Launch a Career in Public Service With an MPA

The Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery, Alabama

The Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery, Alabama

America is often referred to as the land of opportunity where anything is possible through hard work and dedication. Ask any elementary school class what they’d like to be when they grow up, and there are bound to be a few students who reply, “The President of the United States.” Whether they know it or not, these students are perhaps signaling an early interest in a public service career. Within the United States, the public sector employs millions of professionals, including civil rights workers, city managers, government affairs directors and — yes — the president.  

What Is Public Service?

To better understand the impact of the public service workforce, Dr. Michael Slobodchikoff, Associate Professor at Troy University and Department Chair for the Department of Political Science, provides key insights about what public service jobs are and what a public administration career entails.

Dr. Michael Slobodchikoff

“A public service professional is someone who works for the government or a nonprofit organization,” he explains. “Mostly, these are people who work for the government at the state or federal level in a variety of positions. Often, we forget how many positions there are in government that aid in its function and help those who need government resources gain access to them.” 

Analysis by 24/7 Wall Street reported that while government employment as a share of total employment has fallen, government employees represented about 19% of the U.S. workforce in 2017. Over 12% of jobs in the U.S. are at the federal level and another 23% are at the state level. The nonprofit sector also contributes as a major employer of public service professionals. In 2016, nonprofit employment accounted for 10.2% of the U.S. private workforce, making it the third largest workforce in the U.S., tied with manufacturing.

Careers In Public Service

Careers in public service are not limited to one industry, providing a broad range of opportunities for virtually every interest.

Because there are so many options, there are different shapes that a career in public administration can take. The following are just a few examples of jobs available within the public sector:

  • Federal, state and local government administrators
  • Nonprofit managers and directors
  • City managers 
  • Community services managers 
  • Immigrant support specialists
  • Veterans services administrator
  • Program manager, coordinator for a nonprofit organization
  • Emergency management directors 
  • Grants manager
  • Government affairs director

While public service careers can take many different forms, one entry-level position is common when getting started in the field, according to Dr. Slobodchikoff.

“A lot of entry-level positions are in human resources in government, such as clerks and associates,” he says. “One of the real benefits of the program at TROY is that it requires an internship, giving people real-world experience in the public sector, which then gives them a leg up for that next job.”

If you are considering a career in public service, you need to keep a few things in mind when it comes to choosing a graduate program that will advance your career or help you pursue a new professional opportunity. 

  • First, selecting a program that provides real-world experience is important to developing the well-rounded skills you need, and it could put you ahead when it comes to promotion or competing for a new job. 
  • Second, as working adults embrace online learning initiatives that allow them to balance jobs, education and other responsibilities, choosing a university with experience in providing a flexible, effective and impactful curriculum online is key. 
  • Finally, evaluating which specific advanced credential will best meet your career and personal goals is important before choosing any program. 

Both a master’s degree in public administration (MPA) program or an MPA certificate can hone and shine the spotlight on valuable in-demand skills for public sector employment. Your personal goals and where you are in your career can help determine which one to choose.

What Is An MPA?

The MPA is a graduate degree that focuses on leadership in public administration and nonprofit management. 

Similar to an MBA program, students in an MPA program develop business and management skills, but that’s where the similarity ends: each degree prepares you for very different careers. While students in an MBA program may focus on business skills that generate greater profits, MPA students focus on developing skills that enhance the greater good.  

In TROY’s MPA program, you do learn traditional “business” skills like management, financing, and strategy, but you’ll also delve into skills that prepare you to make a difference — whether that’s in your local community, state, or federal government. Coursework typically covers public institutional values, sociology, administrative analysis, theory of organizations and public policy — to name just a few. Additional classes may include governmental budgeting and financial management, law and public administration, and ethics, one of the most important components of any type of public service job. 

Ashley Rodgers, a 2020 graduate of the MPA program, says that even though she had an undergraduate background in health, she didn’t want to be limited to one subject area or skill. “The MPA degree track provides knowledge across multiple subject areas such as public policy, budgeting and finance, human resources, leadership, and research methods. I also had the option of choosing electives that sparked my interest, in areas like contracts and negotiations and administrative law. I believe this variety of course offerings provided the best opportunity to develop the knowledge to take on leadership roles across all industries.”

MPA Degree Vs. MPA Certificate

In contrast, the MPA certificate offered at TROY is an option often used by professionals who are currently working in government, and whose employer is paying for them to gain specific skills.

“These students need help in advancement through their careers and don’t necessarily need a degree,” explains Dr. Slobodchikoff. “The benefit of getting a certificate is those classes transfer into the master’s program. That way, students will have fewer classes to complete in order to earn their master’s degree later on.”

Experienced Faculty: A Hallmark Of The TROY MPA Online Program  

In addition to the skills and knowledge that come with advanced education, public service professionals can expect better overall job performance by participating in programs that bring real-world experience and applications to the curriculum. 

Many of TROY’s instructors have direct experience within the public administration field. This ensures that the University doesn’t simply take a theoretical approach, but provides students with real-world knowledge.

“We have a lot of people who are teaching as a second career, meaning they’ve had full careers in government service before they started teaching at TROY,” says Dr. Slobodchikoff. “Many of the instructors still have contacts in the industry who are able to help students succeed. In our department, we also have a lot of alumni contacts that maintain a relationship with the department and help students with internships and job placement after they receive their degrees.”

Rodgers valued the real world emphasis of the program. She said that most of her assignments and discussions in each course were based on actual scenarios and case studies. “In my Public Policy course, I was required to identify a new problem area in my community and develop my policy solutions to address those issues. As a public administrator, this is something I will be faced with daily. I must identify the problem, create solutions and recommendations, then implement them. I also had several courses that incorporated TedTalks to add another fun element to learning compared to strictly textbooks.”

The focus on real-world experience allows students in the program to gain exposure to their chosen career path prior to graduation. It also better prepares graduates to handle the responsibilities of the job from day one, wherever their careers take them.

“I think that TROY has a very wide variety of classes within the public administration program,” Dr. Slobodchikoff reflects. “It has a lot of specialties from human resources to public health and other areas, so it really benefits our students in that they get a very unique approach. They don’t just get one kind of structured curriculum; they definitely get a wide exposure to the field and that really benefits them.”

Built-In Flexibility

In addition to real-world experience, many students today are looking for flexible class schedules with effective online tools for curriculum delivery and class engagement. According to U.S. News and World Report, TROY has some of the best online programs for students in 2020.

“I think that TROY is really a unique institution,” says Dr. Slobodchikoff. “If you look across TROY’s curriculum and background, the University was really at the cutting edge of online programs and developed these programs online before anyone else did, which means we’ve got years of experience doing it right.”

With the employment disruptions caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, many more students are looking for high-quality online programs that can effectively deliver the graduate education needed to reach career advancement goals or switch to new careers. Because TROY has an extensive background in online education, the University is better equipped to handle the unique demands of virtual learning in the post-coronavirus world.

Internship Opportunities: A Resume And Career Enhancer

In the TROY MPA program, students are required to complete an internship if they don’t already have at least one year in a paraprofessional, professional, technical or supervisory capacity related to the field. 

Moreover, the required internship for completing the MPA program at TROY is supplemented by an internship class where the real-world experiences gained through the internship are brought into the online classroom to highlight the skills students have developed or are building. This helps students better understand how their internship experience relates to their larger career goals.

Not only are internships a requirement in order to graduate from TROY’s MPA program, but the University plays an active role in placing students in available internships.

“TROY’s department has an internship coordinator who manages internships, determines students’ eligibility, maintains a database of available internships and works with students on placement,” explains Dr. Slobodchikoff.

What It Takes To Succeed In Public Service  

Working in public service jobs requires certain unique skills and characteristics; chief among them are idealism and altruism.

“I think to a certain extent, people have to be idealists to be drawn to this line of work,” says Dr. Slobodchikoff. “As we well know, you get paid much more in the private sector than you do in the public sector. It’s certainly not for everybody, but it is a very rewarding experience.”

Rodgers says she chose to go into public administration because she has a passion for making a difference in underserved communities. “I am someone who prefers to be well-rounded and balance multiple interests and passions at once. Therefore, I wanted a career that provided versatility and flexibility to move across all industries, sectors, and subjects,” she adds.

In addition, those who excel within the public services sector require strong writing, communication and interpersonal skills. Public administrators must also be effective in time management and be able to adhere to strict deadlines. They must be excellent planners, but they also need the agility and skill to adapt and respond to the unexpected. One of the most important qualities in public service, however, is the ability to provide exceptional customer and community service. 

“You have to have a love for what you’re doing and a love for humanity and its citizens in general,” Dr. Slobodchikoff notes.

Rodgers agrees saying, “As public servants, our job is to do what is in the public’s best interest. This program taught me how to think critically, adapt to sudden changes, analyze the problem, and create solutions to fix it. I was able to tackle real-world scenarios and case studies within the curriculum, making it easier for me to apply the knowledge to my job.”

Those planning a career in public service will also need to have a solid understanding of ethics, especially as they apply to government and public policy.

Gaining and keeping the public trust is always an important challenge. “At a time when people’s faith in government is at a low point, that’s especially important,” stresses Dr. Slobodchikoff.

As with most jobs today, technology plays an important role in public service. Administrators need to learn about new technologies and innovations, and their implications on society as a whole. Especially following the coronavirus pandemic, the most successful public service professionals were those who were able to embrace the challenges associated with hosting virtual meetings and using technology to communicate quickly and effectively with their communities. With society facing new challenges every day and with new technology constantly entering the workplace, it’s essential that public service professionals be adaptable enough to learn about and use these solutions effectively.  

Challenges Of Working In Public Administration

As with any profession, public service professionals face unique challenges on the job. According to Dr. Slobodchikoff, one of the biggest challenges associated with public administration work is the opportunity for career advancement.

“People who have a bachelor’s degree tend to have a ceiling for how far they can advance in government, but with a master’s, they can go much further,” he explains. “In the 1950s, it was enough to have a high school diploma as your basic degree. That has changed over time — now the bachelor’s degree is the entrance requirement and you need a master’s degree and advanced education to move forward in your career.”

While a master’s degree may improve your career advancement, it can also increase your earning potential over time. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), professionals within the public sector can expect to significantly increase their earnings by possessing a master’s degree. Since the public services field encompasses a wide variety of opportunities, salaries vary considerably depending on your specific professional sector as well as your experience level. According to the job site, the average salary for jobs related to public administration can range anywhere from $39,700 yearly for entry-level administrative assistants to $85,000 for program managers to over $100,000 for development directors and other executive positions in public service.

In addition to advancement, another challenge for public sector workers is managing their expectations for enacting meaningful change quickly. This is where idealism sometimes conflicts with reality: The wheels of progress turn slowly — especially in government positions. However, with enough skill and more than a little tenacity — public servants can make a significant impact on their communities and leave a long-lasting positive effect on their fellow citizens.

Job Outlook For Public Service Professionals

After the COVID-19 pandemic hit and civil unrest took hold in the United States, the relationship between public sector workers and U.S. citizens has become somewhat strained. However, despite the current climate, the BLS projects job growth for public service professionals to climb faster than the national average. 

Dr. Slobodchikoff agrees with the BLS findings, citing an aging U.S. population and a need for veteran services as two contributing factors to the growth in public service career opportunities.

“I think it’s a growing career field and is one that’s necessary,” he states. “We tend to forget that the government is necessary for many services that people require.”

Ready To Consider A Career In Public Service?

When choosing a graduate MPA online program for a public service career, you need a solution that offers real-world experience, flexible class schedules, internship opportunities and robust online tools. A public service career requires that you have certain skills, characteristics and educational experiences in order to succeed in whatever specific career path you choose. You’ll need excellent communication and leadership skills — and the kind of pragmatic idealism that allows you to work for the public good and get the job done. 

TROY’s MPA program and MPA certificate incorporate these key aspects into the curriculum, providing you with a well-rounded education and a launching pad for a rewarding career in public administration.

Rodgers feels the MPA program at TROY offered an inclusive and supportive environment saying, “If you are looking for a place where you will be challenged to think critically, receive support from faculty members, and develop valuable leadership skills, this is the program for you.” 

She offers some advice for anyone considering an MPA. “Always be a constant learner,” she says. “There is a broad range of opportunities in public administration. Do not be afraid to explore them and step outside of your comfort zone to take on leadership roles.”

If you’d like to learn more about public service or TROY’s MPA program or certificate, please visit the MPA program page on our website.