To be a good special education teacher, you need compassion, patience, practice, and an outstanding teacher education program.
There are a multitude of colleges and universities that offer degree programs in special education. But these programs come with widely varying price tags.
A master’s degree is an investment of thousands of dollars. Use this list to help you decide which programs offer the best value for the price of tuition.
What kind of special education degree should you get?
When you decide to pursue a graduate program in special education, you’ll need to choose which area you’ll specialize in, whether you’ll pursue initial or additional licensure, and whether you'll earn your degree on campus or online.
For many students, an online degree is the perfect combination of flexibility and academic rigor. If you’d like to see additional options for an online master’s degree, stop by our ranking of the Most Affordable Online Master of Arts in Teaching Degrees.
How much money do people make with a master’s degree in special education?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the median pay for Special Education Teachers at $57,910 per year. It’s worth noting, however, that this reflects an overall average of special education educators, including those with a master's degree and those with only a baccalaureate degree. Typically, teachers with higher educational qualifications will earn more than teachers with only a bachelor’s degree.
What can you do with a master’s degree in special education?
To work as a special education teacher in a public school, you’ll need a license for the appropriate grade level and area of special education. A master’s degree program can provide you with the necessary licensure to work with children who have mild to moderate disabilities in early childhood education, elementary grades, or secondary grades.
You can also earn specific certification for working with deaf or hard of hearing students, visually impaired students, students with severe or profound disabilities, or students with an autism spectrum disorder.
What are the requirements for a master’s degree in special education?
Although the programs on our list offer fully online coursework, any program that leads to a new certification or endorsement will require in-person clinical experiences. If you’re already working as a special education teacher, you’ll often be able to complete this clinical experience at your own workplace.
What are the most affordable online master’s degrees in special education?
We know that affordability is a major factor for most students who plan to pursue graduate study. That’s why we’ve carefully created a methodology to help you understand which special education programs are truly worth your money as well as your time.
Our ranking takes into account academic quality, published tuition rates, and average financial aid packages. Based on these factors, we assigned each school a composite score. The data that we use is sourced from U.S. News & World Report and the IPEDS database, as well as individual college websites.
The results of this methodology are below. If you’re ready to find a graduate program in Special Education, we hope this list helps you with your search.
1. Kentucky State University
Kentucky State University is a historically black, liberal arts institution that serves a diverse community of roughly 1,700 students. Chartered in 1886 as a land-grant university, Kentucky State now offers a wide range of associate’s degrees and baccalaureate degrees, as well as master’s degrees in five disciplines. The innovative Special Education graduate program includes 11 three-credit hour courses and culminates in a full semester of student teaching.
The Master of Arts in Special Education (MASPE) leads to certification in Learning and Behavior Disorders (LBD) for kindergarten through grade 12. Each semester, students will complete two eight-week accelerated online courses. Candidates for this degree will complete 200 hours of fieldwork prior to their student teaching placement. This degree features required coursework such as:
- Legal and Parental Issues in Special Education
- Curriculum and Methods in Learning and Behavior Disorders
- The Individual with LD: Learning and Development Through the Lifespan
- Inclusion, Collaboration, and Advocacy
Three certification tracks are available: The Option 6 alternative certification track is for students who plan to serve as Temporary Provisional (TP-TC) Special Education certified teachers in Kentucky. The traditional certification track is for pre-service teachers to earn initial teaching licensure. The advanced certification track is for certified teachers to earn an add-on certification in LBD. The 2018 tuition rate for part-time graduate students is $500 per credit hour.
2. Western Governors University
A pioneer in distance education, Western Governors University offers degree programs in business, information technology, health and nursing, and education. WGU embraces a unique, competency-based model of learning that encourages students to complete assessments and prove their mastery of critical concepts, allowing them to earn their degree faster and at a lower price. The career-centric programs at WGU include an acclaimed Master of Science in Special Education.
The M.S. in Special Education is designed for students who already hold a teaching certification. Nationally recognized by the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), this program will prepare teachers to work with K-12 students with mild to moderate disabilities. In addition to flexible online coursework, candidates for this degree will complete a 240-hour, in-person practicum experience. Required coursework includes the following:
- Psychoeducational Assessment Practices and IEP Development/Implementation
- Behavioral Management and Intervention
- Instructional Models and Design, Supervision, and Culturally Responsive Teaching
- Issues in Instructional Design
As of 2018, the tuition cost for the Special Education program is $3,190 per six-month term. Seventy-three percent of WGU students completed this degree track within 12 to 36 months. The National Council on Teacher Quality ranked the teacher education programs at WGU in the top 1 percent nationwide for combining quality and affordability.
3. Minot State University
Located in Minot, South Dakota, Minot State University enrolls over 3,200 students in undergraduate degree programs, master’s degree programs, and an education specialist program. In addition to on-campus academic tracks, Minot State offers a number of flexible online programs that are tailored to the needs of working professionals. The teacher education programs at Minot State include graduate degrees in Curriculum and Instruction, Cognitive Science, and Special Education.
Minot State’s Master of Science in Special Education program allows students to choose one of four emphasis areas: Deaf or Hard of Hearing, Specific Learning Disabilities, Early Childhood Special Education, or Special Education Strategist. The curriculum for this degree requires between 25 and 27 credit hours, culminating in a thesis project. Required coursework for students in all emphasis areas will include:
- Research Design and Methodology
- Consultation and Supervision in SPED
- Law and Policy in Special Education
- Psychoeducational Aspects of Exceptional Children
All of the emphasis areas within the M.S. in Special Education are also available as stand-alone graduate certificates. To qualify for admission, students must have earned their bachelor’s degree in special education, education, or a related field. The current tuition rate for graduate distance education programs is $356.22 per credit hour.
4. University of Arkansas at Monticello
The University of Arkansas at Monticello offers seven associate’s degrees, 31 bachelor’s degrees, 17 technical certificates, and six graduate degrees. Of these graduate degree programs, five are available fully online. One of UAM’s highly respected distance learning programs leads to a Master of Education degree, available with three different concentrations: Teacher Leader, Content, and Special Education.
The School of Education created the very first 100 percent online programs available at UAM. In addition to the M.Ed. in Special Education, a K-12 Special Education Endorsement is also offered through a fully online program. M.Ed. candidates will complete courses such as:
- Teaching Methods for Persons with High-Need Exceptionalities
- Research and Assessment for School Improvement
- Providing Positive Behavioral Supports in the Classroom Environment
- Application of Assessment Data for Exceptional Learners
UAM also offers fully online programs leading to a Master of Arts in Teaching degree, a Master of Educational Leadership degree, and a Master of Physical Education and Coaching degree. Numerous scholarships and grants are available to UAM students of education, such as the Annette K. Hall Graduate Studies in Education Scholarship and the Teacher Opportunity Program (TOP). Through TOP, current Arkansas teachers and administrators may apply for reimbursement for the cost of up to six credit hours in one academic year.
5. Eastern New Mexico University
Out of 81 public colleges and universities in the Southwest, Eastern New Mexico University ranks among the top 10 percent for the lowest tuition rates. The student-focused, regionally renowned academic tracks at ENMU include over 60 associate, bachelor's, and master's degree programs. ENMU offers a fully online program that culminates in a Master of Education in Special Education Pedagogy.
The Special Education Pedagogy degree track is designed for in-service teachers who are licensed in Special Education. This program prepares students to become a Level III Special Education teacher, an advocate for children with special needs, an educational consultant, or an administrative liaison for their school’s Special Education department. The curriculum features 12 credit hours in core M.Ed. coursework and 24 credit hours of coursework for the Special Education Pedagogy specialization. Classes within this specialization include:
- Exceptional Student in Regular Classroom
- Classroom and Behavior Management with Exceptional Children
- High Incidence Disabilities: Theory to Practice
- Literacy Assessment and Evaluation
All students in this program will complete either a capstone project or a written thesis. A non-degree, licensure-only program leading to an initial teaching license in Special Education is also available through a fully online program. Out-of-state students taking six credit hours or fewer per semester will pay the in-state tuition rate.
6. West Virginia University
West Virginia University is a public land-grant institution founded in 1867. Today, WVU enrolls more than 31,000 students. Classified by the Carnegie Foundation as an R1: Doctoral University with Highest Research Activity, WVU ranks among the top 100 public universities according to U.S. News & World Report. The versatile Master of Arts in Special Education from WVU offers a range of specializations through certification and non-certification tracks.
Focus areas within the Special Education program include Autism Spectrum Disorders, Early Childhood Special Education, Gifted Education, Multicategorical Special Education, Severe/Multiple Disabilities, and Applied Behavior Analysis. All of the coursework for these tracks is available online, while field experiences will take place in a qualified school or agency in the student’s local area. Each specialization track requires 36 credit hours. Depending on the specialization that a student chooses, required coursework may include:
- Communication Intervention: Developmental Disabilities
- Early Learning Curriculum: Early Intervention
- Technology Applications for Special Needs
- Classroom/Behavior Management: Special Education
The courses for the M.A. in Special Education will alternate weekly between asynchronous assignments and synchronous, real-time sessions with faculty members and peers. All specialization tracks require a three-credit hour culminating project. Tuition waivers are available for graduate students based on merit, as well as for graduate students with assistantships and fellowships.
7. Northwest Missouri State University
More than 120 undergraduate programs, 40 master's degrees, three specialist degrees, and a cooperative doctoral program are available through Northwest Missouri State University. Northwest has been widely celebrated for its outstanding teacher education programs and is a winner of the Christa McAuliffe Excellence in Teacher Education Award. Online education options at Northwest include an M.S.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction, an M.S.Ed. in Educational Leadership, and an M.S.Ed. in Special Education.
The M.S.Ed. in Special Education is available both on campus and fully online. The online program requires 10 three-credit hour courses for a total of 30 credit hours. This track can lead to teacher certification, and may be completed in as little as 12 months. Students in this program will take courses such as:
- Data Literacy and Assessment for Schools
- Multicultural Education for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
- Techniques for Conferencing and Collaboration
- Transition/Career Education for Students with Disabilities: Process and Resources
Tuition rates for the online M.S.Ed. are the same for in-state and out-of-state students. As of spring 2018, the cost is $325 per credit hour and $975 per three-credit hour course. For the entire program, the cost will be $9,750. Except for the application fee, all fees are included in the cost of tuition.
8. Purdue University
Located in West Lafayette, Indiana, Purdue University is widely known for exceptional programs in science, technology, engineering, math, and more. In a ranking of the Top Public Universities in the U.S. from the Wall Street Journal and Times Higher Education, Purdue placed fifth. The online graduate education programs at Purdue have been ranked among the top 100 nationwide by U.S. News & World Report.
The M.S.Ed. in Special Education offers a non-licensure track, which leads only to a master’s degree. Another track leads to initial licensure for special education in mild intervention or mild and intense intervention. Advanced licensure tracks are available for students who already hold a teaching license and wish to add licensure for mild intervention, mild and intense intervention, or intense intervention only. For all tracks, required courses include:
- Applied Behavior Analysis for Teachers
- Identification, Evaluation, and Assessment of Exceptional Individuals
- Social, Legal, and Ethical Issues in Special Education
- Advanced Characteristics of Children with Mild Disabilities
Each of the licensure tracks has different coursework requirements, ranging from 31 credit hours for the degree-only option to 45 credit hours for the mild and intense intervention track. The field experience requirements also vary based on the licensure a student is seeking. Currently, the in-state tuition rate for this program is $279.05 per credit hour.
9. Fort Hays State University
Founded in 1902, Fort Hays State University enrolls roughly 4,600 on-campus students and another 6,800 distance students through its Virtual College. Both the traditional and online academic programs at Fort Hays have been recognized for offering career-oriented, practical curriculum. Graduates of the FHSU College of Education have a 100 percent passing rate on the two required teaching certification exams (Principles of Learning and Teaching Test and the Content Area Specific Test).
The online program at Fort Hays culminates in a Master of Science in High-Incidence Special Education. Through this program, students with a current teaching license can earn an add-on endorsement for Special Education. Most students complete this degree track within 18 to 24 months. The curriculum features 36 credit hours, which degree candidates will earn through courses such as:
- Legal and Professional Issues in Special Education
- Theories of Exceptionalities and Diversity
- Assessment and Lab in Special Education
- Vocational and Transitional Education
All students pursuing an M.S. in High-Incidence Special Education must submit a comprehensive portfolio as their capstone experience. A 33-credit hour, endorsement-only program is available for students who want to add a Special Education certification without completing the master’s degree requirements. The 2018 tuition rate for both resident and non-resident graduate students in FHSU’s Virtual College is $280.73 per credit hour.
10. West Texas A&M University
West Texas A&M University is a regionally ranked institution located in Canyon, Texas. Through on-campus and online programs, the University has won recognition for academic excellence in nursing, business, criminal justice, and education. WTAMU’s online Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction is available with a concentration in either Reading or Special Education.
Both Curriculum and Instruction concentration tracks require 36 credit hours. Students applying to the Special Education program must already hold a standard teaching certificate. This degree track includes nine credit hours in core graduate education courses and 27 credit hours in required specialization courses. Specialization coursework for the Special Education track includes:
- Theories of Learning Disabilities and Emotional/Behavioral Disorders
- Management of Classroom Behaviors—Exceptional Learner
- Legal Issues in Special Education
- Interpretation of Assessment Data for Instruction
To qualify for admission to this program, students must have an undergraduate GPA of 2.75 or above. Candidates for the Curriculum and Instruction degree must successfully complete a comprehensive exam during or after their last semester of coursework. Other online options at WTAMU include an M.Ed. for Educational Diagnostician, an M.A. in Mental Health Counseling, an M.Ed. in Instructional Design and Technology, and numerous other areas of education. Each year, WTAMU awards approximately $4.1 million in scholarships.
11. Eastern Kentucky University
With a flagship campus in Richmond, Eastern Kentucky University offers a wide variety of strong academic programs at the undergraduate and graduate level for both traditional and online students. The University was established in 1906 and today enrolls a student body of over 15,000. At EKU, students can pursue an M.A.Ed. in Gifted Education, Instructional Leadership, Literacy P-12, and more.
Students of EKU Online can earn a Master of Arts in Education for Special Education, with optional concentrations in Learning and Behavior Disorders, Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and Interdisciplinary Early Childhood Education. All of these tracks require 30 credit hours. Depending on a student’s chosen concentration, coursework may include:
- Educational Management of Learning and Behavior Disordered Students
- Special Education Statutes, Regulations, and Case Law
- Advanced Special Education Assessment
- Audiology for Teachers of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Candidates applying for this degree program must already hold certification in Special Education. M.A.Ed. students may earn the Kentucky Teacher Leader Endorsement along with their degree. Students may transfer in up to nine credit hours towards this degree from an accredited institution. As of the 2017-2018 academic year, the cost per credit hour for this program is $510.
12. Arkansas State University
U.S. News & World Report ranks Arkansas State University at number 25 among the nation’s Top Public Schools. As the second largest institution of higher learning in Arkansas, A-State offers over 150 academic tracks, many of which are available through the University’s robust distance learning program. With an array of excellent degree options in the education field, A-State is one of the top producers of K-12 teachers and administrators in Arkansas.
The online graduate program at Arkansas State culminates in a Master of Science in Education for Special Education—Instructional Specialist K-12. The curriculum features 36 credit hours. Through this program, students can earn Arkansas licensure in special education for kindergarten through grade 12. Coursework for this degree will include:
- Characteristics of Individuals with Disabilities
- Educational Diagnosis and Assessment in Special Education
- Educational Procedures for Individuals with Moderate-Profound Disabilities
- Teaching Students With Autism Spectrum Disorders
The M.S.Ed. in Special Education program can be completed in as little as 16 months. Currently, the tuition rate for this degree is $294 per credit hour. Arkansas State also offers online programs leading to an M.S.Ed. in Gifted, Talented, and Creative; Educational Theory and Practice; Educational Leadership; and numerous other areas of teacher education.
13. Indiana University
Indiana University is home to a wide range of prestigious academic programs, including many that are ranked among the top 10 nationally. The University is a well-known leader in teacher education: One-third of Indiana’s teachers were trained at IU’s School of Education. Students at IU can enroll in a rigorous, hands-on program leading to an M.S.Ed. in Special Education.
IU’s Special Education program incorporates fully online coursework with an ongoing field experience, allowing students to apply course material under the supervision of an experienced mentor teacher. Emphasis areas are available in Autism, Behavior Disorders, Early Childhood Education, and Instructional Strategies. Students will complete 20 credit hours of core coursework and 12 credit hours in their emphasis area. Core coursework for all students in the Special Education program will include:
- Assessment and Remediation of the Mildly Handicapped
- Families, School, and Society
- Classroom Management and Behavior Support
- Collaboration and Service Delivery
Candidates for this degree will complete a four-credit hour capstone project or thesis. This program is open to students seeking initial certification and those who are already on a teaching assignment on an emergency license. For residents of Indiana, the 2017-2018 cost is $494.06 per credit hour (including tuition and distance education fees). For students outside of Indiana, the cost is $579.07.
14. Delta State University
Located in Cleveland, Mississippi, Delta State University has a student body of over 3,000. With a student-faculty ratio of just 11:1, the University fosters a close-knit, community-focused atmosphere for both traditional and online students. Founded as a teacher’s college, Delta State stays true to its roots by offering exceptional programs for aspiring educators.
The Master of Education in Special Education from Delta State requires between 30 and 33 credit hours. In addition to online coursework, candidates in the program will complete an internship in an inclusive special education setting. Required classes for this degree include the following:
- Programming for Adolescents with Mild/Moderate Exceptional Learning Needs
- Education of Young Children with Exceptional Learning Needs
- Teaching for Inclusion
- Programming for Individuals with Severe/Multiple Disabilities
Applicants must have an overall undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0 (or a 3.0 GPA for the last degree earned). With additional coursework, M.Ed. students can earn an endorsement in severe disabilities. Students pursuing this degree may be eligible for a Mississippi Teacher Fellowship. The fellowship program is operated by the University of Mississippi and is designed to address the state’s critical teacher shortage. The fellowship includes a tuition scholarship, a stipend for books and supplies, and professional development opportunities.
15. University of South Alabama
Known fondly by students, alumni, and faculty as South, the University of South Alabama is a leading university of the Gulf Coast region. South offers more than 50 undergraduate degree programs, 34 master’s degree programs, and 13 doctoral programs. In 2017, South’s College of Education and Professional Studies celebrated 50 years of preparing students to meet the changing demands of the teaching profession.
The Collaborative Teacher program is available as a traditional program and as an alternative program. The traditional program is designed for students who hold any type of teaching certificate, while the alternative program is for students who do not yet have any teaching credentials. Both programs are offered through online, web-enhanced, or on-campus tracks. For the alternative certification pathway, students will complete a minimum of 42 credit hours, which they will earn through courses such as:
- Data-Based Behavior Management of Exceptional Children
- Psychological Principles of Learning
- Assessment and Research in Education
- Microcomputing Systems in Education
Students in both the traditional program and the alternative program can choose between certification in Special Education at the elementary or secondary level. South also offers an online Educational Specialist (Ed.S.) in Collaborative Teaching for Special Education for post-master’s students. The current tuition rate for online graduate coursework in the College of Education and Professional Studies is $500.
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