Master's Degree - Community Development

The online master's degree in Community Development consists of a 36 credit-hour curriculum with a firm foundation in six core sources. Students customize their degree experience through an additional six courses (18 credit hours) of electives that provide specialization and help students pursue their passion in the community development field.

Core Courses

This course is an introduction to the Community Development (CD) program, discipline, and profession.
In this course, students analyze principles and practices of community change and development. Using case studies, students relate community development approaches to conceptual models from diverse disciplines. Students explore professional practice principles and construct their personal framework for practicing community development.
Students examine the role of civil society in community planning efforts and study the comparative approach to planning theories and approaches. Course content focuses on change within communities and the roles of government, planners, and citizens in reacting to or shaping change. Students explore current issues concerning planning and dealing with change by considering controversial practices such as covenants and land trusts, and students look at community responses to change. Students also study structure and implications of power, connections between social relationships and economic activity, and coalition building.
This course introduces research methods relevant to community development and gives attention to research ethics and inclusiveness. Course topics include how to formulate and begin research, how to collect data, and how conceptual frameworks are used to develop research questions and analyze data. The course emphasis is on strategies for reporting findings, applying findings in community action, and methods of evaluating the entire research process.
This course introduces the breadth of consideration involved in community resource management. Course content includes theoretical frameworks, methodological investigation, and applied practices to enhance community development professionals’ ability to work with their communities to plan, develop, and monitor the conservation and development of the natural resources with multiple functions.
This course introduces concepts of communities and regions, theories of economic growth, drivers of economic growth, economic bases of communities, sources of growth or decline in communities, roles of local government and institutions, and analytical tools. The course also explores strategies for local economic development.


This course is designed to help students add to their knowledge base and build their confidence in community engagement so that dialogue and deliberations leading to public decision making can be more productive and positive for everyone involved.
In this course, students define leadership and apply it to work. Students achieve understanding of the potential link between leadership and community capacity, and they identify strategies for leadership development in communities.
The course covers the most widely used strategies and programs for economic development within an action planning process. Course content includes retention and expansion of business and industry, retail development and downtown revitalization, incubating new firm creation, industrial attraction, and tourism development. Students look at strategies and programs that use all forms of capital from all sources: private, public, and nonprofit sectors. Students study the organized efforts to plan, build, and manage each program.
This course is an introduction to philosophy, techniques, and methodologies of organizational and program evaluation. Topics covered in the course include overview of program evaluation and theory, techniques to evaluate program processes and performance, evaluation designs, assessing program efficiency, models to diagnose organizations, and methods to assess organizational performance.
Introduction to classical and contemporary concepts of federalism, public administration, public policy, and politics with an emphasis on their bearing on community development activities and outcomes.
This is a basic grant development and management course that introduces students to the grant-getting process and provides an overview of what happens after a project is funded. The following topics are part of the course: researching funding sources, generating cutting edge ideas, assessing needs, planning a project, establishing credibility, formulating a sustainable budget, designing an evaluation plan, managing the funded project, and disseminating project results. Course objectives are to establish grant development basics, to identify sources of funding information, examine the essential components of a proposal, increase comfort with grant proposal writing, and explore best practices for program management.
In this course, students review and evaluate historical and current housing issues, production, and financial systems. This includes consideration of racial, ethnic, income, and gender issues as they relate to the role of housing developments and programs in community development.
International migration has historically impacted rural and urban communities around the world. Taking a comparative approach, this course examines community-immigrant interaction and how that influences community development and immigrant inclusion. Students read and relate theories of immigrant and community change to case studies of immigrants and communities. Students gather primary data to assess the capacity of communities to include new international immigrants. The course also examines out-migration’s effects on community development in sending communities¿in terms of their loss of human capital¿the contribution of remittances. The course further examines the overall transnationalization of such communities.
In this course, students examine the process of land development in the United States and its impacts from the perspective of developers, financial institutions, community planners, and city administrators. The focus of the course is on understanding the land development process in meeting community goals and shaping land development to meet community expectations for the improvement of the community.
Content of this course links management of natural capital to other community-based actions around resource allocation and the impacts on quality of life. Students examine literature on community-based natural resource management and assess alternative ways of valuing natural capital. Students contrast theories of natural capital in communities and human society as the theories relate to community sustainability with regard to economic vitality, social well-being, and ecosystem health.
International development can be defined as a broad concept encompassing human, social, and economic change on a national and global level. Despite this seemingly straightforward definition, the idea and practice of international development involves a myriad of systems, structures, and perspectives—and is often highly contested. In this course, students will learn more about the theories, actors, and evolution of international development, cooperation, and aid. This overview is accompanied by an analysis of current international development trends and critiques: Who defines and directs international development? How do power, privilege, culture, and worldview influence the process? This course is geared towards students who have an interest in exploring the systems, relations, and politics involved in community development on an international level.
This course introduces students to geographic information systems (GIS). The course includes discussions of GIS hardware, software, data structures, data acquisition, data conversion, data presentation, analytical techniques, and implementation procedures. Laboratory emphasis is on practical applications and uses of GIS.
Topics of this course include unique management issues in terms of policy setting, participation, administrations, and accountability of non-profit organizations.
This course will examine social capital beginning with its roots in education, economics, and political science. Different dimensions/types of social capital will be introduced (bridging, bonding, linking, indigenous) and their applications will be examined. Students will learn how social capital operates in a community, ways to identify social capital types, and the effects of different types of social capital on a community’s development potential.
This course makes the claim that the purpose of community development is public happiness and explores what contributes to public happiness with the purpose of informing community development practice.
This course delves into the multifaceted realm of community development and advocacy within urban metropolitan cities. Scholars will explore the historical context, theories, and contemporary practices of community development and advocacy, focusing on urban ecosystems. Through theoretical readings, case studies, guest lectures, and independent fieldwork, students will analyze the socio-political, economic, and environmental factors that shape communities and influence advocacy efforts.
The topic of this elective course will vary based on current trends and research in the community development field.

Courses in the Area of Working with Native Communities

This is a base knowledge course for students currently working within or in partnership with Native communities or considering working in this area. Within the context of community development, students gain a basic understanding of the diversity of tribal structures and cultures and learn about the unique history and jurisdictional considerations of these nations. Topics explored in this course are working with tribes, federal and Indian relations, and governance and cultural issues. Students complete a holistic analysis and conceptual mapping of a tribe. This course is required before students may take other courses in the Working with Native Communities Track.
This course focuses on non-western approaches to helping Native communities build their capacity. Focus is on a participatory, culture-centered, and strength-based approach to development.


Courses related to capstone requirements are available through your home university. A list of potential culminating experiences can be found in the Community Development Student Handbook. Credit hours required will vary by capstone experience.  Consult with your academic advisor about course selection and scheduling. 

The capstone course of the Community Development degree program involves either a written thesis or a creative component option. This course is the final course for students in this degree program. Students work individually with their creative component advisors to demonstrate mastery of the degree program's course of study. Prerequisite: All other course work must be completed before enrolling.
Program Summary
Cost per credit hour:

2023-2024: $600
2024-2025: $610
Learn more about Tuition and Cost

Coursework can be completed in:
Master's degree: 24 months or less
Graduate certificate:
6-12 months

36 Hours

12 Hours

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. Ashley Schultz
Stacy Duffield
Sarah (Heewon) Kim
Mel Sedlacek
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.

Headshot photo of Ana Treptow smilingIn addition to professional development and advancement, this program challenges and promotes my personal growth as I gain skills and understanding applicable to my own life and relationships.  I look forward to using the lessons from each class in every segment of my life.

– – Ana Treptow, Family and Community Services Master's Graduate,
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