Curriculum

Master's Degree - Youth Development

Great Plains IDEA's online master's degree in Youth Development provides exceptional preparation for a rewarding career working with youth representing every race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Through the dynamic 36-credit hour curriculum, you gain the knowledge and skills to design and implement effective youth programming and be an advocate for youth issues and pro-youth policies.

Explore our master's degree curriculum below, and learn more about the research-based skills and knowledge of how to work effectively with youth that are gained through this impactful program.

Youth Development Master's Degree Overview   Youth Development Student HandbookCourse Planner

Coursework and Degree Requirements

The master's degree core coursework covers 27 total credit hours, leaving an additional nine hours to be filled with a combination of elective courses and/or practicum/independent study/research experiences. Blocks 2-4 are not sequential, students may take courses in these blocks in any order they choose.

As a Youth Development master's degree student, the core coursework will build a firm foundation in leading theories, policies, and methodologies related to youth programming. The curriculum also serves to build your confidence in youth-related work, ensuring you can effectively navigate influential systems and engage the systems to promote positive youth development. Consult your academic advisor for information specific to your home university requirements.

Review the course planner to find out when each course is offered and plan out a prospective course sequence.

Block 1 - Foundational Skills in Positive Youth Development

Foundations of Youth Development must be completed in the first semester and is offered every semester so you can start the program anytime. All other Block 1 courses are required and must be completed within the first two semesters of enrollment.

This course examines the fundamentals of youth development and the youth development profession. Through this introduction to the field, students explore the ethical, professional, and historical elements of youth development as it has evolved toward professionalism.
This course helps youth development professionals understand and evaluate research reports to reduce anxiety about applying research results and theories to practice. Specific emphasis is on research and theory reports related to youth development.
This course introduces students to the developmental period of adolescence. Students examine this developmental period through the lens of theory and research of positive youth development. The course emphasizes how the developmental tasks of this life stage are influenced by (and influence) family and home, school, peers, and other contextual forces. Students critically examine theoretical and research literature and become familiar with major issues and transitions adolescents face as they successfully navigate this developmental stage.

Block 2 - Relational Dynamics and Positive Youth Development

These topics build out your knowledge of modern-day challenges that youth in your community face.

Adolescents and Their Families and Youth-Adult Relationships (offered starting 2022-23) are required courses.
*Denotes an elective course.

This course covers adolescent development as it relates to and intertwines with family development; it examines reciprocal influences between adolescents and their families. The study highlights working with youth in relation to the family system.
This course examines the role of caring adults in promoting the positive development of youth. Students will explore the spectrum of adult attitudes toward youth as well as activities that invite youth to engage and develop agency. The course will include examination of the research and practice of mentorship, youth-adult partnerships, and youth leadership.
This course examines cultural context factors that affect youth from a holistic perspective within and outside the family unit. The course provides understanding of the cultural heritage of differing family structures and types. Students explore social and educational processes experienced by youth; this exploration includes through in-depth reading, writing, discussion, critical listening, viewing of contemporary videos, and informal interviews with youth. Students are encouraged to think critically about society and culture, to gain further knowledge of how ethnic groups fit historically into society, and to examine the results of how history has shaped the current cultural climate of the U.S.
Sports and athletic activities are deeply connected to one’s life. Regardless of one’s athletic status (professional or amateur), level (grassroots, regional, national, or international), and other facets of engagement, sports are such a vital part of one’s life that we rarely think about them even when we participate in them as spectators, fans, or players. In reality, however, decisions we make with sports greatly affect not only the way we experience sports but also the way we develop as individuals throughout our lifespan. How we are and are not engaged in sports impacts our development as individuals. This is to say that our relationship to sports is bilateral, i.e. we affect sports and sports affect us. Simultaneously, critically examining sports and society helps us better understand what we value, how we become who we are, and how we may be able to realize social justice in a larger social context. Because of these strong ties between us and sports, this course will specifically examine our relationships to sports and how the context of sport engagement contributes to individual development. On one level, its focus is on youth development. How can we use sports to contribute to positive youth development? How do team and individual sports affect the developmental growth of children, youth, and emerging adults? On another level, however, in order to discuss the relationship between youth development and sports, we must examine various contexts in which sports and we interact. For example, how do policies related to sports affect us? How do families and communities impact sports and how are they impacted by sports? In addition, this course will also explore how sports are a vital part of our identity development, as well as a way to combat one’s marginalized status. The course is designed for both researchers and practitioners. Real-world questions will be discussed in a way that is scholarly well-informed.
The health and well-being of adolescents in the United States and around the world is influenced by the environments where teens live, learn, work, and play. This course focuses on contextual factors that affect adolescent health and examines the role of the youth development practitioner in improving health outcomes for youth. Students will study and analyze the contexts, conditions, and strategies that influence adolescent health from a population, public health perspective.
This course examines the impact of context on youth socioemotional and cognitive development, including youth risk behaviors. The role of neighborhoods and urban/rural distinction is be a particular focus of the course.
This course explores the etiology of adolescent deviance using a positive, cross-national/crosscultural perspective. Course content includes implications of theory, empirical research, current prevention programs and needs assessments. The course offers a look at deviance from different perspectives as well as a comparison of normative and non-normative development of youth.
This course explores adolescent sexuality development, sexual behaviors, and pregnancy/ parenthood. These topics will be explored with respect to normative development and the reciprocal influences of the youth’s ecology (i.e., family, school, community). Implications for professionals working with youth sexuality, pregnancy, and parenthood will be explored and highlighted.

Block 3 - Contexts of Youth Practice and Policy

These topics provide tools for promoting positive youth development in both policy and practice.

Youth Policy and Positive Youth Development in Community Settings are required courses.
*Denotes an elective course.

This course examines various federal and state policies designed specifically for youth. Students examine how and why policies for youth are constructed. Students evaluate existing state and national policies using a guiding is whether they contribute to or act as barriers to desired developmental outcomes.
This course uses a strength-based or asset-based approach to community youth development and encompasses individual development (i.e. positive youth development) and adolescents’ interrelationships with their environments. Emphasis is placed on research, theory, and practice applied to communities throughout the U.S. Students will explore existing models, read theoretical and applied literature, and examine current community efforts as a basis for understanding community youth development.
This course helps youth development professionals understand what optimal mental health in youth is and how it can be promoted. Students learn about current theories and research related to optimal mental health and how promoting positive development is both similar to and different from preventing negative outcomes. Students learn to assess a given youth development program in terms of its potential to promote positive mental health.
This course examines the atypical development of youth who are involved in one or more systems of care. Emphasis is on the application of positive youth development principles in serving these youth.

Block 4 - Youth Program Management, Evaluation, and Administration

These topics equip leaders with the resources they need to run youth programs in their local communities.

Design and Evaluation of Youth Programs and Youth Development Personnel and Program Management are required courses.
*Denotes an elective course.

The course will discuss the principles and methods of program design, implementation, and evaluation of youth programs. This course will focus on hands-on tools of conducting evidence-based planning and evaluating the performance and delivery process of a program. Students will develop knowledge through participating in a community-based project involving the practical application of program design and evaluation methods. The goal is to prepare students for research supported planning and evaluation of programs that aim at positive youth development.
This course introduces students to the development, administration and management of youth programs and youth-serving organizations with special focus being on the roles and responsibilities of administrators and managers.
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.
Development of technology in the last century has changed our geographical and physical perception of the world, challenged our ideas about social norms, affected the process of our identity formation, and altered our social location and interaction with others. Focusing particularly on the family and the youth both in the U.S. and outside, this course aims to help graduate students better understand the interconnectedness of technology and youth/family. The class debunks many common myths (for instance, that youth today have no sense of privacy online or the traditional idea that the family is negatively affected by digital technology) while helping students understand the relationship between the human and technology. Designed both for theorists and practitioners, this approach ultimately allows enrolled students to formulate constructive and realistic strategies to enrich the life of a family or a youth in a society heavily dependent on technology. Topics of the course include identity formation, privacy, race, class, gender, subculture, risky behavior, policing, education, globalization, health, and policies. The class offers basic technical skills for future practitioners, including using Twitter for professional purposes, assessing a Google resume, editing a video clip, and creating a personal website.

Practicum/Independent Study/Research

Your home university may also require a hands-on or culminating learning experiences to complete the master's degree. This can include creative components, directed studies, practica, research projects, comprehensive exams, and/or theses, but not all universities require such experiences for degree completion. Your home university academic advisor will guide you through this process if these experiences are required for satisfactory completion of the degree.

Become a Changemaker with a Youth Development Master's Degree

Great Plains IDEA's online Youth Development master's degree prepared you for a fulfilling career as a changemaker, working directly with the youth in your community. The engaging curriculum provides the skills you need to interact effectively and positively with youth to promote supportive relationships, long-term youth engagement, and youth leadership opportunities.

Interested in learning more? Review the Youth Development master's degree overview, or get started by applying now!

Program Summary
Cost per credit hour:

2021-2022: $590

Average time to complete:
Master's degree: 29 months
Graduate certificates: 18 months

36 Hours


12 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. Katie Mott
Ashley Schultz
Meagan Rau
Melissa Selders-Ortez
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.

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