15 Great Concentrations for MPA Programs

15 Great Concentrations for MPA Programs

The Master of Public Administration (MPA) is a graduate degree considered a top credential for public service. The comprehensive program mirrors business and organizational studies. The professional training in public administration emphasizes the issues of public services. 

MPA programs prepare students for the public sector, and they go on to become community, government, and nonprofit leaders. It focuses on the systematic examination and strategies of executive organization and management. Students prepare to serve as executives, managers, and policy analysts in local, state, and federal government agencies. There is an increasing demand for MPA graduates in nonprofit and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). 

An MPA curriculum includes courses like:

  • Managerial accounting
  • Public finance
  • Public management
  • Microeconomics
  • Research methods
  • Policy analysis
  • Ethics
  • Statistics
  • Geographic information systems (GIS)
  • Program evaluation

MPA students can choose electives to tailor their degrees and focus their studies on public sector fields. These may include emergency management, urban planning, transportation, health care, public health, economic development, community development, nonprofit management, environmental policy, cultural policy, international affairs, and criminal justice.

Students learn about the development, roles, and principles of public administration, public policy management, and implementation. The interdisciplinary program draws from fields like political science, economics, law, sociology, anthropology, and regional planning. These MPA concentrations provide comprehensive training in specialized areas. MPA graduates are equipped with skills and knowledge that cover a broad range of topics and disciplines relevant to the public sector. They focus on political perspectives, sustainability planning, ethical considerations, and environmental laws.

Concentrations for MPA Programs

#1 Community & Economic Development

The Community and Economic Development Concentration focuses on economic development strategies to improve the quality of life within communities and create change for the future. Students learn to develop and manage resources that can transform communities and lead to social equity. They gain the knowledge and skills to create sustainable communities in a responsible, cost-effective way and foster progress at every scale. They gain expertise in the strategic management of all types of locales: states, neighborhoods, cities, villages, rural regions, and countries. Most MPA programs offer experiential learning beyond traditional lectures and lessons that make an impact. Students learn the theories, tools, and practical skills covering economic development policy applied in a broad range of contexts and settings to create positive, lasting change.

#2 Energy

MPA Energy trains students to help meet critical energy challenges through energy systems, economics, and policy. Students also learn about climate policy, human behavior, energy consumption, energy law, environmental policy, and sustainable development. They are trained to develop sound energy analyses and think tanks, agencies, nonprofits, and industry policies. Some schools also offer related science courses like air pollution, renewable energy, climate change, and their impacts. They help craft science-based laws and policies for the current energy landscape, participate in problem-solving at state, national and international levels. They develop well-developed analytical skills and a broad understanding of policy issues and government processes. 

#3 Environmental Policy & Natural Resource Management

The environmental, economic, and community development concentration prepares students to understand better and manage environmental problems. They are trained in practical policy implementation and evaluation, local government policy, budgeting concepts, and techniques. The courses combine skill-based courses in public policy, management, and environmental affairs with special training in the environmental sciences. They also develop a core area of knowledge in a sub-discipline such as forest ecology, environmental chemistry, lake and watershed management, or hazardous materials. They develop analytical skills and a broad understanding of policy issues and government processes. 

#4 Health Policy

The Public Health policy concentration helps students understand the trends that impact healthcare and prepare for careers as policy-driven health care administrators. Students explore the various ways in which legislative, executive, and judicial government actions affect health and healthcare at the federal, state, and local levels. Some of the courses covered include foundational public health principles and practice, behavioral science, biostatistics, epidemiology, healthcare policy evaluation, and reform strategies. Students gain vital knowledge in health insurance regulation, the determinants of health, the connection between the labor market and health insurance, international healthcare systems, and political influence on health policy. By gaining a broad understanding of health trends and data, policy issues, and government processes, along with well-developed analytical skills, students can elevate the debate surrounding human health. 

#5 Information Systems

The Information Systems concentration helps students learn how to apply the latest tools and techniques to face challenging and varied societal and environmental challenges. They use data to make the most of the new opportunities our digital world presents. They develop the technical skills necessary to analyze and manage several policy issues at various levels and the associated tasks. The various tasks include facility siting, environmental planning, and natural resource management. This is a popular field and prepares students for various positions in both the private and public sectors. Some key jobs include systems designer, database administrator, chief information officer, systems analyst, and webmaster. They receive hands-on experience with database design and advanced training in geographic information systems (GIS). They develop analytical skills and master the fundamentals reflected in an MPA program. 

#6 International Development

A concentration in International Development provides students with the challenges and opportunities in this sector. They gain policy-focused understanding to help promote advancement in communities. They focus on topics like economic programming and planning, conflict and post-conflict recovery, political development, the role of NGOs, sustainable development, and international organizations. They learn to think and act globally and how to make change happen in real and practical ways. With the knowledge they gain and analytical skills, students can effectively design, implement, and evaluate international development programs. Students analyze domestic policy by comparing and contrasting it with foreign policy for different countries. They are trained in political science in economics and policy analysis that prepares students to work in many other parts of the world.

#7 Local Government Management

The Local Government concentration teaches students the various methods for building local communities that are strong, supportive, and sustainable. They learn to understand the unique challenges facing cities and population centers today. The courses they take train them to address these issues with creativity, integrity, and professionalism. They are prepared to make meaningful change by driving leadership at the local level. Students go on to make substantive improvements at the local level as graduates in the workforce, bringing solutions to where people live. They build a broad set of skills, including policy issues and analysis, delivery of urban services, management skills, values and ethics, and effective communication. Specific topics include human resources management, labor relations, government finance, planning, and operations management.

#8 Nonprofit Management

The Nonprofit Management concentration helps students gain deeper insight into the various challenges, characteristics, and competencies that define nonprofit organizations. It offers students the vital knowledge and skills in Nonprofit Management to serve the public well. The curriculum covers everything from traditional aspects such as fundraising and community service to the latest developments like socially responsible investing and social entrepreneurship. Some of the topics they cover include the history of public policy and management in the nonprofit sector, Practical fundraising and grant application development strategies, core principles of nonprofit management and leadership. The courses also emphasize management techniques and trends needed for leadership roles in the nonprofit sector.

#9 Policy Studies 

The policy studies concentration prepares students to tackle challenging problems and improve the decision-making needed to address them. Students gain an in-depth understanding of the dynamics of policymaking, informing the decisions that change lives and the world around them. They learn to evaluate, analyze and develop solutions to policy problems within the public, private and political public arenas. They learn which research methods suit the various situations, design applied studies, and develop action-oriented plans and guidelines. Coursework may include local and state budgeting systems, program planning, social entrepreneurship, nonprofit enterprises, federal relationships and public, management science for public affairs, communications, legal and technical writing, public program evaluation, along with qualitative and quantitative policy research.

#10 Public Financial Administration

The public finance administration concentration provides students with hands-on knowledge of government financial analytical techniques, local and overseas capitals, budgeting tools, and management standards. Students learn the theory and practice of raising public revenue, public finance and budgeting, allocating resources through the budgeting process, and managing public assets and other fiscal resources. They also learn about local, state, and federal financial regulations and expectations. Coursework may include public accounting audits, standards and institutions, processes. It also covers common issues in public financial management like interdepartmental budgeting, accountability tools and anti-corruption programs, internal control reviews, and accounting information systems. The applied and experiential nature of the courses prepares students for a variety of positions in government management, finance, budgeting, and applied program and policy analysis.

#11 Public Management

The Public Management concentration helps students examine nonprofit organizations and the public causes, interests, and activities they manage. Students learn to lead different public organizations and improve cross-functional operational efficiency, from economic development to government relations. The coursework may include legislative lobbying, governance structures, group advocacy, donor fundraising, and marketing activities. Students also learn about administrative law, social entrepreneurship, government contracting, public program planning, public accounting systems, budget oversight systems, public finance practices, intergovernmental relations, and managing information resources. Students will learn how policies are adopted and implemented, and what goals, structures, and processes drive organizations, and how the public bureaucracy operates in a democracy.

#12 Sustainability and Sustainable Development

Sustainability and Sustainable Development concentration prepares students to help organizations and people power the present, strike a balance between meeting immediate needs and ensuring a secure, livable space and protecting the future. The courses combine environmental, economic, social, and political elements. Graduates work in various settings like governments and government agencies, nonprofit entities, private businesses, and other special-interest organizations. Students gain well-developed analytical skills and a broad understanding of policy issues and government processes, along with the fundamental theories and tools of sustainable development. It prepares them to work hard and sustain and improve current and future conditions for life on earth. With the rising demand for sustainability consultants, this concentration will help graduates become career-ready. 

#13 Human resource management

Human Resource Management focuses on the policies and systems and the complex laws through which individuals are hired, evaluated, trained, and managed. Students gain the skills and knowledge needed to be effective human resource managers in the public and private sectors. The coursework may include topics like managing government contracting, public employee labor relations, nonprofit change leadership, and public management issues. Students also take classes in HR administration processes, industrial/organizational psychology, group behavior, performance measurement, employee dynamics, and public personnel testing and evaluation. It prepares them for generalist positions as well as for advanced studies in HR. 

#14 Justice administration

The justice administration concentration teaches students about justice program planning, implementation, and evaluation. They get a comprehensive overview of justice processes, organizations, and institutions. The courses help expand their knowledge of various justice subjects and programs. They learn how each of these programs operates in federal and regional contexts. They develop the management skills necessary for effective and fair justice decisions and suitable initiatives. The coursework may include justice leadership, democratic policing, security organizations, and conflict analysis and resolution. Students also take classes in office administration, corrections systems, program assessments, juvenile delinquency, psychology of punishment, and information technology management. 

#15 Organizational policy change and implementation

The organizational policy change and implementation train students to face the challenges facing administrators who work in public management. They gain the managerial and leadership skills to work as a professional administrator within the growing not-for-profit sector or a governmental agency that collaborates with the nonprofit sector. The coursework may include public policy impacts, funding, social marketing, planning, policy formulation, and effective partnership with business and government agencies. Students also examine and identify public problems and implement successful solutions via strategies for successfully implementing those solutions in a competitive policy environment. 

More about the concentrations for MPA programs

What is an MPA program?

The Master of Public Administration Program (MPA) provides high-quality education to a diverse student body who want to go into the public sector. It focuses on the systematic examination and strategies of executive organization and management. It prepares students to serve as public managers in non-profit, local, state, and federal organizations. They engage in scholarly activities and community service that train them to build prosperous and sustainable communities. 

There is an increasing demand for MPA graduates in government, non-profit, business, and non-governmental organizations. MPA programs prepare students to become community, government, organizational and non-profit leaders. Students prepare to serve as senior executives, managers, and policy analysts in local, state, and federal government agencies and business organizations. The comprehensive program emphasizes public services issues and incorporates business and organizational studies to train students for jobs in public administration. 

Admission requirements differ depending on the college. Applicants for Master of Public Administration degree programs must meet each college’s general admission requirements. Aspiring students should always check each program’s requirements before applying. These include some minimum GPA and an accredited bachelor’s degree in the field or related fields. The right MPA programs will prepare graduates for successful careers in law, federal, and local government agencies.

Benefits of MPA degree programs

There are many benefits of earning MPA degree programs. Students get prepared for a variety of jobs in the government, city, and related areas. An MPA degree is sure to increase their chances of getting a good job and positive income potential. 

Most MPA programs require capstone projects or internships that provide students with hands-on learning experiences. They get to demonstrate their knowledge, technical skills, and core competencies. Their choice of a focused concentration also goes a long way to make them career-ready. 

What can you learn in an MPA program?

Students in an MPA program learn about the development, roles, and principles of public administration, public policy, and analysis. Then they learn about their implementation in communities and continuous management. The interdisciplinary program combines the philosophies of related programs like political science and economics, sociology and anthropology, law, and regional planning. Other courses that students can take include accounting and public finance, management and microeconomics, program evaluation and research methods, public administration and policy analysis, ethics and law, statistics, and geographic information systems.

What are the various concentration options for MPA programs?

Students can choose from several MPA concentrations that provide comprehensive training in varied areas of service. These courses cover important areas of study like sustainability planning, ethical considerations, environmental laws, and political perspectives. Students gain the skills and knowledge that prepare them to work and grow in public service careers. These concentrations in public sector fields help students tailor their degrees and prepare for specific careers. These may include environmental policy, emergency management, urban planning, transportation, health care, public health, economic development, international affairs, community development, cultural policy, non-profit management, and criminal justice. The concentrations outlined in detail in this article are:

  • Energy
  • Health Policy
  • Public Financial Administration
  • Community & Economic Development
  • Environmental Policy & Natural Resource Management
  • Information Systems
  • International Development
  • Local Government Management
  • Non-profit Management
  • Policy Studies
  • Public Management
  • Human resource management
  • Justice administration
  • Organizational policy change and implementation
  • Sustainability and Sustainable Development

What are the various careers associated with the MPA concentrations?

  • City Manager – Runs the day-to-day operations of a city or local community.
  • Public Relations and Fundraising Managers in non-profits – create and manage the public image of organizations. 
  • Emergency Management Directors in nonprofits – prepare plans and oversee procedures for responding to natural disasters and other emergencies. 
  • Social and Community Service Managers in non-profits – coordinate and manage programs to support public well-being for various organizations. 
  • Compensation and Benefits Manager in the government – Plan, promote, and supervise programs to pay employees. 
  • Political Scientists in the government – Research and study the origin, evolution, and operation of political systems. 
  • Administrative Service Managers in the government – plan, manage, and coordinate activities to help an organization run efficiently.
  • Urban and Regional Planners in the government – develop land-use projects and programs to help create communities, revitalize physical facilities, and support population growth. 
  • Education Administrators, Kindergarten through Secondary in the field of education – plan, oversee and organize the academic and administrative activities of K12 schools.
  • Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals – Supervise entire school operations and activities. 
  • Postsecondary Education Administrators – Oversee academics, administrative services, student services, and faculty research at colleges and universities. 
  • Preschool and Childcare Center Directors – Supervise and lead staff, oversee daily activities, design program plans, and prepare budgets. 
  • Sales Manager in the private sector – Manage and run sales teams in various organizations.
  • CEO/Top Executives in the private sector and non-profits – plan strategies and policies to ensure that an organization meets its goals
  • Management Analysts in the private sector – plan and recommend ways to improve efficiency in an organization.
  • Real Estate Agents, Property and Community Association Managers in the private sector – take care of the various aspects of commercial, residential, or industrial properties. 
  • Computer and Information Systems Managers in the health field – plan, manage and direct computer-related activities in an organization. 
  • Human Resources Manager in healthcare – plan, coordinate and direct the administrative functions within an organization. 
  • Training and Development Managers in the health field – plan, coordinate and manage skills- and knowledge-enhancement programs for administrative staff. 
  • Medical and Health Services Manager – plan, manage and regulate the business activities of healthcare providers.
  • Architectural and Engineering Managers – design, direct, and manage activities in architectural and engineering companies.
  • Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing managers – plan and promote programs to generate interest and publicize the products or services of an organization. 
  • Financial Analysts and Managers – create financial reports, develop plans for the long-term financial goals and manage investment activities of an organization. 
  • Industrial Production Managers – oversee the daily operations of manufacturing and related plants.
  • Construction Managers – plan, manage, budget, and oversee construction projects. 
  • Farmers, Ranchers, and Other Agricultural Managers – run and manage establishments that produce crops, dairy products, and livestock. 
  • Food Service Managers – run daily operations of restaurants and manage all kinds of food & beverage establishments. 
  • Lodging Managers – ensure that guests have high-quality service. 

How to choose the right MPA concentration?

Students need to research to choose the right MPA program. They should consider the kind of degree offered, the format and flexibility, student support, institutional and programmatic accreditation, and the program’s cost. Applicants should also look into the choice of concentrations to ensure the program offers courses that can help them meet their career goals. Prospective students can make a checklist and choose the right MPA program:

Program features – The format and flexibility of the program are important. Students should look into the school rankings, accreditation, and regional reputation. All these ensure that student graduates with credentials will help them get a strong footing in the industry. 

Coursework – It is important to review the coursework carefully before enrolling in MPA degrees. Choosing the right concentration is important since they need to align with one’s interests and career goals. The program format should ideally blend hands-on and applied learning to prepare graduates for successful careers. MPA is a unique degree because it combines the theory of community and social development with a hands-on approach to building those communities. Students learn the best ways to create modern, inclusive, and sustainable communities for future generations. 

Career outlook – The choice of the right program will ensure that students will get the right jobs and advance their careers. They can gauge the value of the degree and determine the salary potential through their research. Students need to consult with their counselors regularly. Once they have identified the particular career path, they can choose a concentration to help them in their goals. 

Cost – The cost of the program differs from one school to the other. Students can choose from well-recognized programs to the cheapest ones that will not break the bank. However, it is important to note that cheap or affordable does not mean compromising quality. A good number of colleges offer quality education at an affordable price. 

Do MPA programs cost a lot?

The cost of a Master of Public Administration depends on the school and the particular degree program. While it varies from one school to another, the average cost typically ranges between 25,000-35,000. The cost is much higher for top-ranking schools and can be significantly less in affordable colleges. 

Do MPA concentrations add to the overall cost of the program?

Since most schools charge by the credit hour, the concentration courses may add to the program’s overall cost. 

How long does it take to complete an MPA program?

It usually takes two years to complete an MPA degree. Some schools offer a flexible format for working students who may need more time. In such cases, they can complete their degrees in 3-4 years. If the schools allow an accelerated format, they can achieve it sooner. Students can choose to study at a pace that best matches their busy schedules with online or part-time options. 

Is online better than a traditional format?

For working adults seeking a master’s degree in public administration, choosing the right degree in public administration can be challenging. The online or traditional formats may seem different, but they are the same at the core and offer the same high-quality education. Students can experience the same high standards, comprehensive curriculum, and hands-on instruction to prepare for successful careers in public service. The rigorous coursework and instruction methods help students to develop expertise and advance their careers.

The online and on-campus MPA programs provide similar learning experiences except for the mode of delivery. On-campus MPA programs are delivered in traditional classroom settings with face-to-face instruction and direct communication between teachers and students. Some on-campus programs offer graduate assistantships and teaching/research experience, while their online versions may not.

However, there is an increasing demand for online programs, and we see a steady rise in enrolment in that sector. Time is crucial for all graduate students, especially those in a full-time job. They need to balance full-time jobs along with various personal responsibilities with their studies. However, with a 100% online program, they can balance their responsibilities and specialize in a specific area. 

Other advantages of online MPA programs are ease and mobility. Students don’t have to worry about living near campus or distance since they can study anywhere and save time commuting. This also means that they can choose any college without having to worry about resident tuition. They can learn the way they prefer and at their own pace. Once they complete their Master of Public Administration, they can prepare to do fulfilling work that benefits their communities and gain access to leadership roles. They serve the public and address complex issues and challenging social problems through theoretical knowledge and applied skills.

Are MPA degrees in demand?

There is rising demand for MPA graduates though it can vary by jobs and industries. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in general administrative services will grow at a rate of 6% through 2029, which is faster than average. The median annual wage for administrative services was $98,890 as of 2020.

Is an Online MPA Worth it?

Many students ask whether an MPA program is worth the time, especially if it is online. Before pursuing a master’s in public administration online, students need to consult with an admissions counselor or a career counselor. 

As mentioned above, some of the key things to keep in mind are: is the online MPA program accredited? Does it meet the criteria for good jobs? An accredited program is recognized and adds weight to an aspiring job seeker’s resume. Whether one wishes to pursue an advanced program or get into the workforce, an accredited degree will open more doors. 

The curriculum will ensure that students learn the relevant subjects and get trained in work areas that will be beneficial to them in their future careers. 

Sources:

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
U.S. News & World Report

Related Resources:

Bambi Majumdar
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Melissa Anderson
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Julie McCaulley
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