Youth development

University of Missouri-Columbia
Master of arts in human development and family science
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Master of arts

Today’s teens transform into tomorrow’s adults. Yet, in between are many challenges. In school, academic pressure increases — both in the classroom and in thinking about one’s future. Peer relationships grow more complex and often become the foundation of one’s support system and identity. And as a teen forges their own sense of self, family and community dynamics change significantly.

Throughout this sometimes tumultuous and confusing journey, guidance from adults becomes a lifeline. In the past, schools and social services may have steered at-risk youth toward support programs or implemented corrective measures. In the present, research shows that advocacy, an empathetic ear, evidence-informed policy and programs cultivating leadership skills, resilience and self-esteem empower all teens as they prepare for adulthood. 

The University of Missouri’s (Mizzou) online master of arts in youth development program positions you to better understand adolescents and develop targeted programming and policy. In this flexible course of study offered through Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance (IDEA), you explore the principles and applications of positive youth development to help teens discover personal strength, build meaningful connections and think about their place in the world.

If you're not ready for a full master's program, two Mizzou certificate programs introduce you to applied youth development theories: youth development specialist (graduate certificate) and youth development program management and evaluation (graduate certificate).

Quick facts

Official name

Master of arts in human development and family science with an emphasis in youth development


University of Missouri-Columbia

Program type

Master's degree

Academic home

College of Education & Human Development | Department of Human Development and Family Science

Delivery mode

100% online


Higher Learning Commission

Credit hours


Estimated cost


*This cost is for illustrative purposes only. Your hours and costs will differ, depending on your transfer hours, your course choices and your academic progress. See more about tuition and financial aid.

Woman holding clipboard

Career prospects

You remember the struggles and triumphs of your teen years. So, get ready to extend a hand, listen and light the way for others as a social or community service manager — a career path predicted to see 9% higher demand through 2032.

Mizzou’s online master’s in youth development program equips you to assist this population socially, academically and personally in several contexts:

  • 4-H
  • Faith-based youth groups
  • Foster care programs and transition services
  • Juvenile justice programs
  • Local and national after-school programs (e.g., Boys and Girls Clubs)
  • Non-profit organizations
  • Youth advisory councils
Burning Glass Technologies. 2021. Salary numbers and employment growth numbers are based on models that consider advertised job posting salary, Bureau of Labor Statistics data and other proprietary and public sources of information for multiple occupations.
Employment growth
Burning Glass Technologies. 2021. Salary numbers and employment growth numbers are based on models that consider advertised job posting salary, Bureau of Labor Statistics data and other proprietary and public sources of information for multiple occupations.
Median salary

About the online master’s in youth development program

A more recent concept, positive youth development consists of three goals — helping teens form their identities, develop a future-focused mindset and enrich their communities. Supportive adults direct these outcomes either by managing youth-related programs like 4-H or Boys and Girls Clubs or creating policies that influence these efforts.

At the core of these measures, teens begin to realize who they are — including their positive attributes and their unique roles within their family, school and community. This personal connection gives way to more nurturing peer dynamics, bolsters academic performance, increases college attendance and reduces rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and violent behaviors

If you strive to establish more impactful youth programs, design policies that encourage adolescents to fulfill their potential and better engage those you serve, Mizzou’s online master’s in youth development program suits mid-career professionals along both tracks. You’ll delve into the importance of research and explore theories that help foster teens’ emotional, social and behavioral development. At the same time, you’ll examine outside factors — including school, peers, family and environment — that could potentially hinder their progress.

With this knowledge, prepare to:

  • Help youth grow into leaders by understanding their strengths and building supportive connections with both peers and adults
  • Design, develop, manage, evaluate and fund youth programs, including in and after school
  • Advocate for racially and economically diverse youth populations, whether through policy, new programs or as you directly work with clients and their families
  • Promote inclusive environments where all youth, regardless of background, feel like they belong
  • Propose or analyze federal and state policies influencing youth development and programs

Program structure

The online master’s in youth development program requires 36 credit hours of course work. Both required courses and electives cover theories and applications related to the following areas: foundational skills in positive youth development, relational dynamics and positive youth development, contexts of youth practice and policy, and youth program management, evaluation and administration. Students also complete a research-based capstone centering around a human development or family science topic.

To get where they need to be, students meet with an academic advisor from their home campus to discuss career goals and the courses that best support their professional development. Should any technical issues arise, they also have access to a campus coordinator.

While students apply to and receive their diploma from their home campus, they have the option to take courses through other participating Great Plains IDEA universities. In addition to the University of Missouri, Iowa State University, Michigan State University, North Dakota State University, Texas Tech University and the University of Nebraska–Lincoln manage courses for the online master’s in youth development program.

The online master’s in youth development program is 100% online and based on a semester schedule. Students typically take two classes each semester and finish in two to three years. Please keep in mind that start and finish dates vary based on the university overseeing the course.

Course work includes

Required courses explore:

  • Principles and practices of positive youth development
  • Normative pathways of adolescent and emerging adult development
  • The influence of families and communities on youth development
  • The influence of localized and public policy on youth outcomes
  • Key aspects of managing youth programs and working with various stakeholders (e.g., volunteers, boards, etc.)
  • Utilizing evidence to design, implement and evaluate the efficacy of youth programs

Review all requirements for the online master’s in youth development.


100% online

Calendar system


Typical program length

2 or 3 years

Typical course load

2 classes per semester


The University of Missouri is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, one of six regional institutional accreditors in the United States.

Great Plains IDEA

Great Plains IDEA is a consortium of 19 universities offering fully online graduate programs and courses in agriculture disciplines. Students apply to and are admitted by one university, enroll in all of their courses through that university and graduate from that university. However, the online courses are taught by faculty in the discipline from several universities.

Learn more about Great Plains IDEA.


Faculty spotlight

Melissa Herzog, PhD

Melissa Herzog is the academic advisor for all students admitted to the University of Missouri's youth development graduate program. Dr. Herzog teaches the foundations of positive youth development and adolescents and their families courses. As an academic advisor, she has an open-door policy to support individual program planning and mentors all master's student capstone projects in the program. She is currently co-principal investigator of a federally-funded, statewide relationship education program for single adults across Missouri where she oversees evaluation and quality improvement. She has previously worked on social competence intervention development, teacher training and program evaluation for middle school youth on the autism spectrum.

For questions about the youth development graduate program and how it fits your personal and professional goals, reach out to Dr. Melissa Herzog.

Melissa Herzog, PhD
Associate Teaching Professor, Youth Development Program Academic Advisor, Department of Human Development and Family Science

Learn more about this program

This program is administered by the Department of Human Development and Family Science