The Military Service Member and Veteran’s Guide to Public Administration Degrees and Career Opportunities

public administration

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Belief in public service runs deep in the American military. It has to. As a volunteer putting your life on the line for your fellow citizens, you are demonstrating a kind of commitment that very few people can claim.

So it’s not unusual for people to come out of military service with that sense of patriotism and commitment still intact, and thirsty for more responsibility. One path to that kind of position in the civilian world is through pursuing a degree and career in public administration.

Public administration is the business end of democratic governance. It’s both a hard-nosed, practical field that develops and implements public policies covering everything from criminal justice to healthcare, and also an academic field that studies the best ways to develop and pursue those policies.

Graduates with public administration degrees are often found in local, state, and federal government positions, making services that citizens depend on tick. They also pursue political careers, taking on the hard work of distilling public opinion and forming working policies around it.

In either case, both a college degree in the field and a military background in administration work will give you an edge.

Explore Your Military Training and Degree Options

What Exactly Are Jobs in Public Administration?

jobs in public administrationLet’s face it: administration is a pretty fuzzy term, whether you’re looking at military or civilian occupations. But it’s a critical role and embraces a lot of valuable skills that serve to keep any kind of company or organization running.

In the United States, just about any kind of managerial job in government is a kind of public administration role of some sort. In practice, the more focused and specific those jobs, the less likely they are called public administration work. A fire chief is a public administrator, but that’s not the kind of position you take a public administration degree to prepare for.

Instead, public administration jobs tend to fall into more big-picture leadership of the machinery of governance:

These jobs all have in common a need to take into account varying data, guidance, and constraints such as:

Public administrators have to put all that together and come up with working systems, and recommend changes or compromises where needed. They have the responsibility for getting things done in situations outside their full control.

But that’s part of what can make the job so satisfying. And you won’t find any shortage of public administrators both today and in American history who came from a military background.

Taking Public Administration to the Stars

space telescopeJames Webb earned his degree in education, but his heart was in the sky. After graduating with his bachelor’s degree in 1928, he joined the Marine Corps and was commissioned as a second lieutenant, becoming a pilot.

After a stint as a civilian, working in government and for aeronautics companies in the 1930s, Webb was back in the Corps as World War II raged across the world. He served as commander of Marine Air Warning Group One, a new radar outfit, for the duration.

After the war, that leadership potential and hunger for public service took him back to Washington D.C. His administration skills were noticed.

When President John F. Kennedy needed someone to get his fledgling space agency off the ground, Webb was who he turned to. As the administrator of NASA, Webb oversaw all the high point of the space race, building support in Congress, wrangling private suppliers, and managing a burgeoning astronaut corps. The tragedy of Apollo 1 happened on his watch; so did the first landing on the Moon.

Today, Webb’s name lives on with the James Webb Space Telescope, peering out even further into the skies than he ever would have imagined.

What Do Salaries in Public Administration Look Like?

public administratorBecause public administration can embrace so many different roles in different levels of government, it’s hard to pin down a standard salary range. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, which tracks average salaries for American jobs, lumps all of these into the general category of Administrative Services and Facilities managers.

That group includes many private sector jobs, however. To really get a picture of what public administrators do in government service, you have to look at the median salaries for various levels of government. For 2021, those came out to:

You might notice that the numbers are a bit backward from what you would expect. States pay more than the feds, and local government pay more than states. But when you consider where the rubber really meets the road in public administration, it makes sense. Many of the most impactful policy decisions for citizens happen at the county and city level.

Some graduates with public administration degrees have the same devotion to service and desire to make a difference as government employees, but aren’t interested in working inside the system. They may take jobs at, or start their own, non-profit entities with public-minded goals. That’s where the Civic and Social Organizations listing comes from, although it’s approximate, since BLS doesn’t track non-profits separately.

As noted, though, a lot of people enter public administration with the goal of going the route of becoming an elected official. BLS also tracks this category, for legislators, but be warned that it is a path of service, not wealth. The median salary for legislative officials, many of who serve in that role only part-time, is only $32,270. Those in the top ten percent, however, can make as much as $100,580.

Administration Roles in the American Military Range Far and Wide

When you get right down to it, basically the entire officer corps of every service is primarily engaged in administrative work. You’ll see them, hunched over desks at night or braced up against a tent pole, filling out forms and shuffling paperwork.

But when you’re talking about an organization that routinely sends hundreds of personnel off for months at a time under the ocean with a clutch of nuclear weapons, or launches bombing missions from half a world away from the target, or ships several divisions worth of soldiers and equipment from continent to continent, you better believe there are some very dedicated, very skilled administrative minds at work.

Military Occupational Specialties With Primarily Administrative or Organizing Roles Are the Best Training for Public Administration Work

military convoyYou can find jobs dedicated to administration in every service, and in many different branches or departments of those services.

Each service has different administrative needs, and a different organizational style dedicated to meeting them.

Army Branches and Corps With Administrative Responsibilities

  • Corps of Engineers – 12
  • Military Intelligence – 35
  • Finance and Comptroller – 36
  • Civil Affairs – 38
  • Adjutant General Corps – 42
  • Army Acquisition Corps – 51
  • Medical Department – 60s
  • Logistics Corps – 90,91, 88,
  • Quartermaster Corps – 92

Navy Ratings with Administrative Roles

  • Yeoman
  • Logistics Specialist

Marine Corps Career Fields With Administrative Responsibilities

  • 30 – Supply Chain Material Management
  • 31 – Distribution Management
  • 34 – Financial Management
  • 66 – Aviation Logistics
  • 72 – Air Control

Air Force Career Groups With Administrative Responsibilities

  • 2 – Logistics and Maintenance
  • 3 – Support
  • 6 – Acquisition

Coast Guard Ratings With Administrative Duties

  • Yeoman

Not every job in each of these areas is necessarily administrative. But you can find the types of administrative training you need in various roles in those groups.

Officers Are Naturals for Public Administration Jobs

portrait of female officerAs the ones whose shoulders the real administrative responsibility of the service rests on, officers are the natural recipients of most advanced admin training and experience. But you need at least a bachelor’s degree to become an officer in the first place. Veteran’s benefits aren’t much help!

ROTC, or the Reserve Officer Training Corps, is probably the best way to get tuition assistance on your way to landing a commission. Although it says reserve right there on the label, in fact ROTC provides the largest proportion of active duty officers commissioned each year.

More than 1,700 schools offer ROTC programs around the country for various branches.

You can receive two, three, or four year scholarships through Air Force, Army, or Navy ROTC, depending on what point in your college career you are accepted. These are full-ride deals, paying for all tuition and fees, offering a stipend for books and supplies, and even giving you a basic monthly income while you attend school.

Not everyone in ROTC is awarded a scholarship, however. In-demand jobs go to the front of the line for Navy and Air Force ROTC.

You may be wondering where the Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and Space Force get their officers. The Marine Corps and Space Force piggyback on Navy and Air Force ROTC, respectively. The Coast Guard doesn’t have an ROTC program, but they have a unique branch-specific option that is similar called the College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative.

The Military is a Record-Keeping Powerhouse

keeping recordsYou won’t be in the military for very long before you realize how seriously the force takes paperwork. Instead of the excitement of drill and weapons training, expect to spend the first week in basic training mostly filling out forms!

People handling all those forms get plenty of training for the job. Navy logistics specialists have 9 weeks of Class A technical school in Meridian, Mississippi, learning automated data processing systems, financial and accounting record keeping, and more, for example.

With military jobs in administration being scattered in so many different fields, your training will be highly specialized. In some ways, this is the opposite of public administration degree training, which has a broad scope to prepare you for any kind of admin role. In the service, you will be trained to the last detail on exactly the role you are assigned to.

But with that training comes a culture that values adaptability and cross-training. So you’ll have further opportunities to develop an administrative skillset through the course of your service.

Advanced Training Opportunities May Come Up Throughout Your Service

To see just one example of what that advanced training can look like, let’s take the Army’s 88N MOS, Transportation Management Coordinator.

88Ns get six weeks of advanced individual training after basic before being sent on to their unit. But once on the job, a whole world of different training opportunities open up. They may receive ongoing military schooling in subjects like:

And they are frequently sent to specific courses in leadership, global air transportation systems, basic freight traffic, and more.

Officers get even more options, even the opportunity to be assigned to earn degrees at civilian or military institutions such as the National Defense University. These can offer a look at various elements that apply to public administration, such as the programs in national resource strategy and high-level logistics and planning functions.

These roles also offer a particularly valuable in-service benefit called COOL: Credentialing Opportunities On-Line.

COOL is a DoD-sponsored program that maps important civilian certifications or licenses onto military MOS roles. It also kicks in up to $4,000 toward any costs of coursework or for testing to allow you to get those credentials while still in the service. Your leadership has to approve this benefit, but it can snag you valuable administrative credentials like:

You might also find that some of your military training courses are rigorous enough that a military-supportive university will be willing to grant you college credits for them. That can shorten your degree path and launch you on your public administration career that much faster.

Degrees in Public Administration Can Complete Your Qualifications For Public Service

public committeeSo what exactly does the public administration degree path look like? It’s like an accelerated course of study in civics and leadership. Degrees in public administration are available at all levels of university study, unlocking progressively more high-level positions and responsibilities as you earn them.

With you military training and veterans educational benefits to sink into them, you can earn:

Associate Degrees in Public Administration

These two-year programs are basic introductions to the work of public administration. They cover essentials of civics, government structure, law, and communications. That’s split about evenly with general studies coursework in the liberal arts, which offers a grounding in math, science, and social studies to give you a solid background for further studies or an entry-level job in public service.

Bachelor’s Degrees in Public Administration

A four-year bachelor’s degree is where you really get rolling in public administration studies. With an associate degree to transfer in with, you can potentially cut your study time for a bachelor’s in half. The coursework is similarly split between topics in your major and the humanities. This cultivates some of the critical-thinking and problem-solving skills that are considered key in public service, while deepening your specific understanding of public administration jobs.

Master’s Degrees in Public Administration

An MPA can be completed in between two and three years, but don’t let that fool you—these are far more intensive degrees than bachelor’s-level studies. They drop the general education requirements in favor of full-throttle dives into some of the most complex theory and practical applications in public administration today. You have the chance through these programs to shape a curriculum directly in support of your own career path and interests.

Doctoral Degrees in Public Administration

At the doctoral level, you get two choices to pursue in public administration: the DPA, or Doctor of Public Administration, or the PhD, or Doctor of Philosophy in Public Administration. In both cases, you are looking at three years or more of the most advanced research and investigation into public administration work. The DPA, however, is aimed at practical leadership training—if you’re looking for executive leadership roles in government and non-profit organizations, that’s the way to go. A PhD fills in on the academic side of the business, focusing on scholarly analysis and teaching.

A Public Administration Curriculum Expands Your Organizational and Administrative Perspectives

For each of these programs, you’ll have a similar course of study. Clearly the depth and intensity of what you get into in a master’s-level program will be greater than the overview available for associate’s students, but in general you’ll have classes in topics like:

History and Foundations of Public Administration – The development of professional public administrators stretches back to ancient Greece and China, before enjoying a renaissance in the United States in the early 20th You’ll explore different conceptions of the field over time as well as draw on the latest thinking and developments.

Public Sector Communications and Public Affairs – With responsibilities to the public, clarity in expression and intent is vital. You’ll get dedicated courses in how to accomplish that while also taking and integrating public input in the course of your duties.

Public and Nonprofit Management and Human Relations – Of course, the basic bread and butter stuff of leading any organization, whether military or civilian, comes down to management. But while you can give an order as a squad leader and have the full weight of command behind it, the rules and norms of the public sector can be a little different. You’ll learn the ins and outs of managing government and nonprofit organizations in classes like this.

Public Sector Finance and Economics – Budgeting, accounting, and other principles of business don’t evaporate for public sector work. In fact, with the public purse at your disposal, they are more important than ever. You’ll learn about the different rules and factors involved in budgeting and financing public sector projects and organizations.

Technology and Data Collection – Government can be a little slow on the uptake when it comes to new technologies, but tech like GIS (Geographic Information Systems), remote sensing, and big data analysis have been revolutionizing public administration. You’ll take courses to help you understand how to use this data and tech, as well as the ethical and regulatory obligations that come with it.

The higher level degree you earn, the more your options for taking electives and shaping your education in the field. You’ll also find internships more common at higher levels, putting you out in the field to practice what you have learned in the classroom together with actual administrators and officials. This is typically a requirement at the master’s level, although you may be able to substitute your on-the-job military experience for additional internship work at some military-supportive schools.

A Concentration Offers Focused Study in Your Biggest Area of Interest

It’s also possible to pick a concentration or focus area in many public administration degrees. These will drill down into a specific area of study in a very broad field. That can include areas such as:

Each will offer you in-depth coursework that will polish up your prior service experience and training and hone your skills in these specific fields. You can use a concentration to build specifically on your area of expertise from military admin work, or to extend yourself into new and challenging fields.

Military-Supportive Colleges Get You on the Right Track for Public Administration Careers

Just as important as selecting a public administration degree and concentration to pursue is deciding where to pursue it. As a veteran, you will already have a pretty good idea what public service entails. You’ll also have some proven experience in organization, accountability, and leadership.

You will want to find a university that values those qualities. And you’ll also want one that offers support in areas that other students might not need. You’ll want to look for colleges that offer:

That last one can be important because your biggest educational benefit as a vet is the GI Bill®. Assuming you’re fully qualified, you get 36 months of benefits to use… just enough to get through a four-year bachelor’s degree. Getting into classes on your own timeline is important!

Military-supportive schools also tend to support other benefit offerings, like the Yellow Ribbon program. Yellow Ribbon is a partnership between schools and the VA that offers coverage of tuition rates over and above what the GI Bill® covers—at private schools, for instance, or in situations where you would have to pay out-of-state tuition rates.

Each school in the program decides how much to contribute and how many slots to open up for those vets. The VA matches their contributions, but any time a school puts their own money into veteran services, you know you have a place that values your service.

Service Offers Lifelong Qualities That Are Perfect for Public Administrators

Your service comes with other values that are important in public administration, too, stuff that doesn’t come out of any classroom education.

You already demonstrated your commitment to the greater good, putting your life on the line in the nation’s defense. And you learned some solid organizational skills—you had to, just to get through basic training!

You also probably developed some key characteristics that the American people value in their public officials:

These are all hallmarks of the American soldier. And you can put them to good use in continuing public service when you combine them with a degree in public administration.

2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for Field of degree: Public policy and social services, Legislators, and Administrative Services and Facilities Managers reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed August 2022.