Getting a Masters in Public Admin; financial suicide?
February 14, 2014 10:48 AM   Subscribe

Long story short, it's very likely that I am going to lose my present job in a year or two. My current field has very few employment opportunities (most of which are part-time or temporary) and a ton of candidates to fill the few positions that do open up. To plan for the future, I am considering getting a combined Masters in Public Administration and Environment and Natural Resources while I work full-time. However, my fear is that I'd be getting myself into another field with poor employment prospects. Help?
posted by Fister Roboto to Education (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
To plan for the future,

To plan for the future, identify jobs that have reasonable employment outlooks, find one that interests you and work backwards. It sounds like you're trying to identify some schooling you'd like to get and are hoping you can get a job. That's backwards, and a road to debt and heartache. Don't do it.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:56 AM on February 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Even if it's not reasonable, if you've identified a job that you want to have and you think you'd be awesome at it and you're really in love with the idea, that's one thing. (Although in some cases even there it's not a great plan.) But if all you have is a vague interest in a degree program, I agree, bad plan. If you just want to learn about those things, read.
posted by Sequence at 11:04 AM on February 14, 2014

I'm getting an MPA while working full-time. Since I haven't completed the program I guess I'm not the perfect person to ask for advice on future job prospects. But my feeling, which my observation of my classmates' experiences tends to support, is that an MPA is a tool to qualify for a variety of higher level jobs in nonprofits/government, not a "field" per se. Obviously the Environment and Natural Resources part is more specific and I can't speak to that.

Do some research on programs and see how they compare, costwise. I'm going to a public university for a fraction of the price my friends are paying for private degrees, which was a big factor in my decision whether to go back to school or not.
posted by mlle valentine at 11:13 AM on February 14, 2014

I know a whole bunch of people with MPAs and MPPs; they mostly work in the government or government-adjacent non-profits. The only ones I know who got a pre-emptive MPA knocked it out during/after their Bachelor's (as a fifth year of college) and went from on-campus activities like organizing directly into the field where the degree did them good. And while the degree probably gave them a leg-up and maybe got them a higher position than they would've otherwise, it didn't make or break their application.

More often, people first got a job in a field which an MPA would be useful and then got the degree part-time as they worked because they knew it would (practically) guarantee them a promotion or at least access to a higher rank of job than they could get with their Bachelor's (or non-MPA grad degree) alone.

The issue, as was explained to me when I was considering this route, was that the MPA doesn't necessarily get you anything ahead of time, except the education and, possibly, connections. This is the sort of degree your employer pays you to get, or you get because you have a concrete job-related reason to get it. You can do what an MPA does without necessarily having a degree in it. While it's a vocational degree in the way an MBA is, it's not, for instance, a therapy or social work grad degree which is required to work in the field as professional.
posted by griphus at 11:16 AM on February 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

(Er, the social worker example is a bit inaccurate, but I think you get the point I'm trying to make.)
posted by griphus at 11:18 AM on February 14, 2014

I wouldn't do it unless you have a reason. Non-technical government work is hard to break into above entry-level and a MPA doesn't help you out with that at all.
posted by Willie0248 at 12:08 PM on February 14, 2014

Thanks for the input.

I'm very interested in how cities work and I'd love to work in the non-profit field. However, the experience and education I have now does not qualify me for many (if any) positions in municipal or non-profit fields.

I can't see any way to get the qualifications for those fields without getting a MPA and I think adding the ENR part will improve my prospects in the job market as the environment and natural resources are going to be issues for the foreseeable future.

The university I work at now is pretty inexpensive and I get to go to one class each semester for free, which would really add up over the course of a degree.

I hope this clarifies things and I appreciate any ideas.
posted by Fister Roboto at 12:45 PM on February 14, 2014

This is what I want to do.

It has good projected employment growth, decent pay and I'd really like to help people. You don't specifically need an MPA for it, but it couldn't hurt, right?
posted by Fister Roboto at 1:12 PM on February 14, 2014

I can't see any way to get the qualifications for those fields without getting a MPA...

Well, the MPA doesn't grant you any experience or make you any less practically qualified for the job. When you actually start applying places, you're going to have to make whatever experience you currently have fit whatever requirements the job will have. The MPA will just be a single line under the "education" header and it won't make such a difference that that would make it a worthwhile investment or your time or money if you're angling to become more generally employable in the near future.

But, honestly, if you can take a class for free, go take a class for free. See what's involved, if you can hack it, if you feel like you're learning something useful, etc.

Also, you mention "financial suicide" above. I'm not sure if you've worked in non-profits before, but non-profit work is a financial sacrifice. When you choose to work in a non-profit organization over a similar job in a for-profit company, you're choosing to take a pretty solid pay cut and, usually, a much more prolonged period of time between raises.
posted by griphus at 1:12 PM on February 14, 2014

Looking at that job, I don't see an advanced degree as a requirement. It's preferred, but not required.

The median income is a smidge below $60K. At that wage, I would minimize any graduate school loans and try to gain relevant experience by working with social service agencies in your community. If you're going to go to school and work full time, then you won't be able to work an internship to gain marketable experience.

With the exception of jobs where an advance degree is a hard barrier to entry, I think advanced degrees have a better return on investment for career progression rather than career change. If you are one of graduating class of MPAs, then the hiring company can select between people with an MPA+experience or people with an MPA. It's not hard to figure out who's going to get picked first.
posted by 26.2 at 1:38 PM on February 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ah, so here's the rub: where I work and live, there aren't a ton of social service agencies to volunteer/get experience at and I absolutely need to keep working full-time as long as I can. I could look at volunteering after work at the few places where I live, of course.

I realize I am not going to make a ton of money working in non-profits. My current position has very low pay and I haven't had a raise in 5+ years, so really anything would be an improvement.

Now that I think of it, I do have some skills that would translate into non-profit work (information literacy, analysis, communication skills).
I guess the bet I'm considering taking is that my experience as an archivist that translates fairly well into non-profit work and the addition of an MPA would be enough to make me an attractive candidate when one or the other wouldn't as much.

I am going to contact my local and localish non-profits to see what kind of skills/education they would like to see out of potential employees. Thanks again for the input!
posted by Fister Roboto at 2:27 PM on February 14, 2014

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