4 MPA Degree Careers in Your City That You Can Pursue

Earning a Master’s of Public Administration degree can help you gain additional skills and knowledge necessary for greater career opportunities. For example, if you want to become a City Manager, Police Chief, or Planning Commissioner, you’ll want to follow a plan and gain advantages wherever possible. Earning an MPA could be the next step that helps you reach your aspirations and employment goals.

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One major benefit of working within the realm of public administration is the wide variety of distinct careers where public management skills are essential. Police, parks administrators, and local government analysts all fall under the umbrella of public administration, making this a diverse and fulfilling employment field. An MPA can help those already working in the public sector advance their career, as well as give those considering a switch to public service employment a competitive advantage. The MPA curriculum will teach you about public organizations, how policy analysis leads to program changes, what constitutes accountability to the public and prepare you through critical-thinking, communication, and leadership activities, all of which are necessary for the most successful public administration careers.

If you want to work for the betterment of your community, and you gravitate towards this knowledge, perspective and skill sets, then you may want to pursue the following public administration careers.

Policy/Program Analyst

As the title suggests, these public administration professionals analyze the function, efficiency, and budget of new and programs, or evaluate the effectiveness of existing policies. It’s a first step leadership position with considerable autonomy, with plentiful positions available at the local, state, and federal levels of government. Analysts ensure public interests and budgets are managed responsibly. Program analysts rely on expert agency knowledge, critical thinking, good judgment and organizational skills to find the best solutions to recurring and unique problems that commonly arise in government work. They earn between $40,000-$68,000 a year, with excellent benefits, and employment is predicted to grow at an average rate over the next 10 years.

City Manager

City Managers are at the apex of local public administrators and have the responsibility of overseeing staff, advising elected officials, and executing city council decisions. They play a special advisory role to mayors and city councils by communicating the operations of the city to its elected leaders, maintaining good relationships between departments and balancing the staff organization. It’s a career defined by facilitating strategic communication between the top city decision-makers and the entire professional civil service and staff of a municipality. A key responsibility of city managers is to manage employment and termination discussions with other public administrators to assure all decisions are appropriate and positively address the needs of the city. Salaries depend on the city size, with the smaller cities paying roughly $50,000 annually and larger cities paying $200,000 annually. Good performance in a small city routinely leads to opportunities in larger ones, so the career path in city management leads both vertically and horizontally. In addition to city managers, most cities and towns have one or more deputy city managers; these are excellent opportunities for discovering whether city management is the right public service career for you.

Police Chief

Police chiefs shoulder the serious public safety responsibilities in managing and leading a city’s police force, in addition to acting as liaison with the mayor and city council. Police chiefs are at the top of the public safety administration hierarchy and work with other top city officials, like city managers, to help maintain laws and regulations. While the job requires a substantial amount of field experience, it also comes with managerial and diplomatic responsibilities that an MPA can provide. As the face of law enforcement, they attend social events, handle major media situations, and reflect the ethics and moral fortitude of their department – all while internally organizing a police department’s budget, staff, and policing strategies. Police chiefs enjoy a strong camaraderie with other high-level public safety officials, such as state offices of emergency services and federal enforcement agencies like the FBI and DEA.

If you want to be police chief, then you’ll have to be a very strong candidate who is capable of demonstrating capacities both in law enforcement and as a public figure. Although graduate education preparation may not be listed as required, an MPA is highly regarded and recommended for those who seek to attain this position. Police chiefs earn an average of $71,000 per year, while big city chiefs are paid salaries and benefits similar to other top city managers. Law enforcement employment opportunities are expected to grow in the next 10 years. Again, being a police chief in a small town opens networks and opportunities to promote to a larger department. Public safety officers often earn MPA degrees with the full support of their departments and with an expectation that this knowledge will be immediately put to work for the advantage of the general public in specialty roles needed to be filled in their departments.

Parks and Recreation Director

Another fulfilling and authoritative role within an MPA graduate’s reach is as a parks and recreation director. These public leaders are responsible for managing, hiring, budgeting, leading, and resolving issues in the parks and recreation department. Parks and rec directors also maintain athletic facilities and implement new safety protocols. It’s both a bureaucratic and “hands-on” position that requires them to consider major and minor situations. Due to the variety of environments and staff that parks and rec directors have to manage, they need to be skilled and confident leaders. As with all local government department leadership roles, parks and recreation directors may be among the first tapped to consider other openings in their city’s management team.

Like the other top MPA careers, the parks and rec director’s salary depends on the city size. It can range from $31,000 to nearly $100,000 a year, and the employment rate is set to grow at an average pace over the next 10 years. These positions generally require about 10 years of experience within the department or a related-field; often directors started working for the city in their late teens as recreations leaders, literally growing up into the job. An MPA can provide the necessary managerial skills needed to fulfill the daily duties, and an edge over others who have yet to broaden their skills beyond the baseball diamonds and swimming pools. If you are interested in managing beautiful settings, breathtaking scenery in some cities, and fun areas for all your community members to enjoy, then this is the position for you.

Start Pursuing Your Career Today

You may not know which MPA career path you will pursue, but don’t hesitate to begin your research and career mapping. As mentioned, these top public administration positions require a substantial amount of employed experience to qualify as a candidate, and serious candidates partake in additional education such as earning their MPA. To reach your career goals, start pursuing them as early as possible and make yourself the strongest candidate for any opportunity you seek.

Learn More

By learning more about the University of San Francisco Online Master of Public Administration (MPA), you will be taking an important first step toward pursuing your professional goals and commitment to social justice. Our program is designed for professionals who become effective managers and civic leaders who affect change through policy management and advocacy.

Recommended Readings

Civic Leaders Think Big Picture

Millennials in the public sector: Why they’ll make all of us better

Millennials’ Participation in Public Affairs








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