Postbaccalaureate Certificate in
Adult Basic Education

Program summary

Earn a certificate in educating and supporting adults and out-of-school youths who struggle with literacy and number-related concepts. Learn to provide high-quality, research-based instruction in adult basic education (ABE) through this four-course program.

100% Online

Complete your Penn State course work at your own pace and 100% online.

Application deadline

Apply by May 1 to start May 13

Credits and costs

12 Credits $1,017 per credit

Deepen Your Adult Basic Education (ABE) Knowledge

  • Expand and strengthen adults’ or out-of-school youths’ proficiency in reading, writing, numeracy, and/or the English language.

  • Master theories and methods of adult learning to more effectively teach adult literacy and numeracy.

  • Understand models, motivation, issues, and instructional procedures of adult and distance education.

  • Advance the overall quality of instruction for students enrolled in adult basic education.

Tailor Your Program to Your Interests

This 12-credit online certificate program includes three required courses and one elective, allowing you the flexibility to choose an area to focus on:

  • ESL
  • program planning and administration
  • distance education
  • educational technology
  • adult learning

Required Courses (9 credits)

  • 3

    History, methods, agencies, program areas, and problems of adult education in the United States.

  • 3

    Examines issues of learning math as an adult and explores effective strategies for teaching math and numeracy to adults.

  • 3

    Reading literacy for adults, including college reading, Adult Basic Education (ABE), and General Educational Development (GED) programs.

Elective Courses (select 3 credits)

In addition to the required courses, choose one course from the following list of electives.

  • 3

    An introduction to the history, philosophy, organizations, learning theories, and instructional procedures used in American and foreign distance education.

  • 3

    Examination of direct and indirect teaching; contracts, application of current technology, andragogy, motivation, evaluation; knowledge of research.

    • Prerequisite

      ADTED 460

  • 3

    Intensive study of theoretical foundations, policies, evaluation models, methods, and materials in program planning in adult education.

    • Prerequisite

      ADTED 460, ADTED 505

  • 3

    Guided discussion and reading in selected research and evaluation methods and trends as applied in adult education settings.

    • Prerequisite

      ADTED 460

  • 3

    In-depth study of the practices of designing courses taught by print, broadcast, and telecommunications media to adult distance learners.

    • Prerequisite

      ADTED 470, LDT 415A

  • 3

    Introduction to adult education learning theory, principles, and models of adult learning by adults alone, in groups, and in communities.

  • 3

    Organization of a program of adult education; legal status, finances, selection of teachers, learning personnel, housing; other administrative problems.

    • Prerequisite

      ADTED 506 or EDLDR 480

  • 3

    Preparation in the use of a nine-step model for systematically analyzing instructional problems and developing validated, practical solutions.

Apply Earned Credits toward a Master's Degree

After completing the certificate, you would only need to take an additional seven courses to obtain the online Master of Education in Lifelong Learning and Adult Education, if you apply and are granted admission into the master's program.

Course Availability

If you're ready to see when your courses will be offered, visit our public LionPATH course search (opens in new window) to start planning ahead.

Start or Advance Your Career

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You can use the knowledge gained from this program and the support of Penn State career resources to pursue careers in a variety of fields, depending on your goals.

Career Services to Set You Up for Success

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From the day you're accepted as a student, you can access resources and tools provided by Penn State World Campus Career Services to further your career. These resources are beneficial whether you're searching for a job or advancing in an established career.

  • Opportunities to connect with employers
  • Career counselor/coach support
  • Occupation and salary information
  • Internships
  • Graduate school resources 

Ready to Learn More?

Get the resources you need to make informed decisions about your education. Request information on this program and other programs of interest by completing this form.

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Learn more about this program

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Ready to take the next step toward your Penn State graduate certificate?

Apply by May 1 to start May 13. How to Apply

Costs and Financial Aid

Learn about this program's tuition, fees, scholarship opportunities, grants, payment options, and military benefits.

Costs and Financial Aid

Graduate Tuition

Graduate tuition is calculated based on the number of credits for which you register. Tuition is due shortly after each semester begins and rates are assessed every semester of enrollment.

2023–24 Academic Year Rates

Tuition rates for the fall 2023, spring 2024, and summer 2024 semesters.

How many credits do you plan to take per semester? Cost
11 or fewer $1,017 per credit
12 or more $12,203 per semester

2024–25 Academic Year Rates

Tuition rates for the fall 2024, spring 2025, and summer 2025 semesters.

How many credits do you plan to take per semester? Cost
11 or fewer $1,027 per credit
12 or more $12,325 per semester

Financial Aid and Military Benefits

Some students may qualify for financial aid. Take the time to research financial aid, scholarships, and payment options as you prepare to apply. Military service members, veterans, and their spouses or dependents should explore these potential military education benefits and financial aid opportunities, as well.

Paying for Your Certificate

Students pursuing a certificate are considered "nondegree," a status that is not eligible for federal student aid, including the Federal Direct Stafford Loan program. A private alternative loan may be an option to consider.

Additionally, Penn State offers many ways to pay for your education, including an installment plan and third-party payments. Penn State World Campus also offers an Employer Reimbursement and Tuition Deferment Plan. Learn more about the options for paying for your education.

Students pursuing a degree and meeting all other eligibility requirements may qualify for financial aid.

The Hart Van Horn Adult Education Scholarship

This scholarship is available to individuals in the field of adult basic education and literacy. Recipients will receive $1,200 off tuition that can be used within the academic year.  

To be eligible, you must be enrolled in one or more of the Adult Basic Education (ABE) or Family Literacy (FL) certificate courses. However, preference will be given to those enrolled in the ABE certificate program.  

Apply for the Hart Van Horn Adult Education Scholarship.

A Head Start toward a Master’s Degree

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Not only can this program help create opportunities in your career, it can also give you a solid head start toward a full master’s degree.

Degree Program Related to This Certificate

Some or all credits earned for this certificate can be applied to the following Penn State World Campus degree program:

Develop the skills needed to serve adult learners as a teacher, trainer, or leader. This online master's program can prepare you with practical methods to effectively engage and lead in adult education.

Learn more about the Master of Education in Lifelong Learning and Adult Education  

Act 48–Approved

Penn State is an Act 48–approved provider for Pennsylvania educators, so the courses for the Postbaccalaureate Certificate in Adult Basic Education may count toward professional development hours.

Set Your Own Pace

Adult student doing course work online while a child plays nearby

Whether you are looking to finish your program as quickly as possible or balance your studies with your busy life, Penn State World Campus can help you achieve your education goals. Many students take one or two courses per semester.

Our online courses typically follow a 12- to 15-week semester cycle, and there are three semesters per year (spring, summer, and fall). If you plan to take a heavy course load, you should expect your course work to be your primary focus and discuss your schedule with your academic adviser. 

To Finish Your Certificate in One Year

  • Take 2 courses each semester 

To Finish Your Certificate in Two Years

  • Take 1 course each semester


Convenient Online Format

This program's convenient online format gives you the flexibility you need to study around your busy schedule. You can skip the lengthy commute without sacrificing the quality of your education and prepare yourself for more rewarding career opportunities without leaving your home.

A Trusted Leader in Online Education

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Penn State has a history of more than 100 years of distance education, and World Campus has been a leader in online learning for more than two decades. Our online learning environment offers the same quality education that our students experience on campus.

Information for Military and Veterans

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Are you a member of the military, a veteran, or a military spouse? Please visit our military website for additional information regarding financial aid, transfer credits, and application instructions.

How to Apply to Penn State

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Apply by May 1 to start May 13

Application Instructions

Deadlines and Important Dates

Complete your application and submit all required materials by the appropriate deadline. Your deadline will depend on the semester you plan to start your courses.

  • Summer Deadline

    Apply by May 1 to start May 13
  • Fall Deadline

    Apply by August 1 to start August 26
  • Spring Deadline

    Apply by December 1, 2024, to start January 13, 2025

Steps to Apply

  1. For admission to the Graduate School, an applicant must hold either (1) a baccalaureate degree from a regionally accredited U.S. institution or (2) a tertiary (postsecondary) degree that is deemed comparable to a four-year bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited U.S. institution. This degree must be from an officially recognized degree-granting institution in the country in which it operates.

    GPA — All applicants are expected to have earned a postsecondary (undergraduate) junior/senior grade-point average of 3.0 or higher.

  2. You will need to upload the following items as part of your application:

    Official transcripts from each institution attended, regardless of the number of credits or semesters completed. Transcripts not in English must be accompanied by a certified translation. Penn State alumni do not need to request transcripts for credits earned at Penn State, but must list Penn State as part of your academic history. If you are admitted, you will be asked to send an additional official transcript. You will receive instructions at that time.

    Test Scores — GRE or GMAT scores are NOT required.

    English Proficiency — The language of instruction at Penn State is English. With some exceptions, international applicants must take and submit scores for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or International English Language Testing System (IELTS). Minimum test scores and exceptions are found in the English Proficiency section on the Graduate School's "Requirements for Graduate Admission" page. Visit the TOEFL website for testing information. Penn State's institutional code is 2660.

    Program-Specific Questions/Materials

    Statement of Purpose — Explain your reasons for applying to the Adult Basic Education certificate.  Please limit your statement to one page.

  3. To begin the online application, you will need a Penn State account.

    Create a New Penn State Account

    If you have any problems during this process, contact an admissions counselor at [email protected].

    Please note: Former Penn State students may not need to complete the admissions application or create a new Penn State account. Please visit our Returning Students page for instructions.

  4. You can begin your online application at any time. Your progress within the online application system will be saved as you go, allowing you to return at any point as you gather additional information and required materials.

    • Choose Enrollment Type: "Certificate Admission"
    • Choose "WORLD CAMPUS" as the campus

    Checking Your Status 
    You can check the status of your application by using the same login information established for the online application form. 

    Technical Requirements  
    Review the technical requirements for this program.

  5. 5. Complete the application.

Admissions Help

If you have questions about the admissions process, contact an admissions counselor at [email protected].

Contact Us

Customer service representative wearing a headset

Have questions or want more information? We're happy to talk.

To learn more about the Postbaccalaureate Certificate in Adult Basic Education, please contact:

Beth McLean, Ph.D.
405 Keller Building
University Park PA 16802
Phone: 717-432-3498
Email: [email protected]

Learn from the Best

Offered in partnership with the Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy in the College of Education, this program is taught by faculty with academic and professional expertise in adult basic education — the same renowned faculty who teach on campus — so you can receive a high-quality education.


  • Craig A. Campbell

    • Degree
      Ed.D., Adult and Higher Education, Northern Illinois University
    • Degree
      M.S., Ed. Teaching and Learning, Northern Illinois University
    • Degree
      B.S., Mathematical Sciences, Northern Illinois University

    Dr. Craig A. Campbell's doctoral degree focused on adult and higher education. He teaches courses on adult education foundations, program planning, qualitative research, and participatory action research. His research interests include nonformal and informal learning, qualitative research methodologies, and Indigenous knowledge systems.

  • William C. Diehl

    • Degree
      Ph.D., Adult Education, Penn State
    • Degree
      B.S., Elementary Education, Penn State

    Dr. William C. Diehl is an assistant associate professor of education in the lifelong learning and adult education program. He is also the coordinator of online graduate programs and lead faculty. Dr. Diehl is the director of The American Center for the Study of Distance Education and associate editor of The American Journal of Distance Education. His research includes foundations of distance and adult education, online teaching competencies, emerging technologies, and intercultural communication. He serves as an adviser to the graduate assistant group and Lifelong Learning and Adult Education GSA group.

  • Rebecca Tarlau

    • Degree
      Ph.D., Education, University of California, Berkeley
    • Degree
      M.A., Education, University of California, Berkeley
    • Degree
      B.A., Anthropology and Latin American Studies, University of Michigan

    Dr. Rebecca Tarlau is an assistant professor of education and labor and employment. Her ethnographic research agenda has three broad areas of focus: theories of the state and state-society relations; social movements, critical pedagogy, and learning; and Latin American education and development. 

Ready to take the next step toward your Penn State graduate certificate?

Apply by May 1 to start May 13. How to Apply