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What is Public Administration?

A public administration professional at a table, reviewing documents with a pen in hand, while two colleagues do their work.

Understanding the Numbers
When reviewing job growth and salary information, it’s important to remember that actual numbers can vary due to many different factors — like years of experience in the role, industry of employment, geographic location, worker skill and economic conditions. Cited projections do not guarantee actual salary or job growth.

Dr. Michelle Caron, associate dean of business at SNHUPublic administration is a broad field that covers the administrative services needed to help build and strengthen society. 

The field often focuses on "developing and influencing local, state or federal regulations and policies to drive positive change in our communities and society at large," said Dr. Michelle Caron, associate dean of business at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU).

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) defines public administration as a branch of study that prepares you to serve as a public service manager in local, state or federal government.

Typically, public administration programs cover public policy management, legislative relations, public budgetary processes and financial management, labor relations and ethics, NCES reports.

What Does a Public Administrator Do?

Public administrators share an important role in ensuring that laws and regulations, civil rights, municipal budgets and health and safety codes are enforced to protect the community they serve. 

A blue graphic with an icon of two white outlined hands shaking“They primarily work with elected officials, community leaders, nonprofits and private partners to analyze, manage, and deliver public programs and services to ensure public safety and provide public services," said Caron.

Today, the issues facing public administrators are as broad as the populations they serve. Good public administrators must ensure they serve all constituents fairly and equitably.

Some of the challenges they face include the perception of corruption in government, the rise in new technologies and their effect on communications, a lack of diversity in citizen participation and implicit bias and racial discrimination, according to a commentary published in the American Society for Public Administration’s PA Times.

It will be increasingly important for public administrators to seek innovative solutions in an era of increasing and changing populations, the commentary suggested.

"By embracing innovation, public administrators may be able to modernize pubic services and develop new approaches to tackle challenges from electoral integrity to advancing national interests in an evolving global landscape," said Caron.

How Useful is a Degree in Public Administration?

Those possessing a public administration degree typically work in a diverse number of roles that may range from developing nutrition programs for low-income families to working with law enforcement officials to help solve the opioid epidemic.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists a number of careers that require a solid grounding in the principles of public administration, including:

An icon of a graduation cap.After being an elected official for almost 25 years, Cynthia Couture '23MBA decided to pursue a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Public Administration for her own personal growth and interest.

"It has expanded my understanding of our state and the world," she said. She said her degree may serve as a foundation to continue her volunteering services.

According to Caron, the curriculum at SNHU teaches students to assess problems with policy implementation and identify ways to improve public services using relevant industry trends. She said graduates can successfully navigate complex situations and deal with obstacles effectively.

Find Your Program

Public Administration Degree Jobs

BLS provides the following examples of government and public administration careers, along with job descriptions, in which an undergraduate degree is helpful.

Administrative Service Manager

Sometimes referred to as business office managers or facilities managers, administrative services managers supervise staff and ensure facilities meet standards and regulations, according to BLS.

In an administrative service manager role, you could expect to set goals for personnel and departments, oversee related buildings and equipment, and manage policies related to health, safety and efficiency. The median annual wage for administrative services managers was $104,900 in 2023, according to BLS.*

Budget Analyst

As a budget analyst, you could prepare reports and monitor institutional spending for a nonprofit, private or government organization.

Your duties could include reviewing budget proposals, tracking organizational finances, making spending recommendations and projecting future spending, according to BLS. The median annual wage for budget analysts was $84,940 in 2023, according to BLS.*

Emergency Management Director

In this role, you could prepare plans or procedures for disaster response in a community, city or state.

Emergency management directors work with government, nonprofit and public safety officials to create emergency plans, assess damage, coordinate and distribute resources and secure funding, according to BLS. The median annual wage for emergency management directors was $83,960 in 2023, according to BLS.*

Public Affairs Director

Similar to public relations managers, public affairs directors raise external awareness of organizations and create positive relationships within the community, according to O*NET OnLine.

In this role, you may establish relationships with the media and local community, plan public relations campaigns and events and lead a public affairs team.

Public Utilities Specialist

Energy services are highly regulated and need specialists who understand the laws and regulations that underpin them.

In this role, you could write and negotiate contracts, amendments and other agreements for the sale, purchase or interchange of utilities such as power and water, according to the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy.

Social and Community Service Manager

Interested in improving transportation access for the elderly or ensuring communities have strong crime watch programs? As a social and community service manager, you could work with the community to find necessary resources, suggest ways to improve community programs and increase awareness of them, according to BLS.

Duties include fundraising, creating and monitoring budgets and working with stakeholders to evaluate the effectiveness of programs. The median annual wage for social and community service managers was $77,030 in 2023, according to BLS.*

Urban and Regional Planner

Urban and regional planners develop land-use plans and programs that enhance communities, factor in population growth and update physical facilities in cities and communities. As an urban or regional planner, you could work with public officials, developers and community groups to design development plans for new industrial parks, public housing and public outdoor space, according to BLS.

The job also requires a strong knowledge of zoning, building codes and site plans, and could require a master’s degree, according to BLS. The median annual wage for urban and regional planners was $81,800 in 2023, according to BLS.*

If you're interested in more advanced positions in the field, you can consider other jobs available with a master's in public administration.

Whichever role you choose, working in public administration can offer you other benefits in addition to salary potential, including a sense of purpose, the opportunity to learn and grow, and a way to make a difference in your community, state or country.

Discover more about SNHU's bachelor's in public administration: Find out what courses you'll take, skills you'll learn and how to request information about the program.

*Cited job growth projections may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions and do not guarantee actual job growth. Actual salaries and/or earning potential may be the result of a combination of factors including, but not limited to: years of experience, industry of employment, geographic location, and worker skill.

Krysten Godfrey Maddocks ’11G is a writer who covers K-12 and higher education topics, including policy and the role of digital technology in education. She spent almost a decade working in various marketing roles at an educational assessment company before launching a strategic marketing company. Maddocks earned a master's degree in marketing from Southern New Hampshire University and a bachelor's degree in English/ journalism from the University of New Hampshire. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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About Southern New Hampshire University

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SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.