Degrees in adult education

HomeAdult education overview

Introduction to adult education

According to World Education, 65% of all jobs in the United States required training beyond high school in 2020. Yet 38% of the workforce only has a high school education or less. The growing need for employees to have higher education degrees, training, and knowledge will push more Americans back into the education system to pursue academic qualifications for employment. Graduate and doctorate level programs can provide students with the knowledge and skills necessary to enter the workforce in management, administrative, research, or higher education roles.

Does my university need to be accredited?

Accreditation agencies are put into place by the U.S. Department of Education to check that a university’s program is maintaining a set standard of excellence. This ensures that the education students are attaining during their higher education programs is adequate for higher degrees, employment in the field, or licensure.

Financial aid

Whether you are applying for an adult education master’s degree or doctoral program, there are financial aid options available to those who qualify. If you are not interested in paying for your entire program through loans, then you might be interested in federal grants or scholarships. There are many scholarships available to students who are pursuing degrees in education. For example, College Scholarship provides students with helpful information about scholarships available to individuals who want to become teachers.

Another popular way to pay for a higher education program is through a federal grant. Federal Student Aid is a grant that is offered based on your financial history, income bracket, and basic personal information. This information is filled out online with a free FASFA application, and a response is given within a few weeks.

Online vs. on campus

Now more than ever accredited universities are offering their courses and programs online. This contemporary way of learning reaches students who would not normally be able to pursue a higher education degree: individuals who work during the day, live far from campus, or have previous commitments. Some programs and courses are also being offered as hybrid formats. This means the course or program incorporates both online and traditional face-to-face components.

What do I need to apply?

For a master’s program, you will need a minimum of a 2.75-3.0 GPA from your undergraduate coursework in a related field. This shows that you have an adequate grasp of the academic content you have learned to qualify you for the next step on the academic ladder.

Universities may also request GRE scores, academic references, a goal statement, and a resume. This provides them with more information about your academic intentions, professional background, and gives them insight into what kind of a student you are.

For a doctorate program in adult education, you will need the transcripts from your bachelor’s and master’s program with a minimum GPA of 3.5. You may also need a resume or CV documenting your professional experience relevant to the program, a statement of purpose outlining your research proposal, academic references, and GRE scores.

Master’s program coursework

Adult learning theory

An adult learning theory course will cover the historical, social, political, and economic perspectives that envelop adult education. It will cover adult learning theories and the increasing importance of adult education in the community.

Instructional strategies for adult learners

This course will cover teaching methods for adult learners, how to engage adult learners, implement support systems for adult learners, and look into innovative teaching techniques to enhance learning.

Developing programs for adult learners

Adult learners need programs focused on organization and innovative delivery methods to enhance student learning. Students will learn how to develop and implement these techniques in their adult education classroom.

Language and literacy

To advance language and literacy in an adult education classroom or environment, teachers need to know about issues related to cultural and linguistic diversity, reading and writing practices, and teaching techniques to enhance student literacy.


Toward the end of your master’s program, you will be required to complete a thesis to be eligible for graduation. This summarizes what you have learned during the program, and gives you an opportunity to prove your professional knowledge.

Program concentrations

Higher education

Students who are planning to work in the higher education system in leadership roles may benefit from this concentration. It focuses on contemporary issues of higher education, how to strengthen faculty roles, enhance administrative practices, and improve the curriculum in higher education.

Organizational learning

To strengthen your management skills and enhance your understanding of organizational dynamics, a concentration in organizational learning can be beneficial to you. This concentration may appeal to students interested in working for the business world as it focuses on the strategies that help organizations adapt to the changing market and/or develop new strategies.

Instructional technology

This concentration will teach you the benefits of incorporating technology in the classroom, including when it can be implemented to enhance student learning. This is an ideal concentration for individuals who want to work as a training specialist or instructional designer in corporate, educational, or government settings.

Master’s level career options

This teacher develops and teaches lessons to individuals who need to pass the GED. A GED teacher evaluates their students, adapts teaching techniques, monitors academic progress, and encourages excellent study habits to enhance academic success.


In 2020, the average salary for a GED diploma teacher was $55,350.

Many community colleges will accept applicants with master’s degrees, especially applicants with excellent work experience that can be used in the classroom. Community college professors plan and host lectures, grade papers, and collaborate with colleagues on course curriculum.


The average salary in 2020 for a community college professor was $53,768.

Teaching and developing lessons based on ESL methods is the guiding practice of an ESL or TESOL teacher. They use observations and assessment techniques to maximize student learning, create standardized guidelines, and communicate student achievement and needs to the principal.


The average salary in 2020 for an ESL or TESOL teacher was noted as $50,103.

Doctoral program coursework

Adult learning theory

This course focuses on the principles and models of cognitive development, theories of effective adult education, and evidence-based research that shapes our understanding of adult learning.

History and philosophy of teaching

You will analyze the educational methods and policies throughout history that have shaped our understanding of teaching today. You will also explore issues in teaching and construct your own teaching philosophy.

Legal and ethical issues in adult learning

In this course, you will learn about the legislation and regulations that govern adult education. You will also examine the code of ethics educators should follow, and look into historical and contemporary case studies in the field.

Leadership in adult education

This course will look into proven strategies and best teaching practices for adult learners, and adult learning settings. You will consider different theories and leadership styles, and how to provide a positive and safe learning environment for students.


In addition to coursework and seminars, you will be responsible for conducting your own research and summarizing your findings in the form of a dissertation. This research will bring new ideas to the adult education field as your final project. This is typically presented and defended in front of a panel of experts to be eligible for graduation.

Program concentrations

Higher education administration

This concentration examines the topics that relate to administration in colleges and universities. You will be introduced to theories, issues, and evidence-based research related to academic administration and financial management. This is ideal for students who want to pursue a career in administration in higher education.

Distance education

This concentration focuses on providing professionals with the knowledge and skills needed to understand and implement distance education programs. You can develop an understanding of telecommunication technologies in educational settings, program design, and gain skills needed to teach students at a distance.

Community college leadership

The community college leadership concentration enhances your understanding of community college by focusing on related research. You will be introduced to the importance of community colleges, theories regarding administration, and related research topics. This concentration prepares students to work in administrative positions at a community college.

Doctorate level career options

These teachers work at the university level hosting lectures on topics they are experts in. They assign coursework, grade papers, provide mentorship, conduct research, and write scholarly articles.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary in 2020 for a postsecondary teacher $80,790.

These researchers conduct studies, gather and analyze data, and use the information to study the adult education field to enhance student learning and instructional strategies.


In 2020, the average salary for an education researcher was noted as $98,803.

This individual is responsible for managing the education program, curriculum development, course evaluation, fiscal management, and record-keeping. They help plan and implement the vision of a school or agency.


In 2020, the average salary for an executive director of adult education was $70,000.

The American Association for Adult and Continuing Education (AAACE)

The AAACE provides leadership for individuals in the adult and continuing education field. They foster professional development, expand career opportunities, unify educators, and advocate for social change and relevant public policy.

Adult Education Research Conference

This is an annual conference in North American that provides education researchers with a platform to share the results of their research with other researchers in the adult education community. It forms a sense of community in the field, and encourages innovative research and communication amongst professionals in adult education.

American Association of Community Colleges

This association provides users with a platform to network, collaborate among AAACC staff and stakeholders, encourage a shared commitment to the community college movement, and offer development opportunities.