What Are the Different Types of Public Administration Degree Programs?

Florence J. Tipton

Students who are considering a career in public and community relations may pursue a public administration education. Public administration degree programs include several different levels to earn academic credentials in the connection between policy and community organizations. Undergraduate public administration degree programs are typically for students beginning their career in the public sector. Graduate public administration degree programs continue academic training in this field for students interested in advancing to executive positions. Certificates in public administration are usually alternative continuing education choices for students who choose not to enroll in a graduate program.

Coursework in undergraduate public administration degree programs centers on several learning objectives.
Coursework in undergraduate public administration degree programs centers on several learning objectives.

For the most part, degree programs in public administration prepare students to work in the public sector. Employment is commonly found in local or regional government agencies that develop legislation related to public issues. Another employment area is with nonprofit organizations (NPOs) that usually provide services to communities.

To prepare for these career options, students may enroll in one or more public administration degree program. Each program could vary slightly among academic institutions in terms of curriculum, specialization, and length of study. Most academic institutions couple public policy courses with the administrative courses in organizational processes.

Typically, coursework in the undergraduate program centers on several learning objectives. In most undergraduate public administration degree programs, the coursework can serve as an introduction to public service. Some undergraduate programs may also include an internship for students to experience firsthand public policy decisions.

Another learning objective for an undergraduate degree is preparation to pursue advanced education and training. Completing undergraduate coursework typically provides a basic understanding of public policy administration in connection with community services. By having this basic understanding, students are usually prepared to study some of the more complex disciplines. Many of these disciplines, such as political science and community and economic development, are part of the graduate curriculum.

In general, graduate public administration degree programs are for current public administration professionals who want to advance in public service positions. Alternately, some students may elect to pursue this degree after completing the undergraduate program and before working in the public sector. With either scenario, some graduate public administration degrees allow students to include a specialization area that enhances their course of study.

Including a specialization area may also help to target specific public administration issues. Examples of specialization areas may include social or public health policy to understand how legislation can impact various community issues. A specialization in global economics could provide an opportunity to understand public policy implications in foreign and domestic issues.

A public administration certificate is often suitable for those who want stronger academic credentials without receiving a graduate degree. Usually, a public administration certificate allows students to by-pass a structured degree but nevertheless learn about public policy. The length of time for completing a certificate is usually similar to that of a graduate degree, although structured as a professional development program.

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