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The MPA Advantage

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

By Travis Reginal
December 12, 2017

This fall, I started my journey to attain a Master of  Public Administration (MPA) degree – the professional degree for public management. Students who pursue a Master of Public Administration are typically drawn to public service and leadership in the public and nonprofit sectors, though some graduates pursue related opportunities in the private sector.

I will share important factors which led me to pursue an MPA degree, what I look forward to in my classes and the advantages of receiving a MPA degree.

Why Public Administration?

I originally planned to study education policy and leadership in graduate school. I had spent several summers interning at educational organizations that aim to prevent summer learning loss and prepare students for college. The next logical step seemed to be to become a subject matter expert in urban school policy. I even entertained the thought of one day becoming a school superintendent, in the interim working at policy research organizations to help figure out how to strengthen struggling schools and provide an education imbued with a social and emotional intelligence lense.

Through my current position at the Urban Institute, where I work on criminal justice research and provide technical assistance to counties and cities across the country, I gained an appreciation for a number of different topic areas. I am inspired daily by the creativity and high-quality research of my colleagues, and I’m also fascinated by the amazing work our partners do to make their communities safer and improve outcomes for disadvantaged groups. I realized I wanted to do implementation as well as research work. Research organizations do powerful and necessary work, but we also need research-informed practitioners.

The MPA degree offers the dual focus on research and practice. In my work, I have seen the impact by people with MPA degrees. I was fascinated by the breadth and depth of MPA programs and decided to pursue one as I enjoy the interdisciplinary nature of public administration which pulls on best practices from economics, sociology, psychology, social work, law, education and many other disciplines. Gaining expertise in multiple areas will increase the value I can give to my local partners in my current work and help prepare me for work on the ground in state and local government.

The MPA Classroom

There are two main things I like most about my graduate studies: the dialogues I have with my peers, learning from their personal and professional experiences; and growing intellectually by sharpening old ideas and developing new theories in public administration. I have the privilege of attending classes with colleagues who have worked in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Through discourse in my classes, I’ve gained insight about areas of government such as the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department and Congress that I would not have otherwise have sought out. Exposure to various practices, the good and the bad, is invaluable to widen my scope to opportunities in various industries.

While the MPA degree has a heavy focus on practice, we also discuss theory. During those discussions, I try to weave in theories from my undergraduate studies in sociology to improve the practices I’m learning in my classes. In public administration, research highlights the benefits and costs that administrative discretion has had throughout the history of the United States. Administrative discretions have been used for harm, but  they can also be used to help reverse damage.

Further, I have appreciated the opportunities for students to distinguish themselves in this field. The George Washington University is generous in that it makes available funds for Masters students to travel to conferences to expand their exposure to innovative research and practice, and potentially present their own original research. Public administration is a relatively new field which provides ample opportunities to produce original research and become an expert on a topic. For example, much work remains to be done on studying state and local public finance. Various public administration journals and conferences also look for papers on empathy and social justice.

Conclusion

Now is an excellent time to study public administration and I am excited I have the opportunity to better understand government institutions in a climate where rules and missions are quickly changing. Organizations struggle with leadership, specifically managing others and producing efficient and effective results. A common refrain is that people who are skilled in technical areas are promoted, but do not know how to manage others. An MPA degree looks to solve that issue. Not only does the student learn technical skills such as data analysis and budget management, but also how to manage organizations and people. Studying public administration equips you with multiple tools of analysis and different perspectives to prepare you to be a valuable asset to any organization you join.


Author: Travis Reginal is a research assistant at the Urban Institute. He is a graduate of Yale University where he studied sociology and education studies. Travis has written and spoken on the matter of disadvantaged students attending elite institutions for a number of outlets such as the New York Times, NBC News, and American RadioWorks. He can be reached at [email protected].

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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.

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