Understanding the Value of the MPA and MPP Degree

What are the benefits to a degree that puts you on a government career track?
by | March 13, 2013
 

In today’s competitive job market, holding a master’s degree is a valuable tool to have when marketing yourself and to a good-paying career. And if you’re already in a job you enjoy, an advanced degree can put you in a better position for promotions, better pay, and recognition within your organization or among your peers. But given the high cost of a master’s degree in public administration (MPA) or public policy (MPP), as well as certificate and executive programs, does the benefit of seeking one outweigh its costs?

An MPA/MPP degree vs job experience

You might be tempted to consider substituting on-the-job experience for a master’s degree. And while the knowledge you gain at each job you hold is invaluable, MPA and MPP programs help you take a step back and see the bigger picture, a big plus for out-of-the-box thinking.

“One of the things employers often comment on is they’re looking for someone who can see the big picture of things and understand connections between things and put a better analytic framework on things than someone who just went to college,” says National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) Executive Director Laurel McFarland. “A lot of learning on the job is what I’d call specific human capital—how this agency or office does something. What a degree does, typically, is it teaches you how to take a few steps back from a particular workplace and teaches you how to do [for example] budgeting in a more general setting…you understand what you’re doing and learning on the job in a broader context.”

Benefits for current civil servants

If you’re already a civil servant and have accumulated a wealth of on-the-job knowledge, there is still benefit in the MPA/MPP degree, certificate or executive education programs. A significant portion of those who return to school for a master’s degree are seeking to advance in their careers, specifically into leadership positions. And often times, you can’t rely on your current job to give you the skills necessary to lead an organization. According to McFarland, at some point, many employees recognize that “they haven’t had the kind of leadership development training that they need to not just do their job but to lead people, and not just lead people but to help an organization envision where they want to go.” When you’re a front-line employee, these skills aren’t as important as when you become a manager.

What value do former MPA/MPP students see in their degrees?

I asked two MPA and two MPP graduates in varying public positions what value they place on their graduate education. Click each name below to learn more.

  • Adrianne Berman, federal employee
  • Gayle Glanville, senior development officer, Northeast Ohio Medical University (Glanville previously held positions with The Ohio State University, College of Wooster and City of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio)
  • Tim McNish, career consultant, Jewish Family Services, Columbus, Ohio (McNish previously worked with Ohio local schools, in workforce development, and on an AmeriCorps assignment)
  • Adam Roberts, senior community development analyst, St. Louis County

Adrianne Berman, federal employee

Why did you decide to pursue an MPP degree?

When I went to college, I knew I was going to pursue a Political Science degree and likely wanted to work in some level of government…. However, I figured that my destined path would be to go to law school. Luckily, I had a great undergraduate advisor who…encouraged me to look at my university’s five-year combined BA/MPP program. I knew that I wanted to work in government and he convinced me that this degree would give me the skills needed to succeed in any level of government, more so than a law degree would.

What were some of the most valuable things you learned in your MPP program?

While I learned statistics and cost-benefit analysis, the lessons learned about the day-to-day workings of the federal government, as opposed to Congress and the political process, which I learned about while completing my BA, were more helpful than learning how to use STATA and what valuations to put on a cost or a benefit.

How has your degree helped you thus far in your career?

I think that my MPP degree helped me to understand the inner workings of government and made me feel confident that I could excel in a government career.

Is there anything you didn’t learn during your MPP program that you wish you had?

I wish that there had been a larger emphasis on the regulatory process as opposed to the policy making process.

Considering the time and cost to obtain your degree, do you think it was worth it?

Yes, I certainly think that pursuing my MPP was worth the cost and time, especially when compared to pursuing a JD in this current climate. I was able to quickly and easily find a job and have found other since graduating from my program, so I think that is a big sign of success.

Gayle Glanville, senior development officer, Northeast Ohio Medical University (Glanville previously held positions with The Ohio State University, College of Wooster and City of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio)

Why did you decide to pursue an MPA degree?

I was having no luck finding a position teaching elementary school….Public administration was suggested by a mentor as a field that would help me serve my community along the lines of teaching.

What were some of the most valuable things you learned in your MPA program?

Professionally, I learned economics and budgeting from Francios Doamekpor. I am now able to make arguments for the sorts of programs necessary to do my job well.

How has your degree helped you thus far in your career?

I don’t think that gaining an education is the same as getting training. If one is trained to do a job there can be a clear delineation of pre-training incompetence and post-training mastery. Education is not like that. Education should expand and open the mind, allowing ideas in and out freely. My MPA experience certainly added to my ability to think critically, evaluate ideas, argue esoteric concepts and simply agree to disagree without raised voices.

What lessons do you regularly apply to your work that you learned during your MPA program?

We spent quite a lot of time in collaborative learning environments, and those lessons have served me very well through the years.

Considering the time and cost to obtain your degree, do you think it was worth it?

Oh, absolutely. The degree has added to my salary through the years, has added to my ability to do my job well, and has added to my prestige with my peers in the academic world in which I choose to work. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Tim McNish, career consultant, Jewish Family Services, Columbus, Ohio (McNish previously worked with Ohio local schools, in workforce development, and on an AmeriCorps assignment)

Why did you decide to pursue an MPA degree?

I…lost my job as a manager of an auto rental agency when the company went out of business. I decided that a career in the public sector or social services would better fit my values. I had an interest in social work and while researching my options, decided that my interest in non-profit work, my business degree and minor in political science would market well with an MPA. I felt that in the long run, it could provide more career versatility than the social work degree.

What were some of the most valuable things you learned in your MPA program?

My studies in public finance, public policy and organizational theory provided me with the ability to understand the bigger picture with regard to the programs that I have been involved with….I studied grant-writing during my MPA program and have written grants and contributed to grant-writing and program design/development in all of my positions. These skills have allowed me to contribute to my employers above and beyond the specific responsibilities of my positions and provided me with opportunities to broaden my experience.

How has your degree helped you thus far in your career?

It provided me with the credentials and skills required to change the direction of my career and enter the human services field. It has helped me to be creative in my positions to be a part of program design and development and take on leadership roles, both formally and informally.

What lessons do you regularly apply to your work that you learned during your MPA program?

Really being able to see the bigger picture….It helped me to recognize that change is constant and adaptability is critical to long-term success.

Considering the time and cost to obtain your degree, do you think it was worth it?

There was no question that it was well worth it to me. Shortly after graduating, I was able to find a career that fit my values and passions. I tried but was unable to achieve that goal prior to entering graduate school. The degree is unique among colleagues and has given me a valuable perspective to share with management, peers, and clients.

Adam Roberts, senior community development analyst, St. Louis County

What were some of the most valuable things you learned in your MPP program?

The environment in which policy actors perform is constantly changing and in order to produce accurate and impactful results, policy must be analyzed from every possible angle.

How has your degree helped you thus far in your career?

There have been countless times where the tools I acquired through the MPP helped me to work through challenging projects and difficult situations. I have also been portrayed as a policy resource within my department and by other public and private partners in the St. Louis Region.

What lessons do you regularly apply to your work that you learned during your MPP program?

Policy analysis is the primary tool that I learned while receiving my MPP that I use every day.…Everyday tools such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping and quantitative data analysis techniques I developed in graduate school have also enhanced my policy making effectiveness tremendously.

Is there anything you didn’t learn during your MPP program that you wish you had?

The one thing I really wished I would have learned more about during my MPP program was local government financing mechanisms.

Considering the time and cost to obtain your degree, do you think it was worth it?

I do think the time and money invested into obtaining my MPP degree was well worthwhile. I really feel this way because of the tools I acquired and understanding of the world around me that I gained.

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