Do You Need an MPA Degree to Become a City Manager?

City managers plan, organize, coordinate and implement services and solutions to advance the development of a growing city, suburb or township. Individuals with Master of Public Administration (MPA) degrees are in demand for these positions, but many city officials cite people skills as the most important ability to bring to the job.

Although it is not strictly necessary to earn an MPA to become a city manager, these programs include valuable preparation for the job. See what you'll study and learn about other job requirements here.

Degree Requirements for City Managers

The minimum education requirement for a city manager is a bachelor's degree, typically in business, public administration or finance. Nevertheless, most city managers have a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree. In fact, some local governments list master's degrees among the educational qualifications for the job. However, because city managers are appointed by mayors and city council members, it is ultimately up to their discretion. An MPA can help candidates demonstrate their educational qualifications for the job. Aspiring city managers can also show their skills and commitment to the municipality by working their way up through the local government.

MPA Programs

Several public and private universities offer MPA degrees. These graduate programs often take two years to complete, and they often provide internship options to help students gain practical skills. In addition, they allow students to specialize in such areas as:

  • Public finance
  • Environmental management
  • Policy analysis
  • Non-profit administration

Curricula often include core courses in:

  • Legal and political issues
  • Personnel supervision
  • Finance
  • Budgeting

Job Requirements for City Managers

A city manager's job often consists of planning public and official meetings to establish budgetary needs for a city's future growth and ensure the enforcement of local laws. Smaller towns and cities expect managers to handle accounting and personnel, in addition to planning and research.

City managers essentially supervise and direct staff, providing leadership and training when necessary. The position requires managers to report to the city council, informing elected council members and the public of necessary improvements and projects. A city manager may be required to attend all city council meetings, participate in discussions and make recommendations, but they can't vote on legislation or motions.

They must also adhere to residency requirements, which often stipulate that the city manager establish a home within city limits. Prior experience as a deputy or assistant city manager may provide the necessary skills and knowledge to advance to a city manager position.

Salary and Job Outlook

The salary for city managers depends on the size of the city and its budgetary concerns. As of January 2017, PayScale.com estimates that the overall salaries for city manager positions range from $50,145 - $153,911 annually. The median salary for city managers is $83,641. Government positions also include employee benefits, such as health insurance and retirement or pension accounts.

City managers do not need an MPA, but the degree can increase their likelihood of appointment and help prepare them for professional success in the executive branch of the city government. MPA programs can help them advance their knowledge of public policy, finance, personnel management and other areas important to leading a city government.

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