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Public Administration Degree Program and Course Overviews

Oct 11, 2019

People who are interested in working in government or non-profit management might consider a degree in public administration. Students study the basics of business aside from policy development and governmental processes. Learn about the program requirements and job options for graduates.

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Essential Information

Public administration programs include studies in law, public policy, organizational theory and a variety of other subjects. Students can earn a bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree in public administration. Internships and graduate assistantships are usually available, most commonly at the bachelor's and master's levels. Graduates can work as urban and regional planners, city managers and more.

Ph. D. students are typically required to pass a comprehensive examination and complete a dissertation. Nonprofit management, public policy, and human rights are common but not exhaustive specialized program tracks. Prospective graduate students are required to complete a bachelor's degree or coursework in public administration or related field.


Bachelor of Science in Public Administration

This program of study teaches skills like budgeting, financial decision-making, communications and human resource management. Students learn to become effective public speakers and to apply the principles of management to solve complex administrative problems. A high school diploma or GED certificate is required for admission. Program coursework typically includes the study of:

  • U.S. Congress
  • Organizational communication
  • Torts and contracts
  • Conflict management
  • Public sector management

Master of Public Administration

This master's degree program is often offered with the option to specialize in subjects such as non-profit management, public policy, human rights or urban and social policy. Students prepare for careers in public administration through studies of global public policy, international finances, economics and management. Admission requires a bachelor's degree and acceptable scores on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Common program topics include:

  • Fiscal management
  • Program planning
  • Policy research
  • Public programs
  • Accounting management

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Public Administration

Students in this type of doctoral program can develop their own study area or choose from a concentration area like public policy studies, public budgeting, financial administration and other options. The curriculum consists of graduate coursework, seminars, comprehensive examinations and a dissertation defense. Ph.D. candidates can take up to seven years to complete the program, which concludes with a doctoral dissertation. Applicants should have a master's degree or hold bachelor's degrees with the completed prerequisite coursework in public administration. Course topics at this program level consist of:

  • Market economy
  • Public finance
  • Capital campaigns
  • Zero-based budgeting
  • Policy formation

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

A master's degree in public administration can lead to a career as an urban and regional planner. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that jobs for urban and regional planners were expected to grow 11% during the 2018 -to- 2028 decade, which is about the same as the average job growth for all occupations. Job growth in the private engineering, architectural and consulting services sectors was expected to be particularly high. The BLS also reported that the annual median salary of an urban and regional planner was $73,050 as of May 2018 (www.bls.gov).

Popular Career Options

  • City manager
  • Employee relations specialist
  • Contract negotiator
  • Chief financial officer
  • Director of operations
  • Director of administration

Certification Information

Graduates who have two years of experience in planning can take the Certified Planner examination, which is administered by the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP). Certified Planners must complete 32 certification maintenance units every two years.

Public administration degree programs equip students with various skills, such as decision-making, workplace communication, and program planning, which can be applied to administrative and management careers. Bachelor's degree holders may opt to pursue a master's or Ph.D. degree for career advancement.

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