Frequently Asked Questions

What is public administration?

Public administration is the action side of government, or more specifically, the implementation of public policy. However, as noted by public administration scholars such as Richard Stillman, coming up with a precise and universally acceptable definition of public administration is difficult in part due to the rapid growth in the twentieth century where public administrators serve so many different roles, and because public administration is so deeply intertwined with the critical dilemmas confronting an entire society.

The rapidly increasing number and scope of activities involving public administration, notes Stillman, have led theorists to develop a variety of definitions (Stillman, 2010, pp. 1-2). For example:

Public administration may be defined as all processes, organizations, and individuals (the latter acting in official positions and roles) associated with carrying out laws and other rules adopted or issued by legislatures, executives, and courts.

Michael E. Milakovich,
Public Administration and Society (2004).
In Stillman (2010), p. 3


Traditionally, public administration is thought of as the accomplishing side of government. It is supposed to comprise all those activities involved in carrying out the policies of elected officials and some activities associated with the development of those policies. Public administration is . . . all that comes after the last campaign promise and election-night cheer.

Grover Starling,
Managing the Public Sector (Eighth Edition, 2007)
In Stillman, (2010), p. 4

Richard J. Stillman II – (2010), Public Administration: Concepts and Cases, 9th ed., Cengage Learning.

What is a master’s of public administration or MPA degree?

In many circles, an MPA degree is considered a professional degree as opposed to an academic degree. Like most professional degrees, it can lead to a wide variety of careers.

MPAs work in nonprofits, government agencies, international NGOs, social enterprises, private businesses, financial institutions and more. Classes usually cover management topics (e.g. research methods, public budgeting and finance, human resources) with a focus on government and nonprofit organizations, and also public policy issues (e.g. program evaluation and policy analysis, and issue-specific courses).

Most programs have opportunities to specialize. Various schools offer specializations/concentrations in international affairs, health care, environment, education, human rights, finance, urban policy, management, specific geographic regions and other areas.

At Eastern Kentucky University students can tailor their online degree program to their specific interests, or choose the community development track if they wish to specialize in local government or nonprofit management.

The mission of the Master of Public Administration Program at Eastern Kentucky University is to maintain and build upon a tradition of national distinction as an exemplary MPA Program by:

  • providing a high quality education for a diverse body of public and nonprofit practitioners and pre-service students in the theories that inform the field of public administration;
  • providing the tools and techniques of public service and administrative practice that enhance performance in the public interest through professional expertise, technical skills and ethical behavior; and
  • supporting the practice of public administration and its ability to serve the public interest, with emphasis on the local, state and regional level.

Portions of this article were taken from Internet pages visited June 2013 at

Should I get an MBA or an MPA?

Because both a Master of Public Administration (MPA) and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) focus on organizational management, students who want to work in the public sector are sometimes unsure about which professional degree to choose. Individuals with a passion for public service often find that their values are more closely aligned with an MPA program whereas an MBA generally prepares students for careers in the private or corporate arena.

There are similarities between MPA and MBA programs. Each promotes efficiency, effectiveness and the continuous improvement of operations. Topics like finance, human resources management, policy analysis and leadership provide a foundation for both fields. However, the goals and values of the two sectors are very different, as is the source of funding for each sector. Hence, the manner in which students use the knowledge they learn in their program to make real-world decisions will vary.

A master’s in public administration can prepare an individual for a variety of career paths in fields such as a public health services, local government management, fire and safety emergency management or program evaluation. If you want to be a leader in a public or nonprofit organization, and spend your career serving others, an MPA degree will provide the skills and knowledge to make your goals a reality.