Degrees of success?: MPA's and MBA's from elite universities and career success in the federal government

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


Since Woodrow Wilson’s seminal essay "The Study of Administration,” when he called for educating administrators in administration in hopes of making government more business-like, scholars have been investigating the differences and similarities between government and business. Largely ignored was the education for administration; should it likewise be more focused on business?

Despite the development of specialized public administration degrees, the Master of Public Administration (MPA) and its equivalents, many managers trained in business schools are employed in federal government. This, alone, should make one question whether or not graduate education in public administration is truly any better or more appropriate for public sector management careers than other graduate degrees, notably the MBA.

The present study addresses the issue of degree appropriateness by comparing federal sector managers who are MPA-trained with those who are MBA-trained on ten career success indices. Data to construct the indices were collected via a mailed survey questionnaire sent to the population of federal sector managers holding the MPA or MBA from selected universities. A variety of statistical procedures in SPSS were used to analyze the data.

Analysis of the data indicates that few significant differences exist between MPA's and MBA's in career success, as measured in the short term. Possible explanations for these findings are explored. A cohort analysis and t-Test indicates that MBA's receive higher starting salaries than MPA's but MPA's surpass their MBA peers approximately twelve years after completing the master's degree. A hypothetical fourth (older) cohort of MPA's would be significantly higher paid now than MBA's.

Implications for individuals, institutions, and society, based on the findings, were discussed, along with limitations to the study and future topics of research.