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What is Public Administration?

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Public administration is an essential part of an effective government, focusing on the implementation of policy and programs, resource management, and service delivery to drive societal progress. In this guide, we’ll explore what public administration entails, provide examples of what you can do with an MPA degree, and highlight different public administration jobs.  

What is public administration?

This dynamic field encompasses the implementation and management of public programs, allocation of resources, and formulation of policies aimed at driving communities forward. Public administrators navigate diverse terrains, spanning all levels of government, nonprofit organizations, and the private sector to foster societal progress.

At its core, public administration revolves around affecting positive change in the realm of public affairs through organizations that either work in the public affairs field or focus on key public affairs issues such as environmental or social policy. This is accomplished through the implementation and stewardship of public policies and programs. Responsibilities include budgetary allocation, strategic planning, and oversight of services delivered to the public through private organizations or government at the local, municipal, and federal levels. 

With ever-evolving public needs and technological advancements, modern public administration increasingly emphasizes innovation and citizen engagement. It not only addresses immediate challenges but also anticipates and adapts to emerging issues, fostering resilience and the creation of scalable and sustainable programs. 

What can you do with an MPA degree?

MPA programs equip students with the knowledge and skills to thrive across sectors. USC Price’s MPA program online offers a comprehensive curriculum with an emphasis on analytics and leadership development. The curriculum is designed for working professionals with weekly evening online lectures that allow students to finish their degree while continuing in their current position.

There are endless opportunities for MPA degree holders. At USC Price, 99.5% of MPA online graduates are employed in government, non-profits, or the private sector at the time of graduation. 

Some MPA graduates opt into government roles at the local, state, or federal level. Here, they play a pivotal role in policy creation, program management, and public service delivery. Other graduates may choose fulfilling roles within nonprofit organizations, leveraging their expertise to effect change in domains like social services, advocacy, and community development. The private sector is also an option for those with an MPA degree, with many alumni pursuing careers as consultants or as agents of change within those organizations.

Public administration jobs

MPA graduates gravitate toward diverse career opportunities in nonprofits, government, and the private sector. USC Price’s MPA alumni have historically taken positions like:


  • City Manager
  • Community Development Director
  • Senior Law Enforcement
  • Fire Chief
  • Public Information Officer
  • Management Analyst
  • Strategic Project Manager
  • Emergency Management Coordinator


  • Board of Directors Member
  • Executive Director
  • Grants Administrator
  • Social and Community Services Director
  • Postsecondary Education Administrator
  • Financial Literacy Advocate

Public Policy

  • Legislator Senior Legislative Aide
  • Lobbyist
  • Government Affairs Director
  • Public Affairs Manager
  • Speechwriter
  • Director of Development
  • Senior Field Representation
  • State Senate Office
  • Deputy State Director, U.S. Senator
  • Deputy District Director, U.S. House of Representatives


  • Navy Lieutenant Commander
  • International Program Officer, U.S. Army
  • Legal Administrator, U.S. Army
  • Project Specialist, U.S. Army
  • Analyst, U.S. Department of Homeland Security

While organizational structures play a large role in the details of each role, the advent of hybrid and remote work arrangements has ushered in unparalleled flexibility and work-life balance for public administrators. 

Navigating specialized trajectories in Public Administration

In addition to the variety of sectors and roles available to public administrators, there is also opportunity for specialization within the field. Prospective students should consider whether they would like to focus on a specific area of public administration and which graduate programs can help them achieve this goal. USC Price offers two specialized certificates which can be completed within the 40 total units of the degree program. As an MPA online student, you may select electives to develop professional expertise and pursue a certificate in: 

  • Public Policy: The USC Price Certificate in Public Policy exposes students to policy issues of global interest, while fostering analytical skills built around the most forward-looking methodologies useful for advocacy, legislative impact, government policy setting and implementation across a spectrum of institutions.
  • City and County Management: The USC Price Certificate in City/County Management is designed for students interested in acquiring the foundational training to advance a career in public service leadership. Working with top faculty and mentors, students gain professional skills and knowledge to achieve career aspirations managing and leading at the forefront of change.

Experiential Learning

When considering public administration degrees, prospective students should research the experiential components of the program that offer real world training and can help them further specialize in an area of interest. 

The USC MPA online capstone project is an experiential learning experience that connects online students with senior decision-makers from local and state government, nonprofit organizations, criminal justice, federal agencies, private sector firms and key public sector service providers. During the course, students develop skills such as consulting and advising while developing new networks of professional contacts. In addition, students produce a research-based project in response to a problem their client’s organization is facing that attempts to solve or address the problem. In most cases, clients implement student suggestions.

Learn more about the USC MPA capstone experience by exploring past student projects on our blog here. 

MPA online alum Veronica Frazier is chasing her goal of starting a nonprofit organization

“Our capstone project really did help prepare me for the future because it focused on environmental policy and trying to collaborate with public and private sector organizations, non-governmental organizations, and nonprofits. That real-life experience, researching, and all the work that it takes to figure out how to form those collaborative partnerships is very much what I’d like to do in the future.”  

Veronica Frazier, Social Impact Philanthropist 
MPA Online ‘23

Connect with an experienced USC MPA online alum who can answer any questions you might have and help you determine if the program is right for you.  

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