or financial troubles.

  • Public Works and Sustainability. Communities rely on public works, such as water utilities, electricity distribution systems, and public transportation networks. This concentration teaches public administrators how to sustainably implement and maintain such systems.

  • Policy Analysis and Analytics. Policy creation is a career in itself, so public administrators concentrating on policy analysis and analytics can learn valuable skills that they can use in policy planning. This career involves learning the standard techniques for drafting policy and then assessing the viability of that proposed policy by performing thorough research. Once the policy is in place, a public administrator may also be prepared to ensure that it is functioning correctly in society.

  • Public Administration Leadership and Crisis Management. When a crisis occurs, the community looks to administrators for leadership. This concentration teaches public administrators how to make well-thought-out and ethical decisions to protect their constituents following disasters.

What Is a Master of Business Administration (MBA)?

A Master of Business Administration is a terminal degree for business professionals. By earning this degree, business professionals can expand their expertise to incorporate skills from different disciplines, such as human resources, marketing, finance, leadership, and logistics. With an MBA, graduates can develop the skills they need to be competitive in various business management-related occupations.

The core curriculum of an MBA program is meant to develop a student’s ability to manage individual projects and coordinate business strategies for entire companies. In addition to the core curriculum, MBA programs normally offer several concentrations, such as the following:

  • Project Management. Project management coursework teaches professionals how to efficiently carry out large-scale projects. The MBA program emphasizes classes that cover the best tools, techniques and practices for planning a project. Upon graduation, project managers should understand the steps involved in each stage of a project’s life cycle.

  • Construction Management. This specialization blends classes about project management with classes that focus on financial topics to give students the knowledge they need to coordinate construction projects. These MBA graduates should understand how to guide engineers, production staff, and other team members toward the timely completion of their projects.

  • Finance. Financial decisions can directly affect a company’s bottom line; therefore, MBA graduates with finance expertise can contribute to the firms that hire them. Coursework in this concentration teaches students how to manage the finances of corporate entities. It also helps students expand their knowledge of the global financial environment and how it can impact a company.

  • Organizational Leadership. Organizational leaders are not just managers; they are more akin to problem-solvers within a company. This coursework is designed to help professionals become leaders on whom organizations can rely to instruct, motivate, and inspire their employees. Students in these classes discuss mentorship, implementing change, goal setting, and organizational strategy, among other leadership-related topics.

  • Supply Chain Management and Logistics. Large companies rely on an intricate supply chain network to ensure that their products are constantly available to their customers. Coursework for this concentration teaches business professionals how to affordably and effectively oversee the entire process of acquiring, storing, and delivering company resources.

Career Comparison

The concentrations available in MPA and MBA degree programs can pave the way for a variety of exciting career paths. The following career choices available for MPA and MBA graduates can help individuals see which degree path may be best to help meet their goals and objectives:

Healthcare Administrators

Upon graduating from a Master of Public Administration degree program, professionals can pursue a career coordinating medical and health services. This job involves organizing a facility’s services to improve their performance as a healthcare services provider. To achieve this, administrators must assume a fair amount of responsibility for financial operations, such as processing patient transactions, fundraising, and organizing accounting information. They may also help their organization achieve compliance with any laws, policies, or regulations that govern them. As the demand for healthcare services continues to grow, employment opportunities for this profession are expected to grow as well; the Bureau of Labor Statistics has predicted a 20 percent increase in available jobs between 2016 and 2026. Due to the critical nature of their work, healthcare administrators earned an attractive median annual salary of $98,350 in 2017.

Management Analyst

As management analysts, knowledgeable business professionals can use their advanced comprehension of business standards and practices to provide other businesses with consulting services. By analyzing historical company data and evaluating the current state of the business they are working with, management analysts work to identify areas for improvement. Then, they suggest new policies or programs that could be implemented to achieve better results. Due to their ability to adapt to different business environments, management analysts earn a median annual salary of $82,450 in the US and between 2016 and 2026, the BLS expects a 14 percent increase in the number of available management analyst jobs.

Public Administration Executives

Top positions in the public sector, such as city managers, county executives, mayors, governors, or other public administration executives, oversee the operations of a municipal entity. They handle the overall budget and strategic plan for a municipality and ensure that its public services and daily operations run smoothly. As the top executive in their government organization, it is a public administration executive’s responsibility to attend meetings, direct human relations activity, solve problems, make decisions, and hold everyone accountable for upholding their individual and departmental responsibilities. If these executives are unelected, they report to the top elected official; if they’re elected, they report to their constituents and must campaign for re-election. Outside of elected positions, it is typical for public organizations to seek executives who have earned graduate-level degrees, like an MPA degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for this career path is projected to remain at 7 percent, which is the national average for growth for all careers through 2026.

Business Administration Executives

Top executive positions in the private sector may have job titles ranging from Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Chief Operations Officer (COO) to Chief Financial Officer (CFO) or President. Whatever the job title, these executives have roles similar to top public-sector executives. People in these senior management positions are responsible (or share ultimate responsibility) for the success of their operations. They set policies, develop budgets, and chart organizations’ growth and development. These executives also create strategies for investments, expenses, security, technology, and human resources-related tasks. Like their public-sector counterparts, business executives are often required to hold at least a master’s degree, especially an MBA. As with top executives in the public sector, the job outlook for the next decade is similar to the national average with about 7 percent growth rate.

When it comes to careers in supervision, students should consider the differences with respect to public administration programs vs. business administration programs, guided by their field of interest and career goals. Public administration and business administration incorporate some of the same concepts into their work, but the ways in which professionals in these disciplines apply those concepts in their fields are unique. Both degree paths can lead to gainful employment, whether that be in the public or private sector.

Learn More

As the nation’s oldest private military college, Norwich University has been a leader in innovative education since 1819. Through its online programs, Norwich delivers relevant and applicable curricula that allow its students to make a positive impact on their places of work and their communities.

Norwich University’s online Master of Public Administration program is a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary program that helps produce graduates with the skills needed to effectively manage a demanding and evolving industry. Our rigorous curriculum helps provide you with an all-inclusive study of organizational management concepts, decision-making processes, strategic planning, and fiscal management.

Norwich University’s online Master of Business Administration program helps create strong leaders well-versed in business management practices. Students can customize their MBA by choosing a concentration in construction management, finance, organizational leadership, project management, supply chain management & logistics, or energy management.

Recommended Reading

An Overview of the Importance of Public Administration

Career Outlook: Public Administrator

Career Outlook: Political Scientist


Management Analysts, Bureau of Labor Statistics

Political Scientists, Bureau of Labor Statistics

Top Executives, Bureau of Labor Statistics

Public Administration, Encyclopedia Britannica

5 Skills Employers Look for In MBA Grads, Investopedia

City Manager Salaries, Glass Door

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Salary, PayScale

Average Salaries of Municipal Officials, National League of Cities


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