Studying Community Development: Degrees at a Glance
Community development professionals coordinate activities among civic leaders, activists and neighborhood residents to improve local conditions related to health, social services, economic development or the built or natural environment. Positions in this relatively young field might most often be available in non-profit organizations, healthcare, government or consulting firms concerned with building sustainable infrastructures for their respective fields.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected a 14% increase in jobs overall from 2010-2010. Demand for social and community service managers, licensed practical nurses and urban and regional planners was expected to grow 27%, 22% and 16%, respectively. These professions may need associate and bachelor's degree holders to perform outreach activities for social service or healthcare entities or foster sustainable urban, housing or economic development.
|Who is this degree for?||Individuals who want an entry-level position in the community development field||Individuals interested in professional or management careers in community development|
|Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary)|| - Social and human service assistant ($29,000)* |
- Community outreach associate ($32,000 - with 0-2 years of experience)**
- Licensed practical nurse in outpatient clinic ($38,000)**
| - Urban planner ($43,000 - with 2-4 years of experience)**|
- Community development compliance specialist - ($60,000 - with 2-4 years of experience)**
- Senior community development representative ($100,000 - with 7 years of experience)**
|Time to Completion||Approximately two years, full-time|| 4-5 years, full-time |
|Common Graduation Requirements|| - Typically 60-70 credits, including major area subjects and liberal arts core requirements|
| - Approximately 120 credits |
- Internship or capstone project
|Prerequisites||High school diploma or GED||High school diploma, GED or associate degree|
|Online Availability||Online coursework may be available||Some fully online degree programs and online coursework are available|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2011 median wages), **Salary.com (2012 median wages).
Associate Degrees Covering Community Development
These hard-to-find programs are offered by some community colleges. They're distinguished from standard curricula in human services, various allied health professions, housing development or planning by their emphasis on community involvement and sustainability. Depending on your interests, you might qualify for positions with organizations concerned with affordable housing, community health, economic development, human service or real estate property development.
Exact requirements may vary based on the degree you pursue, but you'll likely complete core educational courses in English, humanities or other topics that could also be counted as foundations courses in a bachelor's degree. Some programs may have articulation or transfer agreements with 4-year schools to simplify transition to bachelor's programs. Schools may encourage or require internships or capstone projects that demonstrate your capabilities.
Pros and Cons of an Associate Degree Covering Community Development
- This degree may get you into the market with a 2-year investment of time and money.
- Your credits may be partially or fully transferable to a bachelor's program.
- Healthcare and social and community service opportunities are growing faster than average.
- Programs may offer flexible full- or part-time schedules.
- Community development associate degree programs are not available everywhere.
- A bachelor's degree may be required for a management position.
- Income prospects may not be as high as in some other fields.
Courses and Requirements
Associate degree programs may include core courses in English, humanities, science, math and public speaking. Approximately a third of your courses might be dedicated to electives in your major. If you're pursuing a health field, you might have additional laboratory requirements. Programs may include internships.
Your electives might include courses such as these:
- The helping relationship
- Contemporary social problems
- Community economic development
- Fair housing and fair lending
- Education for home ownership
- Neighborhood leadership
- Environment and society
Online Class Options
Individual courses may be available online, but fully online degree programs may be rare to non-existent. Students may be able to take some common introductory courses online, or transfer credits earned online elsewhere to their degree program. You need computer and Internet skills to navigate various browsers and programs to complete requirements virtually. You may not be able to complete lab courses or those that require access to on-campus software and facilities online.
Getting Ahead with This Degree
If you're considering an allied health or social service field, you may know that some careers require licensing or certification. Information on careers and job opportunities might be available through entities including the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs, the National Organization for Human Services (NOHS) or the National Association of Community Development Extension Professionals (NACDEP). You may be able to network by attending their conference or membership activities. Part-time work or a successful internship experience could lead to a full-time job offer.
Bachelor's Degrees Covering Community Development
Related bachelor's degrees may be available through urban studies, health services, housing and economic development, planning or liberal studies programs. You could learn to develop strategies that address issues confronting communities. You may have career options in urban policy, community development and service delivery or administration of public or private agencies. You might concentrate studies in community-level social service or health or public administration-related fields.
Depending on your degree emphasis, typical tracks might include organization and change, communications and community development or housing and economic development topics. If you also have entrepreneurial instincts, you might be interested in business programs that combine real estate and community planning or emphasize sustainable business methods.
Pros and Cons of a Bachelor's Degree Covering Community Development
- An interdisciplinary degree may lead to contacts with people in all sectors of the economy.
- Careful planning and course selection could provide a strong basis for graduate studies in a variety of fields.
- Careers in this field could result in opportunities to foster positive change.
- Failure to develop hard skills that employers need could be a barrier to some employment.
- Preparation in an interdisciplinary field may be overly broad and lead to a lack of in-depth expertise.
- With a degree in an emerging field, you may need to advocate for your choice of program to employers who may be less familiar with its benefits.
Courses and Requirements
Students will meet core course requirements typical of undergraduate programs. Major requirements and electives will vary with the degree objective. Broadly, degrees in human and economic development might include economics, statistics and computer science electives as a base for major studies. Health-related programs may or may not have laboratory requirements. Internships and capstone projects may support a specific career goal.
You might find electives like these in a bachelor's program covering community development:
- Community health and development
- Health politics
- Urban spatial development
- History and theory of urban planning
- Statistics and research methodology
- Housing policy
- Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
Fully online programs may be rare but available. Virtual courses may require use of browsers, specific software and online technologies for communication with your instructors and fellow students. You'll be required to meet similar requirements as for on-campus courses, but you may have more flexibility in scheduling your work. If your on-campus program doesn't offer online courses, you might be able to work from home on an independent study arranged with a professor.
Standing Out with This Degree
Students who develop skills in economics, statistics, computing and research methods could stand out in a field that may turn out a large proportion of liberal arts graduates without these capabilities. You could develop leadership skills in campus organizations, or through centers or institutes that offer symposia, applied research, technical assistance and mentoring support. Part-time work or an internship may count toward experience requirements of certifications. You could investigate requirements for distinctions conferred by an appropriate professional organization, such as the Human Service - Board Certified Practitioner credential of NOHS.