Online Youth Development Master's Degree and Graduate Certificates

Great Plains IDEA offers an online Master's degree and two graduate certificates in Youth Development. These unique graduate programs are designed to provide you with research-based skills and knowledge you can use with youth across multiple settings.

Students will learn to work with youth representing every race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status, to design and administer effective youth programs, and to advocate for youth issues and pro-youth policies. Taken entirely online, these Youth Development graduate programs are flexibly structured to fit the needs of working professionals.

Why study Youth Development through Great Plains IDEA?

The Youth Development curriculum has its roots in Positive Youth Development.  Rather than focusing solely on corrective measures, a Positive Youth Development approach equips young people in the second decade of life with the skills and opportunities necessary for a successful transition into adulthood. This approach promotes positive outcomes for all youth by recognizing their strengths, fostering positive relationships, and providing youth with opportunities to learn, lead, connect, and serve.

Listen to Melissa Herzog, an instructor at the University of Missouri, explain how the Youth Development Graduate Program is flexible and individualistic.

Youth Development Program Formats

Catering to the unique needs of students, Great Plains IDEA offers a master's degree and two graduate certificates in the youth development program. This allows students the flexibility to select the program format that best fits their academic and professional goals.

There is no GRE requirement for application to this program.

Please note that degree and certificate titles vary by university. Consult with your selected home university for the title as it will appear on the diploma or certificate. Review the official master's degree names at our member institutions in our Youth Development Student Handbook.

Master's Degree

The online Youth Development master's degree has a 36-credit hour curriculum consisting of 27-credit hours in the core courses that provide the skills you need to interact effectively and positively with youth to promote supportive relationships, long-term youth engagement, and youth leadership opportunities.

Students round out their youth development degree by completing eight (9) credit hours in a culminating experience which may include creative components, directed studies, practica, research projects, comprehensive exams, and/or theses. Students work closely with their academic advisor to develop a course sequence that meets academic and professional needs. Watch as Trisha Miller, a graduate of the youth development master's degree program, explains how the flexible curriculum allowed her to pursue her passion and interests.

Review the Youth Development Master's Degree Curriculum

Graduate Certificate - Youth Development Specialist

This online graduate certificate provides ultimate flexibility with two (2) core course, Foundations of Youth Development and Youth Development, and two (2) elective courses. The 12-credit hour curriculum can be completed in as little as 12 months. It's an excellent option for those seeking to learn more about working with youth and the approach of Positive Youth Development.

The Online Youth Development Specialist Graduate Certificate can be applied toward the Master's degree should a student decide to go beyond the certificate. It can also provide working professionals in related fields with additional skills needed to advance their careers.

Review the Youth Development Specialist Graduate Certificate Curriculum

Graduate Certificate - Youth Program Management & Evaluation

This online graduate certificate is a 12-credit hour curriculum to help students design programs that give youth opportunities to learn, lead, connect, and serve.

Review the Youth Program Management & Evaluation Graduate Certificate Curriculum

Stephanie Barta is Youth Development student who received the Student Excellence Award"When I began researching graduate programs, I was interested in a program that would strengthen my foundational knowledge of child and adolescent development and help me better advocate for the needs of children and youth. The Youth Development program has complemented the child life profession so well. Every course I have taken through the Great Plains IDEA has positively impacted my current practice as a child life specialist. I found myself using course topics and readings to educate my colleagues and peers and applying the knowledge I gained in interactions with patients and families."
Stephanie Barta, graduate of the youth development master's degree program

Youth Development Program Outcomes

When youth professionals take part in higher education and ongoing learning, research shows that youth program quality improves.  You will learn to use more effective practices and feel more confident about your work, all of which will benefit youth.

In this program you will:

  1. Use the Positive Youth Development approach in all interactions with youth to promote supportive relationships, youth engagement, and youth leadership.
  2. Understand developmental processes and contexts that influence youth.
  3. Apply research, theory, and evidence-based practice to support positive outcomes for youth.
  4. Promote inclusivity in practice with youth.
  5. Develop, manage, evaluate, and sustain Positive Youth Development programs (e.g., funding proposals, program design, policy/advocacy efforts, etc).  This video explains how the youth policy course empowers students to engage policymakers.

Shaun Libby is a youth development master's stduent."It is incredibly refreshing to see major universities working together in order to offer such high-quality degree programs and experiences for their students all while keeping tuition rates affordable. I had a roughly 10-year gap between finishing my bachelor’s degree and starting my master’s program. I have found all of the faculty at the different universities extremely welcoming and encouraging, which has made my return to school so much smoother."
Shuan Libby, youth development master's degree student, and recipient of the 2023 Student Excellence Award

Youth development professionals with a master’s degree are qualified to work in a wide variety of settings, both in direct practice and in program management. A master’s degree is often required for professional youth work and can be an important step for advancing in your career. 

Our graduates work with various youth-serving organizations:
  • Boys and Girls Club
  • Big Brothers Big Sisters
  • Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts
  • Cooperative Extension services, 4-H programs
  • Missouri State Correctional Office
  • Girls, Inc.
  • 21st Century Community Learning Centers
  • Administration for Native Americans
  • AmeriCorps
  • Family and Youth Services Bureau
  • Federal Youth Court Program
  • Learn and Serve America
  • National Guard Youth Challenge Program
  • Neighborhood Networks
  • Passport in Time
  • Preserve America Stewards
  • Promise Neighborhoods
  • YouthBuild


Listen as Youth Development Master's Degree graduate, Penny Kittle, shares how the youth development program impacted her life. 

Affordable, Flexible, and Effective

Great Plains IDEA is dedicated to providing an affordable online education, offering a common price per credit hour at all universities regardless of degree program or course and whether in or out of state. Learn more about Great Plains IDEA on our How It Works page.

The master's degree and both graduate certificates in Youth Development are offered entirely online, fitting conveniently within the need to balance home, work, and academic responsibilities, especially for those unable to make it to a campus. The average time to completion for the master's degree is 29 months and 18 months for the graduate certificate.

In the Youth Development program, seven universities work together to bring an innovative, top-notch academic experience, allowing you to get the best from our member universities. Faculty collaborate across universities, blending their range of perspectives and expertise to provide students with a unique experience not able to be offered at a single institution. 

Kelley Harris headshot"I work full time and often over 40 hours a week, but the Great Plains IDEA compliments my lifestyle by offering flexibility. I can work on assignments at my own pace at any time of the day. My professors have all been understanding of my schedule and are always prompt to respond when I have a question or concern. I cannot wait to utilize the knowledge I am gathering and help youth."
Kelley Harris, youth development master's student, and recipient of the 2022 Student Excellence Award

Experienced Faculty Committed to Student Success

Faculty in the Youth Development graduate programs are here to help. You will have an academic advisor at your home university, with technical support from a campus coordinator. The faculty instructors in the youth development program work collaboratively across the seven partner universities, providing you access to a lot of knowledge and experiences, and ensuring success every step of the way.

In this video, Michigan State University instructor Fransisco Villarruel explains the unique commitment faculty have to the Youth Development graduate programs and its students.

In addition to gaining knowledge about the developmental stages of youth, how to engage with youth policy, and how to support community-based programs, you will create lasting relationships with faculty and other students who will continue to be part of your professional network long after you graduate.

In this video, instructor Meghan Gillette from Iowa State University explains how the faculty in this program bring diverse real-world experiences and advanced knowledge of working with youth, and how these different perspectives enrich the learning for students in this program.

Degree Accreditation

All Great Plains IDEA member universities are accredited by regional agencies, aligning with requirements set by the U.S. Department of Education. This ensures that students pursuing their degrees through Great Plains IDEA are met with a high standard of academic excellence, which is essential in sitting for certification exams and pursuing future employment.

The following member universities offer the master's degree in youth development and hold regional accreditation:

Learn more about the accreditation of our member universities.

Make a Lasting Impact on Today's Youth Through a Youth Development Degree

Great Plains IDEA's online Youth Development graduate programs prepare you to be a confident, effective community leader.

Are you passionate about improving the lives of the youth in your community? Apply now!

Mary Saunders's Headshot"The Great Plains IDEA Youth Development Program has offered me the opportunity to further my education while strengthening the program I work in. Working with older youth in foster care and homeless teens presents challenges in engagement and assisting them in success.  I have learned useful and powerful strategies in working with older youth and highly recommend it for people pursuing work with these populations.  The flexibility of online learning has allowed me to balance a full-time job, a family, and school.  The diversity of my fellow students has expanded my understanding of youth services and how we intersect."
Mary Sounders, graduate of the youth development master's program and recipient of the 2022 Student Excellence Award.

Great Plains IDEA's online master's degree in Youth Development includes 36-credit hours focused on Positive Youth Development. Through the dynamic curriculum, you gain knowledge and skills to design and implement effective youth programming and be an advocate for youth issues and pro-youth policies.

Review the Youth Development Master's Degree Curriculum

Great Plains IDEA's online Youth Development Specialist graduate certificate is a 12-credit hour curriculum with flexibility so you can build a certificate program to benefit your career goals with maximum impact.

This graduate certificate is a great complement to a master’s degree in a related field such as education, social work, or other human services, or provides working professionals with additional skills needed to advance their career.

Review the Youth Development Specialist Graduate Certificate Curriculum

Great Plains IDEA's online Youth Program Management & Evaluation Certificate is a 12-credit hour curriculum to help you build Positive Youth Development programs that provide youth in your community with opportunities to learn, lead, connect and serve.

This graduate certificate can complement a master’s degree in a related field such as education, social work, or other human services, or provide working professionals with additional skills needed to advance their career.

Review the Youth Program Management & Evaluation Certificate Curriculum

University Contact
These campus coordinators can help you navigate Great Plains IDEA. Click on the university name to learn more about how Great Plains IDEA works at that campus. Iowa State Online
Meagan Rau
Stacy Duffield
Ashlee Murden
Janice Clawson
Lisa King
University Members
Members of the Great Plains IDEA are universities accredited by a regional accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Member universities recruit, admit and graduate students, teach in an academic program and contribute to the leadership and maintenance of the alliance. Membership in the alliance is a selective process that engages institutional leadership at all levels.

Alison Eddy is a student in the Dietetics program at KUMC.Great Plains IDEA has so many benefits for its students. The ability to continue my education while working full-time and growing my family has been a huge benefit for me. Earning the Student Excellence Award will greatly benefit my family as we begin our lives with our new daughter because we can use it to pay for the rest of my tuition and will not have to budget in finishing my degree.

– – Alison Eddy, Dietetics and Nutrition Master's Degree Student,
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