Curriculum

Graduate Certificate - Youth Development Specialist

Great Plains IDEA's Youth Development Specialist graduate certificate is offered completely online with 13-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 Course

There is only one core course in the Youth Development Specialist graduate certificate and it should be taken during your first semester in the program. This course 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.

Select Four Courses

Choose four 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 focuses on the national emphasis of a strength-based or asset approach to community youth development and encompasses individual development (i.e., positive youth development) and adolescent interrelationships with environments. The course highlights research, theory, and practice applied in communities throughout the U.S. Students explore existing models, read theoretical and applied literature, and examine current community efforts as a basis for understanding community youth development.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Adolescence roughly covers the years from 12 to 18. However, issues important in adolescence often begin before age 12 and may extend way past 18 years of age into young adulthood. This course examines cognitive, self, and social transitions during this important formative period of life. Issues of identity pervade our understanding of adolescents and affect development with family, peers, school, and work. Identity also plays a central role in gender, intimacy, and sexuality. How adolescents, parents, siblings, peers, teachers, and society deal with these elements, tasks, and situations make the study of adolescence fascinating. Adolescents, as a group, have idealism, energy, and hope that affects our whole society. In turn, society affects adolescent development.
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.
Program Summary
Cost per credit hour:

2020-2021: $590
2021-2022: $590

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

36 Hours


13 Hours


13 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
Morgan Jones
Meagan Rau
Melissa Selders-Ortez
Tristin Campbell
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.

Molly Roush Student Excellence Award Recipient 2020.pngThe flexibility and affordable tuition rates were what first enticed me to apply to the Great Plains IDEA Community Development program, but finding real solutions to the issues I’m passionate about is what has made this program so rewarding!  In my opinion, the best aspect of this program is the diversity among students and faculty.  My peers, who live all over the country and in various places around the globe, have challenged me to develop a broader and more diverse understanding of ‘community’ and how common problems affect each unique community.  I’m not just learning how to address similar issues in similar locations but am learning to be creative and adapt development methods to create solutions based on each community’s unique culture and needs.

– – Molly Roush, Community Development Student
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