Not all students follow the direct route from high school to college. Some want to gain work experience and clarify long-term professional goals before pursuing higher education, while others wait due to family obligations and financial restrictions. Through master's in adult education programs, future teachers gain the theoretical and practical tools to support learners in diverse settings, from the traditional classroom to online courses.

Adult education represents one of the fastest growing fields in the U.S. According to the Education Commission of the States, the nontraditional student population stands to grow over 25% through 2024, which is a greater enrollment percentage than for students aged 18-24. With the proper academic credentials and post-degree training, graduates can take advantage of lucrative jobs in adult education. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) also projects growth of 15% in postsecondary teacher positions over the next few years. This guide provides prospective students with crucial information on college programs, career options, and professional development opportunities.

Should I Get a Master's in Adult Education?

While professionals can access some education positions with a bachelor's, those who hold graduate degrees bolster career opportunities in a competitive job market. The master's in adult education emphasizes accessible and engaging teaching strategies that incorporate student goals, educational history, and cultural differences. Degree candidates often start with coursework in pedagogical theory, differential teaching methods, organizational learning, and curriculum design. As an interdisciplinary field, however, students also assess students needs, evaluate programmatic elements, and incorporate technology in traditional and online instruction. Because they develop such an adaptable skill set, adult educators can work in colleges, adult education centers, community organizations, government agencies, consulting firms, and private companies.

In addition to comprehensive academic training, adult education master's programs offer professional development opportunities through internships, fellowships, and collaborative research projects. Graduate students also network by attending national conferences and school-sponsored events. Additionally, colleges and universities provide career resources, including individualized advising, resume-writing workshops, and job placement programs.

Students of all backgrounds can find the graduate program that fits their needs. For recent bachelor's graduates, the on-campus option offers ample opportunities to build professional relationships. It also allow students time to determine their career goals. Traditional programs may require extensive time commitments that working professional may not be able to afford. Distance education provides the flexible scheduling and adaptive curriculum to better suit busy teachers and nontraditional students looking for a career in adult education.

What Can I Do With a Master's in Adult Education?

With the advanced knowledge and skills garnered from graduate programs, professionals may pursue adult education teaching jobs in technical colleges, adult literacy centers, ESL programs, and universities. Nontraditional education centers on accessibility, making online learning a crucial part of instructional design. By specializing in distance education, students can pursue administrative careers as school consultants and curriculum developers. Professionals may also use their master's degree for employment in the private sector as operations analysts or training managers. Regardless of their particular career path, adult educators must possess keen communication skills in order to motivate students.

Career Counselor

Working in colleges, universities, and nonprofit educational organizations, these professionals clarify students' goals and develop practical plans to pursue them. Career counselors examine a student's interests and skills through interviews, subjective assessments, and aptitude tests. They also connect students to academic and professional resources. This position requires a master's degree and state licensure.

Median Annual Salary: $55,410*

Instructional Coordinator

These education specialists help schools develop curriculum and teacher training programs aligned with institutional goals and government standards. Using mathematical methods and data analysis, education specialists locate challenges and provide practical solutions. With additional training, instructional coordinators can work with companies as corporate trainers and analysts. To pursue this line of work, students must have graduate credentials and teaching experience.

Median Annual Salary: $63,750*

Postsecondary Teacher

College instructors teach students in lecture, seminar, and laboratory settings. They also help students with research, dissertations/theses, and experiential learning opportunities. By specializing in adult education, postsecondary teachers can work in ESL, career training, and remedial programs. Educators need to hold a master's or doctoral degree to obtain these positions.

Median Annual Salary: $76,000*

Postsecondary Education Administrator

These professionals provide the financial, management, and analytical skills colleges and universities need to effectively function. Postsecondary administrators can work in academic services, helping students course plan and prepare for graduation. They can also work in admissions, assisting with marketing, recruitment, and retention.

Median Annual Salary: $92,360*

Training Manager

These education leaders recruit and maintain skilled employees for organizations. Training managers assess performance needs, design instructional materials, plan skill-development sessions, and work with their teams to actualize events. They also oversee program budgets and train staff.

Median Annual Salary: $108,250*

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

How to Choose a Master's in Adult Education Program

When seeking out prospective master's in adult education programs, students need to consider multiple factors, including the length of a program. Graduate degrees often take two years of full-time study to complete, with a minimum of 36 semester credits. Working professionals who pursue coursework part time trade flexibility for a longer program. However, some colleges, particularly those with distance education options, provide classes year-round, enabling nontraditional students to better juggle work and school.

Online adult education programs also provide financial benefits, such as discounted tuition that disregards residency status. All graduate candidates should apply for general financial aid, including institutional grants and departmental scholarships. They should also look into private awards from local businesses and professional organizations.

Curriculum requirements may affect your choice of program, as online programs provide more scheduling flexibility than campus-based ones, but often come with fewer course options. Students should also consider what specializations, if any, a program offers. On-campus programs provide direct access to university resources, including research facilities and internship placement programs for practicum and capstone requirements. On the other hand, most schools allow distance learners to fulfill the aforementioned requirements with local organizations, including current employers.

Those who plan to move for school should look at cost of living, especially housing expenses. Students also need to look at future employment opportunities following graduation. Fortunately for adult educators, nationwide teacher shortages mean they should have little trouble finding work, whether it is in an urban center or a rural area.

Programmatic Accreditation for Master's in Adult Education Programs

To confer valid degrees, colleges and universities must earn national, regional, or programmatic accreditation. Schools obtain national accreditation from the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. They receive regional accreditation from one of six organizations, depending on location. Students who attend accredited programs stand a better chance of gaining employment and can easily transfer credits to another accredited university program.

Schools may also earn programmatic accreditation for their master's in adult education. Also known as specialized or professional accreditation, these programs enjoy financial and institutional backing from leading organizations in the field. To meet state licensure regulations, all education programs need to earn support from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. The International Association for Continuing Education and Training also bestows programmatic accreditation to adult education programs. Professionals who pursue an online learning specialization should look out for degrees accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission.

Master's in Adult Education Program Admissions

Graduate adult education programs ask for certain admission materials across programs, including academic transcripts, undergraduate credentials, recommendation letters, resume/CV, test scores, and a personal statement. Online programs may also request a writing sample to demonstrate English language proficiency and familiarity with the academic genre. Master of education programs usually require teachers to hold state licensure before enrolling.

Online programs tend to offer flexible admission deadlines, which may include rolling admissions, so students can start a degree at their convenience.

Prospective transfer students begin the credit transfer process during admission, as any prior college credits must be included in an application. Colleges and universities accept prior coursework from accredited institutions. Students may also earn credits for work experience, professional training, and volunteer positions through a prior learning assessment, which may be an evaluative portfolio, a course-specific test, or a standardized exam.


  • Bachelor's Degree: Graduate programs require students to hold baccalaureate credentials from accredited universities. Some schools accept undergraduate degrees in any field, while others require candidates to hold one specifically in education.
  • Professional Experience: This prerequisite varies by school. Executive master's programs generally require at least two years of relevant work experience. Professional experience also factors into a student's chances of obtaining on-campus fellowships.
  • Minimum GPA: Although universities use a holistic evaluation process, students should hold at least a cumulative undergraduate GPA of 2.5 or higher. Competitive institutions may require a 3.0 minimum GPA. GPA affects financial aid, especially merit-based scholarships and grants.

Admission Materials

  • Application: All program candidates need to fill out an online application and provide copies of relevant materials. A writing sample may also be required.
  • Transcripts: Applicants often need to submit unofficial transcripts for pre-admission evaluation. After acceptance into the program, the school asks for the official transcript, which students can request through their previous school's online platform. Some programs require official transcripts for a program application.
  • Letters of Recommendation: Most colleges ask for three recommendation letters. These should come from professors or employers who can attest to the student' academic capabilities and professional qualities.
  • Test Scores: Master's in adult education programs use GRE verbal and quantitative scores. Like GPA, this requirement varies by institution, but exceptional scores may affect fellowship and financial aid opportunities.
  • Application Fee: Most schools charge a processing fee as the final step in application. Applicants should consult prospective schools about fee reductions and waivers.

What Else Can I Expect From a Master's in Adult Education Program?

Many schools offer adult education as a concentration for general education and teacher training degrees. Institutions with specifically master's in adult education programs provide specializations in areas like literacy, remedial education, English as a second language, and industry-specific technical training. Students can also find specialized degrees focused on management, such as program development and corporate assessment.

Concentrations Offered for a Master's Degree in Adult Education
Concentration Description Careers
Instructional Technology With this specialization, professionals integrate technological tools and data-supported practices with classroom instruction. They also conduct evaluations to ensure student and faculty performance aligns with government standards. Instructional technologists can also work for private companies as consultants, trainers, and project managers. Instructional coordinator, Training and development manager, Curriculum developer, Operations analyst
Distance Education Distance education is the fastest-growing education sector. Through specialized coursework, students learn to develop curriculum and lesson plans for fully online programs. They also create individual assignments for traditional classrooms and hybrid classes. Online learning specialists may work in the private sector as employee trainers and quality assurance professionals. Online learning specialist, Web instructor, Postsecondary teacher, Instructional coordinator
Higher Education This specialization contains courses in program evaluation, learner assessment, course development, and information services. Degree candidates may also take classes on the specific needs and goals of community college students. In addition to careers as teachers, higher education specialists could pursue work in academic advising or student personnel services. University professor, Community college instructor, Postsecondary education administrator, Career counselor
Second-Language Teaching The ESL specialization provides students with the pedagogical theory and practical skills to teach nonnative speakers. Specialists also assess student background, so they can use appropriate content and techniques for each student. ESL educators often work as instructors in community colleges and GED programs. They may also pursue careers with international schools and companies. Web instructor, Postsecondary teacher, Remedial education specialist, ESL instructor
Organizational Learning Organizational learning covers topics such as group dynamics, human resource management, and workplace diversity. Students also learn to evaluate program function and employee performance using data models and analytical techniques. Corporate trainer, Training and development manager, Operations analyst, Educational technologist

Courses in a Master's in Adult Education Program

Master's in adult education students begin degree work with classes in research methods, learning theories, differentiated instruction, and program planning and implementation. They also delve into aspects of developmental psychology, examining how students' cultural and socio-economic histories affect their learning styles. The list below details popular classes in this field.

Instructional Principles for Adult Learners

A required topic for all adult educators, this course focuses on group methods, teaching strategies, and environmental factors that promote knowledge and skill development. Students apply relevant concepts and theories in hands-on training and classroom simulations. They also develop, implement, and evaluate adult learning programs.

The Two-Year College

This course provides students with insight into the historical development of community and technical colleges. While the class touches on instructional methods, it heavily emphasizes administrative topics, including how two-year colleges structure their programs, recruit students, and manage financial stability.

Family Literacy

A research-based class, family literacy examines how parent-child and spousal relationships affect learning, particularly language acquisition and retention. Students also develop a theoretical understanding of adult literacy instruction. As an advanced course, students often conduct independent research and present project findings at the end of the course.

Globalized and Distance Education

Degree candidates explore the history and present conditions of nontraditional learning across the world. Using adaptable assessment methods, students learn to locate needs of students based on specific cultural and educational settings. They also receive training in online curriculum design and program development.

Program Planning and Development

Students learn to manage all aspects of a program cycle, from initial conception and design to implementation and performance evaluation. They also assess student needs in educational, professional, and social services settings. This enables educators to develop goal-specific instructional materials. While this class benefits all nontraditional learning professionals, it is crucial for those who want to work in the private sector.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Adult Education?

Full-time students can earn their master's in adult education in two years, usually totaling 36 semester credits. Some colleges and universities provide accelerated degree plans through hybrid or fully online delivery methods. Students who enter the program with the necessary prerequisites and work experience may earn their master's in just one year.

Working professionals who cannot commit to a full-time program may enroll part time. Part-time enrollment is a good option for those new to the education field because it allows more time to cultivate work experience and professional relationships. Practicum and capstone requirements also affect degree timeline. Master in education programs that lead to state licensure require classroom training and student teaching, which can take a semester or more. Prospective students should also take note of colleges that require cohort learning, wherein students take a class or two at a time, progressing through degree work with the same group of peers instead of individually completing courses.

How Much Is a Master's in Adult Education?

According to the higher education organization Peterson's Research, the average graduate student pays $30,00 annually in public tuition, and $40,000 if they attend a private institution. Prices vary drastically between individual colleges and universities. Online master's in adult education programs offer the most affordable tuition, including discounted prices accessible to students regardless of where they live.

The Pennsylvania State University World Campus provides a low semester rate of $10,634. PSU also offers graduate scholarships and awards specifically for education students. The University of Georgia charges $629 per online credit, and Florida International University prices its tuition at $380 per credit. Beyond tuition, students should budget for textbook,s technology fees, research trips, and conference attendance. Fortunately, schools offer ample financial assistance in these areas.

Prospective students also need to plan for living expenses regardless if they attend an online or on-campus program. For those who do not own their homes, accommodation costs are usually the biggest financial drain. Students who want to move to another city for school can check websites like PayScale and Numbeo, which provide cost of living calculators for easy budgeting by location.

Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Adult Education Prepares For

ATD Adult Learning Certificate

The Association for Talent Development provides in-depth training for educators who want to occupy positions as workplace trainers and consultants. Candidates have 12 months to complete this self-paced online program, which includes adult learning theories, best practices, and practical tips.

TESOL Leadership and Certificate Programs

The TESOL International Association offers six certificate options. New professionals can earn the core credential, which provides a foundation in English language teaching. Seasoned educators may pursue the advanced practitioner certificate, developing skills in a specific area.

KPI Institute Certified Performance Management Professional

As one of the few on-site certificate programs, the KPI Institute option is suitable for educators who want to work in corporate assessment, training, and program development. Candidates spend three days exploring six pillars of performance management, including data analysis and motivational culture and apply these pillars in simulations.

OLC Online Teaching Certificate

Web instructors and other distance education specialists can pursue two levels of post-degree training through the Online Learning Consortium. The foundational program comprise a 10-week course that focuses on three learning specializations. The advanced program lasts 12 weeks and consists of six units based in research and application.

ISTE Certified Educator

This hybrid certificate's curriculum includes a two-day, in-person training session followed by five weeks of online coursework. Professionals earn their credentials by submitting a portfolio containing professional achievements that align with ISTE criteria. These include the ability to apply instructional technology and data-driven practices in transformative ways.

Resources for Adult Education Graduate Students

American Council on Education

Established in 1918, ACE facilitates extensive research on college affordability, diversity, and accreditation. Professionals benefit from leadership training programs, including ones specifically for administrators and female educators.

National Adult Education Professional Development Consortium

The NAEPDC supports educators through public policy and academic research initiatives. The consortium operates professional development programs, including a leadership excellence academy and a national training institute.

American Association of Community Colleges

Comprising over 1,200 two-year institutions, the AACE engages in policy advocacy and serves as a national information service. Community college educators can take advantage of national conferences, local networking events, and webinars.

American Educational Research Association

AERA prioritizes educational research and its benefits to teacher training, learning strategies, and school program development. The association offers funding opportunities, fellowship programs, and training courses.

Online Learning Consortium

OLC advocates for quality and accessible distance education through research and journal publication. The organization connects members with national conferences and regional collaboration events. Educators get access to awards, fellowships, and scholarships.

Professional Organizations in Adult Education

By joining professional organizations, adult educators connect with researchers, administrators, advocates, classroom instructors, and other leaders in the field to collaborate and share experiences across the field of adult education. These organizations can also provide research support, funding, and post-degree training. Educators can tap into fellowships and job listings from sources like the AAACE career center. Students enjoy networking opportunities, including one-on-one mentorship programs.

International Association for Continuing Education and Training

As one of the main accrediting bodies for nontraditional education programs, IACET maintains a standard framework for quality learning and development. The association also offers webinars, workshops, and an extensive library of educational research and guides.

Adult Higher Education Alliance

AHEA promotes the rights of adult learners and advocates for multicultural perspectives in higher education. Members gain professional development opportunities through webinars, training programs, and a national conference.

American Association for Adult and Continuing Education

Founded in 1982, the AAACE unites adult educators through regional commissions, national conferences, and online community forums. Teachers also benefit from awards, career support, and even a member-exclusive insurance program.

International Society for Technology in Education

ISTE promotes technological integration in higher education through promotional and policy campaigns. Members get access to a vast professional network and evidenced-based training programs.

Learning Disabilities Association of America

Established in 1963, LDA supports learners with disabilities, their families, and special needs teachers through legislative action and community advocacy. Adult educators benefit from topical webinars, conferences, and in-depth information on specific learning disabilities and related disorders.