Master’s in Public Administration (MPA) vs. Master’s in Public Health (MPH)
While a Master’s in Public Administration (MPA) may sound nearly identical to a Master’s in Public Health (MPH), the two degrees are quite distinct. An MPA is a graduate degree in public administration, which is the study of implementing government policies. An MPH is a graduate degree in public health, which is the science of improving society’s quality of life. Read on to learn more about master’s in public administration vs. master’s in public health degrees.
MPA vs. MPH: At a Glance
Graduate degree in implementing government policies
Graduate degree in improving society’s quality of life
Average Time to Complete
2 to 4 years
About 2 years
General/ public management
Homeland/ national security
Public policy analysis
Dental public health
General public health
Leadership in practice
Maternal and child/ family health
Parks and recreation
Public health practice
Social and behavioral science
Tropical public health
Veterinary public health
Compensation and benefits manager
Human resources manager
Meeting, convention and event planner
Purchasing manager, buyer, purchasing agent
Anthropologists and archaeologists
Mathematician and statistician
Public Administration Program Overview
Public administration is the study of implementing government policies, as per the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA). A Master of Public Administration (MPA) is a graduate degree in the field, or government degree. MPA degree programs are accredited by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration. According to NASPAA’s annual data report, most students complete their MPA program in two to four years. NASPAA accreditation standards stipulate that accredited MPA programs should foster competency in five domains:
- Leading and managing in the public interest.
- Participating in, and contributing to, the policy process.
- Analyzing, synthesizing, thinking critically, solving problems, and making evidence-informed decisions in a complex and dynamic environment.
- Articulating, applying and advancing a public service perspective.
- Communicating and interacting productively and in culturally responsive ways with a diverse and changing workforce and society at large.
NASPAA also recognizes the following specializations for public administration programs:
- City/ local
- Criminal justice
- Economic development
- General/ public management
- Homeland/national security
- Human resources
- Information technology
- International/ global
- Organizational management
- Public policy analysis
- Public sector
- Social policy
- Survey Methods
Learn more about public administration programs in our Guide to Online Master’s in Public Administration.
Public Health Program Overview
Public health is the science of improving society’s quality of life, and a Master of Public Health (MPH) is a graduate degree in the field, as per the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH). One of many healthcare degrees, MPH programs are accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health. According to the CEPH accreditation criteria, accredited MPH programs must be at least 42 semester credits, or roughly two years of full-time study, and should foster competency in eight general areas:
- Evidence-based approaches to public health.
- Public health and healthcare systems.
- Planning and management to promote health.
- Policy in public health.
- Interprofessional practice.
- Systems thinking.
In addition, CEPH recognizes the following specializations for public health programs:
- Aerospace medicine
- Allied health
- Clinical investigation
- Dental public health
- Emergency preparedness
- Environmental health
- Exercise science
- General public health
- Global health
- Health administration
- Health communication
- Health economics
- Health equity
- Health informatics
- Joint degree
- Laboratory sciences
- Leadership in practice
- Maternal and child/ family health
- Mental health
- One health
- Parks and recreation
- Public health practice
- Social and behavioral science
- Sustainable development
- Tropical public health
- Veterinary public health
Learn more about public health programs in our Guide to Online Master’s in Public Health or Guide to Online Master’s in Public Health Administration.
Master’s in Public Administration vs. Public Health Curriculum
The curriculum of the Master of Public Administration vs. Public Health curriculum differs. While each MPA and MPH program will have its own core courses and electives, accreditation standards can help us understand how the two degrees generally compare.
Comparing the accreditation standards of the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration for MPA coursework and that of the Council on Education for Public Health for MPH coursework, we see an overlap of focus in evidence-based decision-making, planning, management, policy, leadership and communication. While these skills will be applied in different arenas, that of public administration or public health, the knowledge essential to mastering these competencies will be roughly the same across MPA and MPH programs.
The real difference in master’s in public administration vs. public health curriculum is in the particulars. MPA coursework is relatively broad in its approach to planning, management, policy, leadership and communication to account for the expanse of public administration, while MPH coursework is relatively narrow, honing in on healthcare systems, health promotion, interprofessional practice, and other aspects of public health.
Careers for Master of Public Administration Graduates
Careers for Master of Public Administration graduates vary, as there are so many choices of what you can do with an MPA. The most immediately relevant profession could be considered administrative services manager – planning, directing, and coordinating activities that help an organization run efficiently, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In addition, the BLS identifies the following occupations as similar and requiring an equal amount of education:
- Compensation and benefits managers: planning, developing and overseeing programs to pay employees.
- Cost estimators: collecting and analyzing data to estimate the time, money, materials and labor required to make a product or provide a service.
- Human resources managers: planning, coordinating and directing the administrative functions of an organization.
- Management analysts: recommending ways to improve an organization’s efficiency.
- Meeting, convention and event planners: arranging all aspects of events and professional gatherings.
- Purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents: buying products and services for organizations.
- Top executives: planning strategies and policies to ensure an organization meets its goals.
According to BLS figures, those with MPA degrees earn relatively high salaries, with all the careers listed above earning more than the average of $39,810 for all other occupations. Public administration workers are also in demand, with the number of jobs in most of the above careers projected to increase 4% through 2029 – about the same or more than the average for all occupations, the BLS reports.
|Career||Average Salary in 2019||Job Growth Through 2029|
Learn more about MPA careers.
Careers for Master of Public Health Graduates
Prospective careers for Master of Public Health graduates are diverse, because there are many options for what you can do with an MPH. One profession is epidemiologist, investigating patterns and causes of disease and injury. But the BLS also identifies the following occupations as similar and requiring a master’s degree at entry-level:
- Anthropologists and archeologists: studying the origin, development and behavior of humans.
- Economists: collecting and analyzing data, researching trends, and evaluating economic issues related to resources, goods and services.
- Mathematicians and statisticians: analyzing data and applying mathematical and statistical techniques to help solve problems.
- Political scientists: studying the origin, development and operation of political systems.
- Survey researchers: designing and conducting surveys and analyzing survey data.
Generally speaking, a public health salary is relatively high, with all the following careers earning more than the average for all occupations ($39,810). And the demand for public health workers is relatively strong, with the number of people employed in most of the following careers projected to increase more than average (4%) through 2029 .
|Career||Average Salary in 2019||Job Growth Through 2029|
Learn more about Master of Public Health salary and career outlook.
Should You Get an MPA or MPH?
Whether you should get an MPA or MPH depends on your goals. If you’re considering income as a factor, perhaps try to pursue a career as a compensation and benefits manager after earning your MPH; they earn about $122,270 a year, according to the BLS. If you’re seeking an in-demand occupation, consider earning your MPH and becoming a mathematician or statistician; the BLS projects there will be 33% more such jobs through 2029. Once you define your goals, the degree necessary to achieve them should become more apparent.
Last Updated January 2021