Solutions to complex issues begin at the policy level, which is influenced by citizens who vote in all elections, making public policy the framework on which society is built. Nearly all aspects of life are the results of public policy, from public sector issues, such as adding a stop sign to an intersection or assessing property taxes, to private sector issues, such as mergers or payroll taxes.
Those interested in working in the public or private sectors can choose from two graduate degree programs to gain the advanced knowledge needed to work in the creation and implementation of policies and procedures, a Master of Public Policy or a Master of Public Administration.
What is a Master of Public Policy?
A Master of Public Policy, or MPP, is a master’s degree program focused on the research, development, and creation of public policy. Graduate programs of this professional degree are oriented toward the identification, research, and development of policy addressing a particular problem or issue, either in the public or private sector.
“The MPP is geared more toward those wanting to conduct policy analysis,” said Dan Mallinson, an associate professor at Penn State and the chair of its Master of Public Administration program. “There are numerous complex problems occurring in society. The ability to identify those problems and understand the needs of people experiencing them requires being able to gather that information and translate it into something meaningful. But there’s also the necessary ability to take that information and create a solution for the problem, especially when there are multiple stakeholders that can reject or approve of those solutions.”
Practical skills developed in MPP programs include:
- the ability to evaluate and organize data into meaningful stories
- specialized knowledge of economic principles and practices
- specialized knowledge of the social sciences, including psychology, sociology, and ethics
- skills in the liberal arts
- thorough understanding of logic and reasoning
What is a Master of Public Administration?
The Master of Public Administration, or MPA, is a master’s degree program focused on the implementation of public policy. Graduate programs of this professional degree are oriented on the evaluation, understanding, and implementation of policy in either the public or private sector.
“The MPA is geared more toward individuals who want to work in government or the nonprofit sector, broadly speaking,” Mallinson said. “It gives students an understanding of concepts like public budgeting, organizational behavior, human resources management, and more. Public administration is a diverse field requiring a diverse skill set, meaning that there are opportunities no matter what your prior experience may be.”
Practical skills developed in MPA programs include:
- specialized knowledge in managing organizations and people
- skills in analyzing policy
- applying analytical methods to understand the dynamics of economic, organizational, political, and societal environments
- the ability to develop solutions to logistical problems
Which degree program should I choose?
The development and implementation of public policy is a collaborative process. The perfect policy can be written and implemented, but if it is not administered correctly, the policy could prove to be a failure. Likewise, without a process in which administrators and policy creators provide feedback to one another, a policy cannot improve or keep pace with innovation.
Both degree pathways share core learning outcomes due to the importance of not only being able to create policy but also to make changes and decisions in unforeseen circumstances. This means that both degree pathways can share career opportunities. Which degree pathway you choose is a personal decision.
Career outcomes for a Master of Public Policy, in both the public and private sectors, might include:
- researchers, analysts, and strategists
- government relations managers
- technical writers
- grant writers
- project managers
Career outcomes for a Master of Public Administration, in both the public and private sectors, might include:
- change managers
- human resource professionals
- nonprofit management
- business administration
- government relations and chiefs of staff
The Penn State difference
Public sector employees who have a passion for and commitment to public service may be interested in the Master of Public Administration offered online through Penn State World Campus. This advanced 39-credit graduate degree has been designed for those who aspire to be difference-makers in their communities and is accredited by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA).
The faculty members in the Penn State online MPA program have connections with local governments and nonprofit organizations, which provide students with access to see how government works and how they help it work. Additionally, the MPA program offers students the opportunity to diversify their degree with a concentration in public policy analysis. Students who have an interest in both aspects of public policy — creation and implementation — can benefit from a well-balanced degree to meet their needs.
Penn State World Campus has been offering a Penn State education online for 25 years, and its public administration master's degree is part of the comprehensive portfolio of more than 175 degree and certificate programs offered online.