For today’s professionals, pursuing the right master’s degree is often the next step in advancing on a career path. It’s also becoming more and more frequent for some undergraduate students to pursue a master’s degree either before or just after entering the workforce. In a surprisingly wide range of fields, the degree of choice is either an MBA or an MPA.
The MBA, or Master of Business Administration, is by far the better-known program. Some might assume the MPA (Master of Public Administration) is merely a variant or even another name for the MBA. The truth is, while the degrees are somewhat similar, there are significant differences. The degrees are not interchangeable, and it’s essential to choose the right one.
Let’s explore the difference between MBA and MPA programs to help you choose the program that’s right for you.
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What Is an MPA Degree?
The Master of Public Administration is a graduate degree with a focus in the public and nonprofit sectors. The degree prepares people for leadership roles in governments, nonprofits, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and other service-oriented entities. There are private-sector applications for the MPA, as well, such as organizational leadership and human resources management.
At Post University, MPA students study a wide range of areas and take a combination of graduate-level public administration and business courses. Business course topics typically cover management, leadership, project management, and organizational effectiveness. Public administration courses include Ethics, Public Policy, Public Finance, Research Methods, and more. This interdisciplinary approach helps students develop a broad range of decision-making tools and planning techniques to lead and manage public sector organizations.
Professionals who hold MPA degrees occupy a range of roles as administrators, managers, executives, directors, and the like. These roles are frequently in federal, state, or local government or in other organizations that seek the public good.
In summary, the MPA is an ideal degree for those with careers in public service or with organizations seeking the betterment of communities or those entities on a mission to solve social problems. It’s a degree for people-minded, mission-driven individuals.
What Is an MBA Degree?
The Master of Business Administration is a graduate-level degree that prepares people to lead in business. Most private companies and nonprofits look positively at an MBA. The degree tends to signify that a candidate or current employee is serious about understanding business dynamics that go beyond their specific role or function.
MBA students study business skills like organizational management, strategic planning, business communication, quantitative reasoning, and business ethics. The best MBA programs base their curriculum in real-world project-based learning that directly applies to today’s business challenges. The degree focuses on real business needs and problems and teaches the skills and insights needed to solve these problems creatively.
Professionals who hold an MBA occupy a wide range of job roles. Some of the most common include:
- Team supervisors
- Project leads
- Department managers
- Financial managers
- Logistics managers
- Database administrators
- Business operations managers
- Marketing managers
Many of these roles lead to impressive salaries, though landing your dream manager position often does take some time and effort.
Obviously, some of these roles are quite different from others. The core MBA experience is beneficial to all kinds of roles and builds on your existing background, training, and experience. Additionally, many MBA programs allow you to pursue a specific concentration alongside the general core.
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MBA vs MPA: The Similarities
The difference between MBA and MPA programs can be significant, but there are many similarities, as well. Let’s take a look at the similarities first.
First, there are similarities in the basic coursework. Both degree programs cover topics like budgeting, finance, statistics, management skills, and project management. Both degrees typically include a capstone project, as well, though the nature of these projects varies by degree and concentration.
Ability to Tailor to Goals via Concentration
Both programs offer specific concentrations beyond the basic or general degree. In other words, you can tailor your MPA or MBA to meet your specific career goals.
When comparing MPA vs MBA, you might wonder which degree takes longer to complete. The truth is that both programs are comparable in length. In a traditional course schedule, you can complete either the MPA or MBA in about two years. There are some accelerated programs available, and it’s often possible for working professionals to slow down their coursework if necessary.
Both degrees are designed with professionals in mind, and many schools offer these programs in online or hybrid formats. It may be possible to complete your MPA or MBA without stepping away from the workforce.
MBA vs MPA: The Differences
With all those similarities, you may be wondering more than ever: What is the difference between business administration and public administration? Let’s take a look.
The Essential Difference
The essential difference between MBA and MPA programs boils down to this: The MBA prepares you to lead, run, or administrate a business entity or portion thereof. The MPA, on the other hand, prepares you to lead, run, or administrate public sector entities: federal, state, and local government; non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and some nonprofits.
While many of the basic skills necessary to run either type of entity are the same, the goals are vastly different. These differing goals are reflected throughout the two graduate programs. If your goal is public service, you’ll generally want to pursue the MPA.
At the risk of oversimplifying: If your goal is business advancement and achievement, the MBA is usually the better choice. That said, the line isn’t crystal clear. More and more MPA graduates are pursuing private sector work, and it’s a popular degree choice for executive-level leadership.
Focus and Impacts
The MBA prepares leaders to answer business questions and solve business problems. It’s focused primarily on business outcomes, asking questions about how a decision will affect the business as a whole or a specific facet over which a leader has responsibility. To ask the right questions requires both a foundational understanding of the business concepts underlying the scenario and a perceptiveness about the nature of the problem.
In contrast, the MPA prepares leaders to focus on community outcomes, societal improvements, and mission-driven decision-making. Here, too, a leader must understand the concepts (including business-related concepts) underlying a problem to solve them. But the focus and impacts are often quite different.
To muddy the waters slightly, we should note that there is some cross-pollination here. Some private-sector executives hold MPAs, and some people with MBAs find themselves in government or nonprofit work. The degrees and organization types aren’t mutually exclusive, even if the main focuses are typically aligned for one more than the other.
Both MPA and MBA students will study marketing and accounting. However, they don’t generally take the same courses in those fields. MBA marketing courses focus on commercial applications—how to sell a product or service. MPA marketing courses, on the other hand, tend to focus on creating compelling public service messages aimed at achieving change. They’re both marketing courses, but the intent behind them can be quite different.
Salary is another area where there are some broad and general differences between the MBA and MPA. Here, too, there are exceptions to everything we’re about to say, but in general, MPA holders earn less than MBA holders.
US News reports that the average salary and bonus for 2019 MBA graduates from 129 MBA programs was over $106,000. MPAs, on the other hand, earn a median income of under $70,000. Some popular MPA roles were higher, including HR director and executive director in the 80,000s.
This makes sense on a surface level if most people with MBAs work in big business while most with MPAs work in government or similar public service entities. But it’s also important to remember that these are median salaries. Your chosen specialty and the type of organization you work for will play a considerable role in your earnings potential. Those who choose to work in the public sector often value public service and job security over financial gain.
Why Choose Post for Either an MPA or MBA
Now that you have a clearer understanding of the difference between MBA and MPA programs, we hope you’re one step closer to choosing the master’s program that’s right for you. And once you have, we hope you’ll consider the MPA or MBA programs here at Post University.
Why should you choose Post for your MBA or MPA program? A number of reasons. First, both programs can be completed 100% online, perfect for both the busy mid-career professional and the recent college graduate just starting out. Additionally, no GMAT score is required to apply for either program, eliminating one common barrier to entry.
The MBA degree program has earned program accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) and offers a number of concentrations designed to suit your specific career goals, including these MBA concentrations:
- Corporate Innovation
- Healthcare Systems Leadership
- Leadership (on campus or online)
- Project Management
Our MPA program is another attractive choice, and within that program, we offer one specialized concentration in Emergency Management and Homeland Security.
Every program at Post is led by practitioner-scholars who have the needed real-world experience to guide you. This isn’t mere ivory tower learning; it’s learning for the real world of business and public sector administration.
Our MBA and MPA programs can be completed 100% online in as short a timeframe as 18 months. However, program completion time can take longer for working professionals.
Choosing Post University for your MPA or MBA will set you on a path toward achievement in your field. If you’re ready to take the next steps, read more about either our MBA or MPA programs, or begin the application process online today.
Thank you for reading! The views and information provided in this post do not reflect Post University programs and/or outcomes directly. If you are interested in learning more about our programs, you can find a complete list of our programs on our website or reach out directly!
Please note jobs, career outcomes, and/or salaries highlighted in this blog do not reflect jobs, career outcomes, and/or salaries expected from any Post University program. To learn more about Post University’s program and their outcomes, please fill out a form to speak with an admissions representative.