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What’s Missing From the MPA Curriculum?

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

By Evelyn Trammell
July 31, 2015

Missing PAPublic sector environments are dynamic in nature and variances differ based on the organization and level at which one is employed. It is paramount for the master in public administration (MPA) curriculum to evolve along with the environment in which public administration is practiced.

According to the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs and Administration, which is made up of 179 accredited programs, the MPA curriculum generally consists of coursework in “budgeting and finance, managerial economics, political and legal processes, quantitative methods and ethics, along with an introduction to public administration.” These courses can provide a solid foundation for potential public sector employees to enhance their knowledge and develop their expertise.

A subject that is nearly absent from the curriculum is public procurement. It can be argued that public procurement affects and is involved with virtually every aspect of public sector organizations’ operations. Therefore, coursework dedicated to public procurement will better prepare students for a changing public sector. In addition to specialized coursework in public procurement, the curriculum should implement hands on training or brief internships at federal, state, municipal and nonprofit organizations. This will provide students with exposure and experience in these organizations and learned knowledge will provide  an optimal foundation, which will be beneficial as they venture into their career.

The current curriculum provides vast knowledge in various aspects of the public sector. As such, an MPA degree should enhance one’s potential to better understand the operations of a public sector organization. In order to perform efficiently and effectively in the public sector, both training and experience are necessary. It is difficult to rely solely on learned knowledge that tries to encompass all public sector organizations.

Although there are similarities between public sector organizations, there are important variations between federal, state, municipal and nonprofit organizations. One can only be exposed to and learn how to operate in such environments through experience. Hence, experience is just as important as training. An article by Jacquelyn Smith in Forbes.com called, “The Best And Worst Master’s Degrees For Jobs Right Now” reports that, “projected employment increase for common jobs associated with an MPA is 13 percent with a mid-career median pay of $77,000.” A percentage in this range indicates a difficult job market to break through, but at minimum, an increase signifies at least some demand.

A beneficial way to enhance one’s resume is by having experience to support training. An MPA will set one apart from other candidates and experience will compliment the degree. Therefore, it is essential for those entering the public sector workforce to have a balance of training and experience. Optimally, MPA programs should include exposure to several public sector organizations that give students an opportunity to obtain hands on training and provide them with a better understanding of the structure and operations of differing public sector organizations.

The public sector is constantly evolving and with its evolution comes new challenges. The MPA curriculum must adapt accordingly as economies, policies and operating environment change. Additionally, curriculum must be flexible enough to include and teach student theories that develop with a diversifying public sector environment. Coursework should also expand to include material in public procurement. Universities nationwide are developing specialized certificates in the subject or offering such courses as electives to allow students to obtain exposure to the material. Lastly, curriculum should expand to include internships or develop a manner in which students obtain public sector experience firsthand.

In conclusion, current master in public administration curriculum provides students with an important and necessary foundation with which to operate in the public sector. However, that foundation can be improved with coursework inclusive of public procurement material and direct exposure to public sector organizations. 

Author: Evelyn Trammell has bachelor’s degree in International Relations and Religious Studies, a master’s degree in public administration and a certificate in public procurement. Currently, Trammell works in municipal government and is a member of ASPA. Email: [email protected].

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