MBA vs. MPA vs. MPS: Which is Best for Me?

MBA vs. MPA vs. MPS: Which is Best for Me? blog header
MBA vs. MPA vs. MPS: Which is Best for Me? blog header

The decision to pursue graduate studies, particularly for a person in mid-career is an important decision; not only is the financial burden that this involves a major consideration, but the value that the credential will bring in terms of increasing your personal capital worth to an employer is a critical factor. For practitioners in the public safety field, there are essentially three broad graduate degrees that may be considered:


  • the Master of Business Administration;
  • the Master of Public Administration; and
  • the Master of Public Safety (or some variation based upon public safety).


Each degree will provide advanced skills in critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and developing strong communication skills, but each will also provide very specific competency development. Knowing what your own expectations are, and how the degree will help you achieve your personal/professional goals is the first step in the process. Program costs, method of delivery and access to a program, length of the program, and reputation of the institution are also important considerations, and in some cases compromises will have to be made. Education is an investment and you have to consider all aspects to ensure a desirable return on investment.  


The Master of Business Administration (MBA) is the oldest of the professional graduate degrees. The focus of these programs is developing business administration and management skills that benefit profit driven organizations; essentially maximizing shareholder value. Courses may include supply chain management, marketing, economics, and human resources; all subjects at the heart of efficiency and effectiveness in a market economy. Students will develop a broad set of transferable skillsets that can allow them to integrate into a wide variety of industries, including the public sector.


The Master of Public Administration (MPA) emerged when public sector administrators recognized that the traditional MBA programs were not providing them with the skillsets to address the subtle difference between the private and public sectors. While private sector focuses on maximizing shareholder profit, public sector organizations focus on maximizing taxpayer value. Unlike private businesses, public sector organizations are considered a public good. This means that their service may be consumed without reducing the amount available for others, and cannot be withheld from those who do not pay for it, because it is funded by all of us. Another subtle difference is that most public sector organizations do not face competition –  for example, your municipal police service does not compete for business. Courses in these programs may focus on policy development, program evaluation, land planning, and relative legislation. Students will also address marketing, supply chain management, etc., but in the context of service delivery, and not on production and sales. Students from these programs will develop the skillsets to manage and lead a broad range of public sector organizations, but does not eliminate private-sector opportunities.


The Master of Public Safety (MPS) is a relative new-comer to the game, and was designed to incorporate the best components of an MPA program, while providing very specific focus on practitioners within the public safety environment. A foundational core of public administration courses that have a public safety lens will lead MPS students to a more concentrated study of topics related to their specific field in public safety.  The Laurier MPS program was designed to align with the pillars identified by Public Safety Canada:


  • Countering Crime;
  • Emergency Management;
  • Border Strategies; and
  • National Security


By doing so, students will study current topics affecting their specific discipline at an international, national, and local level. The goal of the MPS program is to development the necessary competencies to effective management and lead their organizations and affect meaningful change in the public safety environment. Increased globalization has led to international crime, terrorism, climate change concerns, unprecedented migration of refugees, and the threat of cyber catastrophes which have all placed an increased emphasis on highly skilled public safety practitioners.


This brief overview is designed to provide some insight on the key differences between the three programs and, perhaps, cause you to consider your desired learning outcomes. So back to the key question: which program is best for me? I suggest that you consider your personal career goals – where do you want to be in 5, 10, 15 years? Then, study the learning outcomes for each program, as well as the individual courses – which align closest to your career goals? Which will build upon the skills you have and develop new competencies that will increase your career opportunities? Choose that program that best meets your career needs, while balancing finances, methods of delivery, and personal interests.


Economist Gary Becker examined what he called the human capital theory in the mid 1960’s; essentially this theory states that people will take actions (e.g., education) in order to increase their capital worth to their employer. Critics counter that education alone is not the determining factor in an employee’s worth, but the increased demand for life-long learning has created “credential” creep. Post-secondary education is no guarantee of promotion, financial success, or even personal enlightenment – but it a proven factor in increasing one’s human capital. As Albert Einstein once said “Life is change, growth is optional. Choose wisely”.