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Boasting a wide scope of application, an advanced degree in adult education can benefit individuals from a variety of career paths, schools, and majors. Many people enter adult education programs because they already work as an adult instructor and are looking to broaden their skills and enhance their career opportunities. However, adult education also appeals to professionals in many other fields, such as community organizers, facilitators, trainers, program developers, government officials, or human resources specialists.

Most adult education programs include coursework in the philosophy and methodology of teaching to adults, as well as in general topics such as workplace education and community education. Beyond required introductory classes, there is a great deal of variety in the course of study a student may pursue. Most programs require students to choose a specialty within the field and, working under the supervision of a faculty member, develop a self-directed program that blends coursework, fieldwork, and research. Some students, for example, may choose to focus their research and studies on adult literacy or English as a Second Language (ESL). Others may choose to work with developmentally disabled adults. Other students focus on counseling, life skills, mentorship, cross cultural learning, experiential learning, or union education.

Under any circumstance, the range is quite broad and anyone who works with adults may be able to carve out a program to fit their skills and career goals. To get an idea of the field's scope, take a look at the topics of recent master's theses from an accredited program; they range from critical thinking in nurse education, to building access to a college-university for displaced workers, to designing a nutrition program for independently living seniors.

Degree Information

Depending on the program, students may pursue a master's of arts in adult education (M.A.) or a master's of education in adult education (M.Ed.), both of which usually take somewhere between two to five years to complete, with or without a culminating thesis. Course of study differ widely because specialties within the field are so varied. Students work closely with their advisors to create a curriculum that fits his or her individual needs and interests. Many programs offer the option of completing the degree part time.

Ph.D. programs are generally geared towards individuals who want to serve in an administrative leadership capacity at a college, university, or other organization.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Degree Program

  • What skills and experience do you hope to acquire in a graduate program? What type of program will train you in those skills?
  • What types of courses does the school offer? What special programs (English as a Second Language, Adult Literacy, etc) will you have access to?
  • What professional or academic background do professors bring to the program? Are there staff members who could serve as mentors or role models in your desired field?
  • What types of careers do most students pursue after graduating?
  • Does the program require students to write a master's thesis or conduct research?

Career Overview

After graduation, students of adult education go on to careers in business, government, healthcare, and universities. More specifically, many graduates become adult counselors, working with clients at a number of levels including family, financial, and crisis management. Many also go on to teach adults in a classroom setting, at universities, colleges, community colleges, vocational schools, or other educational centers. Within these career fields, there is a wide range of subject that an adult educator might teach. They may also work as school administrators, helping to manage the academic staff and school curriculum.

In addition, adult education is a popular degree for professionals involved in workplace education, such as education departments in healthcare organizations, education departments in religious organizations, human resources departments, or training departments in businesses. In addition, many use their degree to become more effective as management in various business fields.

Students who graduate from doctoral programs in adult education usually seek administrative and management positions in a number of fields, most notably in education. Unlike most doctoral programs, only a small number of students go on to research. Instead, they work in non-academic management of colleges and universities, or business and health care settings.

Career/Licensing Requirements

Licensing requirements will vary by state, field, and setting.

Salary Information

Most beginning professionals in this field can expect to earn between $30-35,000.

Related Links

The American Association for Adult and Continuing Education
The American Association for Adult and Continuing Education offers newsletters, conferences, and resources for professionals in the field of adult education.

The National Center for Adult Literacy and Learning
The National Center for Adult Literacy and Learning is a research organization dedicated to exploring the critical issues that effect adult learning. The NCALL website offers publications, research, and publications on adult education.

Adventures in Assessment
Adventures in Assessment is an annual publication addressing issues in adult literacy, published by the System for Adult Basic Education Support, a Massachusetts based organization.

Formed in partnership by the Los Angeles County Schools, the Sacramento County Office of Education, the Adult Literacy Media Alliance, and Aguirre International, Cyberstep creates materials and resources designed for Adult Basic Education (ABE) and English as a Second Language (ESL).


  • History Of Adult Education

  • Adult Education Methods

  • Adult Learning Theory

  • Community Education And Development

  • Creating An Educational Work Place

  • Internship/Fieldwork

  • Methods Of Adult Education

  • Professional And Continuing Studies

  • Program Development And Assessment