10 Best Online Masters in Elementary Education Degrees for 2017

Elementary school teaching is not for the faint of heart. The demands on the human psychology and body are comprehensive and never-ending.  Incessant questions, complaints, interruptions, potty-breaks, hygiene issues, planning, grading, gathering and cleaning up crafts and materials, and on and on.

Elementary school teachers are a kind of mythical creature, part parent, janitor, cook, maid, servant, teacher, coach, nurse, doctor, and friend. For all that, though, teaching is certainly not a money maker.  Though teachers are paid a decent salary (mean salary of $52,620 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, for more on job growth, salary, and outlook, see our FAQ’s), they’re not getting rich. Why do so many choose this career then?

The overwhelming response of real elementary teachers to why they decide to teach is they feel called. It is not viewed as a career to advance in, to receive accolades, glory, money, or power.  It is for the children.  Elementary teachers completely comprehend their crucial role in the formation of the child, and by extension, our society.

If you ever attend a meeting with these exceptionally selfless people you will hear them talking about their kids like they are their children. You will hear teachers recounting what little Joey accomplished, how he read out loud, or a note he wrote saying how much he loved Mrs. Allington; and tears of joy are not uncommon.  Above all, the love of children drives successful elementary teachers to keep going when (not if) the going gets tough.

What is the MAT in Elementary Education?

To fulfill your calling to teach you will need to jump through certain hoops; training is required. If the call to teach was after you already earned a non-education bachelor’s, you’ll need to acquire a teaching license. To do this, each state requires you to pass a teacher program (usually done in undergraduate studies).

Thankfully, there is the perfect program for people in your situation - the Master of Arts in Teaching.  This graduate degree is a teacher preparation program that typically includes certification or leads to it.  Universities offer it to anyone with a bachelor’s, and it takes about one to two years to complete; it’s around 30 credits.

Getting your teaching license this way can give you an advantage.  You graduate with a master’s degree in hand, having done advanced training, and will enter the job market in a higher pay bracket and have taken care of continuing education requirements to boot.  For example, in Oregon, you must earn a master’s degree in education within six years of teaching to keep your license.

All in all the MAT program is straightforward and focused on practice.  In addition to the simplicity of the degree, many schools now offer it online adding flexibility, convenience, and sometimes an affordability that beats residential degrees.

We here at Top Masters in Education have created three different rankings of the MAT in Elementary Education Degree (residential, online, and affordable).  This particular ranking is the best online schools.

What is your methodology for this ranking?

We understand the need to organize the vast amount of information made available on the internet.  Our particular niche is to help you, the degree-seeker, find the best school for you.  To do so, we search the nation's schools, narrow down the list based on selected criteria, and then rank them.

For this particular list, we utilized valid sources for statistics such as the National Center for Education Statistics, the National Council for Teacher Quality, Payscale, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and school websites.  Statistics collected were tuition, mid-career salary, and student to faculty ratio.

We add to these categories a reputation score, in this case, based on rankings produced by the National Council for Teacher Quality and U.S. News and World Report.

All in all, the quality, reputation, price and program factors into our total score.  We sincerely hope it helps you in your quest for the best school.

1. San Diego State University

Students from the 50 states and 100 countries study at San Diego State University.  SDU is the oldest and largest university in San Diego with a total of 35,000 students.  The University’s story is similar to many of our large schools; SDSU began as a normal school and is now a premier research institution pushing innovation and discovery to the limit.  SDSU is notable for producing results, in fact, the school has more Fulbright recipients than any other California State University.

Guided by social justice and educational equity, the fully online MAT program at SDU is accessible, affordable, and high quality.  The MAT in Elementary Education is 24 credits and can be completed in one year. The program is “inquiry-based education which includes hands-on instruction with problem-based learning and issues-centered curriculum, with a focus on reflection during the teaching process.” Coursework covers curriculum development, assessment, inclusion in the classroom, and research-based pedagogy.  The student teaching component is just like the face-to-face program, and the program does require a capstone research project and comprehensive exam. Admission is selective, a GRE is required, and space is limited.

The specific data-points considered illustrate why SDSU belongs at the top.  Tuition is the third lowest on our list at $396.  The NCTQ ranked SDSU #144, and U.S News and World Report ranked it #22 in “Best Online Graduate Elementary Education Schools.”

2. Western Governors University

The creation of Western Governors University came about when 19 state governors decided it was time for a university that fit the needs of the working adult.  Established in 1997 and based in Salt Lake City, Utah, the School is an entirely online university with over 80,000 students.  The Northwest Commission of Colleges and Universities regionally accredits WGU.

If you hold a non-education bachelor’s degree and want to become a teacher, consider Western Governors University.  WGU is the first entirely online school to have an NCATE-accredited MAT program leading to licensure.  The program is flexible, though on average you will spend about 15 hours a week. The 48-credit program takes you, with mentors (a uniquely WGU feature) through Foundational Perspectives of Education, Mathematics for Elementary Educators, Psychology for Educators, Fundamentals of Diversity, Inclusion, and Exceptional Learners, and more.  There are robust clinical requirements, with 12 credit hours for student teaching. There is also a Research Foundations course and Professional Portfolio.  All in all, the quality and rigor of WGU is attractive.

Add to the quality recognized by the #16 ranking from NCTQ, known for rigor and thorough analysis the amazingly affordable price of $321 and it’s clear WGU deserves to be #2.

3. North Carolina State University

North Carolina State University, Duke University, and the University of North Carolina from the famous Research Triangle.  Naturally then, research is central to NC State’s mission to “create economic, societal, and intellectual prosperity.” The University received $349 million in sponsored research awards for the fiscal year 2016.  Of the three powerhouse schools in the Triangle, NC State (in Raleigh, North Carolina) is the largest with about 35,000 students.

NC State’s accelerated MAT in Elementary Education is 75 percent online and 25 percent residential.  The Program leads to a master’s degree and initial license in the State of North Carolina and takes about one and half years to complete.  You choose synchronous or asynchronous for the online delivery which gives maximal convenience to fit your busy life.  As for the scope and sequence of the curriculum, all courses and fieldwork aim to form teachers who teach “developmentally appropriate, culturally relevant, and child-centered pedagogy” to all learners.  The 33-credit MAT features classes taught by expert faculty and a semester of full-time student teaching.  Admission requires a bachelor’s, a 3.0 GPA (if lower, the GRE is required), and 24 credits of prerequisites.

U.S. News and World Report ranked NC State #29 for “Best Online Graduate Education.” Tuition is $1709, the second highest on our top 10, but the quality of the program and school’s reputation and mid-career salary at $129,000 puts the high cost into perspective.

4. Fitchburg State University

Fitchburg State University is located in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, about 50 miles from Boston. What began in 1894 as normal school is now a comprehensive university that places “emphasis on career-orientated learning that is firmly grounded in the liberal arts” with an outstanding job or graduate school placement.  FSU participated in NCAA III athletics and offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in many fields.

At Fitchburg State, the opportunity for you to teach elementary school children can be realized through the MEd in Elementary Education program (1-6).  Designed for those with bachelor’s but not in teaching who wish to become licensed and earn a master’s, the MEd, in this case, functions as the traditional MAT.  The 39-credit degree features online and on-campus courses that lead to habits of mind such as reflection, empirically-driven decisions, consideration of societal structures on students, and child-centered pedagogy. Classes pair with field experiences, something that maximizes connections between theory and practice.  Admission requires a personal statement, passing score on the Communication and Literacy Skills portion of the Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure (MTEL), bachelor’s degree, and three letters of recommendation.

Without a doubt FSU’s price is attractive; the tuition is the lowest on our list at $319 per credit.  Knowing the program is scored by the NCTQ at #285 shows there’s room for growth.

5. University of Northern Colorado

The University of Northern Colorado is located in Greeley, Colorado about an hour north of Denver.  Established in 1899 as a normal school, today it is a public research university with about 12,000 students.  Academic options abound with over 200 undergraduate and graduate programs offered on-campus, off-campus, and online.  Teaching remains a point of pride along with nursing and psychology.

Knowing that nearly one-third of the winners of the Colorado Department of Education's Teacher of the Year award are UNC graduates is reassuring.  You can transform your non-education bachelors into a career change with the MAT in Elementary Education. The 46-credit program takes about 15 months to complete at any of the UNC campuses: Denver (cohort model), Greenley, Colorado Springs, or Loveland.  The program is a two-part hybrid mode: the first year is residential, filled with courses and corresponding fieldwork.  The second and third year is completely online.  Experience in the classroom is the strength of this program.  Fieldwork begins immediately 11 hours a week for 15 weeks in an elementary classroom before your full-time, 16-weeks student teaching. Admission does not require a GRE.

A flat $495 per-credit tuition rate for all students with no student fees is refreshing to hear.  You can count on a solid short-term financial package and look forward to a long-term ROI with teaching always in demand and a mid-career salary of $74,200.

6. Saint Xavier University

Saint Xavier University is Chicago’s oldest Catholic university, founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1846 as a women’s college.  This rich experience informs the SXU’s experience today for nearly 4000 men and women who attend.  Saint Xavier University was ranked #8 by U.S. News and World Report's "Campus Ethnic Diversity" list, something the School prides itself on.  Education and nursing are the strongest and most popular degrees at SXU.

The School of Education offers the MAT in Elementary Education in a traditional and online delivery.  The program is open to those who have a bachelor’s and want to become a teacher; there are required prerequisites from your undergraduate coursework, so be sure to check here for eligibility. The Degree program leads to licensure in the State of Illinois and certifies you to teach grades 1-6.  Coursework includes Introduction to the Profession of Teaching, Child Growth and Development, Reading and Writing in the Content Areas with 10 Field Experience hours, and more.  Fieldwork corresponds with coursework, something worth noting because of the nature of teaching; it is an art born and honed in practice.  The program is 47 credits.

Tuition is affordable at Saint Xavier at $575 per credit.  There is also financial aid and funding available for graduate students. With a price like this and proven experience preparing teachers, SXU deserves to make the top 10.

7. Norfolk State University

Norfolk State University in Norfolk, Virginia was founded in 1935.  The School is a historically black university and member-school of Thurgood Marshall College Fund and the Virginia High-Tech Partnership.  There are currently nearly 7000 total students at NSU who choose from 36 bachelors, 15 masters, and two doctoral degrees taught through eight schools.

The Master of Arts in Teaching Elementary Education (PreK-6) at Norfolk is designed for those with bachelor’s (and necessary prerequisites) who wish to earn a master’s and teaching license.  The Degree at NSU prepares teachers to be leaders who make a difference. Through curriculum features classes like Human Growth and Development, Diagnostic Reading, and Instruction and Classroom Management, you will be highly-qualified.  This training means you will be able to assess diverse learners, design personalized lessons, be reflective, and deliver effective instruction.  The 39-credit program includes nine credits of student teaching; students must pass the PRAXIS II, RVE, and VCLA to be approved for student teaching. Admission requirements include a Passing Praxis I/Praxis Core Academic Skills for Educators or equivalent, a minimum 2.75 undergraduate GPA, and bachelors with appropriate prerequisites.

Financial considerations form the heart of NSU’s #8 ranking. Tuition is $680 per credit and the mid-career salary according to Payscale is $56,200.

8. American University

Founded in 1893, American University is now a premier private research university in Washington D.C.  AU enrolls 7,234 undergraduate, 3808 graduate, and 1465 Law students.  They enjoy over 100 excellent study abroad options, the incredible benefits of living and learning in our nation's capital, and over 150 academic programs.

“Social change starts with you.”  This catch phrase does a lot to indicate AU’s motivation for preparing excellent teachers.  Their online MAT in Elementary Education trains teachers through “cutting-edge research, engaging coursework, and crucial partnerships with academic institutions throughout Washington, DC.”  The Degree leads to licensure for grades 1-6 and can be completed in 20 months.  The curriculum includes foundational knowledge and skills such as methods for content in elementary classrooms, behavior management, assessment, foundational education theory and more.  A highlight of the program is the over 600 hours of experience in a classroom making you confident on day one of your new teaching job.  One-hundred percent of AU MAT graduates are working or continuing their education within six months.

The second highest mid-career salary of $139,000 is a draw.  It has to be taken in stride, though, with the $1,642 tuition and the high cost of living in DC.  The non-data advantage lies in the premier location.

9. University of Southern California

The University of Southern California is a large, private sea-grant space-grant research institution in Los Angeles, California.  USC is known for excellent academics, amazing extracurriculars, and a great athletic tradition.  The School makes a significant economic impact of $8 billion annually.  There are about 44,000 students at USC who enjoy everything a large university offers.

The Rossier School of Education provides a MAT in Elementary Education.  The Degree was revamped in 2017 to meet new Credential Program Standards and Teacher Performance Expectations set by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC);  it does lead to initial licensure.  Should you be interested, the program has the option of adding an endorsement in Special Education, Gifted Certificate, or Bilingual Authorization for Spanish Certificate.  The 28-credit program (without endorsements) can be completed full time in 15 months. Courses include Introduction to Curriculum and Pedagogy in Urban Schools, Contexts for Educational Equity, Access, and Agency, and Literacy Development and Instruction.  Rossier is known for premier urban school teacher training, though you will be prepared for all social contexts. Admission requires an online application, official transcripts, résumé/CV, essays, two letters of recommendation, and relevant coursework is recommended.

USC’s MAT program offers the advantages of a trusted reputation, the networking and opportunities of a large school in LA, and a history of outstanding results.  Tuition is high at $1800, though the mid-career salary of $144,000 helps put it in perspective.

10. Corban University

Founded in 1935 as Phoenix Bible Institute in Arizona, the School moved to Salem, Oregon and became Western Baptist College.  Now known as Corban University, the private, Christian school takes faith and learning seriously. Enrolling 1000 total students, Corban offers more than 50 majors and programs of study, graduate teacher licensure programs and graduate degrees in education, business, ministry, and counseling, as well as a vibrant adult education program.

Corban University offers an online Graduate Teaching License (GTL) program. The program is offered in either Early Childhood/Elementary (Pre-K-8th grade) or Elementary/Middle (3rd-9th grades).  Upon completion of the program, you will be eligible for an Initial Oregon Teaching License.  By concentrating on the courses required for licensure, the GTL program cuts down the number of credits and ultimately the cost associated with becoming an Oregon teacher. The accelerated format means you take only 28 credits, 12 of which can transfer into the Master of Science Program.  Please note that although this program functions in much the same way as a MAT, it is not a MAT program.  Corban is included on our list for those who are looking for a post-baccalaureate online teaching licensure program.

The cost per credit is an affordable $520 per credit, and the student to faculty ratio is 15:1.