Public administration programs prepare people to manage state, local, and federal government agencies. Students learn to set public policy and plan budgets. They also learn to work with staff and people elected to serve in office.
Pretend for a moment that Congress passed a law that everyone in America must wear green on Fridays. It's a pretty simple law, since everyone knows the color green, right? Well, except babies. But their parents can make sure they wear green. Uh-oh. Some people are color blind, and can't tell green from red. Not sure what to do about them. Yet, most people can get up on Friday morning and find some green pants and a shirt. Maybe not shoes, though. Would the government give each person a tax credit for all green shoe purchases? And what if you don't wear green on Fridays? Would the police arrest you? Is there a fine? What shade of green, anyway? Does teal count, or is that too blue? Hey, somebody should write a guidebook with some answers to these questions!
Suddenly that new law isn't so simple. While this example is pretty silly, it gives you an idea of the kinds of things public administrators think about every day. They use their knowledge about business, organization, accounting, public policy, and employee relations to make sure that "things get done."
In public administration programs, you take courses in public policy, organizational theory, political science, and management. You also take courses from many areas of study, such as economics, accounting, sociology, and psychology. In addition, you study statistics and research methods so that you can analyze information properly. Depending on your interests, you can also take courses about specific issues. These include environmental problems, the effect of technology on government, and health care finance.
Most graduates from public administration programs work for government agencies and nonprofit groups. However, you can also work for private business, prisons, schools, and international think tanks. In any of these jobs, you use your skills in critical thinking, research, policy analysis, and public speaking. You can even be in charge of an airport or work to protect national security.
Some schools offer concentrations in public administration as part of a political science or business program. Other schools have a separate public administration program. In both cases, public administration programs are usually part of political science departments. In a few cases, they are part of business programs. Most four-year colleges and universities offer bachelor's degrees in political science and business. Typically you finish your bachelor's degree in four years.
Many schools offer graduate programs in public administration. In some cases, public administration is offered as a concentration in political science or business graduate programs. Graduate degrees take from two to five years after you finish your bachelor's degree. Most people with graduate degrees in public administration become professors, administrators, or policy analysts.