MPA's For Planning Directors

Dear Management Doctor:

I am currently in community and economic development at the state level. I have worked there approximately 4 years. Prior to that, I worked at the local government level as a current planner. My educational background is a Masters of Urban Planning degree from the University of Kansas and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Iowa. I am seeking to get back into the planning profession, as I feel strongly about the need for private/public sector partnerships to achieve a quality-built environment to support long term growth. In the long-term, I hope to become an Assistant Director of Planning or Community Development, and eventually, a Planning Director. My question is: is it still absolutely necessary to obtain a Masters of Public Administration (MPA) degree given my skills and prior work experience? Every other article I read indicates a need to get an MPA to rise up to the supervisory and managerial ranks. I do not want to tack on more student loan debt than necessary.


In debt but wanting to move ahead.

Dear In Debt,

There are more Assistant Planning Directors and Planning Directors without MPA's than those with MPA's. The lack of an MPA should not be a deterrent for you to move ahead.

Having said that, I would encourage you to adopt a life long goal of continuing education. Once you pay off your loans you may even want to consider the MPA. In the meantime, many communities have in-house management training programs, sponsor special management courses and have tuition reimbursement programs. I teach a two-day course called The Complete Management Course for Planning Directors. Over the next number of months the course is being offered in 10 cities. You can see the details on our website at Good luck,

The Management Doctor

Reader Responses

There are many online MPA and Organizational Management degree programs out there that are cheaper than traditional programs and more convenient. I got my Master's in Organizational Management from Southwest University in Louisiana.

Marc Bierdzinski
City of Santa Maria, CA

One option is a certificate of public administration, which is a notch below an MPA but still helpful and takes less time. Also, two of the key local governments in our area require their managers to attend an eight-month or so long group course to become "certified managers." As someone with an MPA, my only concern is that these folks sometimes think that they now possess the equivalent of an MPA because of this certification; it is not equivalent by any means but is, again, probably all that is needed if you already have an MURP and many years of actual managerial experience (which almost all the participants in these certified managerial courses did possess).

Celeste Deardorff
Lakeland, FL

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