What Are Adult Degree Programs?

Adult degree programs provide postsecondary education opportunities on a schedule designed for adult learners with multiple obligations. Classes may be taken online or in evening classes, with flexible curriculum to allow students to design a study plan relevant to professional needs.

Programs structured for adult learners are offered at all levels and are often designed to fit the schedules of working people. Here we'll highlight common requirements and look at professional and interdisciplinary programs.

Adult Degree Program Overview

Adult degree programs lead to degrees from the associate's to the doctoral level, and they're structured according to the schedules of adults balancing postsecondary education with work and family obligations. Some colleges offer distance education or hybrid classes with a low-residency requirement, in which students meet with mentors in the community and complete coursework online.

Limited credit may be given for relevant life skills. However, granting a degree entirely or substantially based on life experience without requiring significant coursework is a marker of a diploma mill, according to the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov).

Many schools offer degree-completion programs for adults who began but have not finished a bachelor's or master's degree program. Adult degree programs may exempt a student from some degree requirements, such as study in a foreign language and minor areas of study. Many adult degree programs culminate in a capstone project.

Interdisciplinary Programs

Interdisciplinary studies allow students to create a customized degree program incorporating several fields, such as:

  • Education
  • Community development
  • Human services
  • Religion, performing arts
  • Social science
  • Criminal justice

Students declare areas of study called a competence or emphasis and choose relevant coursework that reflects their desired outcome.

Professional Degrees

Adult degree programs can also target professional needs, like:

  • Business administration
  • Accounting
  • Public relations
  • Information technology
  • Nursing

Some professional programs, particularly at the lower degree levels, do not require liberal arts education in English composition, fine arts, natural and social sciences and humanities. Bachelor's degrees in professional fields follow the same curriculum for adult and traditional degrees.

Program Requirements

Many colleges have age requirements for entering an adult degree program. Some require a student to be a certain age, while others require a student to have been out of high school for at least 6 years.

Those interested in adult education can pursue degrees of various levels in a number of disciplines. Interdisciplinary programs allow students to diversify their coursework, while professional degrees are best for those working in or interested in a particular field.


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