Differences in Management – Public vs Private Sector

Gavel resting on a laptop keyboard

When we think of degrees in public administration (PA), we tend to think of government jobs. According to the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration, more than half of public administration graduates were working in the government six months after graduating.

But PA degrees are valuable for careers in both public and private sectors.

What is the private sector?

The private sector includes for-profit businesses and organizations that are not under government jurisdiction. Private sector businesses operate with the intent of earning money and can be publicly or privately held.

There are more private sector jobs than public sector jobs, so more career choices exist and the opportunities for advancement and career change are greater than in the public sector.

These jobs tend to be higher paying, in general, than public sector jobs. Even prestigious public-sector jobs like governor or president don’t earn anywhere near as much as a many private sector CEOs.

There are exceptions, of course. State-funded university staff are considered public sector employees. Some senior staffers and athletic staff earn seven-figure salaries. In fact, in 39 states, including Illinois, the highest paid public-sector employee is a university football or men’s basketball coach.

In the private sector, an employee’s benefits are at the discretion of the employer. Benefits tend to be less generous than those in the public sector.

According to a study by Cornell University, in 2013 graduates with a master’s in public administration earned $11,000 more as a starting salary in the private sector than MPA graduates working in the public sector.

Some private sector jobs that would benefit from a background in public administration include:

  • Human resource manager

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), HR managers’ median pay was $110,120 in 2017. The BLS says, “Human resource managers plan, direct, and coordinate the administrative functions of an organization. They oversee the recruiting, interviewing, and hiring of new staff; consult with top executives on strategic planning; and serve as a link between an organization’s management and its employees.”

  • Management consultant

Management consultants advise managers on how to make organizations more profitable through reduced costs and increased revenues. Consultancy is a rapidly expanding profession expected to grow 14 percent by 2026. The 2017 median pay for a management consultant was $82,450.

  • Training/development manager

Training managers work in nearly every industry. They oversee staff and plan and direct programs to enhance the skills of an organization’s workforce. These managers provide professional development opportunities and conduct trainings. In 2017, the median pay for a training manager was $108,250.

What is the public sector?

Working in the public sector means you are employed by a local, state or federal government. Many government jobs provide stability and a clear path to advancing your career. Upward mobility in your profession is not at the whim of an HR director or a superior but often according to a predictable course of raises and promotions based on how long you’ve been employed and what milestones that you have hit.

These jobs tend to pay less than many private sector jobs but, with few exceptions, government employees have some of the best benefits in the workforce. Another plus to working in the public sector is that it is often easier to strike a work-life balance in the public sector because of the predictability of federal holidays and robust benefit plans with paid time off for sick days and vacation.

Working in the public sector means you can promote change in your community, state or country. A background in public administration can give you the tools you need to shape policy, direct departments and strategically plan. It can be rewarding to work at a job where “the bottom line” doesn’t always dictate decisions and where profits aren’t the primary concern.

Government jobs are booming. According to the BLS, “Government employment increased by 10,100 since February 2017, the largest employment gain in the Chicago area. The local rate of job growth, at 1.9 percent, was greater than the 0.2 percent national increase.”

Some private sector jobs that would benefit from a background in public administration include:

  • Urban Planner

According to the BLS, “Urban and regional planners develop land-use plans and programs that help create communities, accommodate population growth, and revitalize physical facilities in towns, cities, counties, and metropolitan areas.” This profession is growing faster than most with jobs expected to be up 13 percent by 2026. The median pay for an urban planner in 2017 was $71,490.

  • Mayor

The mayor is essentially the CEO of a town or city. Mayors oversee a city’s main departments, including the police, fire, education, housing and transportation departments. At the same time, responsibilities vary depending on the local municipal structure. According to the BLS, the mean pay for a mayor in 2017 was $112,900.

  • Budget analyst

Budget analysts help public organizations organize finances. They prepare budget reports and monitor spending. The median pay for a budget analyst in 2017 was $75,240.

In general, job candidates in PA earn about $12,000 more a year with an MPA compared to candidates with only a bachelor’s degree.

Starting Your Public Administration Career

Aurora University’s online MPA degree helps students develop the knowledge and skills to take leadership roles in public administration, whether it’s in the private or public sector. Graduates receive instruction from faculty members with real-world experience. The program was developed in partnership with community leaders and public service professionals, so you can be confident that you’re getting the right education for your career goals. AU’s online MPA features coursework in community relations, budgeting, public policy and nonprofit management.