MPA Degree vs. CPM Designation for Government Workers

Make the right choice when advancing your government career

A government worker with an MPA degree helping a coworker at a computer station.
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One of the common ways public servants advance their careers is to pursue graduate degrees or professional certifications. Some career paths lend themselves to specific degrees or certifications. For instance, a master of public health (MPH) degree would be beneficial for someone seeking a senior position in health policy.

For those who do not yet have a specific degree or certification that will help them advance their careers, earning a certified public manager (CPM) designation or an MPA degree are achievements that can benefit just about any public employee looking to rise through the ranks.

A common choice that workers in all levels of government face are whether to pursue an MPA degree or a CPM designation. Here are the major factors playing into this choice.

Stages of Government Careers

Government workers late in their careers tend not to seek advanced degrees or certifications. They have so much experience that initials behind their name do not give them a leg up in the government hiring process. Those early in their careers and in the middle of them, however, tend to pursue advanced degrees and certifications.

Mid-career public servants gravitate toward the CPM certification. These people have enough experience to legitimately apply for senior positions but would look more attractive to hiring managers if they had an advanced degree or professional certification listed on the job application. All things equal, a certification could push one candidate over another and make the difference between getting an interview and getting removed from the hiring process.

Younger workers tend to go for graduate degrees. These people are used to meeting requirements laid out by professors and are familiar with the bureaucratic processes universities put their students through. Mid-career employees are sometimes intimidated by the prospect of going back to school. They haven’t taken formal classes for perhaps decades and do not know how they will assimilate themselves into a graduate program.

MPA and CPM Time Commitments

MPA programs take about two years to complete on a full-time schedule or about three years on a part-time schedule. Some universities require MPA students to attend full-time and only offer classes during the day. Obviously, this does not work for the vast majority of government workers. This is why more and more universities have begun offering classes on evenings and weekends. This is more conducive to the part-time school schedule government workers need.

Like MPA programs, CPM programs take two to three years to complete; however, the time commitment within those few years is significantly less. Participants meet a day or two per month. Government organizations typically allow staff to use work time to attend such training because the content employees learn can be applied directly to their jobs. While applying material right away may seem like an ancillary benefit, it is really a primary benefit. Participants can show their managers immediately how the program is impacting their work performance and improving their management skills.

The Cost of MPA and CPM Programs

Some government organizations pay for employees to take courses within MPA and CPM programs. When government organizations reimburse college course such as those within MPA programs, some require employees to remain with the organization for a specified period of time. Otherwise, the employee must reimburse the organization for tuition paid. Employees must pass a course before an employer reimburses for it.

If someone considering an MPA or CPM program will not be reimbursed by an employer, cost becomes a major consideration. MPA programs are much more expensive than CPM programs.

Level of Prestige

As noted earlier, MPA programs require a greater time commitment than CPM programs. Correspondingly, MPA programs also require a greater amount of effort. Because MPA programs require more effort than CPM programs, MPA degrees are more prestigious than CPM designations. This does not minimize the value of a CPM designation, but it does place a higher value on the MPA in the minds of hiring managers.