If you're looking for the best online master's degree in adult education programs, you're not alone. With the highest-paid jobs in the field requiring a master's degree, more and more individuals are advancing their careers by earning an online master's degree in adult learning. Convenient and affordable, distance learning programs allow students to maintain a balance between school, work, and family as they increase their earning potential through education. The following guide is designed to help you find the best online degree in adult learning programs for your schedule, professional goals, and learning style.

What are the best adult education programs of 2020? Here are our top 10:

Rank School Location
1 North Carolina State University Raleigh, NC
2 University of Georgia Athens, GA
3 Texas A&M University College Station, TX
4 Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey New Brunswick, NJ
5 Indiana University Bloomington Bloomington, IN
6 Michigan State University East Lansing, MI
7 Appalachian State University Boone, NC
8 James Madison University Harrisonburg, VA
9 Auburn University Auburn, AL
10 Colorado State University Fort Collins, CO

Choosing a Program


While some degree program applicants undoubtedly have prior work experience in the field, it's usually not a requirement for admission. However, some programs do include a practicum or fieldwork component intended to teach students through hands-on experience.


Online degree programs are specially designed to let distance learners balance school, work, and family, without sacrificing one or the other. It's definitely possible to earn your master's while remaining employed, but some programs are more convenient for working professionals than others. Before selecting a program, it's important to take factors such as course load, pacing, and format into consideration, along with your current work schedule.


An online degree program offers the same rigorous academics and credentials as a traditional program, but at a fraction of the cost. Distance learning programs let you fit education into your life — not the other way around. You'll be able to study and complete assignments when it's most convenient for you and from wherever you have access to the internet.

What Are The Best Online Master's in Adult Education/Learning Programs?

Rank School Location Cost Graduation Rate Description Toggle

North Carolina State University

Raleigh, NC Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 81%

NC State serves approximately 36,000 students and offers more than 300 academic programs, including an online master of education in adult and continuing professional education. Designed for working educators, this 36-credit program allows students to complete all coursework online or take some on-campus courses for a hybrid experience.

Program coursework covers topics like instructional strategies, assessment and evaluation, and teaching in an online environment. Students round out the curriculum by completing a research project or an internship.

Applicants need a minimum 3.0 GPA. NC State provides a variety of financial aid opportunities, including teaching and research assistantships


University of Georgia

Athens, GA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 86%

Located in Athens, UGA powers distance education with the Desire2Learn platform. The university's graduate catalog includes an online master of education in learning, leadership, and organization development. Throughout the program's integrative curriculum, students gain the skills needed to work as talent managers, corporate trainers, and adult educators.

The program's 33-credit curriculum helps mid-career professionals with 3-5 years of experience master effective interventions. Students also delve into theories of organizational development and change. Prior to graduation, students must complete an applied project, a professional portfolio, and an oral exam.

Applicants must submit GMAT, GRE, or MAT scores; a current resume or CV; three recommendation letters; and a statement of purpose. The program only accepts students for the fall semester. Students can bring in up to six transfer credits.


Texas A&M University

College Station, TX Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 82%

Texas A&M was founded in 1876 as the state's first public higher education institution. Today, the university serves more than 69,000 students, many of whom earn online degrees like a master's in educational human resource development with an emphasis in adult education. The program's 37-credit curriculum focuses on critical reflection and student-centered teaching practices, preparing graduates for careers at literacy centers, healthcare facilities, and community colleges.

Required courses include organizational development and performance; evaluation models in human resource management; and adult education, globalization, and social justice. Students personalize the curriculum through three guided electives. The program offers fall and spring entry dates and does not require campus visits.

Applicants should submit transcripts, a current resume, three reference letters, and a one-page statement explaining why they want to pursue this degree.


Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

New Brunswick, NJ Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 80%

Rutgers is a public research university that serves over 70,000 students every year. The school delivers distance learning through the Blackboard Learn platform, offering graduate degrees like an online master's degree in adult and continuing education. After completing this 30-credit program, graduates are equipped to design, implement, and assess adult learning experiences in formal and informal settings.

Students in the program take courses like organizational leadership and change management, creating and sustaining a learning environment, and learning and teaching in global contexts. Students can use electives to pursue one of three optional specializations, including higher education and educational technology.

Applicants with a GPA below 3.0 must submit GRE scores. Additional requirements include a personal statement and three recommendation letters.


Indiana University Bloomington

Bloomington, IN Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 78%

IU is a leader in distance learning, providing 142 remote certificates and degrees through the Canvas platform. Graduate students may enroll in IU's fully online master's in adult education program. Throughout a 36-credit curriculum, students gain the research and organizational development skills needed to create adult learning programs in academic, professional, and community-based settings.

Program courses cover topics like adult learning through the lifespan, participation training, and educational theory. Students also learn to develop and implement remote education systems, focusing on accessibility and student outcomes. Learners individualize the curriculum through 15 guided and open elective credits.

IU offers fall and spring entry dates. The adult education program requires applicants to have a minimum 2.75 GPA. Prospective students with a GPA of at least 3.2 do not need to submit GRE scores.


Michigan State University

East Lansing, MI Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 80%

Based in East Lansing, MSU serves nearly 50,000 students and offers over 200 academic programs, including an online master's in higher, adult, and lifelong education. Distance learners complete an entirely online curriculum that prepares them for leadership positions in higher education institutions, private industries, and nonprofit organizations.

Program courses include inquiry in postsecondary education, organizational development, and budgeting and finance in higher education. Learners also delve into program planning and evaluation. They round out the program by completing a portfolio, which is reviewed by a committee of three faculty mentors.

All program applicants must have a minimum 3.0 GPA. Prospective students should have professional experience in a postsecondary education setting and must submit a personal statement, a resume, and three reference letters.


Appalachian State University

Boone, NC Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 72%

Appalachian maintains its flagship campus in Boone, North Carolina. The university delivers online programs through the AsULearn platform, with degree options like an online master's in adult and developmental education. Graduates learn about research and program development, preparing to work as academic support specialists, professional trainers, and vocational faculty.

The program's curriculum covers topics like college access and student success, American higher education, and learning assistance in higher education. Degree-seekers learn to implement student-centered evaluation and assessment practices. Participants finish the program by taking two advanced electives or completing a thesis.

Applicants need a minimum 2.5 GPA and MAT or GRE scores in the 25th percentile or higher. Prospective students with a GPA of at least 3.0 do not need to submit test scores.


James Madison University

Harrisonburg, VA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 84%

JMU offers 139 academic programs, many of which students can access online through Canvas. The university's online offerings include a master's in adult education/human resource development. Students in this program can complete an entirely online curriculum or take some courses at JMU's campus in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

With options for two-year and four-year plans, the program's 36-credit curriculum covers topics like learning theories, diversity and ethics, and instructional design principles. Students also complete a thesis and sit for a comprehensive exam as part of their capstone requirements. Graduates are prepared for careers as e-learning designers, human capital consultants, and performance analysts.

Admission requirements include a minimum 2.75 GPA, a resume, two recommendation letters, and a 2-3-page personal statement.


Auburn University

Auburn, AL Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 78%

Founded in 1856 as the first land-grant college in the South, Auburn now serves over 30,000 students. Auburn's distance learners can earn an MS or M.Ed. in adult education. After completing this 30-36-credit program, graduates can find work related to corporate training, postsecondary teaching, and educational program evaluation.

Required courses in the program include the nature of adult education, teaching the disadvantaged adult, and program development in non-school settings. MS students complete the program with thesis research and defense. All learners gain hands-on experience through an internship and a practicum.

Auburn offers fall, spring, and summer entry dates. Applicants need a minimum 2.75 GPA and adequate GRE scores. Prospective students must also submit a statement of intent and three recommendation letters.


Colorado State University

Fort Collins, CO Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 71%

CSU powers distance education through the Canvas platform. The university's graduate catalog includes an online master's in adult education and training. This program's five-semester curriculum emphasizes project-based assignments, teaching students the practical skills needed to succeed in health education, athletic coaching, and ESL instruction.

Students in the program complete classes that cover multicultural and special populations, research methods, and adult teaching and learning. Participants individualize the curriculum through electives, with options like cognitive theory/learning transfer and philosophy of workforce education.

Applicants need a minimum 3.0 GPA and must submit a statement of purpose, a resume, and three recommendation letters. However, the program does not require standardized test scores.

What Else can I Expect from an Online Master's in Adult Education Program?

Online master's in adult learning programs tend to vary from school to school, in format as well as content. While characteristics like concentrations and course length differ between institutions, the following sections are designed to provide a general overview of online master's degree in adult education programs.


No two programs are the same, but some courses are considered fundamental to any online master's in adult education curriculum. While researching degree programs, you're likely to encounter several variations of the following courses:

  • Adult learning theory: This course explores fundamental concepts and key principles in andragogy, or the instruction of adults, as well as their practical applications and expected outcomes. Students examine the motivations of adult learners, common instructional tactics, and the role of technology in the learning environment.
  • Adult literacy: Participants in this class learn to identify a variety of instructional models commonly used in adult literacy education and their methods of implementation. Along with these instructional strategies, future educators learn to assess the needs and strengths of adult students and determine which educational model serves learners best.
  • Educational program planning: Ideal for those interested in the field of instructional coordination, this course provides foundational knowledge in curriculum design for adult learners. Covering major approaches to program planning and course design, lessons synthesize concepts in adult learning theory with administrative skills and technological topics to demonstrate curriculum construction methods.


While most online master's in adult education programs can be completed in 30 to 40 credit hours, some are only a few months long and others may require several years of study. There are several factors than can influence the length of a degree program, from lesson delivery format to any practicum components, but few characteristics influence program length as much as pacing.

Asynchronous or self-paced programs are designed with convenience in mind. Ideal for working professionals, self-paced programs allow students to review lessons and complete coursework at their convenience. Relaxed deadlines and accelerated courses offer maximum flexibility and faster completion times, but also require strong time management skills. Providing more structure and support, cohort-based programs emphasize collaboration between classmates and faculty. Students may be expected to log in at certain times and participate in group discussions. Programs using a cohort model typically take longer to complete than their asynchronous counterparts.


  • TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages): The 140-hour TESOL certificate program is designed for those interested in teaching English as a second or foreign language. Program participants can choose a concentration in adult or childhood/adolescent education. Certification coursework builds on key principles of adult learning theory, applying them to foreign language instruction.
  • Teaching Certificate: The requirements for earning a teaching certificate can be quite different from state to state. Depending on location, additional exams, such as Praxis, or certification courses may be required. A teaching certificate is necessary for most positions in adult education, including adult literacy specialist, corporate trainer, or GED course instructor.

Accreditation for Online Master's in Adult Education Degrees

You've probably seen the term "accredited" pop up repeatedly while researching master's programs, but what does it mean? Accreditation is a process agencies use to ensure that schools operate according to particular academic and ethical standards. Schools can be regionally or nationally accredited, depending on the agency that assesses them. It's important to understand the distinction between the two categories, and the characteristics of both, before you select an online degree program.

Regionally accredited institutions are typically nonprofit, academically-focused schools such as state universities, while for-profit vocational schools usually receive national accreditation. Credits earned at regionally accredited colleges transfer easily between other institutions, but most regionally accredited schools won't accept transfer credits from nationally accredited schools. If you think you might want to pursue a doctorate program in the future, finding a master's program offered through a regionally accredited school is a must.

Accreditation also allows the U.S. Department of Education to award federal funding to eligible schools. While this branch of the government doesn't itself accredit institutions, it does rely on external accrediting agencies to determine a school's eligibility. In turn, organizations like the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) monitor accrediting bodies and ensure that operating standards are upheld. Consisting of representatives from over 3,000 colleges and universities around the country, CHEA provides the public with information about the accreditation process and the dangers of degree mills. An extensive database of accredited institutions can be found on CHEA's website.

Employment Outlook for Master's in Adult Learning Graduates


The best online degree in adult education can open up a new world of career opportunities. If you have a knack for planning and love helping others succeed, earning an online master's in adult education can help you apply your talents to a diverse range of professions. Whether you're interested in teaching English as a foreign language or coaching adult athletics, a master's degree can help advance your career. The following professions are only a few of the paths taken by individuals with a master's in adult learning:

  • Adult Literacy/High School Equivalency Diploma Teacher: These instructors specialize in teaching basic reading and writing skills to adult learners. Additionally, many teach courses designed to prepare adult students for GED and other diploma equivalency exams. While some teach with only a bachelor's degree, most schools prefer to hire instructors with work experience and higher credentials.
  • Instructional Coordinator: Instructional coordinators use educational theory to develop lesson plans, instructional materials, and curricula as they ensure that educational standards are upheld throughout an institution. Many begin as teachers or school administrators, gaining necessary work experience before earning their master's degree and transitioning to a coordinator position.
  • Career and Technical Education Teacher: Often employed at vocational schools, community colleges, and training centers, these teachers provide career-based instruction to adult learners. Common courses taught include automotive repair, culinary arts, cosmetology, and nursing. Depending on their area of expertise, technical education instructors often hold several certifications in addition to a teaching license.
  • Foreign Language Instructor: This category includes teachers of English as a second or foreign language, as well as American Sign Language instructors. Foreign Language Instructors are employed in a wide range of venues, including colleges, private educational facilities, community centers, and religious institutions. Along with a master's, this profession typically requires TESOL certification.
  • Training and Development Manager: Combining adult educational theory with managerial principles, this position is ideal for those who like working in a corporate environment. Training managers are hired by organizations to coordinate employee educational programs and enhance professional development through skill-building practices. Some oversee groups of training instructors or specialists.

Salary and Growth Rate by Career

Position Median Annual Salary Projected Growth Rate
Adult Literacy/High School Equivalency Diploma Teacher $50,650 7%
Instructional Coordinator $62,460 7%
Career and Technical Education Teacher $54,020 4%
Foreign Language Instructor $63,500 6%
Training and Development Manager $105,830 7%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics


Numerous factors can impact an educator's salary, including experience, individual employers, and credentials. Location can also influence how much you make. The following table uses data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to show which five states employ the most certified adult educators, as well as how annual wages can differ sharply based on location.

State Average Annual Wage
California $65,580
Texas $57,460
New York $69,900
North Carolina $45,970
Washington $50,610

Source: BLS


Whether you're studying for your master's, currently employed in the field, or both, joining a professional organization can help you succeed academically and professionally. Not only does membership look good on any resume, it comes with opportunities that range from annual conferences and seminars to members-only certification and job assistance programs. The following are just a few of the many professional organizations dedicated to the support and advancement of adult educators:

  • American Association For Adult and Continuing Education: Committed to developing leadership among adult educators, this group extends a wealth of benefits to members. In addition to voting privileges, conference registration discounts, and networking opportunities, members can participate in exclusive webinars and online community features.
  • National Adult Education Professional Development Consortium: Among other benefits, NAEPDC members benefit from privileged access to the organization's vast resource database. Containing hundreds of handbooks, training manuals, certification programs, and lesson plan outlines, the database offers something useful for every adult educator.
  • Correctional Education Association: This organization is dedicated to supporting educators who teach in a correctional environment. Membership includes access to an open educational database, free teaching resources, and the chance to participate in leadership events and annual conferences.

Financing Your Online Master's in Adult Education Program

Paying for your online master's in adult learning might seem intimidating, but you're not alone: over half of all college students apply for financial aid. By filling out a FAFSA form, you'll learn which federal grants, loans, and scholarships are available to you, as well as any work-study programs offered through your school. Additionally, some employers will pay all or part of tuition costs when employees pursue degrees in a work-related field.


Approximately two-thirds of today's college students rely on loans to fund their education, but there are plenty of overlooked financing options you can use to reduce your overall student debt.


Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a crucial first step for any student with financial needs. Our FAFSA guide features a step-by-step rundown on the process and answers to several frequently asked questions.


Financial aid for online learning is equivalent to what you'll find for campus-based learning, but that hasn't always been the case. Learn about the changes that have taken place, as well as the different funding opportunities available to online students.


Online programs can provide an affordable and flexible option for women trying to balance the demands of work, family, and earning their degree. We've curated a list of valuable scholarships specifically for women.


Online college programs can be a flexible, affordable option for single parents who are interested in earning a degree and securing their family's financial future. We've compiled a list of scholarships, grants, and other financial aid options geared toward single moms and dads.


Millions of dollars in free money is available to U.S. military personnel, but much of it goes unused. Learn more about grants, scholarships, and other financial aid opportunities available to veterans, active-duty service members, and reservists.