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Questions and Considerations When Choosing a Higher Education Program in Adult Education



Like many people, you may have "fallen into" adult education and stayed because it is fulfilling. You may already have extensive experience teaching basic skills or English language acquisition to adults or you may be new to adult education and are choosing to make a career in the field. Whichever the case, you might be wondering, "How important are higher education degrees and certificates in adult education, and what will one do for me?".

Adult education teacher in most states are not required to have any particular educational certification, not even a bachelor's degree, thought this may change in the future. However, more adult educators are going back to school to deepen their existing expertise in core areas of adult education, such as classroom instruction and preparation. They have realized that "having a knack" for teaching adult education only gets one so far, as does lenght of tiem in the field. Others are expanding their skills to include program leadership, staff development, nonprofit management, workforce education, cultural studies, social justice, resesearch, public policy, integrating technology into instruction, or another adult education-related focus. Many not only wish to gain experience but may also want to be an expert in their work.

This Portal will help you to further your professional development by finding higher education degree programs in adult education, including coursework in adult education for those who wish to maintain a K-12 endorsement.

Getting Started

You have made a decision to investigate whether earning a higher education degree in adult education is for you. Terrific! So what kinds of questions should you be asking yourself?

Consider the following questions as you plan to enhance your career in adult education. Then visit the higher education program’s website—or contact the program coordinator for the latest details. Information changes rapidly as programs add new specialty areas or expand their educational and networking opportunities.

Why are you going (back) to school?

Is it for your own fulfillment? Are you required to earn a higher education degree or certificate in adult education in order to teach or advance in the field? Whether you need certification to teach in adult education or a higher education degree to expand your career path depends upon the state in which you practice. Only a few states have established higher education requirements for teaching adult education. Even fewer require degrees specifically in adult education.

Whether or not a particular state has higher education requirements for adult educators, local programs in the state may have their own educational requirements for hiring or advancement. These local regulations may differ from those of the state and other local programs. Thus, it is very important to consult local program directors in the areas where you wish to practice in order to know what educational credentials you must have and how they will benefit you.

Programs located at community colleges are an example of the differences among local requirements. With a B.A. you can teach in most public school systems—but a M.A. is required to teach in many community colleges.

If you are unsure who the local program director is, then approach the state agency that provides funding for adult education programs in your area. Some states that have a higher education requirement for teaching adult education require a K-12 state certification; others will accept virtually any bachelor’s degree. But keep in mind that not all programs are state- or federally-funded. This is another important reason why it is best to start with the local program, or program where you would like to practice, first.

If you have trouble reaching the local program director or the state agency, ask your COABE Regional Representative what the requirements are in your state or locality. He or she can help you make connections at the state and local levels in order to get your questions answered.

How Long Will The Certificate Program Take?

If timing is a priority for you, then you can search for programs in the Portal by the minimum and average time it takes to complete them. The Portal also includes the number of credits required to complete each certificate and degree. 

Also inquire with the degree program coordinator and program graduates about how much time it actually takes to complete. Sometimes it may take longer than estimated simply because the electives you want, for example, are only offered every other year.

Last, check to see what the time limit is to complete the degree.  In other words, when do your credits start expiring?

How Much Will It Cost?

Most higher education institutions that receive federal student assistance through the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, Title IV, are required to disclose to prospective students “gainful employment” information, including:

• tuition and fees the institution charges for a student completing the program within normal time
• typical costs for books and supplies (if not included in the tuition fee)
• cost of room and board, if applicable
• on-time graduation rate for students completing the program
• number of graduates employed
• the average salary graduates make
• other related information

When you search for a higher education program in the Portal, the program’s search results page provides the URL to the program’s website. Visit the website and you should be able to locate gainful employment information as well as a net price calculator. If you cannot locate the information, then contact the program degree coordinator and ask if he or she will provide it.

Is Financial Aid Available For This Program?

Some programs offer financial aid. Often this information can be found on the program's web page that discusses cost and gainful employment.  Another place to look for financial aid information might be on the program's admissions requirements page.  If you cannot locate the information, then contact the program coordinator and ask about financial aid information. The program’s main URL, admission requirements URL, and the program coordinator’s contact information are located on the Search Results page for each program listed in the Portal.

If you are already working in an adult education organization, ask if your workplace will provide financial support for you to attend classes. Some programs, such as those affiliated with community colleges or universities, may provide tuition stipends and even paid release time to attend college classes, up to a certain credit hour threshold each semester.

Where Are The Programs Located That I Need?

You can search for programs by state and institution. See the online interactive map and Search Programs page here.

Can I Earn The Credential or Degree Entirely Online?

Yes, some higher education programs are offered entirely online. Search by delivery mode, which will yield results for entirely online programs.

Do I need to quit my job in order to go (back) to school? Or does the institution encourage me to be practicing while taking coursework?

Some higher education programs tailor to working professionals by offering courses online, in the evenings, or on weekends. Some may actively encourage you to practice in adult education while taking coursework.  Other programs require students to conduct action research to improve their existing practice as a part of the higher education program.

On the Program Results page, see the category called, Capacity to Prepare Students for Roles Within Adult Education. This category includes specific information about whether the program encourages you to work in adult education while taking coursework. Also check the course catalogue on the program’s website to determine whether, how, or how often the program accommodates schedules of working adults.

How much time will I get to spend in actual classrooms?

Search the programs. Click on the Program Requirements URL from the Program Results page to see what will be required to earn the degree. Visit the program’s website for more information. Consider questions like:

• Is there a practicum and what does it consist of?
• Is the practicum required?
• Where do they place you or do they expect you to find your own placement?
• How is it structured?
• How flexible are they around the needs of the student? For example, do they tailor a practicum based on student needs?

After reviewing the program requirements and the program website, note your unanswered questions and contact the program coordinator for specifics.



Other common questions

Some programs list jobs that graduates typically get after earning the degree or credential. Job opportunities, both on- and off-campus, are linked on the Program Results page for each program search you conduct via the Portal.
Some degree and credentialing programs have student forums on the program website where you can communicate with program graduates. Some programs also use social media as a way to connect prospective students, current students, and graduates, such as LinkedIn groups and Facebook pages. Other higher education programs also have mentorship initiatives where new students can choose to be mentored by current students or program graduates. Check out the program’s website for these opportunities as they continue to develop.
Each program has its own emphasis and we encourage you to look at individual courses in a program to make this determination, no matter the degree level. For any advanced degree, you will need a balance of research, theory, and practice. Questions you might ask yourself as you consider programs include: • How much time will I spend reading or in a lecture hall? How much time will I spend implementing what I learn? • Is there an adult education lab school or program on site? • Will I need to find my own student teaching opportunity or is there a more organized practicum? • What areas in adult education does the program cover? What are the specialties, for example, adult basic education, adult secondary education, TESOL, workforce preparation, family literacy, or community education? • What are the concentrations, for example math and numeracy, reading or other basic skills? • What options exist for balancing out a program’s emphasis if it is not in line with the potential student's interest?
Qualifications of the faculty should be high on your list of considerations. Some institutions that offer adult education may have faculty who have not worked in the field. Or, the courses offered may be dated because the faculty teaching them do not have adult education as their primary focus. When searching for a program, see the fields titled Faculty Field Experience and Faculty Research Interests. These will provide you information from the program coordinators about the faculty teaching in their programs. You will also be directed to a URL where you can read more about the faculty and staff on the program website. As you research the faculty backgrounds, consider questions like: • Are full-time faculty assigned to the adult education degree or credentialing program? Or are the faculty mainly from other backgrounds and research interests who teach adult education in order to round out their workload? • How much time do faculty spend in the adult education degree or credentialing program? Is it most of what they do or are they mainly teaching other things?
Enhance Your Career, TESOL International Association Enhance Your Career contains useful information for those who wish to improve their TESOL practice at any point in one’s career. It also contains a jobs search bank as well as guidance for those beginning or advancing their careers in TESOL. Online Graduate Programs: Perspectives on Graduate Education A resource for prospective students, Online Graduate Programs: Perspectives on Graduate Education, provides a comprehensive look at graduate programs in a diverse array of fields.