Students with the goal of embarking on a career in management in federal, state or local government or in the nonprofit sector, generally have two choices when a postgraduate degree is required – the Master’s of Public Administration (MPA) and Master’s of Public Policy (MPP). Students who enroll in these programs tend to have similar goals, interests and aptitudes. Employers increasingly view these programs as being interchangeable, but there are important distinctions between a public administration degree and a public policy degree that students should know
The MPA degree program helps students prepare to manage people, projects and money in a wide variety of organizations including nonprofits, government agencies, international NGOs, social enterprises and private businesses. Coursework covers management topics such as human resources and finance while focusing on government and nonprofit organizations and public policy issues. The MPA program places a strong emphasis on program implementation and management.
The MPP degree program helps create policy analysts who can evaluate a problem, analyze and interpret data, and take creative action. This program emphasizes public finance, research methodology, statistics, microeconomics, macroeconomics, management of public organizations and research ethics. The MPP program emphasizes policy analysis and design.
Both of these courses of study differ not only in the stated objectives of their programs, but also in more subtle ways that students should consider, including the following:
An important difference between these two programs is visible in the instructional content. In their comparison of MPA and MPP programs, Professors Yongbeom Hur and Merl Hackbart found that the programs differed in the emphasis they place on certain types of curriculum. While both MPA and MPP programs emphasize research methods such as econometrics and survey research, they also differ in other areas. The administration-focused MPA program places more emphasis on finance, budgeting, public management and human resource management. The policy-oriented MPP program concentrates more on economics and policy analysis.
Another factor that distinguishes MPA and MPP programs is the academic background of the program’s faculty. This difference can lead to a subtle divergence in the curriculum offered by the two programs. Professors Hur and Hackbart found that schools offering only MPA programs tend to have more core faculty members with doctorate degrees in economics. These professors put more emphasis on economic and policy analysis and less emphasis on organization and human resource management.
As part of their study to identify differences between MPA and MPP programs, Hur and Hackbart surveyed directors of schools who offered both degrees. The survey found differences in the following areas.
Program differences – MPP programs are centered on policy analysis and have more economics courses, typically attracting more analytical students. MPA programs are centered more on public administration, and have more administration-related courses for students interested in the nonprofit sector.
Desired competencies of graduates – While both programs emphasize the ability to evaluate policy and solve policy issues in public or nonprofit organizations, MPA programs focus on the ability to manage and motivate groups and organizations.
While these two master’s degree programs have a great deal in common and prepare students for careers in similar fields, discerning students should be aware of the subtle differences between the MPA and MPP programs and how these differences can impact their education and career path