Public Administration Education and Career Guide


Public Administration Salary Guide 

woman leading meeting handing out papers to attendees
woman leading meeting handing out papers to attendees

The salaries of public administrators vary widely depending on their employer and specific job role. Other factors affecting their pay include area of specialization, education, years of experience, and location.

In this Article

Popular Public Administration Jobs and What They Pay

Career Median Annual Salary
Social and Community Service Managers $74,000
Urban and Regional Planners $78,500
Budget Analysts $79,940
Economists $105,630
Medical and Health Services Managers $101,340

What Factors Affect Your Salary?

Salaries in any career can be influenced by a number of factors, including specific job title, seniority, education, and prior experience. It's no different in the field of public administration. The size of the employer also affects pay, with larger employers typically paying higher salaries than small employers. For example, a city manager working for major city such as Los Angeles will usually be be better compensated than a city manager in a small town. Jobs for private companies usually pay more than government jobs, though there are some exceptions.

Geography


Geographic location can affect the rate of pay for two reasons. First, salaries are often closely linked to the cost of living. For example, employers in areas with a high cost of living, such as urban centers, will often pay higher salaries than those in rural areas. Additionally, salaries are influenced by the demand for workers in that geographic location versus the supply of qualified applicants.

In public administration, many higher-paying jobs tend to be concentrated in populous urban areas or centers of government, such as the District of Columbia or state capitals. In municipal governments, jobs in the largest cities will pay higher salaries than similar positions in small towns.

However, it's difficult to make a blanket statement regarding location and salaries. Smaller cities also need managers, planners, medical directors, and emergency management specialists, and they may offer competitive salaries to attract qualified applicants. Many public administrators work in universities, colleges, veterans hospitals, prisons, and other facilities that may be located in less populated areas.

Employers in areas with a high cost of living, such as urban centers, will often pay higher salaries than those in rural areas.

Degree Level


Many people in public administration jobs begin their careers with a bachelor's degree and later decide to pursue a master's degree, either to qualify for a more advanced position or to move into an area of specialization. A person with a master's degree may earn a higher salary, though the rate of pay is also greatly influenced by other factors.

Experience


As public administrators gain experience, they may apply to higher-level management positions, which tend to pay more. For example, a deputy city manager may aspire to become the city manager. The advance in position tends to come with a pay raise.

"Generally speaking, compensation within public agencies scales upward with seniority," says Joshua Holder, instructor in public administration at the University of Central Florida.

He added that in some fields, experience can be more important than education in terms of pay. "Agencies value the institutional knowledge and confidence that comes with years on the job," Holder says.

It's not usual for public administrators to move from one job to another, even between government and nonprofit jobs. The skills learned in a master's of public administration transfer to all management positions.

The skills learned in a master's of public administration transfer to all management positions.

Certificates


Certificate programs provide continuing education for professionals already working in the field. They serve as an alternative for people who may not want to enter a master's degree program but still desire to further their education.

A certificate program will not necessarily lead to higher pay but it will demonstrate to employers your dedication to the job and a desire for continuous improvement. For example, Certified Public Manager is a nationally recognized certificate for government workers.

At some universities, some credit hours earned toward a certificate will transfer if the person decides to pursue a master's degree later on.

He added that in some fields, experience can be more important than education in terms of pay. "Agencies value the institutional knowledge and confidence that comes with years on the job," Holder says.

It's not usual for public administrators to move from one job to another, even between government and nonprofit jobs. The skills learned in a master's of public administration transfer to all management positions.

Industry


Generally speaking, jobs in private companies tend to pay more than government jobs, although certain management specialties on the state and federal levels offer competitive salaries. Managers and directors of state and federal agencies and departments can make high salaries.

Working in the public sector may have other advantages.

"While most public sector jobs tend to bring in a lower base salary than equivalent positions in the private sector, public agencies are known to offer some of the best benefits in any industry," Holder explained. These benefits can include retirement options, healthcare, and time off.

Jobs with nonprofit organizations tend to have slightly lower salaries, with the exception of management positions in high-profile organizations.

Fields that tend to pay well at all levels are healthcare administrator jobs and positions that involve finances, statistics, and economics. The median salary of a medical and health services manager rests around $101,340, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Similarly, financial analysts can earn a median salary of $91,580.

While public sector jobs tend to pay less than jobs in the private sector, the healthcare and retirement options may make up for the lower salary.

Job Demand

The BLS projects average growth in public administration jobs, with some fields more in demand than others. For example, the biggest job demand right now is in health services management, driven by public health concerns and an aging population, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Government jobs tend to respond to public policies, current events, and concerns. "Within public administration, hiring often centers around the needs of the community," explains Holder.

That means certain fields will grow faster at times than others. In addition to public health, jobs in emergency services management are more in demand.

New fields in public administration are also opening up due to public need. "Growing awareness surrounding the climate and its effect on our world has opened the door to a new era of prioritizing sustainability and resilience," Holder says.


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