Careers in Public Administration

The field of public administration includes a wide range of career paths and job possibilities. By earning your Master of Public Administration, you will build the foundation you need to pursue these paths with skills in policy and program evaluation, financial management and budgeting, and policy development.

Explore a few of the possible career paths available to graduates with this degree:

Nonprofit Careers
Government Careers
Public Policy Careers
Private Sector Careers

MPA Careers in the Nonprofit Sector

There are more than 1.5 million tax-exempt organizations in the United States1. Each of these organizations needs professionals with leadership, passion and a strong foundation in public administration to produce tangible solutions and create a positive impact in their communities.

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How Can an MPA Help Me Enter the Nonprofit Field?

Working at a nonprofit requires both the ability to evaluate and manage new programs and policies and the ability to allocate funds, manage a team and run your organization in a way that ensures those policies and proposals are implemented effectively.

USC Price’s online MPA program will prepare you to do both. Specifically, you will learn to:

  • Interact with boards and inter-sectoral stakeholders
  • Run fundraising and marketing initiatives
  • Manage groups of volunteers and employees

What Nonprofit Roles Can I Pursue with an MPA?

Over the decade following the 2008 economic recession, nonprofits added jobs at a rate that was nearly four times greater than for-profit businesses.2 In 2016, there were nearly 12.3 million jobs available in nonprofit organizations.3

With a steady growth rate even in times of recession, nonprofit professionals have a competitive edge in the job market. Some of the nonprofit roles you can pursue include:

Public Relations and Fundraising Manager
Median pay: $111,280 | Job growth, 2016–26: 10% (faster than average)4

An integral part of the nonprofit world is fundraising and self-promotion — which is why public relations and fundraising managers are needed to coordinate the campaigns that attract donors to their organization.

These professionals may be tasked with identifying and contacting potential donors, creating and executing events, applying for grants, and supervising staff.

Medical and Health Services Manager
Median pay: $98,350  | Job growth, 2016–26: 20% (much faster than average)5

If you’re interested in both health care and public administration, a role as a health services manager might be ideal for you. These professionals plan, direct and coordinate medical and health services for entire health facilities, clinics or departments.

To be a successful health services manager, you must be informed on the newest health care laws, regulations and technology.

Social and Community Service Manager
Median pay: $64,100| Job growth, 2016–26: 18% (much faster than average)6

Professionals in this field are responsible for the coordination and supervision of social services or community organizations. By working with community members and other stakeholders, they are able to create, implement and maintain effective social initiatives. This may include writing proposals, analyzing data or overseeing day-to-day administrative duties.

 

Postsecondary Education Administrator
Median pay: $92,360 | Job growth, 2016–26: 10% (faster than average)7

Public administration professionals who want to pass on their expertise to a new generation may find their calling as a public administration postsecondary educator.

At a master’s level, you may be hired as a part-time educator, but to pursue a tenured position, you should be prepared to earn a doctoral degree.

The USC Price Online MPA in Action: Nonprofit Careers

Our online MPA students and graduates have access to a wealth of resources, including USC Price’s Center on Philanthropy and Public Policy — which conducts public policy research, hosts speaker series and conversations, and holds forums and roundtables on these topics.

Additionally, with alumni in almost every major U.S. metropolitan area, MPA graduates can find support for their efforts nearly everywhere they look. Some of our alumni have gone on to work for major nonprofit organizations, such as United Way and the Clinton Foundation.

1 National Center for Charitable Statistics, 2016 
2 Nonprofit Economic Data Project, 2018 
3 "Nonprofits account for..." BLS, 2018
4 "Public Relations and Fundraising Managers" BLS, 2018 
5 "Medical and Health Services Managers" BLS, 2018
6 "Social and Community Service Managers" BLS, 2018 
7 "Postsecondary Education Administrators" BLS, 2018

“Ultimately, I would like to be executive director of a nonprofit. I think that the MPA program definitely gives you the skills to be able to move forward in that trajectory.”

- Jessica Ureña, '15, Sr. Manager of Special Projects, LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes

MPA Careers in Government

Government careers are varied and wide ranging — from a children’s social worker to a detective for the FBI or CIA. With an MPA from USC Price, you have the power to enact change at the highest level or help implement that change on the ground.

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How Can an MPA Help Me to Do Government Work?

Leadership skills and a strong understanding of public administration processes are crucial at every level of government.

With our City/County Management certificate, which includes courses like Collaborative Governance and Public Financial Management, you can equip yourself to create solutions to the public’s most prevalent issues. Specifically, you will graduate with skills like:

  • Cost-effective public service planning
  • Social policy development
  • Strategic decision-making

What Government Roles Can I Pursue With an MPA?

Did you know that the government is the largest employer in the country? In 2017, there were more than 21 million people employed by federal, state or local government in the United States.8 As an MPA holder, your options in this industry are varied. Some of the government roles you can pursue include:

Budget Analyst
Median pay: $75,240 | Job growth, 2016–26: 7% (as fast as average)9

Budget analysts help institutions organize their finances by compiling budget reports and supervising spending. These professionals must be analytical and detail-oriented with strong communication skills. To become a government budget analyst, you must earn the Certified Government Financial Manager credential first.

Administrative Services Manager
Median pay: $94,020 | Job growth, 2016–26: 10% (faster than average)10

Administrative services managers plan, direct and coordinate within government agencies to help them run smoothly. While their specific responsibilities vary, the average administrative services manager can expect to maintain facilities and supervise office activities.

 

Law Enforcement Officer or Detective
Median pay: $62,960 | Job growth, 2016–26: 7% (as fast as average)11

Law enforcement officers and detectives protect the public from criminal behavior. While many work in urban areas, they can also work for federal government agencies such as the FBI, the DEA or the U.S. Secret Service.

The USC Price Online MPA in Action: Government Careers

Many of our alumni work in local and state government — including for the city of La Mesa, California; the city of South Pasadena, California; and the California State Assembly.

8 "Occupational Employment Statistics" BLS, 2018
9 "Budget Analysts" BLS, 2018
10 "Administrative Services Managers" BLS, 2018
11 "Police and Detectives" BLS, 2018

“[USC Price’s MPA] allowed me to do a little analysis when I was prepping for interviewing for my current job. I brought in a binder full of my coursework [to the interview] because I wanted to show them the types of things I could do in this position. Quite frankly, I just couldn’t have done that without my MPA.”

Laura Albers, '15, Executive Director, Central Coast State Parks Association

MPA Careers in Public Policy

Successful public policy professionals stay attuned to public needs, craft solutions to those needs and implement solutions despite intergovernmental fiscal pressures, regulations and a complex political process.

Our online MPA program is designed to equip you with the critical-thinking, analytical-reasoning, leadership and problem-solving skills you’ll need to navigate this process. In fact, the Price School is ranked in the top 10 among public affairs schools for its education in public policy analysis.12

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How Can an MPA Help Me Enter the Public Policy Field?

Successful public policy analysts must be able to forge relationships — whether that be in neighborhoods, between businesses, within nonprofit organizations or at city hall. USC Price’s online MPA program will teach you to do just that. Through our Public Policy certificate, you will take courses like The Foundations of Public Policy Analysis and Civic Engagement. Specifically, you will graduate with skills in:

  • Strategic decision-making and planning in public agencies
  • Policy design, implementation, evaluation or termination
  • Analysis of ethical issues in public policy

What Public Policy Roles Can I Pursue With an MPA?

Public policy professionals can work across multiple sectors, including with or for government agencies, nonprofit organizations or private corporations.

Approximately 13 percent of USC MPA graduates work within the public policy field (2014 Employment Survey of USC MPA), though many public policy concentration graduates leverage their specialized expertise in other sectors.

Some of the roles you can pursue include:

Political Scientist
Median pay: $115,110 | Job growth, 2016–26: 3% (slower than average)13

Political scientists deal extensively with the theory and practice of politics to analyze government policies, political trends and public administration issues. They might also forecast political, economic and social trends or work as policy analysts.

The median pay for a political scientist is $115,110 — but the top 10 percent earn more than $161,890 per year.14 Salaries for political scientists depend on the focus of their careers, which may be federal government, private services or educational institutions. These experts will be needed at research and policy organizations, though they may face strong competition for roles.

 

Legislator
Median pay: Varied | Job growth, 2016–26: Varied

As elected officials, legislators are tasked with representing their states by creating, modifying and implementing laws.

They work within the government — but unlike many other government careers, their responsibilities are constituent-facing and lie within the realm of public policy. As elections come and go, effective, dependable and strategic legislators will always be needed.

Legislators do not have set salaries and they can vary widely between states. Salaries can range anywhere from $7,200 per year in Texas to $90,526 per year in California.15

The USC Price Online MPA in Action: Public Policy Careers

Many of our alumni currently work in public policy settings, including the Los Angeles Business Council, the California Building Industry Association and the Families in Schools organization

12 U.S. News & World Report, 2019
13 "Political Scientists" BLS, 2017
14 "Political Scientists - Pay" BLS, 2018
15 National Conference of State Legislatures, 2014

“I like what I’m doing, and the biggest reason that [I got this degree was] to do what I’m doing better. The MPA program will empower me to better serve my community.”

Thomas Bazan, '18, Assistant Deputy Director for Research, Illinois Legislative Research Unit

MPA Careers in the Private Sector

Today’s private corporations need professionals who have the leadership skills, analytical mindset and strong communication ability to help create innovative solutions and better grapple with global conversations at a business level.

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How Can an MPA Help Me Enter the Private Sector?

Though an MPA may not seem like the first choice for a private sector career compared to other professional degrees, you will graduate particularly qualified for private institutions that serve public sector organizations — such as pharmaceuticals, law firms or government contracting.

In addition, an MPA can be useful as consumer interest grows in social missions, ethics and transparency. Many modern private organizations are blending for-profit business models with public service ideals — providing opportunities for MPA graduates.


What Private Sector Roles Can I Pursue With an MPA?

The private sector is so extensive and wide-ranging that it’s difficult to calculate the number of MPA graduates working in the field.

However, approximately 16 percent of 2014 USC MPA graduates work with consulting firms, leveraging their passion for public service into a private sector role (2014 Master of Public Administration Employment Profile).

Some of the roles you can pursue include:

Top Executive
Median pay: $104,700 | Job growth, 2016–26: 8% (as fast as average)16

Top executives work in nearly every sector and in a variety of departments. They are tasked with leading organizations by developing strategy and policy and coordinating staff allocation to meet organizational goals. Top executives can include chief executive officers (CEOs), chief operating officers (COOs) or chief financial officers (CFOs).

Human Resources Manager
Median pay: $110,120 | Job growth, 2016–26: 9% (as fast as average)17

Organizations need a human resources department to ensure their teams are working together smoothly, and every human resources department needs a leader. HR managers are in charge of planning, directing and coordinating administrative functions; recruiting and hiring; and strategic planning for the organization.

 

Management Analyst
Median pay: $82,450 | Job growth, 2016–26: 14% (faster than average)18

Management analysts are consultants. They work with companies or firms to improve organizational efficiency and profitability, gathering information and analyzing strategies to solve issues or help companies seize opportunities. Analysis can include financial data, personnel interviews or on-site observation.

The USC Price Online MPA in Action: Private Sector Careers

Many of our alumni work in private sector roles, including for companies like Deloitte, GoPro and Booz Allen Hamilton.

16 "Top Executives" BLS, 2019
17 "Human Resources Managers" BLS, 2018
18 "Management Analysts" BLS, 2018

“Consulting firms have case interviews, and they walk you through these elaborate cases where you have to solve a client problem. Because I had just walked out of my capstone [when I interviewed] — which was essentially a consulting project — I was able to take the lead in the [interview]. It was really helpful to know how to walk through a problem and to identify methodologies and criteria.”

Tayo Adeyefa, '15, Senior Consultant, Deloitte

Move Your Public Service Career Forward

Learn more about USC Price’s Master of Public Administration online program today.