Ethics Degree and Certificate Programs

Ethics degree programs are available at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Studies in ethics are concerned with issues of morality and judgment of peoples' actions. Continue on for details on the many programs and careers available.

Essential Information

Ethics is a sub-field of philosophy concerned with issues of morality and the ways in which individuals judge whether actions are right or wrong. Students majoring in law, business, medicine, and other fields that address ethical issues may choose to earn a certificate in ethics. Ethics degree programs are available at the undergraduate and graduate levels. While exploring moral dilemmas and various social issues, students may be trained as policy makers, administrators, and managers. These programs include capstone courses or research projects in addition to lectures and classroom work. Availability of online programs is limited.


Undergraduate and Graduate Certificate Programs

Undergraduate certificate programs are generally added to supplement and enrich the academic plan of an enrolled student majoring in nursing, journalism, or other disciplines. Certificate courses might provide an overview of the history of ethical theory and cover subjects like existentialism or public and private morality. Students pursuing careers in healthcare who wish to obtain supplemental training in ethics can earn an undergraduate certificate in bioethics. Programs may explore ethical issues of clinical practice law, biotechnology or human reproduction.

Graduate-level certificate programs may be focused on a particular field, such as health-care ethics or business ethics, or may be more generally geared towards practical problem solving in any realm. Professionals involved in corporate ethics as they relate to finance or international trade may be interested in a business ethics certificate program. Health policy-makers can seek training in a health-care ethics certificate program to help prepare them to deal with contemporary and potentially controversial issues such as end-of-life care, gene therapy and fertility treatments. Currently enrolled graduate students can earn a certificate as a supplement to their degree. Those who have matriculated from another school or have already completed a graduate degree may also be permitted to apply for a stand-alone certificate program.

Bachelor's Degree in Ethics

Many schools offer a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Philosophy with a concentration in ethics. Some schools also have a B.A. in Ethics and Public Policy degree program that presents cross-disciplinary approaches to law, economics and sociology. Once admitted to an ethics degree program, instructor permission or a particular class standing may be required in order to register for certain introductory or capstone courses. Also, some upper-level ethics courses require students to possess a general background in the history of Western philosophy, and specifically in Greek philosophy. Ethics is an interdisciplinary field of study combining philosophy and any number of subjects concerned with moral reasoning. Coursework may cover topics in diverse subjects such as:

  • Deductive logic
  • Moral problems
  • History of philosophical thought
  • Law and ethics
  • Political philosophy
  • Social issues

Master's Degree in Ethics

Both a Master of Arts (M.A.) in Applied Ethics and the Professions program and an M.A. in Ethics and Society degree program teach cross-disciplinary approaches useful for policy-makers in private industry, public administration and other spheres of influence. At the master's degree level, applied research may put into action ethical theories to solve moral dilemmas of pastoral care, social opposition to new biotechnologies, or other ethical issues faced by contemporary society. While programs may be tailored to fit a student's particular professional interests, most researchers graduate with ethical decision-making skills and sensitivity to diverse religious and multicultural perspectives. Core classes presenting current ethical problems and the theories of key historical philosophers may be mandatory for new students. Other courses may include issues of pastoral care, emerging technologies, biomedicine, and leadership ethics. For example, some popular graduate courses cover:

  • Ethical concerns in educational policy
  • Spiritual counseling for the dying
  • Social justice and human rights
  • Morality and politics
  • Sexual ethics

Doctoral Degree in Ethics

Students can earn a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Social Ethics or a Ph.D. in Philosophical Ethics. The study of social ethics focuses on the interconnection of religion and society, while philosophical ethics deals with the history of religious ethics. Both degrees train graduates to apply religious thought to other fields of study. Alternatively, scholars who obtain a Ph.D. in Ethics and Health or in Biomedical Ethics are prepared to tackle collaborative research in such topics as stem cell research or genetics. Graduate courses and research may be tailored to public health ethics, religious ethics, or another topic related to a student's particular interests. Foundational courses in the social sciences and humanities may be required.

Students may focus on subjects such as:

  • Clinical ethics
  • Social history
  • Anthropology of religion
  • Comparative religious thought
  • Quantitative and qualitative analysis of bioethics

Popular Career Options

A certificate or graduate degree in ethics can help graduates acquire the skills to make ethical judgments. Some leaders who may face ethical decisions include: nonprofit managers, healthcare policy makers, church clergy, and communication technology administrators. Ethics training can also benefit lawyers and policy makers as well.

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

Professionals holding doctorates in ethics may be employed in a wide range of positions, ranging from biomedical consultant to college professor to theologian, thus hindering a general discussion of career opportunities. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that a Ph.D. would qualify one for a professorship at a research university and advises that Ph.D. holders are likely to have more employment prospects in postsecondary education than those without the advanced degree. The BLS also reports that the mean annual salary for philosophy and religion teachers at the college level was $75,140 in 2015. Postsecondary teaching jobs overall were expected to grow by 13% between 2014 and 2024, as projected by the BLS.

An ethics certificate or degree program may benefit students who are pursuing work in a variety of fields, such as religion, nonprofit management, and policymaking. Coursework typically includes laws and ethics, moral problems, philosophy and social issues.


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