Earning a master’s degree can make you a more effective child development specialist. Don’t let the cost of a degree hold you back.
Take the next step in your career with one of these highly affordable graduate programs.
What kind of master’s degree in child development should you get?
One of the key decisions you’ll need to make is how you’ll earn your degree: in person or online.
Both options have merits, but online programs are often more flexible and more affordable than on-campus programs. Be sure to take a look at our list of the Most Affordable Online Master of Arts in Teaching Degrees to see more top-ranked distance learning programs.
How much money do people with a master’s degree in child development earn?
Your salary will depend on your job title and experience. Graduates with a Master of Science in Child Development who hold the title Child Care Center Director make an average of $47,112 per year. Developmental Therapists earn about $46,002 on average, while Child Welfare Specialists have a typical salary of $36,461.
What can you do with a degree in child development?
With a master’s degree in child development, you’ll be qualified for a wide variety of roles. You may find work in a social service agency, a nonprofit organization, a correctional facility, or an educational setting.
What are the requirements for a master’s degree in child development?
Admission requirements will vary widely with each program. Some will require a year or more of work experience in the child development field. Others will allow you to start taking graduate-level coursework before you’ve even finished your bachelor’s degree.
An admissions counselor is an excellent resource to find out how you can become a competitive candidate for your ideal graduate program.
What are the most affordable online master’s degrees in child development?
Data for our rankings comes from the IPEDS database and from individual college websites. We examine published tuition rates and the availability of financial aid to determine which schools offer the most affordable degrees.
We’ve included programs in Child Development, Child and Family Studies, Human Development and Family Science, and other closely related programs. Although the titles vary, any of these programs can prepare you to provide cognitive, behavioral, and emotional support for children and adolescents.
1. University of North Carolina at Greensboro
With nearly 18,000 on-campus students and another 1,700 students in extension programs, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro is the largest and most diverse university in the Piedmont Triad region. UNCG offers 74 master’s degree programs and 32 doctoral programs, many of which are available for online students. For graduate students pursuing a career in child development, UNCG offers a versatile and rigorous program that can lead to a position as an early interventionist, child care consultant, family advocate, community college instructor, and more.
The program at UNCG culminates in a Master of Education in Birth-Kindergarten Interdisciplinary Studies in Education and Development. Students will choose a concentration in either Early Childhood Leadership and Advanced Teaching Licensure or in Early Childhood Leadership and Program Administration. Both concentrations feature a common core of courses such as:
- Inclusive Family-Centered Practices in Early Childhood
- Screening and Assessment in Inclusive Early Childhood Services
- Leadership and Mentoring in Educating Young Children
- Advanced Curriculum in Early Childhood Education
UNCG’s online coursework is priced lower than the same coursework taken in a face-to-face format. A specific tuition rate is available for online-only students who are not North Carolina residents. This rate is significantly lower than the standard tuition rate for out-of-state students.
2. University of South Florida
According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the University of South Florida is the top university in the nation for producing Fulbright Scholars: In the 2016-2017 academic year, USF had 12 faculty scholars. Times Higher Education ranked USF seventh in the nation (and 34th worldwide) among public universities established in the “Golden Age” (1945–1966). Through these accolades and many more, the University of South Florida has earned a widespread reputation for academic excellence. This reputation extends to USF’s highly acclaimed Master of Science in Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health (MSCABH) program.
The fully online MSCABH program is available as a thesis track and as a non-thesis (applied) track. Depending on the track a student chooses, they will complete six credit hours in either thesis research or in a field experience. Required coursework for all MSCABH candidates includes:
- Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health
- Cultural Competency in Children's Mental Health
- Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health Policy
- Evaluation and Research Methods in Community Health
Within the MSCABH program, there are four available concentrations: Developmental Disabilities, Research and Evaluation, Youth and Behavioral Health, and Leadership in Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health. In 2017, Kiplinger's Personal Finance ranked USF among the Top 100 Best Values in Public Colleges.
3. University of Southern Mississippi
The student body at the University of Southern Mississippi represents every region of the United States and 74 countries worldwide. The academic opportunities at Southern Miss are equally diverse, with highly regarded programs ranging from Nurse Anesthesia to Ocean Engineering to Counseling Psychology. USM’s flexible Child and Family Studies degree program is intended for part-time students who continue working a full-time job throughout the program.
Both the thesis and non-thesis option for the Master of Science in Child and Family Studies requires 37 credit hours. Typically, students will take seven credit hours in the first semester and six credit hours in all subsequent semesters. This schedule allows students to earn their degree within two calendar years. Coursework in this program includes:
- Advanced Child Development
- Educational Research
- Adolescence and the Family System
- Family Advocacy
Southern Miss has been repeatedly recognized as a Military Friendly School and a Top Military School in recognition of the support services, low tuition rates, and scholarship opportunities available to active-duty military members, veterans, and their families. All students in the online-only Child and Family Studies graduate program pay resident tuition, regardless of Mississippi residency. The standard rate for a single three-credit hour course is $1,353.
4. Stephen F. Austin State University
A fully independent institution, Stephen F. Austin State University serves almost 13,000 students in 120 academic programs. SFASU demonstrates a strong commitment to maintaining high academic standards as well as exceptional affordability for all students. Each year, the University awards an average of $12,677 in financial aid to every student. The numerous online graduate programs at SFASU include a Master of Education in Elementary Education and in Early Childhood Education.
Approximately 100 students are enrolled in the Early Childhood Education program at SFASU. This degree track can prepare students to work in preschool and primary grades settings, child care facilities, and Head Start programs. Graduates will be highly qualified specialists in working with children from birth through age eight. In this program, coursework will cover topics such as:
- Instructional strategies
- Curriculum and assessment
- Research and leadership
- Child development
SFASU also offers a Master of Education in Special Education, a Master of Arts in Teaching (with certification tracks for early childhood through grade 12 and grades 7 through 12), and a Master of Education in Educational Leadership. All of these programs are available fully online. Over 78 percent of students at Stephen F. Austin State University receive some form of financial assistance.
5. University of Northern Colorado
The University of Northern Colorado has been ranked 43rd out of several thousand four-year colleges offering distance learning programs. Specifically, the online graduate programs in education at Northern Colorado have been ranked eighth nationwide. Through the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences, the University offers a fully online M.A. in Special Education: Early Childhood.
Candidates for the Special Education: Early Childhood program have the option of taking classes online, face-to-face, or through a combination of the two formats. This degree track is designed to be completed in two years. Students will participate in extensive field experiences working with children in three age groups: birth to two years, three to five years, and five to eight years. The curriculum for this degree may include courses such as:
- Research, Policy, and Advocacy in Early Childhood Special Education
- Typical and Atypical Early Child Development: Application to Early Childhood Special Education
- Assessment, IEP Development, and Instructional Planning
- Learning Environments and Cultural Considerations
The College of Education and Behavioral Sciences is a recipient of the Christa McAuliffe Excellence in Teacher Education Award. Approximately 70 percent of students at the University of Northern Colorado receive financial aid. Students who live in one of the 15 states participating in the Western Regional Graduate Program are eligible for in-state tuition at Northern Colorado.
6. University of Colorado Denver
Founded in 1912, the University of Colorado Denver is a premier research university and an anchor institution of the University of Colorado system. The School of Education and Human Development (SEHD) at CU Denver is the largest school of education in the state. Through the SEHD, students can pursue a renowned Master of Arts in Early Childhood Education.
The program at CU Denver leads to a license in Early Childhood Special Education Specialist for children birth to age eight. The license is also available as an endorsement for educators who already hold a teaching certification. Among the students in the ECE program, 95 percent continue working full-time while they earn their degree. Candidates may take classes such as:
- Curriculum in Early Childhood Education
- Basic Statistics
- Language and Literacy in Young Children
- Research in Schools
The rate for online-only coursework for qualifying out-of-state students is 120 percent of the rate for residents. For Colorado graduate students, the 2018 tuition rate is $373 per credit hour. For out-of-state, online-only students, the 2018 rate is $448 per credit hour. CU Denver awards over $70 million annually in financial assistance to its 12,000-plus students.
7. North Dakota State University
The community of learners at North Dakota State University includes almost 12,000 undergraduate students and 2,000 graduate students. NDSU boasts an extensive and highly regarded distance learning program, with more than 25 undergraduate degrees, master’s degrees, and graduate certificates available fully online. Through the Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance (Great Plains IDEA) consortium, NDSU presents a Master of Science in Human Development and Family Science.
Within the Human Development and Family Science degree, students may choose from three tracks: Family Financial Planning, Gerontology, and Youth Development. The Youth Development track prepares graduates to work in Boys and Girls Clubs, community recreation programs, juvenile justice facilities, military youth programs, non-profit agencies, and more. Students can customize their degree path with electives such as:
- Understanding Normative Behavior in Immigrant and Minority Youth
- Contexts and Settings of Youth Development
- Adolescent Sexuality, Pregnancy, and Parenthood
- Promoting Positive Mental Health in America's Youth
NDSU also offers an M.S. or M.A. in Community Development and an M.Ed. in Family and Consumer Sciences Education through Great Plains IDEA. Tuition rates vary based on state residency, with discounted rates available for residents of Minnesota and states participating in the Western Regional Graduate Program. For North Dakota residents, the current rate for part-time graduate students is $321 per credit hour.
8. Missouri State University
Over 90 graduate programs are available through Missouri State University. The Department of Childhood Education and Family Studies offers a number of acclaimed programs, such as Child Life Studies, Elementary Education, and Early Childhood Special Education. The Early Childhood and Family Development program can prepare students for careers in child care, public and private schools, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and more.
The flexible Master of Science in Early Childhood and Family Development allows students to choose one-third of their classes. While all coursework for the degree can be completed online, students also have the option of taking some of their electives face-to-face. Students may finish their degree in as little as three semesters, or they can take only one course per semester. Sample courses for this degree include:
- Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect
- Inquiry in Early Childhood and Family Development
- Programming and Policy Issues for Early Childhood Settings
- Children and Families in a Diverse Society
As of the 2017-2018 academic year, the tuition rate for Internet-based instruction is $285 per credit hour. This rate is the same for both Missouri residents and out-of-state students. Missouri State grants $150 million in financial aid annually. In total, about 74 percent of Missouri State students receive some form of financial assistance.
9. Michigan State University
Founded in 1855, Michigan State University served as the prototype for 69 land-grant institutions all over the country established by the Morrill Act of 1862. Today, MSU is still a trailblazer in higher education. U.S. News & World Report named Michigan State 81st in its 2018 Best Global Universities ranking. One of the many academic programs that have earned a reputation for excellence at MSU is the Master of Arts in Youth Development.
MSU’s program in Youth Development is presented through a collaboration of the University’s College of Social Science and the Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance. Graduates will be prepared to work in youth-serving organizations such as U.S. Extension Programs, Boys and Girls Clubs, correctional facilities, and more. The 28-credit hour core for this degree includes classes such as:
- Administration and Program Management
- Adolescents and Their Families
- Community Youth Development
- Youth Policy
In the 2017 edition of “Best College Values” from Kiplinger’s, MSU ranks 38th among public universities for in-state students. Money Magazine also ranked MSU at number 30 (among 2,400 colleges that were considered) in its 2017 “711 Best Colleges for Your Money.” This ranking places Michigan State in the top 1.5 percent of all universities nationwide based on educational quality, affordability, and student outcomes.
10. University at Albany, SUNY
Named one of “America’s Top Colleges” by Forbes, the University at Albany, SUNY is a public research university serving roughly 17,000 students. UAlbany has garnered widespread recognition for the impact of its research and outreach initiatives in the Capital Region of New York and throughout the globe. The emphasis on real-world impact is front and center in UAlbany’s Master of Science in Childhood Education.
Students at UAlbany can earn the M.S. in Childhood Education either online or through on-campus classes. To qualify for the program, students should already hold their initial teaching license. The degree is available either as a licensure track for New York professional teaching certification (grades 1 through 6) or as a non-certification track for students in any other state. Both of these tracks require 30 credit hours in courses such as:
- Classroom Literacy Instruction
- Data-Based Decision Making in Literacy Assessment, Policy, and Practice
- Strategic Intervention to Prevent Literacy Difficulties
- Literacy in Society
When taken online, the program is only available on a part-time basis, with a maximum of two classes per semester. UAlbany also offers a fully online program leading to a Master of Science in Early Childhood Education. As of 2018, the base tuition rate for non-resident, online-only students is $543 per credit hour.
11. University of Minnesota
The Crookston, Morris, and Twin Cities campuses of the University of Minnesota have all been named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. This distinction is the highest federal recognition available to universities that demonstrate outstanding community and civic engagement. The Institute of Child Development at UMN exemplifies the University’s mission of community engagement and service-minded learning.
Offered through the Institute of Child Development, the M.A. in Applied Child and Adolescent Development requires 32 credit hours. This fully online degree allows students to choose among three specialization tracks: Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health, Child Life, and Individualized Studies. The Child Life track prepares graduates to help children cope with illness, injury, and disability. This specialization requires courses such as:
- Child Life Theory, Practice, and Program Development
- Developmental Perspectives on Illness and Injury in Healthcare
- Therapeutic Play for Child Life Practice
- Therapeutic Relationships: Supporting Children in Healthcare
Although the coursework for the Applied Child and Adolescent Development degree is fully online, students in the Child Life track will be required to complete a 600-hour clinical internship. For full-time students taking between six and 14 credits, the 2017-2018 cost per semester is $8,364. For part-time students taking fewer than six credits, the cost is $1,394 per credit hour.
12. University of Missouri
The University of Missouri is a research university with over 300 programs across 13 academic schools and colleges. Among all family and consumer sciences departments nationwide, Mizzou’s Department of Human Development and Family Science (HDFS), within the College of Human Environmental Sciences, was ranked sixth for best value in Great Value Colleges. Mizzou’s HDFS presents a fully online M.A. in Human Development and Family Science.
Mizzou Online’s Human Development and Family Science program offers an emphasis in Youth Development. The curriculum for this degree requires 36 credit hours. Most students take two courses each semester, and complete the degree program within two to three years. Available elective courses within this program include:
- Youth, Families, and Technology
- Serving Youth from Small Towns to Big Cities
- Basic Grant Development and Management
- MU Youth Development Academy
Based on 2018 rates, the total estimated cost of the program is $20,340 (roughly $565 per credit hour, including tuition and fees). This rate is the same for both Missouri residents and non-residents. Three out of four graduate students at Mizzou receive some form of financial aid, meaning that many students will pay less than the published tuition rate. The average financial aid package for a Mizzou graduate student, including loans, grants, and scholarships, is $20,307.
13. University of Nebraska Online
The University of Nebraska Online (NUO) is a joint effort of four institutions: the University of Nebraska at Kearney, the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, University of Nebraska Medical Center, and the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Each of these universities contributes their individual strengths to the distance learning opportunities of NUO. Presented by the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, NUO’s Master of Science in Youth Development allows students to be a part of a global community of learners.
The M.S. in Youth Development from NUO is designed to prepare graduates to develop local, state, and federal policies; to write grants and manage fund-raising efforts; and to work with agencies and families to support positive youth outcomes. The program requires 36 credit hours in total, including eight credit hours in a practicum, capstone project, or thesis. Required coursework includes:
- Youth Professionals as Consumers of Research
- Administration and Program Management
- Youth in Cultural Contexts
- Youth Policy
To be accepted to the Youth Development program, students must have an undergraduate GPA of at least 2.5 on a 4.0 scale. Applicants do not need to hold a bachelor’s degree in a field directly related to youth development. The cost for both in-state and out-of-state students is $565 per credit hour, or $1,695 for a three-credit hour class.
14. Capella University
First founded in 1993, Capella University now serves 37,000 students through 155 fully online undergraduate and graduate programs. Capella offers a highly versatile Master of Science in Psychology. Within this program, students can pursue specializations in Applied Behavioral Analysis, Educational Psychology, Child and Adolescent Development, and much more.
Through the Child and Adolescent Development program, students will develop their ability to research, evaluate, and employ best practices. These skills can be applied in the fields of human service, behavioral health, education, and related settings. Coursework within this specialization may include:
- Lifespan Development
- Human Prenatal Development
- Child Psychology
- Ethics and Multicultural Issues in Psychology
Capella offers two formats for select degree programs. The GuidedPath is a more traditional approach in which students pay per credit hour and advance through the program at a designated pace. The FlexPath allows students to pay a flat rate per term and move through the course sequence at whatever pace they choose. As of the 2023 academic year for Child and Adolescent Program, GuidedPath is $510 per credit and FlexPath is $2,950 per quarter.
15. Kaplan University
Kaplan University offers on-campus, blended, and fully online programs in fields such as criminal justice, education, health sciences, legal studies, and social and behavioral sciences. The emphasis on flexibility and affordability has made Kaplan a top choice for adult learners and non-traditional students. The Master of Science in Human Services from Kaplan prepares graduates to become grant writers, nonprofit managers, community service directors, and more.
The online M.S. in Human Services offers a concentration in either Family and Community Services or in Organizational and Social Services. The Family and Community Services concentration emphasizes advocacy and human development, while the Organizational and Social Services concentration focuses on program administration and policy making. For students in both concentrations, the following courses will be required:
- Human Development and Human Behavior in Context
- History, Multiculturalism, and Diversity in Human Services
- Skills and Practice in Human Services
- Professional Ethics and Personal Values
The cost per credit hour for the Human Services program is $420 as of 2018. For U.S. military service members, the cost is $320. For military veterans, the cost is $361.20. Students may be able to earn college credit for work experiences or military training. Kaplan also gives students the opportunity to save money by testing out of required coursework through course assessments (also known as “challenge exams”).