MPA or MPP? Here are some things to consider.
Many people feel called to public service. They want to contribute to making their communities and the world a better place. Both the Master of Public Administration and the Master of Public Policy can help to equip students with the competencies they need to help government and nonprofit organizations be more effective at providing valuable public goods and services.
The differences between the two degrees are pretty straightforward. The MPA is primarily a management degree for those who want to be more effective administrators in public agencies or nonprofit organizations.
The MPP concentrates on policy analysis and evaluation for those whose careers are focused on addressing society's problems through public policy. Often MPP graduates are also administrators, but they may work in other positions as well.
So, in effect, those with the MPA design and run public programs. Those with an MPP analyze public problems and develop policy recommendations to improve them (Network of Schools of Public Policy and Administration, 2021).
The highly-ranked UIS School of Public Management and Policy offers MPA and MPP programs that students can complete entirely online, or mix and match online and on-campus classes to fit their needs.
The curricula for the MPA and MPP at UIS convey the differences in the content of the two degrees. The MPA curriculum involves broader coursework that covers the multiple aspects of the responsibilities of managers; Organization Dynamics, Introduction to the Profession, Human Resource Management, Information for Decision Making, as well as a variety of electives helpful to administrators in areas such as nonprofit management, child protection, labor relations, procurement, and community planning.
Both programs share the common core courses Public Policy for Managers and Budget and Finance. The MPP adds other core courses to these two that emphasize analytical techniques critical to policy analysis: Public Policy Analysis, Program Evaluation, Informatics for Public Policy, Economics and Public Policy, and Advanced Analytical Tools: Forecasting, Time Series Analysis, and Predictive Analytics. The MPP also offers concentrations in several policy areas – policy analysis, education policy, health policy, child advocacy and policy, and social policy.
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In truth, both MPA and MPP graduates work on public policy, but they have different roles in the process. Theoretically, there are multiple stages in the policy cycle: agenda setting, policy formulation, legitimation, implementation, program evaluation, and potential change (Kraft & Furlong, 2020). Public administrators play important roles throughout the process. Still, they are especially vital in the implementation phase, wherein they transform policy plans enacted through legislation into programs that deliver public goods and services to the community. Then, in the evaluation phase, they seek to ensure that the programs work effectively to meet public needs. Public administrators are also front-line workers, a.k.a. street-level bureaucrats (Lipsky, 2010). So, every day that they help the public connect with the programs they need, administrators execute policy.
Likewise, MPP graduates play important roles in the policy process. Policy analysts take part in multiple stages of the process. Still, policy analysis is critical to the formulation phase, where policy actors draft goals and design strategies for achieving them. They also often participate in the agenda-setting phase, where they may help to call attention to the need for policy interventions in areas of public life and the evaluation stage. They apply analytics to determine whether a policy is effectively meeting the goals of public programs.
In short, both degree programs equip students with skills that will enhance their careers and make them better public servants. So whichever degree path a student chooses to pursue, the MPA and the MPP will help them become more effective at developing and delivering essential public programs and services.
Kraft, M. E. & Furlong, S. R. (2020). Public Policy: Politics, analysis, and alternatives (7th ed.). CQ Press.
Lipsky, M. (2010). Street-level bureaucracy. Russell Sage Foundation Network of Schools of Public Policy and Administration. (2021).