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Master of Education in Adult and Continuing Education | Context - Context
Online Master of Education in Adult and Continuing Education
Master of Education in Adult and Continuing Education In Context

Adult education can be a fulfilling field, and earning a Master of Education in Adult and Continuing Education can help you maximize your potential within it. The American Association for Adult and Continuing Education (AAACE) [5] has found that lifelong learning contributes to human fulfillment and positive social change. Helping people acquire and advance their knowledge, skills, and values throughout adulthood can help them lead satisfying, productive lives.

It’s also a job that’s in demand, with private, public, federal and state organizations continually seeking effective ways to further employee skills and knowledge. [1] There are many other factors that drive adults back to education, though. One powerful example is the motivation to earn more, with current reports reflecting low average earnings for the population of more than 60% of adults who lack higher education. [2]

By 2018, it’s estimated that 63% of all U.S. jobs will require education beyond a high school diploma, which would leave 88 million adults in the U.S. lacking what’s becoming an increasing job requirement. [3] Additionally, English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers are increasingly needed to help advance the growing number of U.S. migrant workers. By 2030, it’s projected that up to one in every five workers will be an immigrant. [4] This means that the need for adult educators will continue to grow.

Adult education comes in many forms. Whether you’re looking to serve the community teaching basic adult life skills, adults without a high school diploma as a tutor for the GED, foreign language speakers teaching English as a second language, or staff members working within a corporate role providing continuing professional development, an M.Ed. in Adult and Continuing Education can prepare you to make an impact on adult learners.

What is adult education?

Adult education is a flourishing field, because many people choose to continue building skills throughout their working lives to help boost their income and enhance their career prospects. A Master of Education in Adult and Continuing Education can prepare you to be competitive for top posts, with recent projections that postsecondary teachers will see 12% more jobs added between 2014 and 2024, earning average salaries of $64,450. [6] Instructional coordinator roles, with an average salary of $62,270 per year, are expected to increase by 7% in the same period. [7] The adult literacy and high school equivalency diploma teaching field is also growing at a rate of 7%, and teachers in this field earn an average of $50,280 per year. [8] With more and more people going into adult education programs, teachers with advanced degrees can learn to rise as leaders or update their skills to maintain classroom effectiveness.

Who might pursue this degree?

According to a recent report, 71% of adult and continuing education degrees were awarded to females and of those, 85% were master’s degrees. It’s also reported that 41% of people working in the adult education sector hold a master’s degree. [36] Many who complete the M.Ed. in Adult Education are already working as an instructor and seek educational opportunities as a way to broaden their skills and enhance their career opportunities.

However, an M.Ed. is not limited to adult teachers in the typical sense of the word “teacher”, as learning outcomes can be applied within an array of fields. For example, human resource specialists may find a Master of Adult and Continuing Education valuable, enabling them to continually enhance their coaching skills. A nurse in the program may leverage insights to become an effective health care educator.

In every industry and organization, there is the need for continued learning and the development of staff — upskilling employees helps with everything from employee retention to building more effective in-house working processes.

Professionals operating in private businesses, government offices, and community organizations who choose to study an M.Ed. in Adult and Continuing Education can gain the skills to transfer knowledge within their own sector. The more skills your employees gain, the greater the benefit to your respective organization — with an M.Ed. in Adult and Continuing Education, you can become an organization’s catalyst for change.

Why earn this degree?

Many graduates of the Master of Education in Adult and Continuing Education go on to work in a variety of adult education roles, from corporate trainers and ESL instructors to adult literacy teachers and professional educators. Students take on a range of courses and are able to select specializations based on their chosen career paths.

Earning potential for adult educators can vary dramatically based on specialization. An adult literacy and high school equivalency diploma teacher instructs adults in basic skills, such as reading, writing, and speaking. This sort of adult education teacher earns an average of $50,280 per year. [9] Postsecondary teachers instruct students in a wide variety of academic and vocational subjects beyond high school level, earning average salaries of $72,470 per year. [10]

How will a Master of Education in Adult and Continuing Education program be structured?

This degree is suitable for anyone working or wishing to work in the adult education sector — whether you’re planning a career in ESL, corporate training, and all the varied education settings in between. There are both on-campus and online programs available, and most include coursework, group work, and independent study. Programs tend to take two years to complete and typically span 30-40 course credits.

Accelerated programs are available, enabling students to gain their master’s degree in as little as a year through intensive study. Alternatively, self-paced programs enable students to complete their master’s degree at a rate that fits their other life commitments. However, please note that even self-paced programs have a limit. You may be required to complete your program within a period of five years, for example.

Is the master’s in education in adult and continuing education right for me?

A Master of Education in Adult and Continuing Education degree works to equip professionals with an understanding of adult education, community education, human resource development, and training. Programs are designed for people interested in adult education — both those already working in the field and those wishing to transition into it. They’re designed to focus on professional and academic perspectives, allowing educators with the opportunity to connect instruction to classroom experiences and professional research to enhance teaching skills and techniques.

How do I choose an M.Ed. in Adult and Continuing Education program?


You should choose your M.Ed. in Adult Education program based on the curriculum, specializations, and/or opportunities it offers, aligning coursework with your professional goals. As licensure and certification varies by state, you should ensure your chosen program enables you to go on to teach in your selected state and in your prospective field of employment. Usually, universities will be accredited on a state-by-state basis.


Faculty can be another draw — consider who teaches the courses, their standing in the industry and field of research, and what wisdom and experience they can offer you throughout your studies.

Delivery method

Another great way to assess the compatibility of the program with your lifestyle is its delivery method. There is a range of traditional, online, and blended learning options available.

Industry connections

Does your prospective school offer professional connections between your courses and the working world? This could help you network more effectively and gain knowledge from those who have been successful in the field. Also consider whether your school offers internships and careers services. A successful internship or placement can help your CV stand apart from your competition.

Program reputation

Quite often your school or program will boast a reputation or official ranking in the field and offer a range of success stories based on real-life previous students. Check these out prior to enrolling.

What should a student pursuing this degree learn?

Students who earn this degree benefit from a core knowledge and understanding of the models and theories surrounding adult education. Beyond this, as a student, you’ll be able to specialize in your area of interest to enter or enhance your abilities within your chosen area.
Adult educators must be able to perform specialized duties. Therefore, as an M.Ed. in Adult and Continuing Education student, you’ll need to demonstrate a variety of skills related to these responsibilities, such as: [44]

  • Plan specialized lessons
  • Adapt strategies to special populations
  • Apply emerging adult education theories
  • Assess learning
  • Help students develop key skills necessary to enter and succeed in the job market
Is there a Bachelor of Education in Adult and Continuing Education program?

Typically, obtaining a master’s degree enables professionals to pursue more advanced opportunities and higher wages. For those already working in the field, a master’s degree can help you advance, seek a salary increase, and achieve better job satisfaction.

Master of Education in Adult and Continuing Education Career
As an industry, adult education is flourishing. An M.Ed. in Adult and Continuing Education can help you qualify for a variety of posts within:
  • Basic adult education
  • GED preparation
  • Adult literacy and remedial education
  • English as a second language
  • Continuing professional development, such as vocational training or postsecondary education [37] [38]

An adult literacy and high school equivalency diploma teacher instructs adults in basic skills, such as reading, writing, and speaking English and earns an average of $50,280 per year. This sector is projected to see a career growth rate of 7% between 2014 and 2024. [17]

You can qualify for teaching jobs in basic adult education and literacy with a bachelor’s degree; however, holding a master’s degree is a good option for individuals with experience in another field looking to transition into adult education.

Postsecondary teachers instruct students in a wide variety of academic and vocational subjects beyond the high school level, earning, on average, $72,470 per year. [18] This field usually requires a master’s degree. Earning your master’s degree also puts you in a better position for increased pay. Additionally, postsecondary education as a sector is projected to grow more quickly — at a rate of 13% — which is faster than the national average between 2014 and 2024.

English as a Second Language (ESL) teaching jobs pay an average of $40,184 annually, with the highest paid earning over $60,000. A master’s degree can help qualify for higher-paid roles. One of the major draws of ESL is its compatibility with travel. If you want to see the world and earn simultaneously, this is a good opportunity. Career progression is possible in this role, with ESL Teachers who ascend to academic director roles receiving an average salary of $59,000. [19]

Master of Education in Adult and Continuing Education Curriculum
What core courses can I expect to take?

Based on a survey of several online programs, core courses commonly found in M.Ed. in Adult and Continuing Education programs include:

  • Processes and Methods
  • Adult Education
  • Adult Literacy
  • Adult Education Theories
  • Research Methods
  • Special Populations
  • Instructional Design
What are typical electives offered?

Elective courses allow you to specialize your degree, giving you the opportunity to select courses according to your career goals. Elective courses differ from school to school, so it’s essential to review curriculum when comparing adult education master’s degree programs.

Based on an analysis of various online programs, you potential electives may include:

  • Human Resources: Training, Education, and Development
  • Teaching English as a Second Language
  • The American Community College [13]
  • Technology in Adult Learning
  • Continuing Education for the Professional
  • Counseling Theories
  • Lifespan Career Development
  • Distance Learning
  • History of Adult Education
Is there an internship or field placement component?

The M.Ed. in Adult and Continuing Education program is customizable and can lead to a variety of career opportunities. This means internships/field placements can be diverse and tailored to the route you wish to take upon graduation.

Some M.Ed. programs in Adult and Continuing Education offer internship or field placement opportunities. You may be required to do some work towards setting up these experiences, with the help of your educational institution, which often boasts industry connections.

Not all programs have either an internship or field placement included within the course, so if this is something you feel would enhance your learning, it is worthwhile seeking out options that offer internships/placements. Alternatively, you can set up your own internship privately.

You will usually be required to apply for internships and placements, in the same manner as applying for a job vacancy. The most highly regarded and popular field placements can be competitive.

What are common specializations for this degree?

Focus your Master of Education in Adult and Continuing Education even further with a specialization. An analysis of several online programs reveal the most common specializations, which include:

  • TESOL or English as a Second Language
  • Higher Education
  • Human Resources Development
  • Distance Education
  • Professional Education
  • Adult Literacy and General Education
  • Corporate Training
Master of Education in Adult and Continuing Education Program Length

The length of an online master’s degree program can depend on a number of variables, perhaps the most prominent of which is the pace at which you choose to study. You can finish a typical master’s degree program in about two to three years if you choose to study full-time, although some accelerated programs may be able to help you finish more quickly.

Online master’s degree programs tend to offer flexibility suitable for students who choose to study part-time. This option will likely extend your time to completion, but it can allow you to study while fulfilling your familial, social, and professional obligations.

You can find more information on this topic at our program length overview page.

Master of Education in Adult and Continuing Education Admissions Requirements

While each program will set its admission requirements based on its own criteria, many requirements are universal across all programs. No matter where you apply, you can expect to provide items like transcripts from previous degrees or coursework; standardized test scores; a personal statement or essay; letters of recommendation; and an overview of relevant work experience.

In certain cases, some of these requirements may be waived.

For more information about admissions, please visit our admissions requirements page.

Alternative Degrees/Fields of Study

Undertaking your master’s degree is a big commitment, both academically and financially. It’s important to do your research to make sure your educational plan is a good match for your desired outcome.

The following master’s degrees touch on the same topics and learning outcomes as the M.Ed. in Adult and Continuing Education, but they offer a different focus or specialization. As you do your research, consider learning more about these degrees to see whether they might be a better fit for your goals and interests.

  • Master of Education
  • Master of Higher Education
  • Master of Learning, Cognition, and Development
  • Master of Educational Leadership
  • Master of Adult Education and Lifelong Learning
  • Master of Arts in Education/Adult Education and Training

Is there a difference between a Master of Science and Master of Arts?

You may find that Master of Education programs differ slightly depending on the type of degree: Master of Science or Master of Arts. Here’s how they vary:

Master of Education

A Master of Education (M.Ed.) program is specifically tailored to people looking for a career in education. It may be suitable for those who are already educators but who wish to specialize in a specific area (in this case, adult education).

Master of Science in Education

A Master of Science degree typically features a strong research component.

Master of Arts in Education

A Master of Arts degree is typically taught through lectures and seminars and includes a dissertation at the end. This degree type is best-suited for those who hope to be teachers rather than administrators.

Relevant Industry Associations/Organizations

The major adult education industry associations are:

  • AAACE (American Association for Adult and Continuing Education) [20]
  • COABE (Commission on Adult Basic Education) [21]
  • NAEPDC (National Adult Education Professional Development Consortium) [22]
Master of Education in Adult and Continuing Education Accreditation
Regional accreditation is the most prestigious type of accreditation that an online or traditional college or university can receive. It is granted only after careful consideration by private, not-for-profit organizations tasked with evaluating educational quality. Regional accreditation is particularly important if you anticipate that you might want to transfer credits from one online degree program to another or use those credits to pursue another degree. Most regionally accredited schools will only accept credits from other regionally accredited institutions of higher learning. You can learn more on this topic at our regional accreditation page.
Are there other kinds of M.Ed. accreditation?

There are many accreditors of Adult Learning programs in the U.S. and internationally. Some of these include:

  • International Council for Adult Education (ICAE) [26]
  • UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) [27]
  • American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) [28]
  • Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) [29]
Master of Education in Adult and Continuing Education Certification/Licensure
Licensure and certification for adult teaching positions vary based on the state you plan to practice in and the position you plan to pursue. All educators, including teachers, support personnel, and administrators are required to hold a license in order to teach in public schools. You should consult your state’s education board to verify licensing and certification criteria. One example of adult education licensure is the ABE. [14]

The Adult Basic Education license is a teaching license that enables you to teach adults in public school community education programs in eligible states. There are three ways to become licensed to teach adults:

  • Teachers who already possess a valid teaching license may require no other qualifications in some districts.
  • Teachers with a valid teaching license may require a 12-credit additional license through ABE.
  • Anyone without a valid teaching license — i.e. career changers — requires a 24-credit license.

A person with a degree in English as a Second Language (ESL) can teach in adult ESL programs, but they will not be licensed. TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) is the preferred certification for teaching ESL in U.S. public schools. [15]

Can I work in this field without a license?

Without a specific license to teach, individuals can find it more difficult to obtain employment. This is particularly true when practicing“out of state or moving from one state to another. For example, while ESL teachers may be able to practice without a license, TESOL-licensed teachers can often be viewed as more desirable candidates. [16]

Master of Education in Adult and Continuing Education Tuition and Fees
There are a number of factors that can greatly affect how much your education will cost. These include whether you attend a public or private institution; whether you attend as an in-state or out-of-state student; and whether you qualify for financial aid like grants or scholarships. For a more detailed breakdown of tuition, fees, and other financial issues, please visit our tuition and fees page.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

A Master of Education in Adult and Continuing Education (M.Ed. ACE) degree program focuses on the adult educator practice and is designed to prepare you with the theoretical and practical skills to improve performance in the classroom or adult learning setting. You can gain a deep understanding of the challenges adult learners face and study the techniques to overcome common hurdles and apply them to enable effective learning.

While students cannot guarantee career success with a graduate degree, an M.Ed. ACE aims to help you prepare adult students for growth and development. A M.Ed. ACE can also help you learn to disseminate information to other adult learners in a variety of ways.

The program length and credits needed varies by college or university. On average you’ll need to complete 30-36 credits, taking approximately a year and a half to two years to complete depending on how many credits per term you take.

According to, jobs in education are projected to grow 8% from 2014-2024 [2]. Adult education job opportunities are also not limited to education-based organizations. Colleges and universities are an obvious choice for adult learning, but there are also opportunities within government organizations and corporate industries that offer specialized training and onboarding positions.

No — attaining management/senior positions is not guaranteed through the completion of a master’s degree. These positions often require many years of experience and a significant level of career achievement. However, an advanced degree can help you develop the necessary knowledge and skills required for these positions and also prove your dedication to the field.

Many M.Ed. ACE programs offer concentrations or specializations, while others are more general. Of those that offer concentrations or specializations, some of the more popular are:

  • Higher Education
  • Adult Education
  • Educational Technology
  • Human Resources Development
  • Family Literacy
  • Training and Development

Some online M.Ed. ACE programs are 100% online, while others are more of a hybrid model. Hybrid programs may require two to three campus visits throughout the length of the program. Students should ensure they have a full understanding of these requirements and determine if they will have the flexibility and funding required for campus visits prior to applying to their program of choice.

No, a bachelor’s in education or adult education is not a requirement to apply to an M.Ed. ACE program. Students who have completed an undergraduate degree in an area related to their aspiring field of graduate study may benefit from the core knowledge acquired during that study.

A minimum GPA of 2.75 is generally what online M.Ed. ACE programs are looking for in their applicants. However, universities look at a number of factors when determining an applicant’s eligibility. Applicants with a lower GPA should not be discouraged from inquiring about a program they are interested in. The program’s enrollment team can aid applicants with ways to strengthen the rest of their application.

Whether you will need to complete the GRE prior to applying for a program will largely depend on what school you have chosen. There are many programs that do not require a GRE. Check the admissions requirements for your school before applying.

Depending on your course load and familiarity with the subject or topic, most M.Ed. ACE students typically spend anywhere from 10-20 hours studying each week per course.

This will vary by university, but most programs stipulate you must enroll in two courses per semester. Be sure to discuss the course load requirements with your advisor prior to applying to ensure the program meets your schedule requirements.

An adult education program focuses on a combination of theory and practice. The objective is to learn the various ways in which adults learn. You can learn how to design, develop, and manage adult and continuing education programs.

Asynchronous coursework can be completed on your own time — a big plus for many online graduate students. Synchronous coursework has to be completed within a set timeframe. This is typically done for group projects, seminars, presentations, and other learning initiatives that require multiple attendees. The elements of asynchronous and synchronous learning in your online program depend on the professor and class itself. Once you enroll, reach out to teachers for specifics, but remember that the curriculum may be divided into these two subsets.

M.Ed. ACE tuition varies greatly from university to university. The average cost of tuition was found to be between $15,000 and $35,000.

Yes. There could be additional course fees, similar to a service fee. There also is the additional cost of books, often not included in tuition.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid office is the largest provider of student financial aid in the country. To find out whether you are eligible to apply for federal student aid for your M.Ed. ACE, visit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) website here.

Start with a cost-benefit analysis based on the price of the degree and potential ROI. Weigh the full cost against the positive outcomes you expect as a graduate, which may include a boost in earning potential, upward mobility, or job satisfaction.

Students should research schools and programs that are accredited by the International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET) [45] and/or the American Association for Adult and Continuing Education (AAACE). [46] Programs with IACET or AAACE accreditation have been evaluated and meet expected industry standards for preparing students to make valuable contributions and impacts to adult learning.

Accreditations are a strong indication of quality, but are also required for students who plan to apply for federal financial aid. Accreditation ensures that your degree is recognized by employers, professional associations, and other accredited institutions of higher education.

There are many different sources available to find information about education, but the best resources include:

  • American Association for Adult & Continuing Education (AAACE)
  • International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET)
  • The National Organization for Leaders in Workforce, Community, and Economic Development (NCCET)
  • Association for Career & Technical Education (ACTE)
  • National Adult Education Professional Development Consortium (NAEPDC)

Many programs will cover adult learning concepts, strategy, and leadership practice. If you choose to gear your master’s degree toward a particular concentration or specialization, you will take courses directly related to the specific topic. It will all depend on the career goals and skills you want to achieve.

SARA (State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement) applies only to distance education programs in the United States that cross state lines. This agreement is made between member states and establishes comparable postsecondary national standards for distance education courses.

Not every state is a SARA member. Through SARA, member states only have to receive authorization in their home state. Without SARA, non-member states would have to receive authorization in their home state and the state of each of their online students. [41]

Every school has a department or team responsible for online education. This department will be able to answer questions regarding compliance for your home state. Additionally, you can locate the school through SARA (if it is a SARA institution) to confirm compliance.

Other graduate programs that may offer coursework in similar areas include:

  • Master of Adult Education
  • Master of Educational Leadership
  • Master of Arts in Education in Adult Education