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More on the Future of the MPA

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By William Hatcher
March 8, 2016

future-1126760_640With the tragedy of Flint’s water system and the anti-government rhetoric of the 2016 presidential campaign, the year appears to be starting off to be another tough one for public administration. Still, public service remains a practical and laudable profession. And if our field practices consistent improvement, the Master of Public Administration (MPA) will continue to help individuals achieve their career goals and strengthen their communities.

A few months ago, I argued in PA TIMES Online that the MPA will remain strong if our field focuses on diversity in the workplace, professional development and experiential learning in our courses. This month, I would like to explore more specific initiatives that will help our field protect the future of the MPA.

First, public affairs programs need to explore accelerated degree options, where students can complete both a bachelor’s degree and an MPA in five years.

In many fields, the master’s degree is the new bachelor’s. Today, more potential employers are seeking advance degrees than in the past. As The New York Times reports, approximately 657,000 master’s degrees were awarded in 2009, which is over a 50 percent increase since 1980. In many fields, master’s degrees are the preferred or even required for employment. Like these fields, public and nonprofit organizations are looking for employees that have advanced degrees. To move up the managerial ranks in the public sector, employees need the education and training provided by the MPA.

MPA programs need to help recruit and retain excellent undergraduate students by providing a streamlined process from their bachelor’s degree to their graduate course work. Programs should also provide the opportunity for these students to graduate within a short timetable, without weakening our curriculum. Accelerated degrees are fairly common for MBA programs. Our field needs to follow this trend. Having such opportunities will allow our students to compete in the new economy.

Accelerated MPA degrees ensure that our field moves excellent students into public service as soon as possible. This is a need because in the next few years we will experience widespread retirement in the public sector. As Governing reported in 2013, The Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the public sector has some of the oldest employees among 227 separate industries. Our programs need to provide accelerated options to meet this future demand for public sector managers.

Second, programs need to explore innovative concentrations and dual degrees.

Public administration is such a broad field that we have students with diverse backgrounds preparing for diverse careers. We need to allow students to take elective courses, concentrations, or even dual degrees that help them find employment in their preferred organizations and policy areas. These program offerings provide students with skills-based courses that help build their resumes. Beyond our core courses that educate students in the principles of public management, these courses will strengthen our programs by increasing the expertise level of our students and in turn making them more employable.

According to NASPAA, 68 programs offered joint degrees in the 2005 to 2006 academic year. The largest number of dual degrees pair the MPA with the JD. Joint degrees, however, are offered in other areas, such as public health, planning, business administration, social work and the M.D., to name a few. Joint degrees provide students with an education in administration and the opportunity to earn another advanced degree in an area of expertise, which will help strength the capacity of our students, government and our communities.

Third, programs need to integrate informational technology into their curricula.

In 2012, NASPAA found that only 12 percent of its member programs offered specializations in informational technology. As a field, we need to increase our technology-related courses. The public manager of the future has to be competent in information technology to provide efficient and effective service to their organization. The recent security breaches in federal agencies highlight the need for more informational technology training in our MPA programs.

Lastly, programs need to do a better job marketing themselves.

In many programs, especially small ones, directors are the chief marketing officers and do most of the outreach efforts. This is often an issue because directors are not trained marketers. In an era of dwindling resources, directors need to learn about marketing. Our program at Augusta University is implementing a marketing plan with the goals of using traditional advertisement (media ads), face-to-face recruitment (target meetings with potential students) and social media (here is our Facebook site) to tell the story of our program and the benefits that it offers.

In future posts, I plan to talk more about these marketing efforts. For our MPA programs to protect their futures, our field needs to do a better job selling itself and telling our stories.


AuthorWilliam Hatcher, Ph.D. is an associate professor and director of the master of public administration program at Augusta University. He can be reached at [email protected].  (His opinions are his own and do not necessarily represent those of his employer.)

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

One Response to More on the Future of the MPA

  1. Pingback: Telling Our Stories: Marketing MPA Programs | PA TIMES Online

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