May, 19, 2022
Master of Business Administration (MBA) vs. Master of Public Administration (MPA)
A Master of Business Administration (MBA) and a Master of Public Administration (MPA) seem like similar graduate degrees because they are both based on learning advanced administrative skills to promote leadership and business acumen in a wide variety of careers. However, there are some key differences that can have a great impact on determining your career path.
An MBA is chiefly focused on business and management skills in the private sector, while an MPA is concerned with governance and leadership in the public sector, including the management of non-profit companies and non-government organizations (NGO). MBAs mostly analyze market trends to reap the highest profits at the least cost, while MPAs are more concerned with studying and learning from past market failures.
"MBAs and MPAs begin at exactly the same playing field," said Kenneth Scott Perry, a North Carolina-based senior project manager, who earned an MPA degree in 2014 from the University of Illinois Springfield. "But the MBA is usually suited for the private sector, while the MPA is much more common in government."
MBA and MPA Coursework
The course curricula for MBA and MPA degrees share some common business and leadership courses to help both groups develop strategic thinking skills, which will better prepare them to become leaders in their fields. The main differences between degree studies involve technical financial instruction in the MBA program versus a greater emphasis on public service that comes with an MPA degree.
Typical MBA Classes
Common courses in an MBA program will include:
Many MBA programs also involve internships at various firms to provide real-world experience demonstrating the principles covered in the classroom or online. Some programs also feature case study presentations by visiting corporations.
Typical MPA Classes
The typical MPA curriculum tends to have a more interdisciplinary focus, because the degree has so many uses outside of business, including social sciences, policy analysis, and ethical decision-making. Typical coursework in an MPA program may include:
Unexpected Benefits of a Master's Program
The personal and professional connections made during MBA program studies can prove invaluable in the workplace.
Entrepreneur Tyler Copenhaver-Heath, who earned an MBA from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, says his MBA professors—many of whom specialized in parts and production—were extremely helpful resources for his automotive business.
"A lot of my fellow MBA classmates were finally able to get the confidence they needed" to move into more positive territory, Copenhaver-Heath says. "It's very good for networking."
The potential for travel is another incentive. After earning his MBA from Duke University's Fuqua School of Business back in 2013, Aaron Udler, president of OfficePro, Inc., says his MBA work gave him the opportunity to visit many other countries. "I did an international MBA program and was able to travel the world, learning how to do business in various emerging markets" such as Dubai, Shanghai, St. Petersburg, and New Delhi, he says. "If you have the travel bug, then a program like this might be worth it."
Specialty MBA/MPA Programs
Most schools that offer MBA and MPA programs offer courses in specialized fields. While this is by no means exhaustive, it focuses on some of the most common types of degree concentrations being offered today:
Common MBA Programs
Common MPA Programs
Executive MBA/MPA Programs
Another option for MBA or MPA degree seekers is the "executive" program for both disciplines. These EMBA and EMPA programs focus less on business basics and more on higher-level financial techniques. Offered mainly for people with established careers in the fields of business or public administration, EMBAs and EMPAs are meant to bolster their credentials and tend to be accelerated programs, often taking about 18 months to complete.
Dual MBA/MPA Degree Programs
Some people have an interest in not only business and finance, but also public affairs and non-profit work. A dual MBA/MPA degree program, which combines the core financial training of an MBA with the government policy focus of an MPA, covers all these fields.
The typical dual MBA/MPA program will include:
All of these studies will be applicable to both private and public-sector business.
At the end of a more-intensive study in both disciplines, which often takes two to three years of work, the MBA/MPA track gives students two graduate degrees with which to shape their careers. The dual MBA/MPA degree is more challenging, but it gives students a wider range of career choices that bridge the public and private sectors.
When Should I Get an MBA or MPA?
While there is a tendency to begin pursuing an MBA or MPA right after earning an undergraduate degree, it may sometimes be best to start working first and then consider a graduate degree once you have your feet wet.
Sometimes it's best to start working after you earn you bachelor's, then consider a graduate degree once you have your feet wet.
Copenhaver-Heath started his MBA work five years after he launched his automobile customization business. "It was perfect for me because I knew what I needed to know and what I didn't need to know," he says. "You can put that knowledge into your business right away and implement it immediately."
The same is true in the public sector world of MPAs. After working for three years as a government contractor, Perry began pursuing an MPA to help increase his public sector knowledge. "To become an MPA, it's beneficial to have some full-time, practical experience, especially in nonprofit or public sector worlds," he says.
Which Degree Pays More?
In general, salaries are typically higher for positions seeking MBA degree-holders than those seeking MPA degrees, as most MBA jobs are held by for-profit employers. However, salaries for many executive-level jobs that require MPAs are comparable to the MBA positions.