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Top 5 Adult Learning and Higher Education Degrees Online

Interested in advancing your career in adult learning and higher education? Explore your career options with these doctoral and master’s degree programs and graduate certificate programs.

The fields of adult learning, higher education, and online learning are converging into a dynamic growth area for educators. Recent research reported that more than 7 million adult students were enrolled in online courses and degree programs in 2013.* And educators themselves are going back to school to update their skills, learn the latest educational technologies, and develop the expertise to teach adult learners. They’re also learning to develop and implement programs to reach their students more effectively in online higher education settings.

Even though there are many types of adult learning degrees online for educators, these top five doctoral, master’s, and graduate certificate programs get to the core of the major shifts, trends, and opportunities shaping adult learning and higher education.

Top 5 Adult Learning and Higher Education Degrees Online

  1. PhD in Education with a specialization in Higher Education Leadership, Management, and Policy
    Specialized PhD programs like this one help prepare doctoral students for positions as thought leaders through scientific, theoretical, and technological foundations. The specialization provides an in-depth exploration of the systems, policies, and politics of the higher education environment, as well as their impact on institutional effectiveness. Students can develop key leadership skills required to handle the complex needs of the higher education landscape. Research- and training-focused career opportunities are typically available in private and public liberal arts colleges; community colleges; online learning institutions; regional and state universities; state and federal agencies; and professional associations.
  2. Doctor of Education with a specialization in Higher Education and Adult Learning
    This doctorate is designed for professionals who plan to design, develop, and lead adult learning programs within higher education institutions, corporations, and workforce development settings. Online coursework in adult learning degree programs such as this one often focuses on adult learning theories, best practices for program planning and assessment, and leadership skills that engage and motivate adults to be change agents in their workplaces. Students review contemporary issues and trends in adult education, learn to design instruction for e-learning, and complete a research-based doctoral study.
  3. MS in Higher Education with a specialization in Global Higher Education
    This specialized adult learning degree helps prepare graduates to take advantage of the many opportunities for global collaboration and alliances among colleges and universities. The Internet, sophisticated e-learning platforms, and the proliferation of mobile devices have broadened the reach of higher education far beyond traditional parameters. Students learn approaches to program planning and management, as well as ways to attract and serve international students. This master’s program introduces students to different approaches to being an agent for positive change in global higher education. Graduates are prepared for careers in diverse areas such as academic programs, distance learning, faculty development, institutional research, human resources, and marketing.
  4. MS in Higher Education with a specialization in Adult Learning
    Online degrees like this one are designed to provide students with the specific knowledge and skills they’ll need to effectively educate adult learners. Coursework incorporates understanding adult development, research-based best practices in adult teaching and learning, and the effects that diversity and multiculturalism can have on motivating adult learners. This master’s program integrates developmental education, online teaching, and training and performance improvement. Master’s programs in adult learning also may offer specializations in areas like developmental education and teaching adults English as a second language.
  5. Graduate Certificate in Online Teaching for Adult Educators
    Graduate certificate programs like this one address the growing popularity of online education for adult students seeking new skills to advance their careers. A graduate certificate in online teaching for adult educators provides the knowledge and strategies for designing, delivering, and assessing the effectiveness of online courses and programs specifically designed for adult learners. Normally designed as 12- to 15-credit courses of study, online graduate certificate programs are a convenient way for educators to update skills in key areas in as little as 1 year.

Job Market Growth and Salaries for Adult Learning and Higher Education Careers

The job market for instructional coordinators is projected to increase by by 11% between 2016 and 2026. The median salary in 2017 was $63,750, while the top 10% earned more than $101,500.

Employment of postsecondary teachers is projected to grow 15% from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations. The median annual wage for postsecondary teachers was $76,000 in 2017, while the top 10% earned more than $170,160.

The job market for training and development managers is projected to grow 10% from 2016 to 2026, about as fast as the average for all occupations. The median annual wage for training and development managers was $108,250 in 2017, while the top 10% earned more than $187,670 .

The top five industries employing training and development managers are: professional, scientific, and technical services; management of companies and enterprises; finance and insurance; health care and social assistance; and educational services (state, local, and private).

Explore Walden University's higher education and adult learning degree programs online. Get the help you need to continue your education and advance your career goals. Earn your degree in a convenient online format that fits your busy life.

*I. E. Allen and J. Seaman, Grade Change: Tracking Online Education in the United States (2013), Babson Survey Research Group, on the Internet at

†Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Instructional Coordinators, Postsecondary Teachers, Training and Development Managers, on the Internet at

Walden offers both state-approved educator licensure programs as well as programs and courses that do not lead to licensure or endorsements. Prospective students must review their state licensure requirements prior to enrolling. For more information, please refer to

Prospective Alabama students: Contact the Teacher Education and Certification Division of the Alabama State Department of Education at 1-334-242-9935 or to verify that these programs qualify for teacher certification, endorsement, and/or salary benefits.

Prospective Washington state students are advised to contact the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction at 1-360-725-6275 or [email protected] to determine whether Walden’s programs in the field of education are approved for teacher certification or endorsements in Washington state. Additionally, teachers are advised to contact their individual school district as to whether this program may qualify for salary advancement.