What is Public Administration?

Smiling young man hands supplies to a woman

There has been a pothole on your drive home for a year, and it’s only getting bigger. You’ve called city officials multiple times, but there’s just so much red tape and maybe there’s not enough money in the budget.

You recently returned from a vacation, and you can’t shake the images of poverty that you saw as you drove from the airport to your resort. There must be government agencies or nonprofits working to alleviate poverty in the region, right?

Your child came home from the first day of school with a textbook printed in the 1990s. Surely, scientific knowledge has changed since then. You wonder if your son will be prepared for college or his future job.

There is a lot you can do as a citizen to help ameliorate the problems in the world. You can donate money or you can volunteer. But what if it was your life’s work to make change and build a better future? A background in public administration can lead you to that career.

In 1947, Gordon Clapp, then chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority, defined public administration “as a public instrument whereby democratic society may be more completely realized.” The field is generally regarded as one whose goal is to improve our society.

A career in public administration allows you to be a decision maker. There are a wide range of jobs in public administration. Some of the fields you may choose to pursue include health, communications, public transportation or legal fields. You can work in the public or private sector, serve as a government official, lead a nonprofit, work for a news network, work overseas or work for the criminal justice system among other careers.

This web of interlinked public services is sometimes referred to as the “new public sector.” According to the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA), “The ‘new public sector’ refers to the complex network of relationships among organizations that has emerged over the past 30 years in response to the realities of today’s public policy and public administration needs. Whereas a public service career once meant government employment, we now recognize the connections between governments, nonprofits, NGOs, the private sector, and universities.”

For example, consider a child who suffers from food insecurity. The effort to get this child proper nutrition might involve her school, a nonprofit food bank, governmental social services agencies and her church – all places that might employ someone with a background in public administration.

Sometimes jobs in public administration are high-profile positions and professionals in these careers tackle challenging problems. Whether you’re the mayor of a large city or the director of a non-governmental organization, the decisions you make can have a rippling effect. According to NASPAA, a 2011 survey of public administration graduates showed that more than half of them were working in the government six months after graduating.

An education in public administration prepares you to be a leader and to develop programs and policies. These skills are valuable to employers and positions in public administration tend to pay well. Because public administration jobs fall across many sectors, wages vary widely.

MPA Careers Guide

AU Online's "A Guide to MPA Careers" is a free resource to help you navigate careers you can obtain with a degree in public administration. Take a closer look at the potential career options, learn how this degree can be utilized, and the why there is a need for it.

Access The Free Guide

Some public administration jobs pay six-figure salaries. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the current median salary for administrative services managers is $94,020. The BLS says administrative services managers plan, direct, and coordinate supportive services of an organization.

Entry-level salaries increase substantially when you earn a Master of Public Administration in addition to a bachelor’s degree. According to research, MPA degree graduates stand to earn far more than non-degree holding counterparts. Without an MPA degree, only about 24 percent of professionals will earn more than $50,000. After earning an MPA degree, 53 percent of professionals will be in the $50,000+ range for salary expectations in their career. That’s more than double the income potential just for getting an MPA degree.

Because the best practices of public administration have a lot of overlap with business, many MPA programs allow or require students to take some MBA classes in addition to their core programs.

Whether you choose to work in the private, public or nonprofit sector, your career in public administration can give you the freedom to make positive change and influence the future of your community, a cause you champion or communities around the world.

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. 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. Discover what matters. And build your life around it.