Why a Master’s Degree?

A degree in child development is one that you can apply directly to your profession. From the associate level to a doctorate, you gain invaluable skills and knowledge that affects your daily interaction with the early childhood ages. A graduate degree affords specialized courses you can tailor to suit your career. Each curriculum differs. The title of the degree can be an indication of these variances in coursework. Some offer areas of specialization.

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One example is the University of Minnesota’s online Master of Arts in Applied Child and Adolescent Development. Their 32-credit program has three concentrations:

  1. Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health – social-emotional development
  2. Child Life – help children cope with illness, injury, and disabilities
  3. Individualized Studies – law, juvenile justice, and child welfare

Therefore, there are hosts of online programs, each with a variety of courses. However, course selection may not be the only criteria that influence your choice of a master’s degree in child development. Additional considerations for this list include tuition, school reputation, retention, student-to-faculty ratio, and college history.

The following are the top ten online programs selected based on the above-stated criteria. Much of the data is from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Some statistics refer to undergraduate degrees, namely retention rate. However, using the 4-year numbers is a reflection of the advanced degrees.

The NCES is a valuable source of information, however, we have also obtained tuition and faculty details from each school’s website. We placed a greater emphasis on tuition and retention, although, as stated, retention refers to bachelor’s degrees only. The student-to-faculty ratio may not be as significant for online students but it could be a measure of a professor’s workload. Other ancillary factors include the school’s recognition by outside sources and to a lesser extent- its history.

1.  University of Southern Mississippi

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The institution rests on the picturesque 52-acre beachfront campus in Long Beach, Mississippi. Since 1910, the University is the only four-year public institution located on the Mississippi Gulf Coast that offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in more than 50 distinct academic fields. Currently, the school is a Carnegie R1 Research Institution. The R1 status refers to Doctoral universities that have awarded at least 20 research/scholarship doctoral degrees during the year.

The school offers a Master of Science in Child and Family Sciences that culminates in a thesis or practicum experience. Distance students complete the practicum at a community organization. The 37-hours curriculum covers family life, early childhood development, public health, family research, and intimate relationship development. The program emphasizes research, family theories, and practice.

The program concludes with a thesis and practicum in child development or child and family studies.

The school attests that the faculty members for this MS are certified family life educators, licensed family therapists and counselors, and family scientists. The faculty also collaborates with graduate students on research projects. Some students attend and present research material at conferences. Examples of topics are adoption obstacles for gay families, hospitalized children, and special needs children.

Tuition: $480 per credit -in-state; $738 out-of-state
Retention: 72% (first-time students who returned for Fall Semester)
Faculty Ratio: 17 to 1

2. Grand Canyon University

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Their program is indicative of the diversity in the field of child development. GCU offers a Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with an Emphasis in Childhood and Adolescence Disorders. The College of Humanities and Social Services offers the degree whose coursework explores topics such as clinical assessment, research methodologies, development disorders, and trauma counseling. The program concludes with a Counseling Practicum (2 credits) and two Internships of 4 credits each.

The M.S. degree meets the accreditation standards established by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) for the National Certified Counselor (NCC).

Additionally, the curriculum satisfies the Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor (CCMHC) credentials and the Arizona Board of Behavioral Health Examiners. Graduates of the degree meet the requirements for licensure in Arizona as a Licensed Associate Counselor (LAC) and a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC). Note that licensing requirements can vary from state to state.

Chartered in 1049 as Grand Canyon College, the Baptist-affiliated learning institution received its accreditation from the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education in 1968. They currently have over 60,000 online students, with 47% taking graduate-level courses. Phoenix residents may opt to attend night classes at the main campus and surrounding locations.

Tuition: $530 per credit
Retention: 64%
Faculty Ratio: 20 to 1

3. Capella University

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The university has a mission of providing quality bachelor’s, master’s doctoral, and certificate programs for first-time students and working professionals. Industry leaders helped create many of the coursework taught by a faculty of whom 88% have a doctorate. The Higher Learning Commission accredits all the school’s programs.

The Harold Abel School of Psychology offers a Master of Science in Psychology-Child and Adolescent Development Specialization. Their 55 quarter-credits curriculum includes a range of subjects, for example, prenatal development, child psychology, research methods, and lifespan development. Each unit consists of readings, discussions, and assignments you need to complete throughout the week.

Capella receives recognition for its FlexPath or Self-paced learning format, which allows you can take as many courses per session as you want. Also, you pay the same tuition rate every twelve weeks. You do not pay per course or quarter credit. This feature saves time and money. Some students complete their master’s degree in 12 months!

The FlexPath format received the Blackboard Catalyst Award for Teaching & Learning in 2014 and 2018.

The other option is GuidedPath, wherein the school sets the schedule and deadlines for completing assignments.

Tuition: $495 per credit (GuidedPath); $2,800 per 12-week session (FlexPath)
Retention: 56%
Faculty Ratio: 22 to 1

4. West Virginia University

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Founded in 1867, the WVU currently attests that 82% of faculty hold the highest academic degree in their field. In the school year 2016-17, the WVYU System granted $320 million in total student aid, of which $87 million comprised scholarships.

The Department of Learning Sciences and Human Development has a Master of Arts in Educational Psychology-Child Development and Family Studies. Graduates have the knowledge and skills to work with children, adolescents, and families in educational, applied, and clinical settings. For some, this degree is a stepping-stone toward a doctorate in a related field of study.

The degree consists of 33 hours, of which there are six credits of electives. The selection of these is made in consultation with your academic advisor. Some of the choices are in education psychology, Curriculum and instruction, special education, counseling, and sociology.

Graduates will be qualified to become directors of childcare programs in corporations, hospitals, and the private sector. Other employment opportunities exist in four-year colleges and branch campuses that have classes in child/human development and family studies. Graduates may also seek employment as parenting and family specialists in community-based family agencies and community health care agencies.

Tuition: $490 per credit hour
Retention: 76%
Faculty Ratio: 18 to 1

5. University of LaVerne

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Located in La Verne, California, about 35 miles east of Los Angeles, it is a private non-profit school. It offers online as well as in-person learning formats at ten campuses throughout Southern California. The enrollment of 8,600 students receives their education from more than 200 full-time professors. The university consists of four distinct colleges: Arts and Sciences, Law, Education, and Business and Public Management. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges accredits all the colleges.

Church of the Brethren members founded started the school in 1891 as Lordsburg College. At that time, the Brethren were considered a “peace church” like the Quakers or Mennonites. Today, there are slots on the Board of Trustees held by Brethren members.

The LaFetra College of Education offers a Master of Science in Child and Adolescent Development in both campus and online formats. The 33-semester hours’ program explores a range of topics including educational psychology, human development, cognition, assessment in early childhood, and language and reading development.

Candidates for this program require a bachelor’s degree with courses in Child Psychology and Development, Early Childhood Curriculum, Practicum or Field Work, and Early Childhood Program Management. Previous experience is preferable also.

Tuition: $750 per semester hour; $385 Military rate
Retention: 83%
Faculty Ratio: 14 to 1

6. Southern New Hampshire University

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Since its founding in 1932, SNHU has grown to 3,000 campus and 90,000 online students. Originally it was an accounting and secretarial school; they now offer over 200 programs from certificates to doctorates in all the major disciplines.

In 2017, US News named the school one the “Best Regional Universities.”

SNHU offers an online Master of Science in Psychology with a concentration in Child and Adolescent Development. This degree will enhance your knowledge in research methods, cognitive psychology, personality, and learning theory. Topics you can apply directly to careers working in child development.

The 36-credits curriculum mirrors the knowledge you will gain in the areas mentioned above. For example, you take courses in social psychology, research methods, theories of personality, cognitive neuropsychology, and developmental psychology.

Admission to their master’s degree is open to students with a B.A. or B.S. in psychology. Those with other undergraduate degrees are eligible provided they have had these courses:

  • Introduction to Psychology
  • Social Science Statistics
  • Research Methods in a Social Science

Tuition: $627 per credit hour; $470 for U.S. Service Members and spouses
Retention: 68%
Faculty Ratio: 24 to 1

7. University of Northern Colorado

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Founded in 1889 in the town of Greely, the campus sits between the Rocky Mountains and the high plains of Colorado. Today, the city has 85 miles of bike paths and more than 40 parks and conservation and open space areas.

Child development and early childhood education merge in many college programs. UNC is one example, as their Master of Arts in Special Education devotes its focus to early childhood. The 36-credits curriculum provides the opportunity for real-world experience through interaction with age groups from birth to 8 years. Students can attend the Greely or Denver campuses or complete the degree online.

Students learn about scientifically-based literacy interventions, learning environments, assessment, policy and advocacy in early childhood special education, and typical and atypical early child development.

The Colorado Commission on Higher Education lists UNC’s School of Special Education as a Center of Excellence. They currently offer more than 100 undergraduate and 120 graduate programs to over 13,000 students. The school states that 72% of first-year students receive grants or scholarships.

Tuition: $555 per credit hour
Retention Rate: 72%
Faculty Ratio: 17 to 1

8. University of South Florida

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US News ranks USF as #44 among public universities in the publication’s Best Colleges for 2020 list. The school attained this recognition after its modest start in December 1956. In 2009, they became the first university to offer special education services through the inaugurated G.I. Bill, as granted by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The College of Behavioral and Community Services offers a Master of Science in Child & Adolescent Behavioral Health (CABH). Professionals working in or planning a career in organizations and agencies involved in developmental disabilities, substance abuse, child welfare, and early education programs will benefit from the coursework. To accomplish this objective, students study behavioral health, culture and ethnicity, legislative policies affecting children’s behavioral health, and research methods.

The 39-credits degree is available as a thesis or applied track. The latter is a non-thesis option that includes six credits of field experience. Students must work in an agency or organization on a child or adolescent behavioral health issue. The fieldwork takes place during the last semester of the program.

The thesis track consists of six hours of original research completed under the supervision of a faculty advisor. Upon completion of the research study, the student writes their thesis, then presents and defends their research before an academic committee.

Tuition: $347.91 per credit hour
Retention: 91%
Faculty Ratio: 22 to 1

9. Missouri State University

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MSU has three campuses in Missouri and one in Dalian, China. The school attests to 26,182 students and 122,000 Alumni. They offer 102 bachelor’s, 61 master’s, and 7 doctoral degrees. The graduate programs have 98 options from which to tailor your degree. Their regional accreditation has been continuous with the Higher Learning Commission since 1915.

The Department of Childhood Education and Family Studies offers a Master of Science in Early Childhood and Family Development. The program is available online in three options:

Four Semester Degree: Consists of two semesters (Fall and Spring) each year for two years with a total of 29 credit hours.

Three Semester Degree: This option has 32 credits hours over two years.

Accelerated Program: Applicants to this option must have an undergraduate major in elementary education, early childhood education, child and family development, or psychology. When accepted, students can receive credit for up to 12 hours of graduate courses taken after admission. In addition to acceptance, students must obtain approval from the graduate advisor before enrolling in courses that might act as a credit towards both undergraduate and graduate programs.

Tuition: $295 per hour
Retention: 78%
Faculty Ratio: 21 to 1

10. The Chicago School of Professional Psychology

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This non-profit learning institution has more than 4,300 students at campuses in Chicago, New Orleans, Dallas, Southern California, and Washington, D.C., as well as online. Since 1979, TCSPP has offered programs in the field of psychology and related behavioral science. Currently, there are more than 20-degree programs. Their graduates their acquired knowledge and skills in Child and Adolescent Psychology, Clinical Psychology, Behavior Analysis, Forensic Psychology, and more.

The school only provides Master’s degrees, post-master’s certificates, and doctoral degrees.

The online programs use the interactive distance-learning format known as Canvas. Students may preview Canvas at the school’s site to become familiar with the Learning Management System. Staff is available 24/7 to assist students with technical problems or issues.

The school offers a Master of Arts in Psychology with a Child and Adolescent concentration. The curriculum consists of 21 hours of foundational psychology and nine hours of the specialty. Upon completion, graduates will be versed in addictive disorders, mental health issues, crisis intervention, family systems, emotional and behavioral development.

Instead of a thesis or practicum, students complete an Applied Research Project. Completed during your studies, it reflects your understanding and application of the learning experience in a workplace setting.

Tuition: $1,198 per credit hour
Retention: No NCES statistics as the school does not offer bachelor’s degrees.
Faculty Ratio: No Data

Additional Resources

What is the difference between Institutional and Programmatic accreditation?
Do different states have different versions of certification for jobs in Child Development?
How long does it take to get a Masters in Child Development?
What are the differences between an online and campus Master’s for Child Development?
What are the professional organizations for people in Child Development?
Are there Master’s programs in Curriculum and Instruction?
What is an Instructional Coordinator?
Top 15 Online Master’s Degree Programs in Education & School Counseling
What Is the Difference Between an Education Degree and a School Counseling Degree?