GETTING AHEAD WITH EDUCATION
Furthering your education with a degree that focuses on management and leadership along with other skills that transfer easily from industry to industry sounds like a home run, but is that an MPA or an MBA?
After getting a bachelor’s degree, the big question of “what’s next” makes the future seem all but appealing. With so many options, it can be hard to figure out what’s right for you and what fits with the degree you already have. For many students looking to take on the corporate world, an MBA seems like the clear path, but is it?
The prerequisites for this degree often overlap with the prerequisites for an MPA. An MPA is often defined as the private sector’s version of an MBA—a degree driven by private sector motivations. So what really is the difference between the two? Well, maybe a better question would be, what are the public and private sectors, and how do they operate differently? What are their motives?
Of course, it’s hard to talk about industries as a whole without a certain caveat: not all business are alike, and not all governments have the same motivations. But, in general and in theory, they have some defining characteristics that differentiate themselves from their counterparts in the respective sectors.
One thing each sector does have in common, though, is that they’re working for a certain group of people—they each have an audience. That audience is their motivation; what they aim to do for that audience is differentiating.
MBA: PRIVATE SECTOR MANAGEMENT
In the corporate world the audience is the consumer and the motivation is to get them to spend money. The strategy and management of these private sector corporations and businesses are where an MBA would come into play: defined as a graduate degree that “that provides theoretical and practical training to help graduates gain a better understanding of general business management functions”, the MBA learns towards students who are “motivated by profit and growth, and if you’re fascinated by the inner workings of economies, finance, operations and customer development of corporations, an MBA may be more in line with what you want.”
MPA: PUBLIC SECTOR MANAGEMENT
So if that’s what an MBA looks like, then an MPA is pretty similar—except for the audience. In the public sector, the target audience is the voter, the taxpayer, the citizen. The goal of government organizations, rather that making a profit, is to build a stronger community with programs and policies that work to create stability in the community and the economy that surrounds that community. The management of government agencies relies on the same efficiency that private businesses do, and a need for strategic planning exists in both sectors. The opportunity to learn and hone these skills are apparent in both an MPA and an MBA, but the audience those skills target change between the two.
So what is the difference between the two degrees? The audience changes between sectors, and so does the motivation and definition of success. If the skills stay the same, they can be transferred between industries. But when the student’s motivations change, that’s when the true difference comes out. Serving the public in a direct way, or through an efficient business that stimulates the economy—which sticks out to you?
WHERE CAN AN MPA TAKE YOU?
If you said serving the public, an MPA is a great choice. If you said stimulating the economy, there’s more good news: an MPA could work for you, too. A Master’s in Public Administration is often a less expensive way into the world of business management and administration, and it provides a long list of options for post-graduate working life. From government and nonprofit work all the way into the private sector, an MPA gives students the skills they need to thrive in a modern and competitive workforce.