Though many people don’t realize it, local governments shape numerous aspects of our everyday lives—from education and housing access to transportation and emergency management services. These governing bodies manage and implement policies, perform essential functions, and directly serve the public in ways state and local governments often do not.
“You can truly create the changes you want to see happen in your department or organization. I’ve gained knowledge about administrative processes, strengthened my leadership skills, and learned how to improve my organization in ways that will positively affect my community and its citizens.”
Jacob Watson, 2020 Cohort
Local government professionals in North Carolina and beyond look to the UNC School of Government—ranked #2 in the nation for local government—for a practical and applicable skill set they can use to start or advance their careers.1 The online Master of Public Administration (MPA) program’s Local Government concentration continues that tradition by teaching students how to improve the functions and management of local government.
practical skills, such as data-driven decision-making, strategic planning, policy implementation, and budget management.
the unique structure of local governments, including environmental, economic, and community development frameworks.
government theories, ethical tenets, and management philosophies to today’s most pressing local government challenges.
Local governments are established by state governments. The U.S. Census Bureau recognizes five basic types of local government: counties, townships, municipalities, special districts, and school districts.3 Special districts and school districts—known collectively as special-purpose governments—may serve several jurisdictions depending on their function and scope (e.g., fire protection, wastewater treatment, mass transit).
There’s ample opportunity for those looking to make a difference in these culturally, geographically, and structurally diverse environments. In 2017, the United States was home to more than 3,000 county governments and more than 35,000 subcounty (i.e., township and municipal) governments.4
In 2019, local governments employed more than 5.5 million people. From 2018–2028, the demand for all local government occupations is projected to grow by 3.1%—but that rate varies by focus area. Here are a few areas with higher demand projections.
Employment Percent Change (2019–2029) for Specific Local Government Occupations5
Business and financial operations: 5.7%
Community and social service: 6.6%
Health care practitioners and technical: 6.7%
Architecture and engineering: 6.6%
Life, physical, and social science: 9.2%
Roles and Responsibilities of Local Government Leaders
For many, a job in local government isn’t just a profession—it’s a rewarding opportunity to directly engage with individual citizens and improve the well-being of entire communities.
Given the breadth of services local governments provide, successful managers and leaders bring varied areas of academic and professional expertise to the table. With a focus on communication skills and analytical problem-solving, the humanities and social sciences—including business, English, philosophy, history, economics, and political science—offer an excellent foundation for aspiring local government leaders.
More than 30% of UNC’s online MPA alumni work in local government.6
Our graduates are ready to apply their skills in a wide range of areas, including:
Our curriculum draws on local government expertise from our renowned faculty, who consult and advise local government leaders across the country on a daily basis. You’ll learn directly from these talented administrators, who can help you understand the issues local governments are facing right now and prepare you to make efficient, effective decisions throughout your career. To complete this concentration, you’ll need to take 9 elective credits from the following courses.
City and County Management
Productivity in Local Government
Navigating Nonprofit-Local Government Relations in Organizations
Government and Nonprofit Accounting and Reporting
Every year, our faculty members—who each specialize in different areas of local government—field thousands of real-time requests from administrative and elected officials on topics such as human resources, performance management, budget and finance, and strategic planning. That means you’ll learn from true experts who are actively shaping the local government landscape—and bringing that experience straight to the classroom.
Through real-world analyses, expert interviews, and other immersive learning techniques, you’ll learn:
The different types of local governments, and how those governments are established, structured, staffed, and managed.
Ways to measure, analyze, and improve performance; motivate employees and collaborators; and streamline operations.
Practical strategies for facilitating essential partnerships with other types of organizations, including nonprofits.
How to utilize specialized accounting data and financial statements to make informed decisions and work across teams.
Answering the Call for Greater Transparency
As a town manager in Burgaw, North Carolina, Joseph Pierce had a clear goal: Make government more transparent.
Using the skills he gained in the MPA program, he was able to turn his vision into reality. Joseph created Citizen’s Academy, a six-week program to help citizens and area leaders better understand how their local government works.
“[Citizens] can’t say enough about how much they appreciate the transparency the program provides. I think that [Citizen’s Academy] has been the biggest tangible thing I’ve been able to produce for the town as a result of earning my MPA.”
Joseph and other UNC MPA students are driving positive change at the local level every day. If you’re interested in doing the same, consider earning your MPA with a Local Government concentration.