Economic Development Degrees

Experts in economic development are able to help communities prosper by improving services and creating job opportunities and more affordable housing by reviewing information and making data-driven solutions that are both following laws and regulations and are maximizing their budget.

By performing these tasks, careers in this sector improve the quality of life within any community. There are not many degrees that feature an emphasis within community and economic development available online, but there could be some coursework available. Students should refer to the curriculum to determine if there are options within the core education or electives.

What is Economic Development and Why Consider this Degree?

When looking for Master's degrees that have an emphasis in economic development, the most common options are disciplines in Public Policy and Public Affairs. Public Policy consists of the education needed to solve problems in the community, such as implementing new rules and regulations or looking at information to further optimize services in the area. Much of the curriculum is geared toward methods that stimulate the economy and improve the quality of life within a location. Public Affairs is more focused on the connection between companies and public service, providing evidence-based information to determine how new policies can impact businesses.

All of these are related and under the umbrella of Public Administration, and concentrations or an entirely separate graduate certification can be found within economic development. If there is not an area of emphasis within economic development, there are usually related classes on the topic. Those that are looking to break into a career that helps develop a community and improve job opportunities and the amount of goods and services available should consider concentrations related to economic development.

Consider a Featured Online MPA Program


Learning Online: Different Methods and Reasons

Opportunities are limited to study economic development online, but there is still plenty of flexibility available. Students can find an online Master of Public Policy or Public Affairs program that features community and economic development courses within the core curriculum or the elective options. Students should check with the school offering the program to determine if specific courses are available online if the entire program is not, and what semesters they are available to take. Admission into these programs usually require a Bachelor's degree with a cumulative 3.0 GPA or higher and multiple years of work experience.

There are plenty of benefits when it comes to pursuing online education. It is simple for already established working professionals to apply and take courses on their own time. Many courses will have lectures available on-demand with assignments and exams due on a weekly basis. Most opportunities will not be completely self-paced, but coursework and technical assistance can be accessed around the clock. Students that pursue a program without online education will typically still have the flexibility to take classes at night or during weekends.

NASPAA Accreditation

It is important for any Master of Public Administration degree or related programs to be accredited by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA). Hundreds of programs across the world have received designation from NASPAA, which is a benchmark that gives students the confidence they will learn economic development through a rigorous curriculum and faculty members that have real-world professional experience in nonprofit and governmental organizations. Obtaining a degree from an accredited university will make those either furthering their education or jumping into their career stand out from the rest of the competition.

Learning Online: Different Methods and Reasons

Opportunities are limited to study economic development online, but there is still plenty of flexibility available. Students can find an online Master of Public Policy or Public Affairs program that features community and economic development courses within the core curriculum or the elective options. Students should check with the school offering the program to determine if specific courses are available online if the entire program is not, and what semesters they are available to take. Admission into these programs usually require a Bachelor’s degree with a cumulative 3.0 GPA or higher and multiple years of work experience.

There are plenty of benefits when it comes to pursuing online education. It is simple for already established working professionals to apply and take courses on their own time. Many courses will have lectures available on-demand with assignments and exams due on a weekly basis. Most opportunities will not be completely self-paced, but coursework and technical assistance can be accessed around the clock. Students that pursue a program without online education will typically still have the flexibility to take classes at night or during weekends.

Examples of Graduate Programs

University of North Carolina

The School of Government offers a Master of Public Administration with a concentration in Community and Economic Development. Students will be working with groups in order to eliminate poverty and create a better lifestyle within a community, and to stimulate the economy with further job opportunities and policy changes, such as the addition of more affordable housing. Graduates will improve their consulting abilities, urban planning, and community development skills.

Courses directly in the concentration are Community Revitalization Methods, Community Revitalization Applied, and Managing Economic Development. While most of the program can be completed online, only the latter course is available away from campus, so the concentration must be completed on-campus. Prospective students must have a foundational understanding of American government. There is an ability to take the prerequisite through the online platform.

Indiana University

The Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs has a Master of Public Affairs (MPAff) degree with a concentration in Community and Economic Development. This program will give students the needed skills to improve various communities, be it neighborhoods or cities, and look at various measures that have happened in the past to determine what has and has not worked in terms of economic prosperity. Along with the benefit of a 3-to-1 student to faculty ratio within the program, there is an 86 percent placement rate for graduates from the program.

Required courses in the program include Planning and Community Development, and Local Economic Development. Students will then pick one of the following: Vector-based Geographic Information Systems, Negotiation and Dispute Resolution for Public Affairs, and Data Analysis and Modeling for Public Affairs. Because of the many concentrations that are available in the MPAff degree, students have the ability to combine other areas of emphasis to further customize their program experience.

Illinois Institute of Technology

The MPA program through the Stuart School at Illinois Tech offers certification within a number of subjects in public administration, including Economic Development and Social Entrepreneurship. This program is geared toward entrepreneurs that are looking to increase economic potential in the community. While the program is not available online, courses are taught during the evening hours to convenience working professionals, and students have the ability to take at least one course at a time and complete the certification within a year. Credit given in this program can also be transferred toward the full MPA.

Students will meet once a week for a total of 15 weeks for each course. There are a total of 12 credit hours needed to complete the program. The curriculum is fully customizable as students can pick the four courses they need to fully customize the certification. Example courses include Advanced Financial Management, Urban and Regional Development, and Public Infrastructure Management. Admission requirements into the program include official transcripts showing the completion of an undergraduate degree with at least a 3.0 GPA, one-page professional statement, and at least one letter of recommendation.

University of Columbia

There are a number of specializations that students can take within the Master of Public Administration through the School of International and Public Affairs. One of them is the program in Economic Policy Management, which has further concentrations in Global Energy Policy Management, and Central Banking and Financial Markets. The curriculum will prepare students in creating policy through the lens of the economic environment, and there are specializations within the energy and financial industries. Students must complete the program on a full-time basis with six courses in one spring, summer, and fall semester.

Another MPA is within Environmental Science and Policy, which requires a number of core and policy courses, and then three elective courses to customize the program. Examples of core courses needed include Sustainability Management, Research Methods in Public Management and Policy, and Financial Management. There are further specializations in the MPA degree, and timetables and admission dates are different based on what is selected by the student. Most coursework will be completed on campus.

Typical Courses

Economic Theory

Evaluation of economic theory within the community, looking into the productivity once new policies and services have been established. Studies will go into economic growth and the return on investment as well as missteps when it comes to the allocation of resources into the wrong areas creating poverty and service disruptions. Communication skills and fundamental knowledge on public policy design will also be gained in these courses.

Public Infrastructure Management

Management theory and skills for properties and services owned by the government that are used by the public, including transportation, energy and water utilities, sustainability, and removal of waste. Students will learn how to develop and facilitate these needs and improve them within the community, and there are typically case studies taken place in order to study various issues that have been encountered within public infrastructure.

Data Analysis and Modeling

Working with data is imperative to figuring out what a community needs in order to thrive. These courses consist of being able to communicate with others to gather information, be it through various methods of surveying or observing trends within average household income and overall health. Students typically learn different methods of organizing this information and presenting it to policymakers in order to change or implement new regulations that improves the community.

Urban Planning and Development

Specifically focuses on how to create a better life for an urban community by creating plans to increase businesses, affordable housing, services, public utilities, and more. Typical subjects include looking into the needs for the public and private sectors to work together, government leadership when developing new policies, and implementation of technological innovation to enhance lives. Some courses may implement some theory into the education.

Legal and Ethical Issues

Explores the legal and ethical aspects of community and economic development. Businesses have these responsibilities and must abide by the legal rules set by government and to be transparent in their activities. These courses will focus on the importance of these regulations and how organizations can give back to the community should they rake in substantial profits from their goods and services.

Career Options

Budget Analyst

Responsible for planning and maintaining finances within an organization, working with other executives and managers to ensure that the budget is accurate and follows regulations. Typical duties include continuously monitoring spending trends and making the organization aware what funds are available, looking at future spending plans and how that would impact the budget, and propose recommendations to limit spending when applicable. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for this position sits at $76,220.

Housing Specialist

Works with the community and local government to create affordable and long-term housing solutions. Human service agencies make assessments for clients that are looking for housing options to determine the best plan of action based on their needs, such as emergency housing, low-income housing, and more. Housing specialists will continue to work with their clients to track the progress they made and to implement any changes when necessary. The goal is to eliminate as much homelessness as possible in urban communities.

Public Affairs Director

An executive role that develops and manages an organization’s public strategies. They will typically guide teams that are advocating for the agency they work with and lobby for specific policies or creating information for stakeholders. Directors will tend to set the framework on these actions and need to monitor regulation changes and trends in order to gain an advantage. While this is related to public relations, PR positions are more geared toward marketing while public affairs are actively lobbying toward policy changes.