Adult Education Graduate Programs: PhDs, Masters & Certificates

Graduate Programs in Adult Education: Overview

Interested in helping others reach their career and educational goals? Then an adult education graduate programs may be perfect for you! By earning your adult education degree, you could develop the skills and knowledge to help adult learners enhance their careers by providing professional training, teaching ESL classes, or even helping them earn their high school equivalency diploma. Your adult education degree may prepare you to create, deliver, and assess lesson plans and teaching methods to ensure you are teaching your future students in the most effective way possible,[i]thereby helping them strive towards a better life and achieving their goals. Plus, by choosing a great format and adult education degree level for you, you may develop an understanding of how to teach adult learners the skills to find and keep employment, all while pursuing career goals of your own in a way that fits your lifestyle.

So, if you want to truly impact the lives of others and possibly enhance your career, continue reading to learn all about adult education programs. Then, click on any of the sponsored listings on this page to learn more about individual programs!

Popular Schools with Adult Education Programs – Degrees

ProgramInstitutionDegree Awarded
Adult EducationUniversity of GeorgiaEdD
Adult EducationUniversity of Arkansas – Pine BluffMAdEd
Adult Education Guided Intensive Study (AEGIS)Teachers CollegePhD
Adult EducationTusculum CollegeMAdEd
EducationNorth Dakota State UniversityEdD
Adult Education and HR DevelopmentFordham UniversityMSEd
Occupational Training and DevelopmentUniversity of LouisvilleMS
Educational Leadership, Administration and SupervisionThe University of Southern MississippiPhD
Adult and Community EducationIndiana University Of PennsylvaniaMSEd
eNSUNorthwestern State University of LouisianaMS
EducationUniversity of ConnecticutN/A
Ed.D in Teaching and Learning with an Emphasis in Adult Learning – Quantitative ResearchGrand Canyon UniversityN/A

Did You Know? Every year, more than 1.2 million young adults, or one out of every six students, drop out of high school.[ii]

What is Adult Education?

Adult education is any program or course for adults who are out of school but hoping to continue to learn. Typically this is in the form of classes for ESL, basic literacy, and high school diploma equivalency students. Or, it may also be through training and development courses for businesses, organizations, or government agencies.

Earning your adult education degree may be a great way to develop the knowledge you could need to provide adult education and teach future students skills to potentially enhance their careers. Depending on your level of education, and the type of degree you pursue, after graduation you could pursue a number of different roles. Read on to learn more about each type of adult education program and determine which may be ideal for you.

Different Adult Education Programs and Degree Type Options

Typically, there are three different levels of adult education degrees: graduate certificate, masters, and doctorates. Which one you choose to pursue may depend on your current education level and your future goals. However, all adult education programs focus on providing you the skills and knowledge to teach adult learners and help them overcome common obstacles such as readjusting to school and balancing family and work responsibilities.

Courses may focus on developing a solid foundation in learning theory, instructional design, instructional technology, and research methods. However, at each of the degree levels, the depth, scope, and amount of research will likely vary. For instance, a research oriented doctorate level course will likely go much more in depth in analysis than a certificate course. Program lengths, and application and graduation requirements may differ as well. To determine which adult education program might be best for you, carefully consider your career and educational goals. Then read on to learn more about the objectives and requirements for each degree level.

Graduate Certificate

Graduate certificate in adult education programs may be a great way for busy professionals to deepen their knowledge without making too great of a time commitment. Most certificate programs consist of a small number of classes, normally four to six, and while completion times vary, may be completed in one to two years for part-time students. Usually, a certificate in adult education is earned after a bachelors degree. However, some schools may offer post-masters certificate programs as well.

These types of programs are designed to help students develop a deeper and more complete understanding of certain aspects of teaching adult learners. Courses you could study through a graduate certificate in adult education include Theories and Framework for Adult Learning and Facilitating Collaboration, Group Process, and Strategies and Best Practices for Teaching and Learning. These types of courses, and others, may focus on supplementing your previous educational experiences and building a foundation of knowledge on the main characteristics of adult education.

Some students may use certificate programs to enhance their career. Others might use it as an opportunity to take a few courses before committing themselves to pursuing an advanced degree. Most programs offer the ability to transfer certificate program credits later to an advanced degree, should you choose to deepen your studies. However this varies, so contact schools directly to see if your program may qualify.

Adult Education Program Requirements

On important factor to keep in mind may be licensure. Some states require that adult literacy and high school equivalency diploma teachers receive a state license or teaching certificate to practice. While graduate certificate programs typically do not specifically prepare you for any state teaching license or certification, the completion of a certificate program may help you study, or make you eligible, to apply. Many states require:

  • >Bachelors degree
  • Completion of approved teacher-training program
  • State certificate (Some states have certificates in adult education, others require either a certificate in elementary or secondary education)[iv]
  • A clean criminal background

However, it’s important to remember that every state is different, so research your state’s requirements individually. Some may even require a masters degree. Read on to learn more about this potential option.


When it comes to earning your masters degree in adult education, there are typically three different types of degree program options, which are:

  • Masters of Arts (MA)
  • Masters of Science (MS)
  • Masters of Education (MEd)

All of the different degree program options could prepare you to teach adult learners and may require that you’ve earned a bachelors degree from an accredited institution. However, each might be more focused on different roles in the adult education field. For example, a MS may prepare you more for a role in educational research, while a MEd may help you pursue a broader range of positions inside the educational spectrum. Finally, a MA may be more focused on preparing you for teaching in a classroom setting. Therefore, different programs may be better suited for you depending on your goals.

Typically, earning a masters degree in adult education requires 30 to 40 credit hours, depending upon the programs format. Most students can earn their masters degree in two years of full time study. However, every program is unique. To find the perfect program for you, click on any of the sponsored listings on this page to learn more about the goals and approach of individual programs. Or visit the adult education masters programs page to learn more.


A doctorate degree in adult education is considered the highest level of education one can achieve and normally may be earned with three years of full time study. Most fall under one of two different categories:

  • Doctor of Education (EdD) in Adult Education
  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD in Adult Education

In addition to core coursework, programs typically require the writing, presentation, and defense of a dissertation for graduation. Because of the depth of study and amount of work needed, earning your doctorate in adult education degree could prepare you to pursue a number of different careers. Each of the different types of adult education programs have somewhat different focuses however, and which is a perfect fit for you may be based on which career you hope to pursue.

For instance, if you earn a PhD in adult education, your courses might focus more on developing you as a postsecondary teacher and aim to prepare you to jumpstart a career in the classroom. An EdD, on the other hand, could prepare you to pursue for leadership roles, with classes emphasizing problem solving and strategy. Think about what you hope to achieve and read program descriptions carefully to find a great fit for you.

Choosing How You Earn Your Adult Education Degree

Adult education programs may come in three different formats: online, on-campus, and hybrid, which is a blend of the online and on-campus formats. As you research your different options it’s important that you understand the potential benefits of each, and how they may match your learning style. Then choose the one which might best support your success!


Online learning through an online adult education program might provide you with the freedom and flexibility to perform coursework when its convenient for you. So, if you want to write that paper in the your pajamas, you can. However, there are many other potential benefits to online learning as well! Online learning may leverage multimedia (webinars, podcasts, social media communities and improve virtual communication skills, for example.

One thing to consider when choosing how to earn your adult education degree, is the continued rise in online learning, both for college degrees and for organizational training. Earning your degree online or in a hybrid program may help develop technological and communication skills you may use later in your career.[v]Plus, having that experience on your resume just might set you apart with future employers.


If you prefer more structure, choosing to earn your adult education degree on-campus, or in a traditional face-to-face format, may be for you. Classes typically meet at a specific time and place, which may benefit students who struggle at creating and sticking to a schedule on their own. It may also be helpful to see educators (your professors) in action to learn tricks and tips to potentially apply later in your career. Plus, you may have more networking opportunities, possibly helping with your job search post graduation.


Choosing a hybrid adult education program may provide you with the best of both worlds. That’s because hybrid programs can offer elements from both online and face-to-face programs that are actually more effective together than apart. Plus hybrid adult education programs could work perfectly with a currently working teacher’s schedule. The hybrid format may allow them to attend classes online during the school year and on-campus during summer break. Of course every program is different, so contact schools directly for more information through the listings below.

Potential Careers in Adult Education

Once you’ve earned your adult education degree, you could pursue a wide variety of career paths. These career paths may depend on the level of degree you’ve earned, your professional experience, and how you want to help adult learners. Some of the most common careers for those with a degree in adult education, and their 2015 median annual salary, include:

Each of these different roles, besides postsecondary teachers, normally require a bachelors degree for entry-level positions.[x] Post secondary teachers typically require a doctorate, though some part-time and adjunct positions may be available to those holding a masters.[xi] However a graduate degree may help enhance your career and set you apart from other applicants.

Some advanced roles, such as training and development manager, may even require a masters degree.[xii] Also, while many states only require a bachelors degree to become licensed as an adult literacy or high school equivalency diploma teacher, some states and programs may require that you have a masters degree and teaching experience.iii Check with your individual state’s education department to learn more.

Top States for Employment for Adult Basic and Secondary Education and Literacy Teachers and Instructors
StateEmploymentAnnual Mean Wage
New York4,680$68,930
North Carolina2,960$44,250

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Top Salary Metro Areas in the United States: Adult Basic and Secondary Education and Literacy Teachers and Instructors
Metro AreaAnnual Mean SalaryEmployment
Hagerstown-Martinsburg, MD-WV$80,65040
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA$77,870240
San Diego-Carlsbad, CA$75,7300
Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT$74,5100
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA$74,4600

Bureau of Labor Statistics

[i]| [ii]| [iii]| [iv]| [v]| [vi]| [vii]| [viii]| [ix]| [x]| [xi]| [xii]

Top 79 Graduate Schools with Adult Education Graduate Programs

  • Grand Canyon University

  • University of Georgia

  • University of Arkansas - Pine Bluff

  • Teachers College

  • Tusculum College

  • North Dakota State University

  • Fordham University

  • University of Louisville

  • The University of Southern Mississippi

  • Indiana University Of Pennsylvania

  • Northwestern State University of Louisiana

  • University of Connecticut