10 Most Affordable Master’s in Elementary Education Degrees for 2017

Reading time on the carpet.  Recess with the rubber balls.  Naptime on the blue mats.  My elementary school experience is still vivid decades later.  It was there I learned to read, something we must never underestimate the power of reading is truly a key to unlock worlds.  It was there that I played, something we adults must never underestimate for children. The famous philosopher Martin Buber said, “Play is the exultation of the possible.” And even further, the English writer and essayist G.K. Chesterton said, “The true object of all human life is play.” Reading and play are only two keys unlocking worlds untold, and they come from elementary school.

To carry on our civilization we need at least two things: children and teachers of children.  Teachers in elementary schools make an incredible difference, and having highly qualified staff at our schools is a no-brainer.   Elementary school teachers rise every morning to enter the world of a child.  They hone children’s boundless energy into directed play and learning.

They train the little ones to read, write, spell, and do their sums.  Elementary school teachers show each child love and concern, and teach them they have a purpose in life, that they can achieve something important if they work hard.  Elementary school teachers understand what makes kids tick.  They design lessons for 30 boys and girls from different backgrounds, many times from challenging life situations, and manage them and keep them safe for a whole day.

This small snapshot illustrates what is needed to be a successful elementary school teacher—passion for children, energy, and the skills to educate our nation's little ones.

Universities across the fruited plane and on the West and East coasts are training new teachers every day.  They use the most up-to-date knowledge and skills in their quests to form reflective, highly-skilled, and successful teachers.  The Master of Arts in Teaching Degree is such a program that can get you from a non-licensed undergraduate to a licensed graduate degree holder in as little as a year in residential, online or hybrid formats.

What is a MAT program?

A Master of Arts in Teaching program is a graduate degree that emphasizes the practical aspects of teaching.  MATs are designed for people with a non-education bachelor’s, or for teachers seeking to gain endorsements or professional development.  You generally take around 30 credits including coursework, fieldwork, and student teaching.  Though there is great variety, MAT programs typically take between one and two years to complete.

Often, and the focus in our rankings, such as the 30 Best MATs in Elementary Education Degrees, is on MATs that lead to licensure.  This type of MAT is suited for those who hold a bachelor’s but would like to become a teacher; hence, they need a teacher training program and a license, exactly what the MAT provides.  For more on other types of degrees for elementary education and other important questions visit our FAQ pages.

What is your methodology for this ranking?

Every ranking we create at Top Masters in Education is based on carefully selected criteria and valid statistical sources.  We work to make rankings that are as scientific and objective as possible while remaining user-friendly for those seeking to decide which school is right for them.

For this ranking, we searched the nation’s schools to determine the best master’s programs that lead to licensure.  To do this we used data from IPEDs, courtesy of the National Center for Educational Statistics, Payscale, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, school websites, and the NCTQ.  From here we choose relevant categories based on each ranking, for example, in this ranking the tuition per credit was the driving data-point.  So, from the top schools in the nation, based on statistics, reputation, and the cost per credit, we hope the 10 Most Affordable MATs in Elementary Education helps you find what you’re looking for!

1. Fitchburg State University

Like so many of our universities today, Fitchburg started as a training school for teachers.  Since 1894, Fitchburg State University, located in Fitchburg, Massachusetts (about 45 minutes from Boston) has and continues to train teachers but has expanded to become a comprehensive university.  The School is a career-oriented school with a very good job placement rate.

The MEd in Elementary Education leads to a master’s and licensure for grades 1-6 in the state of Massachusetts. This degree is ideal for those who have a non-education bachelor’s but want to change to a teaching career.  The MAT degree is 39 credits and is delivered in a hybrid format; online and on-campus courses are offered in the evenings with some day courses during the summer. Outcomes include child-centered pedagogy, self-reflective teaching, and the ability to differentiate to diverse learners. With relevant educational knowledge and theory in coursework paired with real-world experience in observations and field work throughout, you learn to the full potential.  Admission does not require a GRE, though we recommend you check you bachelor’s specific coursework to the required prerequisites for this degree.

The unbelievable price of $319 per credit at FSU makes it our #1 Most Affordable MAT in Elementary Education.

2. Western Governors University

Western Governors University, based in Salt Lake City, Utah has a one-of-a-kind history and offers completely online education to working adults.  WGU was born when 19 state governors came together with the dream of providing a modern university for the working professional that was entirely online.  Since 1997 the School has and continues to, achieve that purpose.  WGU serves 80,000 students and is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

A particular boast of WGU is the fact that they are the first fully online school to earn NCATE-accreditation for the MAT program.  Western’s MAT in Elementary Education leads to licensure and is built for the working adult with a bachelor’s seeking to enter the world of teaching. The 100 percent online program is convenient and flexible, but it takes hard work and persistence to complete, usually about 15 hours a week. Something unique about WGU is that you will be assigned a personal mentor to help you through the 48 credits.  Courses include Psychology for Educators, Fundamentals of Diversity, Inclusion, and Exceptional Learners, Mathematics(and other content courses) for Elementary Educators, Foundational Perspectives of Education, and more.   Student teaching is 12 credit hours and an education portfolio is required for graduation.

WGU could easily be #1 on our most affordable list.  The tuition is only two dollars more per credit, at $321 than Fitchburg State!  Add to the rock bottom price the #16 ranking from the NCTQ and WGU commands attention.

3. San Diego State University

When an organization or business produces results, it’s an indication of internal organization and cohesion. San Diego State University in San Diego, California has more Fulbright Scholars than any other California State University.  SDSU enrolls 35,000 students making it the largest university in San Diego.  It wasn’t always so as SDSU began as a normal school to train teachers.  It took time, determination, and persistence to get to where it is today, a premier research institution.

The College of Education at SDSU offers a completely online MAT in Elementary Education.  The Degree 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.”   The 24-credit program is one of the lightest loads on our list and can be completed in one year.  Coursework, taught by expert faculty and guided by social justice and educational equity, covers foundational educational philosophy, advanced pedagogy, inclusion in diverse classrooms, and research-based methodology and instruction.  Not only is there a traditional student teaching experience required, you are also required to complete a  comprehensive exam and capstone research project. Please note admission is selective and space is limited; requirements include a GRE and certain prerequisites.

Tuition is at a very low and affordable $396 per credit.  In addition to he cost, it’s nice to know the quality has not been sacrificed; U.S News and World Report ranked San Diego State University #22 in “Best Online Graduate Elementary Education Schools.”

4. St. Mary's College of Maryland

St. Mary’s College of Maryland is committed to the ideals of affordability, accessibility, and diversity.  SMCM is a public honors college in St. Mary’s City, Maryland.  History and tradition are rich and reaches back to the founding of St. Mary’s in 1840.  SMCM is set amidst 361 acres of waterfront property only 70 miles from Washington D.C.  St. Mary’s City was founded in colonial days, 1634, and with DC’s incredible history resources, there is no shortage of opportunities to immerse oneself in learning.  The College serves 1700 students who enjoy the elite liberal arts school experience.

SMCM’s MAT in Elementary Education program is serious about forming effective teachers for the 21st century.  The Degree program strives to first help teachers understand child and adolescent development - without this piece the rest is irrelevant.  St. Mary’s College’s MAT also focuses on critical thinking, real-world problem solving, meaningful technology integration, and a professional knowledge of content.  There are three pathways to take at St. Mary’s: 2+1, 3+1, and 4+1.  All of these are combined bachelor’s/master’s programs.  The difference is determined based on a student's undergraduate credits.  For example, if you are in the middle of an undergraduate program but decide you’d like to change to become a teacher, the 2+1 or 3+1 will credit as much as possible from your bachelor’s and you will then be on your way to earning a MAT and license. The  “+1” part of the pathways is the 11-month MAT program.  Courses include Literacy Methods and Materials for Teaching Reading and Teacher as Researcher to name only two.  Fieldwork is engaged in simultaneous with coursework.

With an emphasis on scholarship, SMCM values quality, and excellence. Without sacrificing it, however, the cost per credit is only $433 per credit.  Add to this cost the small school atmosphere and SMCM may be your perfect fit.

5. University of Northern Colorado

Founded in 1899, the University of Northern Colorado is now a large public research university located in Greeley, Colorado.  UNC enrolls 12,000 students who choose from over 200 undergraduate and graduate programs including online options.  The most popular degrees include teaching, nursing, business, sports and exercise science, and psychology.

UNC’s MAT in Elementary Education can take your non-education degree and transform it into a master’s and license in 15 months.  It is like magic but is not without hard work as the MAT program is a robust 46 credits.  There is flexibility as the Degree can be taken at any of the four UNC locations: Greenley, Denver (cohort model), Loveland, or Colorado Springs. The MAT at UNC is delivered in a hybrid model in two parts.  Year one is a residential year filled with coursework and clinical experiences, which start the first semester at 11 hours a week for 15 weeks.  Year two is 100 percent online and involves more educational content.  UNC’s program works, and the proof is in the fact that almost one-third of those who won Teacher of the Year in Colorado were graduates of UNC.

UNC’s low tuition of $495 per-credit complements the great educational quality of the program. Also consider that there are no student fees at UNC, making their a straight flat rate.  The mid-career salary is $74,200.

6. East Tennessee State University

Established in 1911 as East Tennessee State Normal School in Johnson City, Tennessee is now East Tennessee State University.  ETSU serves about 15,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students.  The University is a U.S. Olympic Training Site for Weightlifting, Canoe and Kayak, and Bobsled and Skeleton.  It offers 17 sports at the NCAA Division I level.

If you’re seeking to change to a teaching career and hold a bachelor’s, East Tennessee State University offers just what you need.  The Department of Curriculum and Instruction offers a Master of Arts in Teacher in Elementary Education that can be completed in 18 months. When you graduate you will hold a master’s degree and licensure for grades 1-5. Understanding that teaching is an art, ETSU offers educational classes at the same time as educational experience.  Two examples suffice: While engaging in a 20-hour field experience you take Foundations in Education: Building a Community of Learners and while doing a 50-hour experience you learn in with other candidates about Classroom and Instructional Management. Fieldwork increases with a 120-hour internship and ends with a full-time, full-semester student teaching experience.  Modeling effect pedagogy and a scope and sequence that works highlight an East Tennessee education.

The $546 per credit at ETSU is affordable. At the same time, you know the School’s teacher training is effective.

7. Loyola University Maryland

The Jesuit values such as intellectual curiosity and the education of the whole person still guide Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore, Maryland.  Founded way back in 1852 by eight members of the Society of Jesus, Loyola (named after famed St. Ignatius Loyola) University has 6000 students benefitting from LU’s distinct Catholic liberal-arts education. The 80-acre campus gives the college feel with landscaped greens and Collegiate Gothic architecture.

Loyola’s Master of Arts in Teaching, Elementary Grades 1-6 program is designed for those with a bachelor’s wanting to become a teacher. Be sure to check eligibility with the admissions team because Loyola requires an undergraduate major in mathematics, science, English, or social studies, or another closely related area and/or a well-rounded liberal arts background.  Loyola University’s 38-credit degree can work for the working adult or full-time student.  Whatever route or pace you choose, you will be immersed in the joyful world of elementary education. Coursework covers all you need to know to enter your own classroom with confidence on day one. You’ll know how to differentiate instruction, assess students, manage a classroom, work with a team, and be self-reflective.  Student teaching involves two internships that give you the ability to apply and synthesize the knowledge learned in the classroom.

Loyola is a fiscally shrewd option with a $565 per credit tuition and a $102,000 mid-career salary.  If you’re looking for a quality liberal arts option Loyola is worth considering.

8. Saint Xavier University

What began as a women’s college is now a comprehensive private Catholic liberal arts school.  Saint Xavier University is located in Chicago, Illinois and is the oldest Catholic university in the State.  The Sisters of Mercy Catholic values still influence the University’s 4000 men and women who now attend.  SXU offers many degrees and extracurricular options.  Education and nursing remain the most popular degree.

The School of Education at St. Xavier offers the Graduate Elementary Education Program.  In either online or residential format, the MAT in Elementary Education degree program leads to licensure in the State of Illinois for grades 1-6.  Admission requires a bachelor’s degree only, though there are certain prerequisites that are necessary for acceptance.  Coursework covers all the foundational and advanced classes required to be a successful elementary school teacher.  In the 47-credit MAT program, you will learn child psychology for educators, classroom management, teaching in today’s diverse culture, assessment, and more.  At Xavier, the program features field experiences that complement and are engaged in simultaneously with classes.  This illustrates a dependable philosophy of education as the teaching is verb, an artform that requires practice to improve.

Tuition is very reasonable at SXU sitting at $575 per credit.  With the rich educational experience and history at Xavier combined with the low price, there is no denying SXU makes our top 10.

9. Truman State University

Nestled in south Kirksville, Missouri, Truman State University quietly but effectively educates 6000 students.  TSU draws a diverse student body and offers them 50 undergraduate and 10 graduate degrees in the liberal arts tradition.  Students enjoy a beautiful campus with a central quad and classic bell-tower as well as 240 student groups (including fraternities and sororities) and 20 athletic teams.

The Master of Arts in Education program at TSU can put you in a position to have your own classroom in as little as one year.  At TSU, the 40-credit program leads to certification in elementary education in the State of Missouri.  Please note that due to TSU’s distinctive liberal arts education, you may be required to supplement your bachelor’s before admission; be sure to check how your bachelor’s works at TSU. Courses cover all the knowledge and skills necessary for being a productive teacher: Psychological Foundations of Education, Literature for Children, and Concrete Behavioral Foundations of Mathematics to name a few.  You will be required to complete a full-time full-semester of student teaching, and, if you’re adventurous you can do so in China or Germany.  TSU also offers the TEACH Grant for those interested in working in challenging schools.

Truman is a fiscally wise option for the short term, tuition is $601 per credit, and the long term, with a $80,600 mid-career salary according to Payscale.

10. Norfolk State University

Norfolk State University was forged in the Great Depression in 1935.  The School is a historically black university and began with only 85 students in Richmond. Today NSU, located in Norfolk, Virginia, is member-school of Thurgood Marshall College Fund and the Virginia High-Tech Partnership and serves about  7000 total students.  The public liberal arts school offers 36 bachelors, 15 masters, and two doctoral degrees.

If you have a bachelor’s, minimum 2.75 GPA, and have or can pass the Praxis I/Praxis Core Academic Skills for Educators exam, you are eligible for Norfolk State University’s Master of Arts in Teaching Elementary Education (PreK-6) program.  Designed for people who need a teaching certification but have a non-education bachelor's, the MAT program will provide you the goods. The program at NSU is 39 credits and includes courses such as instruction and Classroom Management, Diagnostic Reading, and Human Growth and Development to name a few.  Through these courses, fieldwork, and student teacher you will learn best-practices for designing lessons, assessing students, managing behavior, teaching reflectively and inclusively, and communicating with parents.

Financial considerations are attractive at Norfolk State University.  Tuition per credit is $680 the mid-career salary $56,200.