What is the Difference between Public Administration and Public Policy?

professional in a conference room holding a report and smiling

There are many reasons to choose to pursue a career in the public sector rather than in the business world. Often, people are drawn to public or nonprofit careers because doing so gives them an opportunity to do good and enact change for the better.

What is the Difference between Public Administration and Public Policy?

A public administration degree prepares students for management, whereas a public policy degree prepares students interested in analyzing policies and suggesting improvements.1

Here are four major differences between a master’s of public policy (MPP) and a master’s of public administration (MPA):

Public Policy vs. Public Administration2

Tight Focus vs. Broad Focus

An MPP is focused on one thing: policy. You’ll study all aspects of policy, from infrastructure to public opinion. It is a highly specialized degree that is almost exclusively relevant to a particular area.

On the other hand, an MPA degree can give you a broad range of skills and knowledge to help no matter which direction you want. If you’re interested in leadership and administration roles in the public sector, or you anticipate that you might want to leave the public sector at some point, an MPA degree may be a better choice for you.

Policy Research and Evaluation vs. Management and Implementation

The work done by public policy professionals informs the work done by public administrators, but the two career paths differ in that one works to create policy while the other works to implement it.

If you’re drawn to law and statistics and you are interested in developing public policy, consider an MPP. If you are instead more interested in business, management, and related skills, but you’d prefer to work in the public sector rather than private, an MPA might be a better fit.

Quantitative vs. Qualitative

Students in MPP programs gather and analyze data that they use for detailed problem-solving, making it a better fit for analytical-minded individuals. On the other hand, MPA students tend to graduate into jobs that require a great deal of human interaction, so it’s best to have good people skills if you intend to follow this career path.

Professional Experience Optional vs. Required

An MPA degree builds on your existing professional background and can be applied to a variety of different professional roles, so it typically requires that you already have some experience in public administration. It expands on what you already know and builds on it to make you a more effective leader. If public policy appeals to you, and you think you have the right strengths and interests to be a good fit for it, you will probably be successful in an MPP program, even if your undergraduate degree and professional experience are not tied to public policy in any way.

Kent State University’s Online Master of Public Administration (MPA)

Kent State’s Online Master of Public Administration (MPA) is one of only a select number of online MPA programs in the United States that is accredited by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA). Our program is designed for busy working professionals who want to gain the knowledge, skills, and credibility necessary to advance a career in the public sector. Using learning techniques that help you apply what you learn in real-time, this program positions you for senior management positions in local, state, and regional governments, as well as in nonprofit organizations.

For more information on Kent State’s Online Master of Public Administration (MPA), visit https://onlinedegrees.kent.edu/political-science/master-of-public-administration/.

Not interested in a Master’s Degree? Try Kent State’s Online Graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Management

Kent State’s Online Graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Management combines the quality and flexibility of our MPA degree with the agility of a short-term, targeted professional skills-development program. In as few as 12 months, you can gain enhanced knowledge of fundraising, development, advocacy, and board relations.

  • Complete the Postbaccalaureate Certificate in as little as a year
  • 12 credits
  • Three start dates: January, May, August
  • No GRE requirement

For more information on Kent State’s Online Graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Management, visit https://onlinedegrees.kent.edu/political-science/master-of-public-administration/certificate.


1Retrieved on August 1, 2022, from https://www.usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/articles/how-to-decide-between-public-administration-public-policy-degrees#:~:text=%22The%20main%20distinction%20here%20is%20that%20a%20public,Public%20and%20Environmental%20Affairs%2C%20wrote%20in%20an%20email
2Retrieved on August 1, 2022, from https://onlinedegrees.kent.edu/political-science/master-of-public-administration/community/public-policy-v-public-administration

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