Best Online Master’s Degree Programs in Adult Education

Discover the benefits of an online master’s degree in adult education and get answers to your questions about the courses, careers, financial aid, accreditation, best programs, specializations, and more.

You’ve finished your bachelor’s degree and have worked in adult education or similar field for a few years. You’re ready to advance in your career or perhaps get leverage for salary negotiations. Obtaining an online master’s in adult education is the next step. A graduate degree can open doors to more rewarding careers, lead to higher-paying jobs, and expand your workplace skill set. Through strategic graduate courses and online studies’ flexibility, you can progress your education while continuing to work.

Before you jump in, there are several questions that need to be answered. How much will this master’s program cost? How long will it take? Which programs are the best? What will I learn? This commitment isn’t small, so be sure you have all of the information you need before moving forward.

Get the answers to all of your questions regarding program affordability and financial aid, career prospects, average salaries, program length, accreditation, tuition, and coursework. With the information provided here, you’ll be able to move forward confidently with the right program for you.

College Spotlights: Best Online Master’s Degrees in Adult Education for 2021

Not all programs are made equal, so how can you know you’re getting the best? To help you out, we’ve identified the top three online master’s in adult education programs based on quality, affordability, flexibility, and accreditation so you can make the best decision for you. These schools are just a preview of our full rankings, which will arrive later in 2021, so be sure to check back.

Texas A&M University

Texas A&M University has an online Master of Science in educational human resource development degree with an emphasis in adult education. It’s made up of 37 course credits comprised of 28 core classes and nine elective credits.

No final exam is required. Instead, a portfolio will be created that documents degree progress, which will be submitted in the program’s final semester. The whole program is available 100% online; through distance learning, students can take a few courses on-campus if that’s something they want. Some lectures can be watched live, as well.

Admission requirements include a completed online application, paid application fee, letter of intent, three professional references, a current resume, and all college transcripts. They do not require a GMAT/GRE score.

North Carolina State University

NC State offers an online Master of Education (M.Ed.) in adult and community college education with a specialization in adult and continuing professional education. This phenomenal program merges the best-established adult and lifelong education topics with emerging professional fields.

This program requires students to take part in a research course and a faculty-supervised capstone project, where their research skills and other applicable knowledge learned throughout the program will be applied. The program is broken down into 18 credits of core courses, 12 credits of specialization courses, and six credits of research and capstone courses, making 36 credits.

Applications are accepted year-round, and accepted students will formerly be admitted for either two summer sessions or the fall session.

East Carolina University

East Carolina University offers students an online Master of Arts in Education (M.A.Ed.) in Adult Education that’s made up of 36 credit hours—24 in adult education, three in educational research, and up to nine in relevant elective classes.

ECU has put together a wonderful resource for students who want to know more about career opportunities. Their website NCTower provides students with in-depth information about employment rates, wages, and more. This website includes data from UNC alumni that are working in North Carolina.

The cost of attending is a very reasonable $233 per credit hour for residents. Most M.A.Ed. in adult education students attend part-time. Admission to the program requires a bachelor’s degree or relevant work experience, a score from the GRE or MAT (Miller Analogies Test), a writing sample, three letters of recommendation, a statement of intent, and an interview.

Advantages of Earning an Online Master’s Degree in Adult Education

Getting a higher education degree, while challenging, comes with many advantages. Whether you’re interested in higher pay, career advancement, or simply self-improvement, getting a graduate degree will benefit you in every aspect.

  1. Flexibility

    Getting a degree online offers convenience and flexibility that on-campus learning can’t. On-campus learning requires you to be at a specific place and a specific time, whereas you can take online classes wherever you are in the world. Not only do you not have to be on campus, but a lot of classes have pre-recorded lectures, and you upload assignments online. This is perfect for anyone trying to further their education with a family or a career to study and complete homework at unconventional hours.

  2. Career Advancement

    If you already have work experience, you probably have noticed that your advancement is limited without a graduate degree. If you obtain an online master’s in adult education, more job opportunities and job advancement opportunities will become available to you. Whether you’re interested in furthering your current career or starting a new one, a graduate degree will give you an edge and the expertise needed to succeed.

  3. Higher Salary

    A raise is always nice, and sometimes it is desperately needed. With a graduate degree, you receive an almost automatic pay raise. If you don’t, you have a very powerful negotiation tool for asking for a higher salary.

What You’ll Learn in an Online Master’s in Adult Education Program

When obtaining an online master’s in adult education, you’ll learn the characteristics of and how to engage adult students. Most programs focus on curriculum design and cover topics ranging from adult literacy to human resource development. Although program requirements and electives differ between schools, each program will extensively study the best teaching methods and design effective educational programs.

An online degree doesn’t vary significantly from on-campus classes, and each program typically takes two years to complete. The online format is especially flexible for students balancing their careers, family life, and education. To give you a better idea, we’ve provided some course examples below.

Popular Courses

  • Instructional Design

    Educators who can blend instructional strategies with modern technology are in high demand, which will help develop those skills. Participants will be taught to identify their students’ educational needs and create and design instructional programs for adults to meet those needs.

  • Qualities of an Adult Learner

    This course will cover the differences between child and adult learners and the best way to motivate adult students. A general overview of the human lifespan will be discussed and how it affects adult learning. Students will combine educational theories with practice as they design comprehensive and effective educational programs.

  • Teaching in the Online Environment

    This course will focus on the issues and considerations in online teaching specifically. It will introduce students to some of the tools involved in the process, and students will be able to develop strategies for teaching online and managing an online classroom.

  • Research in Adult and Higher Education

    This course introduces students to the quantitative and qualitative research paradigms in education and other research procedures, including naturalistic inquiry research design and the preparation of research proposals. Students will learn how to distinguish between research and non-research materials and evaluate research studies depending on their research merit.

  • Capstone/Portfolio

    Although each program is different, each program will end with a capstone project, a student teaching opportunity, a portfolio, a thesis, or a comprehensive exam. Each is meant to demonstrate your skills and abilities to design and deliver instruction effectively to adults.

Specialization Options

By specializing within your degree, you make yourself more skilled and marketable, giving you an edge over your peers with regular degrees. There are several different concentrations and specializations available within a master’s degree, but they differ by programs, departments, and universities. Before you choose a program, research the required courses and elective classes to make sure they have the specializations you’re interested in

  • Second Language Teaching

    This concentration provides students with the practical skills and knowledge needed to teach a language to non-speakers. Careers can be found as instructors in colleges or universities or working with international schools or companies.

  • Instructional Technology

    This specialization will prepare students to combine evidence-based practices with modern technology to heighten the classroom’s learning experience. Some courses may also cover governmental regulations and how to adapt programs to comply with them. This concentration would be especially helpful in quality assurance programs or the private sector.

  • Distance Education

    More and more educational programs are moving online, and this concentration will prepare you to teach online. Students will learn to design, create, adapt, and implement educational programs online for higher education at a distance.

  • Organizational Learning

    Organizational Learning is a concentration that covers group dynamics, human resources, and workplace diversity. Students will be taught to analyze and employee performance and adapt educational programs to better fit the company’s needs.

  • Higher Education

    This concentration will give students the specialization for educating college students. This is perfect for students looking for academic advising or teaching careers. Students will be taught course development, program evaluation, and student learning assessment.

Accreditation for a Master’s in Adult Education Programs

Accreditation for a program signifies the quality of a program or if it meets licensure requirements. Each type of program will be accredited by different organizations either regionally or nationally. However, not all accrediting organizations cover every kind of program. For a master’s in adult education, you should look for accreditations by the International Association for Continuing Education and Training or Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, although there are other accreditation organizations. To make sure you’re entering a quality program, always check for accreditation and by which organization on the school’s website. If you are unsure, contact the school to request more information.

What You Can Do with a Master’s in Adult Education

An online master’s in adult education prepares students with the skills and knowledge they need to enter the workforce. This covers everything from career consultants to designing training curriculum in colleges, universities, ESL programs, and other non-traditional educational facilities, such as prisons. These skills are in high demand, and even more opportunities open with a master’s degree. Below we’ve listed some examples of careers and the approximate salaries of each to give you a better idea of where your interests lie.

Adult Literacy Teacher

Adult literacy teachers work in schools, nonprofit organizations, and prisons, teaching adults the basic skills to move out of poverty and into a stable career. These teachers can teach anything from English to basic math skills and the subjects needed to obtain a GED or high school diploma.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile


$54,350 $93,760

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Postsecondary Teacher

Postsecondary teachers include college instructors, which teach lectures, lab work, and practicum, research opportunities, and more. Students pursuing a postsecondary teaching position can also work in remedial classes and career training in the higher education industry.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$40,480 $79,540 $174,960

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Career Counselor

A career counselor works in colleges, universities, and other educational facilities to help students plan their education and obtain their goals. Career counselors interview students and perform aptitude tests to discover their interests and connect them to academic resources to help them progress.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile


$57,040 $96,090

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Training and Development Manager

Training and development managers fill leadership positions within companies and organizations. They are responsible for designing and overseeing training programs, managing training budgets, evaluating training programs, and more to help meet the company’s individual needs and requirements.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$64,720 $113,350 $196,070

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Human Resource Specialist

A human resource specialist is responsible for the training and development of all new employees. These careers are typically leadership positions in corporate roles that develop, execute and evaluate effective training programs for an organization or company. Some companies offer higher positions that supervise human resource trainers.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile


$61,920 $105,930

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Costs and Financial Aid for Online Master’s Degrees in Adult Education

College tuition could never be considered cheap, so it’s important to understand the financial commitment of obtaining a master’s degree in Adult Education. The good news is, you don’t have to pay it all out of pocket. There are a lot of different financial aid options available to make it more affordable for you. Many schools offer scholarships for well-performing students, there are government grants and work-study programs, and some employers offer tuition assistance programs. Before you panic over the tuition price, check out some of these financial aid options to give you the help you need.

What Your Online Master’s in Adult Education Could Cost

School Name No. of Credits Cost/Credit Total Tuition Cost

Texas A&M University




North Carolina State University


$462 (resident); $1,311 (non-resident)

$16,632 (resident); $47,196 (non-resident)

East Carolina University


$233 (resident); $877 (non-resident)

$8,388 (resident); $31,572 (non-resident)

Frequently Asked Questions About Online Adult Education Master’s Degrees

What are the admissions requirements for an online master’s in adult education?

You’ll find common graduate admissions requirements across many graduate schools across the nation. Though each one is different, some requiring more than others, the most common requirements you’ll see for an adult education master’s degree include:

  • Minimum GPA
  • Bachelor’s degree and academic transcripts from an accredited university
  • Letters of recommendation from a faculty member, professional, or colleague
  • Work experience, preferably in the field of adult education
  • Statement of intent detailing your goals and interest in the program

How long will it take to finish my online master’s degree in adult education?

An online master’s in adult education will typically take 2-3 years, depending on the pace you choose. Each program comprises approximately 36 credits with some variations, so timing will also change depending on which program you go into. Part-time study may lengthen the total timeline, while accelerated learning will shorten it. Be sure to check the individual programs for each school to get a basic idea of how long it will take.

Can I earn a master’s degree in adult education 100% online, or do I need to visit campus?

Great news! An online master’s in adult education is available 100% online. Classes, assignments, ad projects can be completed on your school’s online learning platform at your convenience.

Does an online master’s in adult education prepare you for initial teaching certification?

The short answer is no. Many states don’t require adult educators to have an initial teaching certification. Still, if you want to work in one that did, this program is not specifically designed to help you get certified. State by state requirements for licensure can be found here.