Community Development

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Interinstitutional Graduate Program

Community Development deals with challenges faced by communities in the United States and other countries, particularly those in rural areas. Global economic restructuring and the devolution of government services have produced an environment in which Community Developers are called on to think and act in innovative ways.

Community Development is a progressive field, actively promoting positive social, economic, cultural and environmental change. It encourages people to see the “whole picture,” engaging citizens in democratic decision making and action.

In the Great Plains IDEA Community Development Master's degree program, a diverse faculty from several institutions teaches critical thinking, ethical consideration, careful planning and involvement of all stakeholders. A Master's degree in Community Development equips the student with a breadth of perspective and depth of cutting-edge material in the field.

The Great Plains IDEA online Master's program is ideal for Community Development students and practitioners. Students seeking a professional career in Community Development can attain the necessary knowledge base without commuting or relocating. Community Development practitioners who wish to augment their training can use the skill set gained through the Community Development Master's degree to work most effectively in, or to advance beyond, their current position.


A Master's degree in Community Development is ideal for professionals in a wide variety of fields:

  • Community and Regional Planning
  • Sociology
  • Economics
  • Political science
  • Geography
  • Local Planning Departments
  • Community Economic Development Organizations
  • Cooperative Extension Services
  • Housing Agencies
  • Parks & Recreation
  • Tribal Programs
  • Non-Profit Organizations focusing on Community Enhancement

Students select one university to be their "home institution", this is the university to which you apply, enroll and pay tuition. Students must meet the admissions requirements of the home institution. Contact the Campus Coordinators Casey Smith and Michelle Zander at or 800-747-4478 for more information.


Participating Institutions:

  • Iowa State University
  • Kansas State University
  • University of Nebraska
  • North Dakota State University
  • South Dakota State University

Community Development is an inter-institutional distance education program offered through the Web. The student selects a home institution, which grants the degree. After admission at the home institution, the student may take courses from any of the teaching institutions: Iowa State University, Kansas State University, University of Nebraska, North Dakota State University, and South Dakota State University.

At Iowa State University, Community Development is an area of specialization within the Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies degree program that consists of 37 semester credits for completion of the program. A thesis or creative component is required. A computer with minimum specifications, Web access, an email address and program forms are required for participating in the program.


Students choosing to receive their degree from Iowa State University complete all the admissions, registration and fee payment processes through ISU. See for program requirements.

Expand all courses


Courses primarily for graduate students, open to qualified undergraduates:

(3-0) Cr. 3.

Detailed introduction to community resource management. Theoretical frameworks, methodological investigation, applied practices. Enhancement of ability of community development professionals to work with communities to plan, develop and monitor conversation and development of natural resources with multiple functions.

(3-0) Cr. 3.

Analysis of principles and practices of community change and development. Use of case studies to relate community development approaches to conceptual models from diverse disciplines. Exploration of professional practice principles, and student construction of their personal framework for practicing community development.

(3-0) Cr. 3.

Introduction to research methods relevant to community development. Formulate and begin a research effort, methods of data collection and how conceptual frameworks are used to develop the questions and analyze data. Emphasis on strategies for reporting findings and applying findings in community action and methods of evaluating the entire research process. Significant attention paid to issues of research ethics and inclusiveness.

(3-0) Cr. 3.

Examines role of civil society in community planning efforts. Comparative approach to planning theories and approaches. Focus on change within communities and the roles of government, planners, and citizens in reacting to or shaping change. Dimensions of social capital and the context of change covered.

(3-0) Cr. 3.

Introduction to concepts of communities and regions, theories of economic growth, drivers of economic growth, the economic base of a community, sources of growth or decline in the community, roles of local government and institutions, and analytical tools. Strategies for local economic development will also be explored.

(3-0) Cr. 3.

A base knowledge course. For students currently working within, in partnership with, or considering working with Native communities. Basic understanding within the context of community development of the diversity of the tribal structures and cultures and the unique history and jurisdictional considerations of these nations. Working with tribes, Federal and Indian relations, and governance and cultural issues.

(3-0) Cr. 3.

Approaches economy and community by looking at the inherent interdependence, jointness, and potential complimentarity between ecology and economy (utility) of a place.

(3-0) Cr. 3.

Focus on non-western approaches to helping Native communities build their capacity. Students will learn to take a participatory, culture-centered, and strength-based approach to development.

(3-0) Cr. 3.

Introduction to the historical and contemporary issues related to natural resource management on Native American lands. Philosophical and economic arguments concerning natural resource conservation, preservation and extraction will be explored.

(3-0) Cr. 3.

Students will learn the conceptual relationships among Community and Sustainable Development and Sustainable Communities and examine the social, environmental, and economic aspects of sustainable communities. The course includes analysis of public policy impacts on community sustainability, practical actions for enhancing sustainability, and changing power dynamics and reward structures involved in incorporating sustainability into Community Development.

(3-0) Cr. 3.

Course explores theories of local economic development and addresses the development issues faced by communities in the 21st century. Students will understand and apply concepts from economic development planning, economic analysis, business development, human resource development, community-based development, and high-technology development.

(2-0) Cr. 2.

Introduction to the Community Development program. Focus on on-line delivery methods, graduate level research and writing, technology skills.

Cr. 3. S.

Prereq: None.
Review and evaluation of historical and current housing issues, production, and financial systems, including consideration of racial, ethnic, income, and gender issues as they relate to the role of housing developments and programs in community development.

(3-0) Cr. 3.

Defining leadership and applying it to the workplace. Understanding of potential link between leadership and community capacity. Identifying strategies for leadership development in communities.

(3-0) Cr. 3.

Basic Grant Development and Management will introduce students to the grant-getting process and provide an overview of what happens after a project is funded. The following topics will be covered: researching funding sources, generating cutting edge ideas, assessing needs, planning a project, establishing credibility, formulating a sustainable budget, designing an evaluation plan, managing the funded project, and disseminating project results.

(3-0) Cr. 3.

Understanding of how non-profit organizations are run in order that they may participate more fully in community development efforts. Learning skills necessary to assist organizations to manage community development projects and programs, such as, budgeting, planning, personnel, facilities, volunteer management, and fundraising.

(3-0) Cr. 3.

Focus on role of tribally-chartered colleges and universities in economic development within Native communities. Social capital analytic framework to examine and evaluate tribal college model of economic development.

(3-0) Cr. 3.

Mechanisms for community inclusion and exclusion in relation to immigration will be examined. Aspects of ethnicity, religion, occupation and transnationalism are addressed in terms of community mechanism for incorporating immigrants as community assets.

Cr. 3. SS.

Introduction to the fundamental theories and practices of budgeting in the public and non-profit sectors. Topics covered include overview of budgeting and budget reform, taxation, expenditures, budget preparation and adoption, budget implementation, and performance budgeting.

(3-0) Cr. 3.

Prereq: C DEV 504 with grade of C or better
Introduction to the philosophy, techniques, and methodologies of organizational and program evaluation. Overview of program evaluation and theory, techniques to evaluate program processes and performance, evaluation designs, assessing program efficiency, models to diagnose organizations, and methods to assess organizational performance.

(3-0) Cr. 3.

Understanding what ethics are and identify ethical dimensions of a problem. Ability to employ ethical analysis and engagement strategies in public problem-solving.

(3-0) Cr. 3.

Prereq: C DEV 506
Substantive grounding in the theories and practice of measuring community economic dynamics; build solid foundation skills for applied community economic analysis.

(Cross-listed with POL S). (3-0) Cr. 3.

Exploration of political implications of coastal policy. Issues include: "Carrying capacity," zoning, regulation of human development activities, tradeoffs between conservation and jobs, the quality of coastal lifestyle, ways in which citizens participate in policy for coastal areas.

Cr. 1-3. Repeatable, maximum of 4 times. F.S.SS.

Special topics in Community Development. Independent Study, must get instructor approval.

Cr. arr.

Students work with major professor to conduct research and carry out work on their creative component. Instructor permission required.

Courses for graduate students:

Cr. 1-6. F.S.SS.

Thesis Research.