Employment & Salary Trends

What do MPA/MPP graduates earn?
Where do they work?

This page addresses whether a Master’s degree is worth the expense, and the salary and employment trends for recent MPA/MPP graduates.  You’ll find that earning a MPA or MPP definitely pays off in terms of increased skills and knowledge, as well as salary and career opportunities.

The salary data presented here serve as great examples, but may not be applicable to all MPA/MPP graduates.  Salaries vary greatly by sector, geography, and work experience, among other factors. Data is also subject to change.

Is a Master’s degree worth the cost?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2012 recipients of master’s degrees earned $12,220 more than those with only a bachelor’s degree, and the unemployment rate was a full point lower. Source: US BLS.

Given current tuition rates, recent MPA/MPP graduates can expect to recoup the costs of their degree within a few years, especially if they attend a public university in-state.

How much could my salary increase after completing an MPA or MPP?

The Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington reports that their 2012 MPA alumni increased their salaries, on average, $18,464 by completing the degree.  Source: Evans School.

The Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania reported that its 2012 MPA graduates had an average starting salary of $70,305.  Source: Penn Career Survey

What could be my starting pay working for the US federal government?

The federal government has a General Schedule (GS) pay scale that is based upon “grades” and “steps.” The links below show how much an individual earns at each grade and step. MPA/MPP graduates usually enter at the GS-9 level, or at GS-11 if they have relevant work experience.  In 2014, a GS-9’s annual pay starts at $41,979, while a GS-11’s starts at $50,790.  Federal workers are usually promoted within their grade in 1-2 steps per year.

You can view the whole table by clicking here. Pay is also based on cost of living (geographic area) and experience. For example, GS-9 salaries in the Washington, DC area start at $52,146, with GS-11 at $63,091. To see the whole table for the DC region, click here.

Where do MPA/MPP graduates work?

Annual Accreditation Data Report

MPA/MPP graduates are found in a wide variety of workplaces, but are especially attracted to the public and nonprofit sectors. Data submitted by NASPAA-accredited programs shows that almost half of 2011 graduates were working in government six months after graduating. Of those, there is a roughly even split between federal, state, and local levels.
MPA graduates were more likely than MPP alumni to be working in government or nonprofit, while a higher percentage of MPP grads were in the private sector. Of those in the private sector, 64% were conducting research or consulting.

source: NASPAA 2011-12 Annual Accreditation Data Report (p. 6-7)

What kind of jobs do MPA/MPP graduates have?

Here are a few examples of positions often obtained by MPA/MPP graduates, starting with entry level positions.  Note that salaries for these positions vary greatly due to a number of factors, including but not limited to work experience, location, and sector.

Local Government Analyst State/Local Gov $26,000 – $45,000
Program Coordinator Nonprofit $30,000 – $48,000
Program Assistant/Manager Nonprofit $32,000 – $63,000
Policy Analyst Nonprofit/Government $40,000 – $68,000
Statistician Nonprofit/Government $46,000 – $65,000
Research Associate NP/Gov/Private $45,000 – $60,000
Marketing/PA Specialist NP/Gov/Private $66,000 – $85,000
City Manager/Chief Administrative Officer State/Local Gov $101,000 – $108,000

Sources: Indeed, Payscale, ICMA, University of Pittsburgh

What are the salary comparisons by employment sector?

Each employment three sector offers advantages and disadvantages, which you must evaluate for yourself. Because of this, many factors, in addition to salary, should be considered before taking a job.

As one example, Cornell University compares the median starting salaries of its 2012 and 2013 MPA graduates. You can see that there is considerable variation, even year to year, especially in a tight job market:

Class of 2012
Class of 2013
Public $57,000 $52,000
Private $55,000 $63,000
Nonprofit $45,500 $48,000

Note: Class of 2012 graduates reported nine months after graduation, while the class of 2103 reported three months after graduation.  View the report here.

Here are employment and salary reports for MPA graduates from three other schools:

School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University (class of ‘11)
Evan School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington  (class of ’12)
LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin

page updated March 2014