Erica Cardenas

Do you hear the calling?

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The “call to serve” has long been woven into our nation’s framework through the form of public service. But it is not limited to volunteerism, running for office or becoming a first responder. Public “servants” in government positions, either elected or appointed, carry out policy and find solutions to issues that define the public agenda.

Perhaps that means addressing needs of changing populations without raising taxes, or implementing technologies to better connect citizens to their government systems. Public administrators manage nearly every aspect of public service at the federal, state and local levels with the aim of contributing directly to the public good.

Career opportunities within this sector are endless, including those in government at all levels, in nonprofit organizations, in higher education and in private-sector companies that work under government contracts.

Economy, efficiency, equity

Perhaps the thought has crossed your mind: What is the educational path needed to launch a career in the public sector?

The website www.publicservicecareers.org notes that to be considered as a strong candidate, a minimum of a bachelor’s degree is suggested, though additional education beyond a bachelor’s degree is preferred for those looking to sustain a public service career.

First, let’s take a brief look at the general degrees that one can earn in the field itself. A public administration degree offers an academic background for those pursuing a career in both government and nongovernmental organizations. With areas of overlap between the two pursuits, a degree program that combines both will allow you to move into either area and give you a competitive edge.

In fact, Arizona State University’s School of Public Affairs located at the downtown Phoenix campus recently announced that the school now offers Arizona’s first professional undergraduate degree program in public service and public policy. Within this program, students may choose from three areas of concentration: public policy, public leadership or management and urban studies.

As for the school itself, ASU’s School of Public Affairs (SPA) is the only school in the metro Phoenix area that is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA). It also consistently ranks among the top 25 public administration schools in the country.

Of course many choose to take their education a step further and obtain a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree. Coursework can include everything from financial management and grant and policy writing to human resource management and advocacy.

If your interest involves conducting research on public policy and/or teaching at the university level, then a Ph.D. in public administration could be in order.

With the expansion of government in size and scope, more public administration career opportunities exist than ever before. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that public administration positions need to be filled for a variety of public, state or municipal agencies. Significant demand for public administration comes from 1996 legislation that empowers more local public governments to administer federal programs.

Considering the “three E’s” of public administration are economy, efficiency and equity, people in public service jobs typically do everything from analyze information, oversee expenditures and serve as consultants, to draft and implement governmental and public policy and manage people and resources.

To get a brief glimpse into what being a “steward of service” could look like, let’s start with government positions, both at the federal and state levels. Your job title could be policy advisor, city planner or even city manager. Salary range for a city manager would most likely fall between $51,000- $80,000, though it could go as high as $175,000 depending on the size of your community.

A bachelor’s degree might be the minimum requirement for a position of this level; however, an MPA is more appropriate given the level of responsibility. Such a role would require you to be involved with every city department, such as recommending policies or programs to city council or preparing the department’s annual budget.

If having more personal daily contact with constituents is more your style, your bachelor’s degree in public administration could prepare you for a career in social work. The median annual salary falls somewhere between $35,000 – $45,000. Managerial and director positions within this career choice would pay a considerably higher salary and would allow you to make broader policy decisions that affect the groups you serve.

If you’re interested in obtaining an entry-level public administration job in state or local government agencies, generally having two years in urban and regional planning or equivalent work experience, in addition to an undergraduate degree is preferred.

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