Earning a Master’s in Public Administration Online

What You’ll Learn & What You Can Do After Graduation

Should I Pursue an Online MPA?

A variety of exciting careers in management and leadership can begin by earning an online master's in public administration (MPA). Students enrolled in public administration master's programs develop qualities needed in nonprofit management, community advocacy, and local and state government. Ideal candidates for careers in public administration demonstrate strong leadership, communication, and budgeting skills. Additionally, coursework for an online MPA can help students hone their critical-thinking and time management skills.

Whether a student aspires to a career as a nonprofit manager, budget analyst, or HR manager, earning an MPA degree online can offer students both convenience and affordability. The best online MPA programs include a variety of learning options for students, such as accelerated tracks, discounted tuition, and the option to choose a specialization. As the field's minimum education requirement, a master's in public administration prepares graduates for top careers in emergency management, city management, human resources, and urban and regional planning.

Employment Outlook for MPA Graduates

Master's in Public Administration Salary

Like any occupation, salary and job growth for public administrators varies depending on location and experience. As shown below, California tops the list of the nation's highest paying states for public administrators working in emergency management, followed closely by the District of Columbia. New York, Maryland, and Washington also rank among the top-paying states for emergency management directors. Entry-level emergency management professionals earn an average of $57,000 per year, gradually increasing to an average of $90,000 with 20 years of experience.

Top Paying States for Emergency Management Directors

State Employment Annual Mean Wage
California 940 $125,750
District of Columbia 200 $120,330
New York 630 $100,640
Maryland 90 $99,760
Washington 160 $97,260
United States 9,560 $81,140

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Pay by Experience Level for Emergency Managers

  • Entry-Level (0-5 Years):
    $57,000
  • Mid-Career (5-10 Years):
    $65,000
  • Experienced (10-20 Years):
    $70,000
  • Late-Career (20+ Years):
    $90,000

Source: PayScale

MPA Careers

Focusing on applications in both government and management, online MPA programs prepare students for jobs in business, finance, urban planning, and civic leadership. Graduates of accredited MPA online programs meet industry qualifications for a variety of positions, including emergency management director, HR manager, and budget analyst. Additionally, MPA students make ideal urban and regional planners and nonprofit program coordinators, bringing their unique community-minded leadership skills to these management positions.

Emergency Management Director

Annual Median Salary: $72,760

Projected Growth Rate: 8%

Emergency management directors organize relief and recovery operations for emergencies, including natural disasters. Duties include planning and implementing public safety initiatives and overseeing disaster response training exercises. While professionals only need a bachelor's degree for entry-level positions, candidates who earned an online MPA may qualify for advanced careers in the private sector.

Human Resources Manager

Annual Median Salary: $110,120

Projected Growth Rate: 9%

Human resources managers coordinate and oversee all administrative functions of an organization regarding personnel. They recruit and interview new hires, provide mediation between employers and employees, and manage HR benefit programs. Aspiring HR managers should hold at least a bachelor's degree, though many employers prefer candidates with an MPA or MBA.

Budget Analyst

Annual Median Salary: $75,240

Projected Growth Rate: 7%

Budget analysts help clients develop and maintain a budget for institutional spending and expenses. The majority of budget analysts in the U.S. work for the federal government, though some budget analysts also work in education and state government. Entry-level jobs require a bachelor's degree and field experience, though senior positions in government may require an advanced degree.

Urban and Regional Planners

Annual Median Salary: $71,490

Projected Growth Rate: 13%

These professionals develop land plans for public, residential, and commercial use. They must demonstrate an advanced understanding of several topics covered in an online MPA curriculum, including environmental regulations, business law, and socioeconomics. Aspiring urban and regional planners should hold a master's degree in public administration or planning.

Nonprofit Program Coordinator

Annual Median Salary: $41,510

Projected Growth Rate: N/A

Program coordinators for nonprofit organizations manage social services and programs within their communities. They typically oversee all functions of a nonprofit, including administrative operations, fundraising and development, and outreach and awareness. Nonprofit program coordinators need at least a bachelor's degree and field experience. Some employers prefer candidates with a master's degree in public administration or a related field.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statstics / PayScale

What Can I Expect From an Online MPA Program?

While curricula vary by school and program, online MPA programs typically emphasize leadership and communication skills. Preparing students for a variety of management occupations across the public and private sector, most public administration coursework stresses similar basic skills.

Curriculum for an Online MPA

Public Administration Institutions and Values

This course examines the critical functions of government and the socioeconomic, ethical, and political implications that come with them. Topics include major public service issues, such as health insurance, utilities distribution, and building codes and regulations.

Professional Communication

Essential to any public service leader, professional communication tops the list of critical coursework in an online MPA program. The course covers many aspects of contemporary communication skills, including resume writing, policy requests, and lobbying jargon. Aimed at career advancement, this course teaches students to know their audience and communicate effectively in any situation.

Public Service Leadership

A course in public service leadership prepares students to lead diverse types of organizations by developing interpersonal skills and an understanding of community needs. Coursework in this discipline promotes honesty and engagement in any successful public service career.

Law for Public Administration

This course addresses public administration laws in a way that prepares students for future careers in the industry. Topics include contracts, property rights, mass torts, and due process. Graduates can address many legal issues in positions like public administrator or community advocate.

City and County Management

This course explores the multifaceted nature of city and county management, examining the roles of elected officials and HR and financial managers. Coursework covers budgetary and HR concerns specific to this sector and examines how efficient management can positively impact the public and professional image of a civic manager.

Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Public Administration Prepares For

  • Certified Public Manager: The National Certified Public Manager Consortium (NCPMC) awards CPM certification to applicants who complete an NCPMC-accredited training program. While some aspiring public managers and administrators pursue the CPM credential through a standalone training program in lieu of pursuing an online MPA, most employers prefer candidates with a master's degree in public administration or a related field.

Professional Organizations & Resources

Whether currently employed in public administration or earning an online MPA, students can benefit from the resources provided by professional organizations. Many organizations centered on public administration practitioners offer special membership rates to students, along with perks like networking opportunities, annual conferences and guest speaker events, and access to exclusive job openings.

  • American Society for Public Administration: With an emphasis on continuing education across multiple areas of public service, ASPA serves public administrators and managers in civil service, teaching, science, and art-based fields. The organization offers its members exclusive networking and extended learning opportunities, along with access to ASPA publications.

  • Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management: APPAM serves a membership of more than 2,500 individual members and over 100 institutions, making it one of the country's largest professional organizations of public service workers. Members enjoy access to frequent conferences and guest speaker engagements, exclusive career services, and online continuing learning opportunities.

  • International City/County Management Association: Leading the field as a provider of professional resources for local and regional civil servants, ICMA emphasizes continuing education and networking for elected officials. The organization also offers exclusive career-building services and special membership rates for students, including those enrolled in online MPA programs.

  • American Political Science Association: Since 1903, APSA has remained among the nation's premier political science organizations. Today, the association serves more than 12,000 members spanning 80 countries worldwide. APSA promotes academic initiatives benefiting political scientists, with exclusive access to annual conferences, professional development opportunities, and a jobs board.

  • American Academy of Certified Public Managers: Governed by ASPA, this organization promotes the ethical practice of social services among managers in the public sector. AACPM offers membership to a variety of applicant categories, including certified public managers and emerging professionals. Membership benefits include scholarship and award eligibility and discounted webinars and guest lectures.

  • Herbert Roback Memorial Scholarship: Among several awards offered by the National Academy of Public Administration, this scholarship uniquely supports students pursuing traditional or online MPA programs or a related field of study at the graduate level.

  • International City/County Management Association: ICMA emphasizes unique career and learning opportunities for emerging professionals in the industry, including personal coaching, talent development, and internship opportunities.

  • National Academy of Public Administration: Another organization offering a wealth of resources to aspiring public administrators, NAPA features fellowship opportunities, along with information about academic programs and focus areas in public service careers.

  • Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation: Ideal for students enrolled in an online MPA or related field, the Truman Scholarship incentivizes graduate education and career prep for students interested in public service, nonprofit management, government, or education.