Public Administration Degree Holds Promise amid the Strained Higher Education Bubble

By Sarah Blanchard

Let’s start with the facts:

  1. The average cost for tuition, room, and board for a private college is more than $32,000 per year.
  2. Tuition rates are increasing by more than 5% per year.
  3. The average Bachelor’s degree graduate leaves campus with more than $20,000 in debt; a Master’s degree student departs with more than $55,000 in debt.
  4. The average salary of a young adult with a Bachelor’s degree is $45,000.
  5. More than half of all young adults with a degree are currently unemployed or underemployed.

These facts are undoubtedly alarming and are impacting the decisions that many soon-to-be and current college students and their families are making about the way in which they’ll pursue prosperity in America in the coming years. The higher education bubble is about to burst. Colleges are getting less public funding and families are struggling to offer their children the opportunities afforded by a college education.

But this is America, the land of opportunity – home to an individualistic philosophy that yields ingenuity and perseverance. Since our founding, we have faced a myriad of unique political, social, and economic challenges that emerge over time.

Today, however, we have widespread access to data and information about socio-economic factors that can easily be sensationalized to incite self-doubting fraught that holds hostage the creative and ambitious spirit of our populace. Although instant access to information can lead to these unfortunate side effects, it remains one of the most valuable and significant advancements propelling our society in recent years.

In addition to the facts noted above that indicate steep challenges ahead for higher education and employment in the U.S., there are also indicators of opportunities on the horizon – particularly for students of public policy, public administration, government affairs, and political science.

The median household income in the U.S. is just over $51,000 a year[i] , but the average salary of a political scientist is nearly double that at more than $100,000[ii].

In addition to the healthy income that those in our profession are enjoying, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management indicates that the field of public administration, among others, is “highly dependent on baby-boom workers” and that “retirements could rise considerably in the public administration and educational services industries” as we move towards 2016.[iii]

Initial forecasts had indicated a sharp increase in baby-boomer retirements beginning in 2005-06, but many have delayed retirement due to economic constraints resulting from poor market performance of 401(k) and other retirement investments, as well as the increase to the social security retirement age that began to take effect in 2000.[iv]

Thus it’s not unrealistic to think that the full effect of the anticipated mass retirement of the baby-boomer generation is yet impending; and that as those changes take place in the next 5-10 years, there will continue to be opportunities for graduates in public administration.


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