Mediation and Conflict Resolution Programs

Arbitrators, mediators, conciliators and other dispute resolution professionals can be valuable assets in situations when a disagreement escalates into a hard-edged dispute. The specific duties performed by individuals in medication careers tend to vary based on the specific issue at hand, but facilitating communication, preparing settlement agreements and understanding relevant laws, policies and regulations are among their most pressing responsibilities.

Even entry-level mediator jobs may require a master's degree in mediation or conflict resolution, but numerous colleges and universities across the country work to provide a pathway to the education you need. Here's a table showing the number of schools in each region of the U.S. that offer degree programs in conflict resolution, according to a dataset released by the National Center for Education Statistics:

Region No. of institutions with conflict resolution degree programs No. of institutions offering at least one conflict resolution degree online
Far West (CA. OR, WA, NV, AK, HI) 10 1
Rocky Mountains (ID, MT, UT, WY, CO) 4 0
Southwest (AZ, NM, TX, OK) 5 1
Plains (MO, KS, IA, NE, MN, ND, SD) 12 1
Southeast (AR, LA, MS, AL, FL, GA, SC, NC, TN, KY, VA, WV) 14 4
Great Lakes (IL, IN, OH, MI, WI) 18 1
Mideast (PA, NY, NJ, DE, MD, D.C.) 19 0
New England (CT, MA, RI, VT, NH, ME) 9 0
Total (all 50 states) 91 8

Entry-level mediation and conflict resolution degrees

It may often be the case that a master's degree in conflict resolution is necessary for full-fledged careers in the field, but it's possible to chart a course for the world of mediation careers beginning at just about any rung on the academic ladder. Here's some detail on how you can align your undergraduate education with the necessary knowledge and skills for entry-level mediator jobs:

  • Associate degrees - Effective study of conflict resolution and mediation requires that students have a fairly sturdy foundation in place, and the associate degree level is usually designated as a period during which such a foundation is built. Associate degrees in fields such as psychology, sociology, communications, criminal justice, education, law and more can help prepare you to take in the concepts taught in four-year mediation and conflict resolution programs.
  • Bachelor's degrees - Despite its historical identification as a graduate discipline, a few institutions in the U.S. have begun offering degrees in conflict resolution and mediation at the bachelor's level. Students may be asked to specialize in mediating a particular type of conflict — interpersonal dynamics, justice and reconciliation, collaborative leadership, political and social action, global engagement and building peace in divided societies are a few examples — and programs may come with either a foreign language proficiency requirement or a research methods mandate, depending on the degree.
  • Non-degree study - Students hoping to better understand the sources and solutions for interpersonal or community conflicts can earn an undergraduate certificate in conflict resolution from select institutions around the country. Certificate programs typically take between 12 and 18 credit hours to complete and may require a brief internship section that relates directly to the type of conflict you're hoping to learn how to solve.

Many of the undergraduate degrees that can prepare you for entry-level mediator jobs can be earned at least partially online. If you're not certain that you've got the time and money necessary to successfully complete a traditional, campus-based degree program, don't forget to find out if the school you choose has any online options available.

Advanced-degree mediation and conflict resolution programs

Choosing the best conflict resolution graduate programs can sometimes come down to matters of personal academic preference, but there are a few general conditions that many of the available degrees have in common. Here are a few basics on programs that lead to a master's degree in conflict resolution and beyond:

  • Master's degree programs - Mediation and conflict resolution study plans that lead to master's degrees may be offered under their own banner — as a Master of Arts (M.A.) in conflict resolution, say — or they may be offered as specializations within degree programs in psychology, law, communications, professional studies or another related discipline. Coursework in the best conflict resolution graduate programs tends to include topics such as conflict theory, principles of negotiation, communication in workplace environments, cross-cultural dispute resolution, psychology of conflict, group and organizational disputes, professional ethics and foundations of legal systems, among others.
  • Doctorate programs - It remains that conflict resolution and mediation are relatively young academic disciplines, with the oldest degree in the field reportedly having been created in the 1980s, and as such the demand for Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) and other terminal degree programs may be tempered by a relatively small pool of qualified candidates. That said, however, a few Ph.D. programs in mediation and conflict resolution can indeed be found, and they tend to focus tightly on theory and research as they prepare students to contribute to the discipline through professional scholarship.
  • Graduate certificates and other non-degree study - Non-degree graduate work in conflict resolution and mediation is fairly widespread, and these certificate programs allow you to focus your study on the specific type of conflict or dispute that you want to help resolve. Students may specialize in conflict management, mediation, organizational conflict, international conflict and others, depending on the institution, and programs may be completed in just one or two semesters. Individual courses in conflict resolution and mediation may also be available, for students hoping to satisfy a personal interest in the subject without committing to a program curriculum.

Earning a master's in mediation and conflict resolution online can be a great choice for late-life learners or career changers who don't have the luxury of being able to forego their professional obligations for the time it takes to complete a graduate school program. There may not be a large number of online mediation and conflict resolution schools in the U.S., but one of the intrepid few might be just right for you.

Q&A with an expert

Dan Simon, CEO of Simon Mediation

Dan Simon, CEO of Simon MediationWhy would you encourage someone to consider a degree in mediation and conflict resolution?

Dan: Work in this field can be very fulfilling. Also, progress in thinking about conflict resolution has been hindered by the dominance of the legal paradigm. Studying conflict resolution prepares you to be far more helpful to people in conflict than would, for example, law school.

Which subjects of undergraduate study can best prepare students for conflict resolution and mediation courses at the graduate level?

Dan: I don't think it's about intellectual knowledge. It's more about self-awareness. So I recommend spending time pursuing what interests you, as that's the best way to learn about yourself.

Is a full master's degree typically necessary or can graduate certificate programs provide enough training for professional mediators?

Dan: Finding work as a mediator is challenging, regardless of the degree or certificate. It's more about marketing yourself, so the more advanced the degree, the better.

What's some advice you would give to a student who's thinking about enrolling in a mediation or conflict resolution degree program?

Dan: Make sure to study transformative conflict theory as articulated by Bush and Folger.

Types of mediation and conflict resolution careers

Once you're trained in the art of mediation and conflict resolution, you may be able to use your knowledge and experience in ways you didn't expect. Here are a few of the career fields where your mediation skills may give you an edge in the hiring process, along with education and employment data furnished by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):

Occupation title National mean annual salary
Projected job growth
Total U.S. employment
Entry-level education
Mediator $69,060 9 percent 8,400 Bachelor's degree
Labor relations specialist $60,930 -8 percent 82,100 Bachelor's degree
Human resources specialist $63,710 9 percent 122,500 Bachelor's degree
Public relations specialist $65,830 6 percent 240,700 Bachelor's degree
Human resources managers $117,080 9 percent 122,500 Bachelor's degree
Postsecondary teacher $77,480 13 percent 1,313,000 Master's or doctoral degree

Common misconceptions about mediation and conflict resolution degrees

Conflict resolution and mediation careers aren't at the forefront of the national employment consciousness, so it stands to reason that there may exist a few misconceptions about the field and its associated degree programs. Here are some of the more common mistaken ideas to watch out for:

Misconception: Mediation and conflict resolution are primarily used in matters of law.

  • Fact: There are species of dispute resolution that focus on managing potentially legal issues without involving the machinery of the court system, but mediation and conflict resolution have a range of other applications as well. According to the BLS, mediators exist primarily to facilitate communication among people engaged in conflict, whether they're claimants in a legal battle, co-workers with a mutual grievance or family members hashing out a difficult interpersonal situation.

Misconception: A master's in mediation and conflict resolution has such a narrow focus that it doesn't apply to very many careers.

  • Fact: If there's any one thing that most areas of human endeavor have in common, it's humans. Humans have never been able to spend much time together without some kind of conflict arising, and individuals with the power to put those conflicts productively to rest and help the group get back to the matter at hand have long been assets to their field, whatever it may be. On top of that, conflict resolution ties together concepts in psychology, sociology, business, law, communications and several other disciplines that carry weight on the career market.

Misconception: There's nothing that a mediation and conflict resolution degree can teach you that you can't learn in law school instead.

  • Fact: It's understandable that this myth is out there, particularly because the uninitiated may have a difficult time separating conflict resolution and mediation activities from orthodox legal disputes, but there's one piece of information that's important to point out: the BLS notes that many mediators, arbitrators and conciliators were lawyers or judges first. There are many conclusions one might draw from that, but the notion of the art of conflict resolution as generally distinct from the focus of active law practice is almost certainly one of them.

How can I enroll in an online mediation and conflict resolution degree program?

Each individual institution sets its own standards and procedures for admission, so the best way to be sure about the next step to take is to reach out to a few schools directly. Check out our college and university listings below, choose one or several schools that look right for you and get in touch with a registrar or admissions representative to find out how get started.

1. College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, accessed June 29, 2016, http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
2. School pages, accessed June 29, 2016: Bachelor of Science in Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University, http://scar.gmu.edu/undergraduate/degrees/bachelor-of-science; Bachelor of Arts in Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University, http://scar.gmu.edu/undergraduate/degrees/bachelor-of-arts; Undergraduate Certificate in Conflict and Dispute Resolution, Missouri State University, http://www.missouristate.edu/cdr/Undergraduate-Certificate.htm; Conflict Resolution Degree, Abilene Christian University, http://conflictres.acu.edu/; Master of Arts in Psychology, Mediation and Conflict Resolution, University of the Rockies, http://www.rockies.edu/degrees/mamediation-courses.htm; Master of Arts in Dispute Resolution, Southern Methodist University, http://www.smu.edu/Simmons/AreasOfStudy/DRC/DR/MasterDispute; Master of Dispute Resolution (MDR), Pepperdine University, https://law.pepperdine.edu/degrees-programs/master-of-dispute-resolution/; Master's Concentration in Alternative Dispute Resolution Online at the University of Denver, http://universitycollege.du.edu/comm/degree/masters/alternative-dispute-resolution-online/degreeid/360#courses; PhD Program, The School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University, http://scar.gmu.edu/phd-program; Ph.D. in Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame, http://kroc.nd.edu/phd; Required Courses for the Graduate Certificate in Conflict, Missouri State University, http://www.missouristate.edu/cdr/177603.htm; Graduate Certificate in Dispute Resolution, Southern Methodist University, http://www.smu.edu/Simmons/AreasOfStudy/DRC/DR/GradCertificateDispute; Conflict Resolution Certificate Courses and Requirements, University of Massachusetts Boston, https://www.umb.edu/academics/mgs/crhsgg/grad/con_res_grad_cert/requirements; Conflict Management and Resolution, Amberton University, http://www.amberton.edu/programs-and-courses/specializations/conflict-management-and-resolution.html; BA/MS Degree in Law and Mediation & Applied Conflict Studies, Champlain College, http://www.champlain.edu/academics/undergraduate-academics/majors-and-specializations/law/bams-degree-in-law-mediation-and-applied-conflict-studies;
3. Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed June 29, 2016: Arbitrators, Mediators and Conciliators, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/arbitrators-mediators-and-conciliators.htm; Labor Relations Specialists, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/labor-relations-specialists.htm; Customer Service Representatives, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/office-and-administrative-support/customer-service-representatives.htm; Human Resources Specialists, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Business-and-Financial/Human-resources-specialists.htm; Public Relations Specialists, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/media-and-communication/public-relations-specialists.htm; Human Resources Managers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/human-resources-managers.htm; Postsecondary Teachers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Education-Training-and-Library/Postsecondary-teachers.htm;
4. May 2014 National Occupational and Wage Estimates, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed June 29, 2016, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm

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