A fiscal manager gives a presentation on financial performance

Serving People and Communities: What Is an MPA Degree?

“Public service has never faced as stern a test as it does today,” said Bill Corr, deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in a 2013 speech to graduates of a government leadership program. “People are thirsty for quality government. ... They want leaders like you who stand up and make our government stand out.”

That’s where a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree comes in. People may want to serve their communities, but not know what is an MPA degree or what they can do with an MPA degree to advance their careers. In fact, many opportunities exist for MPA degree recipients to build careers in public service today. Here’s how.

Defining the MPA Degree

An MPA degree gives students a variety of options for career advancement, especially in community service, criminal justice, and public policy. The degree allows graduates to give back to their communities, improve their cities, build a stronger government, or work for a nonprofit organization.

The online MPA degree program offered by Norwich University nurtures innovative public sector leaders. The program helps students develop administrative, leadership, financial management, and political skills to promote progress in cities, governments, and nonprofit organizations.

MPA students also have options for what they can do with an MPA degree, by concentrating on one of nine available specializations.

Criminal Justice and Public Safety               

The criminal justice and public safety concentration help students develop skills needed to pursue or further a career in law enforcement or even transition into another area of public safety. Students explore the best practices of law enforcement agencies, corrections administration, and public safety management.

With this concentration, MPA students can pursue careers such as litigation manager and district division chief. 

International Development and Influence

The international development and influence concentration develops the skills needed to develop and work with influence international policy. The courses explore global economics, human rights issues, sustainability, international law, foreign policy, and international security.

With this concentration, MPA students can pursue careers such as manager of global sponsorship services and public affairs specialist.

Public Administration Leadership and Crisis Management

The public administration leadership and crisis management concentration focuses on how to react and lead during a crisis.   The curriculum builds management, financial, and communication skills; explore ethical decision-making; and explains how to design and implement large-scale action plans.

With this concentration, MPA students can pursue careers such as town manager and public works manager.

Procurement and Government Contract Management

The procurement and government contract management concentration focuses on the methods and processes of procurement and contract management at all levels of government — federal, state, and local.

With skills gained by this concentration, MPA students can pursue careers such as government contract services manager and compliance administration.

Fiscal Management

Fiscal intelligence is essential in public administration.  That’s why the fiscal management concentration covers key topics necessary to balance budgets, analyze financial performance, and develop financial decision-making skills.

After obtaining an MPA with this concentration, MPA students can pursue careers such as senior budget analyst and finance manager.

Municipal Governance

Students build the financial and managerial skills necessary to effectively run and positively impact local governments in the municipal governance concentration. Participants may choose from electives in municipal, urban, and rural governance.

With this concentration, MPA graduates can pursue careers such as parks and recreation director and district division chief.

Nonprofit Management

For those interested in focusing on nonprofit management, the nonprofit management concentration specifically develops skills in the nonprofit sector. Among the topics covered are strategic planning, fundraising, stakeholder engagement, governance, and performance management.

With this concentration, MPA graduates can pursue careers such as nonprofit program director and project manager.

Public Works and Sustainability

Students prepare to manage the public projects of municipalities, statehouses, or agencies with knowledge gained from the public works and sustainability concentration. Students develop communication and decision-making skills while building a network with professionals across the U.S.

With this concentration, MPA graduates can pursue careers such as city public works manager and director of environmental quality.

Policy Analysis and Analytics

The policy analysis and analytics concentration is designed for professionals interested in the planning and implementation of policies as a public administration leader. The curriculum allows students to analyze critical data, build decision-making skills, and utilize real-world software such as SPSS, SAS, R, and Python to perform data analysis.

With this concentration, MPA graduates often pursue careers such as public administrator and public affairs specialist.

Attaining Specialized Skills

An MPA degree helps students hone the key skills needed to effectively operate in the demanding and evolving public sector, including:

  • Leadership skills that can be implemented across a range of organizations and levels.
  • Strategic planning for public sector initiatives.
  • Crisis management response for unexpected obstacles and disasters.
  • Fiscal management for accounting and budgeting proficiency.
  • Research and data analysis to understand the needs of communities.
  • Ethical decision-making for navigating complex legal and moral situations.

With these skills, professionals are prepared to embark on a career in public administration, which spans a variety of organizations and objectives.

What Can I Do with an MPA Degree?

MPA degree holders can pursue a range of potential career opportunities including:

  • Community service managers, who organize and manage social service programs and community initiatives, such as those for mental health or substance abuse. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, median pay is $65,320. The number of jobs in this field is expected to grow 18% from 2016 to 2026, which is a higher than the average growth rate.
  • Communications managers, who oversee communications initiatives like traditional and digital campaigns, events, and message testing. According to PayScale, these managers earn an average salary of $63,622.
  • Litigation managers preside over lawsuits for an organization and are consulted on legal matters. They may manage teams of attorneys or oversee third-party legal representation. According to PayScale, managers with litigation case management skills earn an average salary of $69,000.

According to PayScale, the average MPA holder earns $65,000 per year. Certain careers such as human resources director and executive director can earn an average salary of $84,642 and $78,407, respectively.

Learn More

Since 1819, Norwich University maintains a leadership position in innovative education. 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, multidisciplinary program that produces graduates with the skills needed to lead their communities. Whether professionals want to build better cities and towns, contribute to a stronger government, or take action for a nonprofit, this program gives them the tools needed to be agents of change in the vital and evolving public sector. 

Recommended Readings

An Overview of the Importance of Public Administration
How to Get Involved in Local Government: 6 Public Administration Careers
6 Elements of Public Administration


A Great Speech on Why to Go into Public ServiceWashington Post
Master of Public Administration, Norwich University
Public Service: Career Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
An Overview of the Importance of Public Administration, Norwich University
Social and Community Service Managers, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Manager Global Communications, ZipRecruiter
Average Communications Manager Salary, Payscale
What Does a Litigation Manager Do?, ZipRecruiter
Average Salary for Skill: Litigation Case Management, Payscale
Career Outlook: Public Administrator, Norwich University
7 Careers for Master of Public Administration Graduates, Norwich University
Master of Public Administration (MPA) Degree, PayScale
How to Get Involved in Local Government: 6 Public Administration Careers, Norwich University