Master of Public Administration (MPA) with a Focus in Healthcare Administration
Much more than a crisis of healthcare service delivery, the COVID-19 pandemic in America was a crisis of public administration.
From the beginning, scientists and healthcare professionals were on-point in their diagnoses and estimations. A comprehensive pandemic response plan had long been in place at the Centers for Disease Control, one of the premiere public health agencies in the world. The disease surveillance system in place in the country was second to none. The laboratory facilities and the experts in place to analyze results from those labs worked quickly and with remarkable accuracy under pressure.
Yet the nation fell quickly into one of the worst hospitalization and death rates in the world. Public administrators consistently failed in messaging, were late in enacting protective measures, and squandered opportunities to put the scientific findings to good use. Public trust in public health services plummeted. Only a month in to the pandemic, surveys measuring confidence in the government response plummeted by 16 percentage points according to Gallup. Several months in, only around a third of Americans believed that the CDC had communicated a clear plan of action, and less than half believed the agency would be able to successfully manage the challenge.
As public healthcare administration rebuilds from the depths of the crisis, there’s not only room but also a strong demand for highly capable, ethical administrators who won’t let a disaster like COVID-19 happen on their watch again. And that means graduates with MPA degrees with a focus in health care management are going to be at a premium in government agencies and major healthcare organizations for decades to come.
What Is an MPA in Healthcare Management?
The Master of Public Administration has become an interdisciplinary degree by default as the public sector has taken on more and more responsibilities in more and more fields of expertise. The defining thread in the degree is a focus on executive organization and management.
Although an MPA with a health care management concentration will retain that focus on organizational development and the broad perspective of interdisciplinary studies, it will also give you an extra ration of the specialized knowledge and skills required in health care administration.
Because many MPA graduates can expect to land in public service positions, there’s a broad overlap with public and population health studies.
MPA degrees resemble other types of managerial master’s degree programs like the MBA (Master of Business Administration) and MHA (Master of Healthcare Administration) in that they spend a lot of time digging into the nuts-and-bolts details of operating and overseeing large-scale efforts that require coordinating many people, outside organizations, and resources toward a larger goal.
So you will have a lot of coursework that doesn’t look much different from any kind of administration degree, including:
But then you’ll get the detailed scoop on the elements that truly make public administration a different sort of expertise:
Health Care Management Concentration Courses in an MPA Program
On top of those core classes in the essentials of administration, your healthcare management concentration will add others that introduce you to the specifics of managing an organization with significant healthcare responsibilities. Those courses will include:
You’ll also find a variety of courses that echo the core MPA curriculum, but offer a more healthcare-oriented perspective on the same subjects:
Capstone Projects are Replacing the Traditional Master’s Thesis in MPA Programs
While a written thesis was long considered the standard culminating effort of a master’s-level degree program, many MPA programs have made that paper optional or set it aside entirely in favor of a capstone project. This is because the MPA is fundamentally an applied degree so a project that gives you a chance to come up practical solutions instead of purely theoretical ones better aligns with how you’ll actually be using your skills after graduation.
This project is where you tie together all the various aspects of the education you have received in a real-world scenario that gives you the opportunity to work with outside agencies. The idea is to give you a chance to really test your mettle by applying a workable solution to a real world public administration problem even before you graduate.
These projects are typically done independently and sometimes as part of a team effort with classmates, but always under the general guidance of a supervising professor. In the end, you’ll often be expected to present your problem/solution to a panel of professors, but unlike a thesis you won’t have to defend it through a lengthy revision process.
What is the Difference Between a Master of Healthcare Administration and an MPA With Health Care Management Concentration?
you are getting so many courses in management and healthcare topics anyway, you may be wondering what exactly the difference is between getting an MPA with a healthcare administration concentration and just going for a Master of Healthcare Administration degree.
The difference between the MPA and MHA in this case is one of destination; an MHA will be the more appropriate degree for a healthcare professional seeking a position working in a large hospital or managed health company, or an insurer or medical device manufacturer… An MPA, on the other hand, provides an education aimed squarely at positions with non-profit organizations, in government, or other institutions that might also operate with healthcare interests.
Examples could include:
With the core public management training in the MPA, you will be considered well-prepared for taking on leadership and managerial roles in those organizations, while the healthcare concentration gives you specialized training in the unique aspects of healthcare operations, such as regulation, reimbursement, policy, and public health concerns.
The Importance of Specialty Accreditation for MPA Degrees
All reputable American colleges and universities hold a general accreditation from one of the major regional accrediting agencies that have been approved by the Department of Education to evaluate all things related to higher education. It’s such a common standard that most students don’t give it a thought when selecting their school.
But when you are planning to earn a degree in a highly specialized field like public administration, you do need to take a second look at your choices. That’s because, especially at the master’s level, a specialty accreditation that looks specially at the program and not just the institution can make all the difference in how your degree is perceived by potential employers and your peers… not to mention offering you the assurance you need that you are getting the kind of education you are paying for.
The primary organization the DOE recognizes as an accreditor of public administration degrees specifically is the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA). By evaluating each prospective program against seven quality standards, they set the benchmark for public administration education in every element from strategic planning and assessment to diversity and inclusiveness.
Because you are looking at a key sub-specialization, it may also be worth your time to check and see if the program has an accreditation from Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME). CAHME primarily accredits MHA degree programs, but there are a few MPA degrees that have earned the distinction of becoming CAHME-accredited. While it may not be your primary consideration, picking a program that has achieved this dual-accreditation status will definitely ensure that you are getting the finest education in both healthcare administration and public administration.
Application Requirements for MPA Program Admissions
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), as of 2020 there were approximately 3.1 million students enrolled in graduate programs of all types. At the same time, only about 833,000 master’s degrees are projected to be awarded.
Looking to reverse this trend, colleges like to invest their time and energy into students who are likely to both complete the program and succeed in their profession, so the bar for entry is set high and many top quality master’s degree programs can be very competitive when it comes to admissions.
Most admissions committees look primarily at three areas of achievement, with varying standards and requirements:
What are the Costs of an MPA in Healthcare Administration?
In 2017, the most recent year for which analysis was available, the NCES pegged the cost of a graduate degree at $11,097 per year at a public institution, and $22,913 at a private university.
Master’s programs in public administration typically take two years of study, so at a minimum, you are looking at more than $20,000 in tuition alone. That’s before factoring in all the other inevitable costs for materials, fees, housing, and transportation.
And MPA degrees may clock in at considerably more than the median numbers offered by NCES. The range of in-state tuition for MPA degrees that are CAHME-accredited runs between $63,824 and $88,647. Those are, of course, some of the most elite programs in the nation, but you will get the education you pay for, and public administration degrees are in high demand.
Should You Consider an Online MPA Degree?
One way to reduce your costs may be to consider taking an online MPA degree program. In fact, you might choose this option for a lot of reasons that don’t have anything to do with cost.
While it’s true that online programs can be cheaper, because they don’t need to invest in the kind of classroom space and other resources that traditional programs require, they offer many other benefits to working graduate students already established in their careers.
For one thing, you don’t have to relocate to attend the program of your dreams. You have a much wider selection of options if you can attend from home, and you also avoid the expense and trouble of relocating for two years to complete the program.
For another, if you are hoping to keep your current job or maintain your family commitments, asynchronous online classes allow you to shift your studies to any hour of the day or night. You can wait until you tuck the kids into bed and get the dishes done before reading up on the latest literature on public administration options for dealing with the anti-vaccination movement.
Some online programs still contain some traditional classes, often grouped together in an intensive week or weekend immersion option once per year or semester. These give you the best of both worlds, putting you face-to-face with fellow students and instructors, while still offering you most of the flexibility of online-only courses.
Job Prospects for MPA in Healthcare Management Graduates
Although the recent pandemic has grabbed all the headlines, healthcare administrators have far more varied roles in public service than just overseeing pandemic responses. You’ll find public administration positions that are well-suited to anyone with a healthcare management concentration in big federal agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. State and local governments have similar roles, overseeing everything from school vaccination programs to running social services agencies to auditing billing records in local hospitals and clinics. After Hurricane Harvey, admins with the VA took in mobile units to the affected areas to run popup clinicsfor vets in the disaster area. MPA graduates can think on their feet and get to the heart of priorities in any kind of healthcare scenario.
Although the public administration aspect of the degree is often emphasized, the fact is that administrative expertise is useful and welcome in all types of healthcare organizations. That opens up a broad swath of jobs to MPA graduates in traditional healthcare management roles as well.
Demand is strong for just about any sort of position that involves healthcare. The industry as a whole is poised to grow at an annual rate of at least 5 percent per year through 2023 according to consulting firm Deloitte. And governments building their way back out of the pandemic crisis are likely to need fresh new waves of well-trained public administrators to put together programs to handle the next threat.
Salary Levels for MPA Healthcare Management Graduates
Demand isn’t quite the same as salary, however, particularly not in the governmental jobs where MPA graduates typically land. Salary levels are rigorously set and typically reflect time-in-service and job title. Although benefits tend to be excellent, with terrific health insurance and pension plans, salaries for government jobs are almost always lower than a corresponding position in the private sector will be. On the other hand, your responsibilities and ability to affect the lives of millions will be much higher… job satisfaction has to be considered part of your compensation.
With many public administration positions being at federal agencies, it’s going to be worth your while to understand the General Schedule—a pay scale that governs almost every compensation arrangement throughout federal civil service positions.
The GS has 15 different grades with 10 steps apiece. Every federal job, at every agency, will have a grade assigned to it. Regardless of your education, experience, or talent, you’ll be getting paid somewhere in that grade band.
The steps within that band are where the individual differences can come in. With a master’s degree, your minimum level will be a GS-9. For 2020, that means a Step 1 salary level of $45,627. But at Step 10, a GS-9 can make $59,316… which you may well be offered with the right qualifications.
If that sounds a little low for your corner of the world, don’t despair; the feds recognize that the cost of living in different regions can eat into your salary, so you can get as much as a 40 percent bump based on the job location. Some typical adjustments across the country are:
State and local administrators will have similar salary schedules set by their localities, but they can vary considerably by agency and area. BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) data from 2020 showed that the average salary for administrative service managers at the local level was $97,910 and $92,370 for state government. Non-profit organizations fell into a similar range.
Private sector compensation is considerably higher. According to the 2019 Modern Healthcare survey of healthcare management professionals published by Crain’s, compensation in general rose by more than 6 percent year-over-year from 2018. And salaries for executives working in roles that call for an MPA all ranged into six figures:
Resources For Careers in Public Health Administration for MPA Graduates
The work of public administrators is never isolated. It’s a field where building coalitions and consensus is never-ending, and you won’t accomplish much if you don’t spend time reaching out to other individuals and organizations in the industry to stay in touch with the latest policies and trends. They’ll help you through the rough spots in your own areas of responsibility just as you will from time to time be able to help them in theirs.
So it pays to get involved with industry organizations and to get to know your resources early on in your MPA
HEALTH ADMINISTRATION SCHOOLS
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia