Your brain doesn’t turn off when some dean moves the tassel on your mortarboard from one side to the other. Common wisdom says that learning is a lifelong process and unbeholden to diplomas or minimum credit hours. For educators, it’s especially important to continue learning, as educational practices are continually revised and updated. That’s where the best online curriculum and instruction Master’s programs come in. They enhance the skill set of educators, enabling them to see the most successful ways to reach students, address the needs of a learning environment, and step up their game as educators in general.
What Is a Curriculum and Instruction Master’s?
Studying education as an undergrad and earning a teaching certificate covers the basics. A Master’s in curriculum and instruction is essentially advanced coursework that blends educational theory with practical guidance to enable educators to work at a higher level. As the University of Kansas puts it, “The curriculum you construct and use can have a profound effect on your students’ lives. By developing your strengths as an instructor and learning to build a stronger curriculum, you can give your students the best possible advantage.”
Classes cover topics like multicultural education (important in an increasingly diverse nation), planning curriculum, data and tech literacy, assessing progress and providing feedback, and much more. Many degree programs provide specializations, such as STEM, early childhood education, English for non-native speakers, languages, literacy studies, and more. In some programs, students must select a concentration area, but others allow for a more general course of study. Requirements across programs can vary significantly; some programs require teaching experience and a teaching certificate while others require the GRE or the Praxis teaching test. Several offer thesis and practicum options.
All of these degrees are earned online, though some schools offer hybrid programs that offer some in-person instruction. Generally speaking, online work is asynchronous, meaning you complete the coursework on your own schedule, while meeting assignment deadlines. The degree cost varies considerably; the 20 best online Master’s in curriculum and education programs range from $6,785 per academic year to $20,976. We calculated those numbers using tuition as a base and factor in financial aid opportunities. The average cost is $15,179, with a median of $15,635.
Careers for a Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction
Universities tend to gear their degrees toward working teachers, particularly those looking to increase their seniority and earning power – perhaps in a role like principal or other senior administrator. But the potential goes beyond that. Texas Tech notes the training is applicable for roles in government and business. Florida Atlantic University drops titles like curriculum specialist, professional development chair, assistant principal, adjunct instructor, and training specialist. Northwest Missouri State University adds corporate trainer.
In short, a Master’s in curriculum and instruction can enhance teaching skills and lead to roles outside of the classroom. Numerous jobs can come from the degree, but perhaps the most obvious is instructional coordinator, which the Bureau of Labor Statistics defines as someone who “oversees school curriculums and teaching standards.” The BLS estimates there are 181,600 of those positions currently in the United States, with another 11,500 expected to be added by 2028. That’s a growth rate of 6%, roughly the average for all occupations in the U.S. Similar occupations include literacy instructors, school and career counselors, training and development managers, and librarians.
Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction Salary Potential
Looking at Bureau of Labor Statistics information, instructional coordinators earn a median annual salary of $64,450, with the lowest 10 percent earning $36,360, and the highest 10 percent $102,200. The best paying jobs among instructional coordinators come from the government. Other notable related jobs include principals, who make a median annual salary of $95,310 per the BLS, versus the less than $60,000 median for elementary and high school teachers. Training and development managers pull in a median of $111,340, adult literacy instructors $53,630, librarians $59,050, and school and career counselors $56,310.
No one ever said a career in education was a sure path to riches, but a Master’s in curriculum and instruction can certainly open up better opportunities. Some of the programs in our 20 best online Master’s in curriculum and instruction offer additional certificates—in technology or specific subject areas like math or English—that look good on a resume and can help with positions that require specialized training.
What Are the Best Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction Degrees?
We know that you have educational goals that you’re itching to pursue, but you may not know where to start. The editors of College Rank utilize a unique ranking methodology based on the following three aspects:
40% Potential Salary After Graduation: Average mid-career salary of school alumni
30% Institutional Accreditation: Regional and national accreditation for the 2019-2020 school year
30% Overall Degree Affordability: Average cost of undergraduate and graduate tuition per school
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Northwest Missouri State University
Average Net Price
Located about 20 miles south of the Iowa border and about 40 miles east of the Nebraska border, Maryville, MO, definitely lives up to the name of its hometown university, Northwest Missouri State. But if you’re interested in a Master’s in curriculum and instruction, chances are you won’t see the campus until commencement.
That’s because Northwest Missouri’s degree is 100% online. Emphasizing “technology, change management, and student engagement,” the 10 courses in the 30-hour program include topics like Visionary School Leadership, Culture and Student Engagement, and Academic Inquiry. The curriculum breaks down into 15 credit hours of core courses and 15 credit hours of subject-field requirements. All classes last seven weeks, and the program can be completed in as little as 12 months.
Getting into the Northwest Missouri is pretty simple: Applicants need a bachelor’s degree and a GPA of at least 2.75. Once accepted, they’ll need to complete a writing assessment. Also simple: payment. In-state and out-of-state students pay the same, $11,778, well under the $15,179 average for the top 20 best online Master’s programs in curriculum and instruction.
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The oldest university in Illinois, McKendree University was founded by “pioneer Methodists” in Lebanon, IL, way back in 1828. Back in those days, St. Louis—located about 30 miles west of Lebanon—really was the “Gateway to the West,” and not just a city in the Midwest.
Designed for working teachers, McKendree’s MA in education—with an emphasis in curriculum design and construction—is offered both online and via weekly on-campus classes. The courses last eight weeks, and the degree requires 31-33 hours of coursework. That boils down to 12 courses with titles like Curriculum Theory and Design, School Law, and Educational Research & Statistics. The program concludes with either a research project or thesis.
To get in, prospective students need a bachelor’s degree (with a minimum 3.0 GPA), résumé, three professional references, and an essay describing the personal and professional goals that the degree will help achieve. They’ll also need $20,890, making McKendree the second priciest of the universities on our list.
University of Kansas
Average Net Price
Students participate in KU’s Master of Science in education online exclusively, without having to set foot in the charming college town of Lawrence, KS. But the school apparently handles distance learning pretty well, as U.S. News and World Report ranks it No. 34 for Best Online Graduate Education Programs (No. 10 for veterans in the same category).
The university takes a “practitioner-focused approach,” so that everything students learn in the program can be applied directly to their own classrooms. The structure is pretty simple: ten courses, eight weeks per course, for 30 credit hours. The program can be completed in as little as two years. Courses include Instructional Strategies & Models, Differentiating Curriculum & Instruction, and Constructivist Learning Technologies. The coursework culminates with a Master’s project, which the university describes as “a collection of artifacts completed during courses in the program” that show students retained their knowledge of the four program outcomes: teaching all students, knowing and using research, pedagogical content knowledge, and foundational knowledge.
Admission is pretty simple: official transcript of a bachelor’s degree, personal statement showing how the degree will fit your career plans, three letters of recommendation, and a résumé. No GRE necessary, and no residency requirement. Just plan to spend $18,365 per academic year.
Texas Tech University
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Other than being the birthplace of Buddy Holly, Lubbock, TX, isn’t known for much beyond Texas Tech University. It’s fairly remote location in northwest Texas makes Lubbock the only sizeable city within several hours’ drive, so Tech is a big deal around those parts. Its tuition is not: $15,820, a little above average for the best online Master’s programs in curriculum and instruction.
The university offers its program online and on campus, or in a hybrid format. Regardless of how it’s taken, the degree requires 36 credit hours: 18 of core coursework and 18 of electives. Students who want certification in English or math and statistics can opt for 18 more hours of electives to earn dual-credit certification.
Why so many electives? Tech offers five optional concentrations: curriculum studies/teacher education, language and literacy education, STEM, blended learning/personalized learning, bilingual education and English as a second language. The coursework also includes two “course experiences” that send students on a “community needs-based inquiry” and a “community needs-based intervention” to give them experience.
Getting into Tech requires transcripts, a résumé, a personal statement, a scholarly writing sample, and three letters of professional recommendation. The GRE may also be required for certain concentrations.
The University of Texas at Arlington
Average Net Price
The University of Texas branch in Arlington—located between Dallas and Ft. Worth—doesn’t mess around with its Master of Education degrees. It offers three of them, each with a different emphasis within curriculum and instruction: literacy studies, mathematics education, and science education.
Each requires 30 credit hours of instruction and can be completed in as little as 18 months. They’re all geared toward K-12 education, and they share some core coursework in curriculum design, instructional strategies, diversity in education, and education research methods. None requires a thesis. All are open to anyone with a bachelor’s degree (with a 3.0 GPA), and UTA requires transcripts and two letters of recommendation for admission. People who have all of that and two or more years of relevant work experience earn unconditional admission. There’s also a background check for students looking to earn the Reading Specialist or ESL certification that’s part of the literacy studies degree.
Naturally the different degrees have varying courses among the 10 they take. The literacy degree, for example, has three literacy practicums along with courses like Teaching the Writing Process and Pre-Adolescent and Adolescent Literacy. For math education one digs deep into numbers with courses like Patterns and Algebra, Conceptual Geometry, and one simply called Measurement. The science degree splits six of its 10 courses among three focus areas: physical science, Earth science, and life science.
UTA packs all of that into a package that costs only $12,533, well below the average and median cost for schools on this list.
Florida Atlantic University
Boca Raton, Florida
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Florida Atlantic University’s website touts, “This isn’t just a campus—it’s a coastline,” because FAU spans 110 miles of southeast Florida coast. Distance learners will have to settle for a desktop photo of a beach, but considering FAU costs only $10,100—the second cheapest on our list—they can use the money they save for a beach vacation after graduation.
The 36-credit program has a whopping 14 specializations: art, biology, chemistry, early childhood education, English, TESOL education, French, mathematics, multicultural education, physics, reading, social science, Spanish, and teacher leadership. Teacher leadership, early childhood education, multicultural education, and TESOL are “fully online” programs, and the others require some in-person work.
The coursework breaks down to 12 credits of core classes (like Design Components of Curriculum), six credits of “educational leadership” courses (in statistics and research), three credits of “restricted electives” (such as Race, Class & Gender in Education), and 15 credits from the concentration. (In multicultural specialization, that’d include Black Perspectives in Education, Foundations of Global Education, etc.)
Admission is a little more stringent at FAU: Students need the usual stuff like a bachelor’s degree with a 3.0 GPA, personal statement, résumé, and two letters of recommendation, but they also need “evidence of professional certification or temporary certification.”
Sam Houston State University
Average Net Price
Sam Houston State lies in Huntsville, TX, not far from the largest—and most infamous—prison in the state. There’s a saying in Texas: “Happiness is Huntsville in your rear-view mirror,” so perhaps online learning is the best approach here—though SHSU has a lovely campus.
The program requires 30 hours of coursework, with 18 coming from core classes (like Integrating Curnt Tech In Tchg, which we’re guessing means “Current Tech In Teaching”), then 12 from the curriculum and instruction concentration (Instructional Coaching, Assessment of Learning, etc.) The degree also prepares students to teach dual credit courses and/or classes at the community college level. While the coursework is all online, there are occasional in-person research meetings.
Getting in is pretty simple: Students need a bachelor’s degree, and if they have a 3.0 GPA or higher, they don’t have to take the GRE. It’s also inexpensive: $11,742—the third cheapest among the best online Master’s programs in curriculum and instruction.
Emporia State University
Average Net Price
Ever hear of Emporia, KS? County seat of Lyon County? Located halfway between Kansas City and Wichita? Site of the first observance of Veterans Day? Anything? Well, don’t sweat it, because an MS from the city’s namesake university is 100% online.
Consisting of 33 credits that can be earned in as little as 12 months, the Master of Science in curriculum and instruction (subtitled “Instructional Coach/Teach Leader PreK-12” for full effect) consists of 24 hours of core coursework and nine of concentration courses from something called the Curriculum Leadership Area. The core courses include stuff like Cultural Influences & Educational Practice, Developing Authentic Assessments, and a practicum. Students then choose three courses from the Curriculum Leadership Area, such as Mentoring & Coaching and Brain-Based Learning.
Emporia State makes getting into its program easy, with no GRE or teaching certificate required, just a bachelor’s degree with a 2.75 GPA or higher. The cost is fairly easy too, relatively speaking, at $14,013.
Kansas State University
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K-State’s “Global Campus”—a.k.a. distance-learning program—has been around in some form for decades, beginning in the 1970s with something called TELENET, a network that connected students via conference call. These days K-State has more than 12,000 students enrolled in its Global Campus.
The university’s MS in curriculum and instruction is unsurprisingly robust. It offers six concentrations: educational technology, ESL, learning skills/school improvement, mathematics education, reading specialist, and teaching civics and government. The learning skills/school improvement option offers additional options for an educational technology graduate certificate and a reading specialist license. Again, robust.
The course requirements vary by specialization, but the school requires 31 credits to graduate. With the exception of learning skills, all share the same foundation work of three credits in each of these sections: curriculum, teaching and learning, diversity, educational technology, and research and scholarship. Coursework in an area of specialization varies from 12-18 credits. Educational technology has an additional three-credit elective. While learning skills/improvement differs structurally, its students still take many of the same courses.
That’s a lot to remember, and here’s some more. Admission requires a bachelor’s with a 3.0 GPA or better, a statement of objectives, a résumé, three professional/academic references, and transcripts. It also requires $17,465 per academic year.
University of Houston
Average Net Price
The University of Houston doesn’t have much of a profile among national universities, but it’s a big school (more than 46,000 students, the third largest in Texas) in the nation’s fourth largest city. And for people looking for a Master’s in curriculum and instruction, it’s among the best. U.S. News and World Report ranks it No. 19 for Best Online Graduate Education Programs.
The school offers numerous specializations for its Master of Education in curriculum and instruction: health science education; learning, design, and technology; early childhood education; and mathematics education. All require 30 credit hours, with the exception of the mathematics specialization, which requires 36. UH doesn’t disclose a lot about coursework on its website, but expect all tracks to share some foundation classes with electives providing specialization instruction.
All tracks require the GRE, letters of recommendation, a personal statement, transcripts, and a resume. At $16,664, the UH is about $1,000 over the median and average costs of programs among the best online Master’s in curriculum and instruction.
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Freed-Hardeman University goes back 150 years to a makeshift classroom in a frame house in Henderson, TN, where the school is based. Christianity was always central to it’s mission, and remains so today, as the school “provides higher education with a Christian perspective.”
That includes its Master of Education in curriculum and instruction. All graduate students in the education department must take Introduction to Christianity, which provides a basic overview of the Bible. They also have to take Introduction to Graduate Studies, an orientation to the university, for one credit hour.
Beyond that, the major requires 37 hours of coursework: 19 of core curriculum, 12 of electives, and six of a capstone research project. Electives come in three varieties: curriculum and instruction, school counseling, or special education. Students can pick and choose which courses they want, but curriculum and instruction includes Procedures in Classroom Management, Teaching Secondary School Literacy, Learning Theory and Principles, and Differentiated Instruction and Intervention.
Admission to Freed-Hardeman’s program requires the usual stuff—a bachelor’s with a 3.0 GPA or better, transcripts, GRE (minimum combined score of 290), personal essay—but with a few additions. There’s a background check or employer verification, along with an interview with the program director. Successfully complete all of that, and all you’ll need is $16,684 per academic year.
South Dakota State University
Brookings, South Dakota
Average Net Price
The largest university in its home state, South Dakota State lies in Brookings, about 20 miles west of the Minnesota border in the center of the state. The average high temperature in the winter is about 25 degrees, so SDSU is a great place to be a distance learner.
The university’s Master of Education in curriculum and instruction offers three specializations: early childhood education, elementary education, and secondary education. (In addition, students can add on the program’s ESL coursework, which earns a K-12 English as a New Language endorsement on a teaching certificate.) Within the degree, the school offers thesis (30 credit hours), research/design paper (32), and coursework-only options (35).
Three of the programs share the same core requirements of 15 hours with courses like Introduction to Research and Advanced Pedagogy. The early childhood education track has all of those, but with an internship and a capstone. SDSU breaks down each coursework option for each track on the program’s website.
Joining it is a pretty simple process. Applicants need a bachelor’s, résumé, goal statement, two letters of professional reference, but no GRE. Plan to spend $18,204 per academic year.
The University of Texas at El Paso
El Paso, Texas
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First things first: no one can beat UTEP when it comes to price. At $6,785, it’s nearly $10,000 cheaper than the median and average cost of programs in our top 20—a steal any way you look at it. It only ranks No. 148 in Best Online Graduate Education Programs (according to U.S. News and World Report), but still, $6,785!
UTEP offers two tracks for its Master of Education in curriculum and instruction: bilingual education and early childhood education. Both are 36-credit programs, with 12 hours spent on “professional development” courses, and all the rest on the concentration, which UTEP refers to as “core coursework.” That’s the most credit hours devoted to a concentration of any school on our list.
The professional development stuff includes courses like Research for the Classroom Teacher and Diversity in Educational Settings. The concentration areas are pretty comprehensive; in the bilingual track, they include Literacy Development in Spanish (taught in Spanish), Dual Language Instruction, and Place, Practice, and Identity. Early childhood education has separate courses for education in literacy skills, math and science, and literature, along with stuff like Early Childhood Education Pedagogy.
Prospective students will need a bachelor’s degree with a 3.0 GPA or better, résumé, and statement of purpose for admission. No GRE necessary, and just to reiterate: $6,785.
University of Central Missouri
Average Net Price
Located about 60 miles southeast of Kansas City in Warrensburg, the University of Central Missouri offers a master of science in education program available online, on campus (with another location in the KC suburb of Lee’s Summit), or a hybrid of the two.
The 30-credit program features three specialization areas: K-12 education, middle level education, and—wait for it—secondary education, thus covering all grade levels leading up to college. All three share many of the same core courses, such as Advanced Foundations of Education and a capstone. Core coursework adds up to 21 hours, though the middle level has an additional course, Middle School Foundations. Concentration electives make up the remaining credit hours for each track.
Admission to the program is on the more rigorous end. Beyond the usual stuff like a bachelor’s with a 2.5 GPA or better, students also need proof of teacher certification or a professional endorsement from their state, as well as a “recent summative teaching evaluation” or a letter from a school superintendent, principal, or professor. At least the cost isn’t too rigorous: $12,711, well below the list’s average.
Western Illinois University
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Western Illinois University lies in Macomb, IL, about 40 miles east of the Iowa border. The city has a population of about 21,000, and aside from the university, doesn’t seem to have much going on. “A president or presidential nominee has not visited Macomb in 109 years and counting,” says its Wikipedia page. Sad trombone.
That’s fine, because the university’s Master of Science in curriculum and instruction is almost entirely online. “Almost” because one of the six specializations offered requires some courses to be taken on campus. That’s social studies education, but the rest are completely online: literacy education, elementary education, early childhood education, math education, and science education.
The program requires 30 credit hours to complete, beginning with 12 hours of core coursework (Methods of Research, Early Childhood Assessment, etc.), 12 hours of specialization coursework, and six hours of electives. Students must also complete a capstone experience, either research or a practicum, depending on the student’s specialization.
Unlike most of the programs on our list, Western Illinois University requires an undergraduate degree in education or a related field, with a minimum 2.75 GPA. But applicants can skip the GRE, letters of recommendation, and personal statement, because WIU doesn’t require them. At $15,605, it’s a bull’s-eye for the median price among schools included in our 20 best online master’s in curriculum and education.
Cleveland State University
Average Net Price
Located in downtown Cleveland, Cleveland State University has only been around since 1964, but its history stretches back to the 1880s, when what became Fenn College started offering classes at a local YMCA. In the ’60s, the state took over Fenn College, and thus CSU was born.
It has offered online courses for about a decade, including its Master of Education in curriculum and instruction. The degree—which costs $15,320 per academic year—comes in two specializations: educational technology and educational research and assessment. Both require 30 credits for the degree, and the tech specialization offers an optional online teaching certificate for an additional seven hours.
Both tracks share 12 hours of core coursework, which begins with Education Research and continues with students choosing one class each from three areas: social foundations (like Social Issues and Education), human development (maybe Psychology of the Adolescent Learner), and curriculum and instruction (where the course options shift depending on the concentration). The editorial research and assessment track concludes with 18 specialization credits (like Data-Driven Classroom Instruction), which includes a possible thesis. The tech track offers nine hours of specialization and nine hours of electives to reach 30 credits.
University of Southern Mississippi
Average Net Price
Like a lot of universities, Southern Miss began as a “normal college” for teacher training, but eventually grew into a four-year university with two locations, one in Hattiesburg and another in Gulfport. As a student working online toward a Master of Education in educational curriculum and instruction, you won’t need to visit either one of them.
Created for working teachers, the program is designed to be affordable—$12,506, the fifth cheapest on our list—with a mostly asynchronous online format for maximum flexibility. (“Mostly” because “an online lecture may be required by your professor,” says the FAQ.) The degree has 30 hours of coursework, with 15 hours of core classes (like Elementary Mathematics Methods and Social Studies in Elementary School), along with a Research in Reading class that can count for up to 16 hours. Twelve hours of electives round out the coursework.
Admission is pretty typical, with transcripts, a 2.75 GPA or better in undergrad, GRE scores, three letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose or writing sample. Southern Miss also requires “Good standing at last university attended,” so good thing you decided not to flip off everyone at commencement.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
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A baby university compared to other schools on our list, Regent University was founded in 1978 in Virginia Beach, VA, to offer a college education from a Christian perspective. Having started in the computer age, Regent has a digital mindset—it places surprisingly high in rankings for online study, like No. 61 for Best Online Graduate Education Programs and No. 21 for Best Online Graduate Education Programs for Veterans, per U.S. News and World Report.
Its Master of Education in curriculum and instruction offers six concentrations: adult education, Christian school, gifted and talented (with or without endorsement), STEM education, and teacher leader. Some concentrations, such as STEM education, adult education, and Christian school, require previous teaching experience. The no-endorsement gifted and talented program is designed for out-of-state students and teachers not licensed in Virginia.
The course requirements naturally vary by track, ranging from 33-39 credit hours and classes lasting eight weeks. The coursework is divided into three sections: getting started (mostly no-credit orientations), 18 hours of required courses (like Research Design and Classroom Management), with concentration courses supplying the rest. Both gifted-and-talented options require a final project or practicum.
For admission, Regent requires college transcripts, a government-issued ID, and a questionnaire around students’ goals and interests. A 20-minute interview (either via phone or on campus) may also be required. Plan to spend $17,820 per academic year.
Jefferson City, Tennessee
Average Net Price
Describing itself as “unapologetic in its biblical conviction and unashamedly Christ-centered,” Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, MO, filters everything it does through its religion, which aligns with the Tennessee Baptist Convention.
That said, the coursework for its Master of Education in curriculum and instruction isn’t obviously religious. The 36-credit program includes classes like Evaluation of Learning, Techniques for Inclusion, and Language and Culture. There are six hours of required courses—Foundations of Leadership and Effective Home, School, and Community Relations—but the remaining core coursework and electives seem to be flexible based on student interests. Courses last eight weeks, and the program can be completed in about 18 months.
Carson-Newman designs the master’s program for “experienced educators with the desire to become pedagogical experts,” and its admission requirements reflect that. Beyond the typical stuff like official transcripts of undergraduate work, a statement of purpose, and Praxis II or GRE scores, it needs a copy of applicants’ professional educator’s license and an employment-verification form. The school will also require $18,598 per academic year, which is about $3,000 more than the average for the 20 best online master’s programs in curriculum and instruction.
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Another school with a higher mission, Evangel University in Springfield, MO, is a “comprehensive Christian university” that aims to “prepare students for a career and a life of following Jesus.” That mission doesn’t come cheap: At $20,976, Evangel is the most expensive program on our list.
The 30-credit Master of Education in curriculum and instruction leadership is designed to be flexible enough to cater to students’ interests. It also offers an optional TESOL emphasis that adds an additional two credits required to graduate. The core coursework includes classes like Action Research, Administration of Special Programs, School Supervision and Management, and numerous others. The list of courses for the non-TESOL degree has 16 options. It takes two years to complete the degree work.
The program is designed for working teachers, as applicants must have a teaching certification, and Evangel prefers if they also have at least two years of teaching experience. They’ll also need an undergraduate degree with a 3.0 GPA or better, along with GRE or Praxis scores.