Public Administration Education and Career Guide


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What Can I Do with a Degree in Public Administration

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What is a Career in Public Administration?

As a public administrator, your specific duties will depend on which specialization or career path you choose. For example, city managers oversee municipal operations and personnel to make sure the city runs efficiently. Much of their time is spent assessing information and meeting with others such as heads of city departments and services. They also attend city council meetings, make reports to committees, and meet with citizens or community groups.  

Although most public administrators work in government, others are employed by private organizations or businesses. They typically work in offices and collaborate with others to identify and analyze public needs and contribute to solutions or policies. In all public administration careers, you will have opportunities to work with others while you apply your management and leadership skills.

"Government is often described as a big machine with cogs and gears, and that's pretty true," says Joshua Holder, instructor at the University of Central Florida's School of Public Administration. "Everyone has their own role to play, but things only move when everyone is working together."

In this Article

Where Do Public Administrators Work?

The majority of public administrators work in local, state, and federal government offices to ensure public policies and programs are implemented effectively, but there are also career paths in nonprofit organizations, healthcare facilities, universities and schools, and private corporations or companies.

Public-sector employers include:

  • City government offices like planning, housing, finance, or public works
  • State departments and agencies such as agriculture, employment, or family services
  • Federal departments, agencies, and offices such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development or Bureau of Economic Analysis
  • Hospitals and clinics operated by a local, state, or federal government such as a county health department or Department of Veterans Affairs
  • State universities

Public administrators may also be employed by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) or by charitable organizations. NGOs are not affiliated with any government but are supported by donations, grants, and fundraising efforts. Each organization focuses on serving a specific cause or demographic. Some operate on an international level, while others are more localized. Certain nonprofit organizations may be affiliated with religious groups.

Nonprofit-sector employers include agencies such as:

  • Feeding America
  • American Red Cross
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • AmeriCares
  • United Way
  • Boys and Girls Clubs of America 

The private sector also offers a number of employment opportunities for public administrators. Private companies and corporations often employ people with public administration skills, especially in specialties such as health care, emergency management, finance, and environmental management.

Some examples of private-sector employers include:

  • Labor unions
  • Private universities and hospitals
  • Policy research companies

Jobs in the Field of Public Administration

The types of careers you can hold in public administration include urban planner, budget analyst, and many others.

Most people in public administration careers hold a Master of Public Administration (MPA) or similar degrees, such as a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or a Master of Public Policy (MPP). Some enter the field with a bachelor's in public administration; a degree that will prepare you for many entry-level jobs in local and state governments. 

Urban Planner

About the job: Urban planners are responsible for overseeing and managing growth and development in their communities. They consider both long-range and short-term goals to ensure that new residential or commercial developments meet community needs and standards. They meet with public officials, developers, finance directors, engineers, and public services directors to coordinate the impact of new development on citizens, roads, schools, social needs, and the environment.

Urban planners may also direct projects for redevelopment and revitalization of older areas in the city or contribute to preserving or restoring historic areas. Specific daily tasks include researching, analyzing data, meeting with individuals and groups, working with finances, and using computer software such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS).Where you'll work: City, town, or county government

Where you'll work: City, town, or county government

Degree you'll need: Master's degree

Emergency Response Specialist

About the job: Emergency response specialists work for government entities such as cities and states, schools and universities, hospitals, and private companies. They are responsible for planning and coordinating responses for emergencies such as severe weather and other natural disasters, accidents or dangerous malfunctions, hazardous situations such as chemical spills, and any outside threat.

Emergency response specialists meet with local first responders, medical facilities, and other organizations to maintain coordinated efforts to handle emergencies, minimize damage, and keep personnel safe and away from danger. Specific tasks may include evaluating potential hazards, writing and implementing emergency policies and procedures, reviewing funding, and conferring with staff about equipment and safety measures.

If an emergency occurs, emergency responders may direct operations for securing the dangerous area, conduct evacuations or rescues, and communicate with the public.

Where you'll work: Local and state governments, hospitals, universities

Degree you'll need: Bachelor's degree at minimum, and possibly certification such as Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) or Certified Business Continuity Professional (CBCP)

Budget Analyst

About the job: Budget analysts plan finances for government offices, universities, organizations, and private companies. They analyze the costs and expenditures of programs and projects, gather data and information, and prepare reports for presentation to government officials, directors, or executives.

Budget analysts may monitor all spending to make sure budget goals are met. They may also evaluate the cost-benefit effectiveness of programs and recommend any changes needed in funding. They meet with department managers, public officials, legislators, and others to discuss needs and policies.

Where you'll work: Federal or state government, universities, scientific and technical companies

Degree you'll need: Bachelor's degree is necessary for an entry-level job, but most budget analysts hold master's degrees and have backgrounds in economics or accounting

City Manager

About the job: A city manager oversees all city operations and works to coordinate services for citizens with the heads of municipal departments, agencies, and offices. Although city managers often work closely with mayors and city council members to ensure policies are implemented, their jobs are not political. The city manager may investigate issues at the council's request or submit reports on matters of concern.

In their day-to-day jobs, city managers frequently attend group and individual meetings with city departments and related agencies such as law enforcement, fire protection, parks and recreation, and public utilities. They may coordinate projects with other levels of governments such as county and state. Often, the city manager will communicate with individual citizens or groups or local organizations.

Where you'll work: City or other municipal government

Degree you'll need: Bachelor's degree at minimum; many cities, especially larger ones, prefer or require a master's degree or a certificate in city management

Economist

About the job: Economists analyze data, trends, and issues related to the production, distribution, and transfer of goods and services. They may examine economic factors such as the cost of healthcare, energy, and consumer goods and look at the effects of taxes, employment rates, wages, interest rates, laws, and policies.

In government positions, economists prepare reports to inform elected officials, lawmakers, and agency and department directors about the economic impacts of policies and regulations. They may also analyze trends and make forecasts about economic conditions. Most economists work with statistics or statistical experts to examine and present data.

Where you'll work: Federal and state government offices, scientific and technical companies, finance and insurance companies

Degree you'll need: Master's degree; some entry-level positions may be available for people with a bachelor's degree. Many economists have PhDs.

Social Service Director

About the job: Social service directors work for government offices, nonprofit organizations, and healthcare organizations to oversee and coordinate programs that address public needs of vulnerable citizens such as disabled or elderly individuals, veterans, children, and people with addictions. They may implement programs, analyze program effectiveness, write funding proposals, and meet with leaders, elected officials, and community members.

The specific roles of social service directors are defined by their employers. Agencies and organizations tend to be specialized toward addressing a single issue, such as homelessness or mental illness, or serving a targeted demographic, such as senior citizens. Social service directors employed by cities or states may have more generalized duties or may oversee several different departments or committees.

Where you'll work: Government family services departments, religious organizations, healthcare facilities

Degree you'll need: Bachelor's degree and experience in the field for most positions; some jobs require a master's degree. Experience working in the field is recommended.

Health Services Manager

About the job: A health service manager directs the services provided by a clinic, hospital, or other medical care facility or department. Most work for not-for-profit healthcare organizations; others may work for privately held clinics or physician groups.

The duties of a health service manager are wide-ranging and may include overseeing finances and budgets, developing and implementing goals, and assuring compliance with laws and regulations. They may meet with governing boards or represent the organization in funding efforts. Many health service managers will work closely with medical care professionals, while others do not.

Where you'll work: Hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, residential care facilities

Degree you'll need: Bachelor's degree at minimum; some jobs prefer or require a master's degree. Many health service managers have a background in healthcare in areas such as nursing, medical records, billing, or social work.

Skills You Should Have

Public administrators need to be well organized and have good interpersonal skills. You'll need the ability to get along with people from many backgrounds and communicate effectively with individuals and groups.

Speaking and writing skills are important in many public administration positions. As part of your job, you may need to present information at meetings or write analytical reports and recommendations.

In your college courses, you will learn management and analytical skills.

A Day in the Life of a Public Administrator

As public communications coordinator for the government of Seminole County, Florida, Joshua Holder's daily life was busy, exciting, and meaningful.

"Working in public/community relations for a local government agency, it is not an exaggeration to say that every day is just a little bit different," Holder says.

On a typical day, he would manage and create content for the county's social media pages, respond to questions from the media, and meet with county departments about outreach strategies.

"You can often find yourself doing a bit of everything, from organizing a ribbon cutting in the morning to meeting about new county projects in the afternoon," Holder says.

It wasn't unusual for his work to carry into the evening with such duties as attending public meetings or preparing for citizen events. He also had to be prepared for the unexpected.

"Whether it's a contentious issue coming up at a public meeting you need to prepare for, a local emergency that requires getting critical information to affected communities, or breaking news you have to respond to, working in government communications means always being prepared and staying flexible to whatever each day might bring," Holder says.

Salary and Job Outlook

The median annual salary of public administrators varies broadly, depending on the specific position, level of education, and geographical location.

All jobs in public administration are expected to grow at a steady rate over the next decade, with certain fields growing faster than others. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs in administrative services and facilities managers will grow at a pace of about 9% per year.

The most in-demand field is health administration. The BLS projects that jobs in health administration will increase by 32% between 2020 and 2030, with about 51,800 openings per year. 

Another field growing faster than average is social and community services managers. The BLS predicts a 15% annual growth, with 18,300 job openings per year.

Stay Connected

Whether you're considering pursuing an education in public administration or you're already working in the field and looking to go back for an advanced degree, it helps to stay in the loop. Some public administration-related associations that can be good sources for information and news include:

Alliance for Nonprofit Management: The members of this group share information and ideas to connect and support leaders in nonprofit management. They host educational events, roundtable discussions, and an annual conference. 

American Society for Public Administration: ASPA's goal is to provide services and programs for those working or teaching in public administration. The group has regional chapters and holds professional development events.

Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management: APPAM's mission is to improve public policy and management through supporting research and education. The group publishes the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, a peer-reviewed, multidisciplinary journal. Student memberships are available.

National Academy of Public Administration: This organization is an independent, nonpartisan organization chartered by Congress to study issues in public administration. Members serve as advisors to government leaders and groups.

Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration: Known as NASPAA, the nonprofit organization evaluates and accredits degree programs in public administration, public affairs, and related fields. The organization also provides tools and resources for public administration educators.


Written and reported by:

Karen S. Hanson
Contributing Writer

With professional insight from:

Joshua Holder, Marketing and Communications Specialist
School of Public Administration, University of Central Florida