Online Masters Degree in Development Studies: Program Overview

Get info about online master's degree programs in development studies. Read about program requirements and course topics, and check out career and continuing education options.

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Essential Information

Development programs train students in economics and urban planning, preparing them to assess and improve the economic and physical circumstances of local or global communities. Master's degree programs in development are available; community development programs can be found more easily than global development programs. Some programs include a thesis requirement. These programs are available entirely online. The minimum admissions requirement is a bachelor's degree.

To work as an urban or regional planner, one typically needs a master's degree from an accredited urban or regional planning program as well as several years of work experience. Professional licensing for urban and regional planners is required in a small number of states; check for state-specific regulations when choosing an educational program.

Master's Degree in Community Development

Online master's degree programs in community development cover skills for assessing and implementing infrastructure and public services needs in a specific area. Graduates are prepared to determine the best long-term and short-term uses of community land, usually working as urban or regional planners. Prospective students must possess a bachelor's degree, and some schools require completion of training modules to prepare for on-line program expectations. As a less intensive alternative to a master's program, some schools also offer a post-baccalaureate certificate program in community and economic development.

Information and Requirements

Online master's programs in community development programs are designed for working professionals, offering a flexible alternative to traditional, on-campus programs. They typically consist of 30-40 required credit hours of coursework and can take anywhere from 1-7 years to complete, depending on a person's schedule. Some schools require a thesis for graduation, which may count toward credit-hour requirements. Schedules are normally flexible due to the online environment being available continuously.

All classes, online discussions, assignments, exercises and projects are completed via the Internet. Students use e-mail and any software or class delivery programs required by the particular school.

List of Common Courses

Although the number of courses required varies by school, several topics covered are common to all online master's degree programs in community development. Planning, development and leadership skills are topics of study.

Economic Development

Students of this course use case studies to learn strategies, techniques, concepts and theory used in effective economic development. Some of the issues covered are human resources, business investment, location analysis and land-use policy.

Community Development Methods and Techniques

Students in this class learn methods to measure economic development using computer applications and proven techniques. The course emphasizes data presentation and analysis, economic and demographic analysis, measurement methods and location analysis.

Regional Economic Development and Leadership

Issues in sustaining regional economic development, such as retention of local businesses, are explored in this class. Participants also learn vital leadership skills in group and community decision-making strategies.

Career Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, urban and regional planners earned a median annual wage of $68,220 as of May 2015. Local governments provided the highest number of employment opportunities, and those with master's degrees had the best job prospects (

Certification and Continuing Education Information

Certification is available from the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP). This institute offers certification to those who pass an exam and have the required amount of experience and education. Maintaining this certification requires continuing professional development.

For those who wish to continue their education, Ph.D. programs are also available in community development, though rarely online.

Individuals who are passionate about fostering better communities might consider earning an online master's degree in community development, which provides training in economics as well as the design and implementation of development strategies. Because these graduate degrees are typically self-paced, students may be able to continue with full-time employment while they complete the necessary coursework.

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