MPP/MPA program concentrations, plus a question on program 'prestige'
December 28, 2017 11:50 AM   Subscribe

A question for those who have this degree or those who hire them (or are in any position to shed some light): how important is your chosen concentration (i.e., Environmental Policy, Global Policy, Economic Development, etc.) when it comes to job hunting? The programs I'm looking at have a variety of concentrations available, and I'm curious how important they really are when it comes to the skills you develop and who will hire you when you graduate.

I'm looking at three online programs:
Oregon State U

Each has a different selection of concentrations and each has at least one that I think I'd be perfectly happy choosing. The OSU program is quite a bit more affordable than the other two, so I'm looking a little more closely at that.

I'm wondering: if I did the OSU program, chose the Environmental Policy concentration, and then once in the job market found an opportunity in say, Economic Development that really struck my fancy, would that job basically be off the table? Or is the core education in any MPP/MPA program general enough to prepare you for most jobs in the public sphere? I'm basically trying to decide if I should prioritize concentration choice over school or vice versa. So, is my choice of concentration so important that it determines my whole career? In which case, I'd really need to sit down and figure out which path I really want to take before applying to a program. Or is it more important just to have the degree?

I am also wondering: how important should the name of the school be in my decision? Northwestern and UNC have greater 'prestige' than OSU, but they're all just online programs, so . . . maybe that kind of equalizes any prestige because online is less prestigious, anyway?

If it helps: I live in the Bay Area and would probably be looking at jobs in a local city, town, or county government. I've been working for a local chamber of commerce for many years, and so I'm pretty well-versed on the needs of the business community. It has also helped me learn about transportation, housing and immigration issues, all of which I find interesting and would be happy to explore in school and in a future job.
posted by imalaowai to Education (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've been working for a local chamber of commerce for many years...

I'd say that work history (including internships), larger class projects (thesis equivalents), and other experience is more important than course topics, though course work may matter. Also, there's a general split between more quantitative and qualitative courses. If you want to be more of an analyst, load up on quantitative courses. If program management, then econometrics isn't that important.

If you have contacts in local government, you should ask them these questions directly.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:59 AM on December 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm under the firm impression that MPA/MPP programs are among those for which it is really about the network of your fellow students and alumni as well as the practical/internship opportunities facilitated by the program. It is unlikely that local government hiring people would know much about any particular MPA/MPP program outside of the regional ones.

I'm also under the impression that what is taught/offered in MPA/MPP programs varies so incredibly widely that it can dilute the degree. Employers don't know what skills an MPA/MPP graduate walks in the door with. I know people that basically made the degree program a data science degree by the coursework chosen. Others did more human rights oriented work. With this in mind, the specialization could perhaps help. *Some* MPA/MPP programs are actually oriented toward local government work, but not all of them.

If you're committed to staying in the Bay Area, you may want to focus in on programs in the Bay Area to leverage the alumni network, the name recognition, and the local opportunities . Many professional degree programs have evening and/or online components.
posted by k8t at 12:00 PM on December 28, 2017

Response by poster: Sorry to jump in so early, I should have mentioned this in my question: an online degree appeals because while we'd like to stay in the Bay Area, my husband's job is a bit precarious and it's always possible that we'll need to move if he gets let go and can't find another job in the area. A part-time program could take as long as 4 years and we just don't know if we'll be able to stay in this area that long.
posted by imalaowai at 12:10 PM on December 28, 2017

I can only speak to MPP programs but if you look at people working in the federal government a huge percentage of them went to Duke. I have never been wildly impressed by the Duke alumni I worked with but it's a strong network so keep that in mind. I have been impressed more by folks I worked with that studied in London or at UNC, Texas A&M, UCSD or Boston University. Maybe they pick better candidates or maybe they have a better program, they must have a smaller program given the sheer number of Duke grads I've met, but they've been much brighter, more innovative and effective ime. I do not usually move in the circles with the very top school grads from MPPS at Carnegie Mellon and Berkeley or Harvard (mostly because I'm in science, and those aren't so much science policy schools). However, and not too surprisingly the more expensive private East Coast universities tend to put people into east coast fed jobs at higher rates.

I'd say it depends a lot on where you want to end up and what branch you want to work in: West Coast or northwest in local or state govt, OSU or Northwestern are good programs. If you are shooting or Fed/ DC type jobs in business and economics policy I'd toss Duke/ Berkeley/ UMich in the pile, see what it will cost in the end to go there. Science, well you apparently can't go wrong with Duke.
posted by fshgrl at 12:13 PM on December 28, 2017

Response by poster: Sorry, if I can add one more clarification: I'm not super ambitious. Definitely not interested in the DC thing or busting my ass to get into and then succeed in a super competitive program like Berkeley. I'm not going to move for a program or a job. I'm 35 and married, fairly settled except for the caveat above, and honestly my goal is just to find a solid job where I can be effective and do some good in a local government. Sorry guys, should have included this info in the initial question.
posted by imalaowai at 12:40 PM on December 28, 2017

Best answer: I have an MPA and work for city government and no one has ever asked about my concentration. In fact, I did not even have one since my program didn't require it.

In my personal experience, hiring managers haven't cared where I got my degree from, just that I have it. However, I will note that many of the people I work with received degrees from local institutions, and I can't think of anyone who got an online degree.

Feel free to drop me a memail if you want to chat about this; it seems like we're kinda similar except on opposite coasts.
posted by ferret branca at 12:50 PM on December 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have an MPA from UNC, although I finished as the online program was being launched, so I don't know much about the online program. There's definitely difference among different MPP/MPA programs in terms of sphere of work (international? local government? think tanks? nonprofits and philanthropy?) and in terms of how quantitative/policy oriented they are (MPPs are usually more in this category) as opposed to being more management-skills/practitioner oriented (MPAs are more in this category).

I don't think either the focus of the program overall or the concentration you pick will make a huge difference in job searching, especially if you have other work experience. The degree is pretty versatile and general, and most employers don't know a ton about the degree so will probably just see the fact that you have it as a good thing.

But even so the focus of the program/your classes will matter in terms of the skills it gives you, so I think that you should be thinking about what kind of focus you think you'd like to pursue. If you change your mind later I think you'll be able to make that transition, but it would still be good to have some idea now of what you think you want. Also, as people above have mentioned, the networking aspect is a big part of getting a job later, so you will want to be in a program where you will be networking with people who are likely to end up in places that are relevant to you. If you go somewhere that is super focused on federal government service, the network you develop won't be as useful if you're looking for a job in higher education admin or philanthropy or whatever.

Good luck and congrats on taking an exciting step, whatever you choose! I loved getting my degree. Also feel free to MeMail me if you want to talk more about the UNC MPA program specifically. I don't know a lot about the online program but I could connect you to some folks who do.
posted by aka burlap at 2:01 PM on December 28, 2017

Response by poster: Thank you for your helpful answers, everyone! Ferret Branca and AKA Burlap -- I will definitely reach out at some point. I'm also going to take some local govt contacts I have out to lunch to pick their brains and get their opinions on these questions. I was (and am) definitely concerned about the lack of local network-building that I will have access to as part of an online program, but I think I'm just going to have to make it work because an online program is the only thing that really makes sense logistically at this point in my life. I do have a pretty decent network through my work so I will try to leverage that as much as I can, and continue to build upon it.
posted by imalaowai at 3:03 PM on December 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

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