Curriculum

Graduate Certificate - Youth Development Specialist

Great Plains IDEA's Youth Development Specialist graduate certificate is offered completely online with 12-credit hours of maximum flexibility. The only core course is Foundations of Youth Development and it is offered every semester. Select the remaining four courses from a variety of options, providing you the opportunity to build your own certificate to benefit your career goals.

The Youth Development Specialist 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.

Explore the graduate certificate curriculum below, and learn more about the research-based skills and knowledge of how to work effectively with youth.

Youth Development Graduate Programs Overview

Student Handbook  Course Planner

Required Courses

There are two required core course for this graduate certificate, giving you control to create a learning experience that supports your interests and career goals. The two required courses include Foundations of Youth Development, a three credit hour course which should be taken in your first semester, and Youth Development for three credit hours. Foundations of Youth Development is offered every semester so you can start the program anytime.

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 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.

Select Two Courses

Choose two courses from the list below to complete the graduate certificate. No course is a prerequisite for any other course. Note that CYI stands for Contemporary Youth Issues which are a set of courses that evolve to represent modern-day challenges that youth in your community face.

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

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 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 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.
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 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.
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.

Headshot picture of Jessyca Waddell smilingGreat Plains IDEA has contributed immensely to my academic success. Earning my bachelor’s degree spanned seven years due to medical setbacks, but my journey in graduate school stands in stark contrast. I maintained a 4.0 GPA because I was given the opportunity to succeed despite my health conditions. The online courses allowed me to learn in a more comfortable environment without the need for special accommodations in the classroom or navigation of a campus.

– – Jessyca Waddell, Youth Development Alumni,
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