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Most Affordable Online Master's in Special Education

Explore the 50 top schools with affordable online master's degree programs in special education for current and aspiring teachers. Learn what factors are important in choosing and online special education master's program.

50 Best Online Special Education Master's Programs

In determining the top schools for special education master's degree programs, you should consider cost, flexibility, program length and practical requirements. The 50 best schools with affordable online special education master's degree programs are listed below.

1. Nyack College

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state)
Nyack, NY $10,880

Nyack College is accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools as well as the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. The school offers three routes to the Master of Science in Childhood Special Education, all of which are recognized by the Council for Exceptional Children. Students can complete these programs primarily online, excluding practicum requirements, and have a tuition rate of $725 per credit hour (regardless of their state of residence). The three programs leading to the MS in Childhood Special Education are:

  • Master of Science in Childhood Special Education (Non-Certification) - this program includes 30 credit hours and does not lead to certification.
  • Master of Science in Childhood Special Education (Additional Certification) - this program enables current teachers to obtain certification in childhood special education and requires 30 to 36 credit hours.
  • Master of Science in Childhood Special Education (Initial Certification) - this program is open to NY State residents only, leads to initial certification, and includes 42 credit hours.

2. University of Nebraska at Kearney

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state)
Kearney, NE $7,187

The University of Nebraska at Kearney is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission as well as the Nebraska Department of Education for teacher preparation programs. UNK offers a Master of Arts in Education, Special Education program online that consists of 36 credits and is available as three options:

  • Advanced Practitioner - this program is for current special education teachers, and offers four concentration options.
  • High Ability Education (Gifted) - this program is for licensed special education teachers who wish to obtain supplemental skills in high ability/gifted education.
  • Special Education Generalist - this program is for licensed teachers who wish to earn certification in special education.

UNK also offers 6 online special education endorsements and has a graduate tuition rate of $309 (in-state) or $494 (out-of-state).

3. Fort Hays State University

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state)
Hays, KS $4,266

Fort Hays State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and the National Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation. The school offers some of the most affordable tuition on our list, with all graduate students paying $288 per credit hour for online courses. The school offers two master's degree programs online, both of which are open to current teachers and consist of 36 credit hours.

  • Master of Science in High-Incidence Special Education
  • Master of Science in Special Education-Gifted

4. University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state)
Lincoln, NE $7,588

The University of Nebraska at Lincoln offers some of the most affordable tuition to Nebraska residents, with in-state graduate students paying $332 per credit hour and out-of-state students paying $960 per credit hour. The school is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission as well as other program-specific accrediting organizations. The school offers two hybrid master's programs in special education to students who are not yet licensed teachers, which consist of 30 to 36 credit hours and offer 3 concentration options.

  • Master of Arts in Special Education or
  • Master of Education in Special Education
    • Early Childhood Special Education
    • Visual Impairments
    • Education of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

In addition, the school offers 5 teaching endorsement online programs to teachers and non-teachers at the graduate level.

5. Holy Family University

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state)
Philadelphia, PA $13,798

Holy Family University offers state-approved teacher preparation programs and is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Graduate programs in education have a tuition rate of $505 per credit hour, regardless of student residency. There are two main hybrid programs for students interested in special education:

  • Master of Education - Initial Teacher Certification: this program prepares students for initial certification in grades PK-4, and includes coursework in special education (39 credits).
  • Master of Education - Certified Teacher Additional Certifications: this program is for licensed teachers who wish to obtain supplemental certification in a specific area (Special Education available, 30 to 31 credits).

Rank School Name Location Tuition & Fees (in-state)
6 Saint Mary's University of Minnesota Winona, MN $9,000
7 Northwestern College Orange City, IA $6,050
8 University of Maine Orono, ME $9,106
9 Wichita State University Wichita, KS $6,904
10 Missouri State University-Springfield Springfield, MO $6,038
11 University of Kansas Lawrence, KS $11,027
12 Indiana University-Bloomington Bloomington, IN $10,564
13 Buena Vista University Storm Lake, IA $9,594
14 Sul Ross State University Alpine, TX $2,850
15 University of Southern Mississippi Hattiesburg, MS $8,624
16 The University of Texas of the Permian Basin Odessa, TX $5,085
17 New England College Henniker, NH $13,560
18 Texas A & M University-College Station College Station, TX $9,812
19 University of Oklahoma-Norman Campus Norman, OK $8,577
20 Freed-Hardeman University Henderson, TN $10,620
21 Pittsburg State University Pittsburg, KS $8,164
22 DeSales University Center Valley, PA $20,160
23 Southeast Missouri State University Cape Girardeau, MO $5,680
24 University of Arkansas Fayetteville, AR $8,612
25 Auburn University Auburn, AL $11,282
26 University of Central Arkansas Conway, AR $6,238
27 University of Missouri-Columbia Columbia, MO $10,017
28 Georgetown College Georgetown, KY $11,745
29 Baker University Baldwin City, KS $10,368
30 Arkansas Tech University Russellville, AR $6,485
31 Texas A & M University-Kingsville Kingsville, TX $5,369
32 University of Northern Iowa Cedar Falls, IA $10,432
33 University of Nebraska at Omaha Omaha, NE $6,592
34 West Virginia University Morgantown, WV $9,990
35 Biola University La Mirada, CA $11,178
36 Bethel University Saint Paul, MN $8,520
37 Gwynedd Mercy University Gwynedd Valley, PA $11,286
38 Niagara University Niagara University, NY $14,308
39 Indiana State University Terre Haute, IN $7,616
40 Arkansas State University-Main Campus Jonesboro, AR $6,210
41 Westminster College New Wilmington, PA $9,711
42 Xavier University Cincinnati, OH $11,716
43 Southwestern Oklahoma State University Weatherford, OK $6,996
44 Sam Houston State University Huntsville, TX $7,791
45 The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Edinburg, TX $6,889
46 Texas Tech University Lubbock, TX $8,806
47 Mount Vernon Nazarene University Mount Vernon, OH $9,024
48 Miami University-Oxford Oxford, OH $14,088
49 University of Idaho Moscow, ID $9,352
50 University of North Dakota Grand Forks, ND $9,697

All table data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics, tuition represents the 2018-2019 school year

Learn.org's school ranking methodology categorizes and assesses data from schools and other reliable sources, such as the U.S. Department of Education, and weighs the information based on quality, cost, value and other factors critical to students' academic decisions.

Overview of Online Special Education Master's Degree Programs

Online special education master's degree programs usually consist of online coursework and on-site practicum experiences. Depending on the program, graduates may be qualified to obtain licensure for special education teaching positions in their state. Some of the key characteristics of online special education master's degree programs are discussed in the sections below.

Program Options

Online master's degree programs in special education typically take one of three forms:

  • Initial Licensure - these programs are for students interested in obtaining initial licensure as educators in special education
  • Add-On Licensure - licensed teachers can enter these programs and work towards obtaining supplemental licensure in special education
  • Non-Licensure - while these programs provide much of the knowledge and skills needed to work in special education, they don't directly lead to licensure

Prerequisites

Students applying to special education master's degree programs need to have a bachelor's degree, usually with a minimum GPA (such as 3.0). Programs leading to initial licensure are usually open to students with any bachelor's degree, and programs for licensed teachers who wish to obtain supplemental licensure usually require teachers to have a bachelor's degree in education.

Practicum Requirements

Due to the nature of the field, programs leading to licensure (initial or add-on) include practicum components. These experiences typically involve supervised work in special education settings. The number of hours required vary by state and program, and students may be able to complete these hours at a site near them.

Online Learning

Most courses in online special education master's programs can be done online, and are usually offered in an asynchronous format. This means that students can log in at their convenience to review and complete course components, as long as assignments are submitted by their due dates (usually each week). Students may use one centralized learning portal for all course assignments and resources, or they might use several websites and programs to complete course requirements.

Common Courses

While the specific courses in online special education master's programs vary by school, many students will take some combination of the courses listed below.

  • Introduction to Special Education - students explore the foundational topics relating to the education of gifted and otherwise exceptional students.
  • Assessment in Special Education - this course explores how to effectively assess exceptional learners using various techniques.
  • Behavior Management - provides an overview of techniques for managing challenging behaviors from gifted and non-gifted students in an educational setting.
  • Technology for Special Education - students learn how to utilize technology in special education settings, including assistive and other technologies.
  • Collaboration and Co-Teaching - explores the benefits and approaches of collaboration and co-teaching in educational settings.
  • Instructional Strategies in Special Education- students learn various strategies for instruction of high incidence, low incidence and other special education students.
  • Theories of Special Education- this course explores methods for identifying students with exceptional traits including social, motor, communicative, behavioral and cognitive.
  • Inclusion and Differentiation - students learn more about the needs of gifted and diverse students and how to appropriately address those needs to maximize inclusion in education.

Accreditation for Online Special Education Master's Degree Programs

It's important to choose an approved program for an accredited school if pursuing licensure in your state. Schools and programs are separately accredited; we'll look at the differences below.

Institutional Accreditation

Institutional accreditation applies to schools, and is necessary for students who wish to obtain financial aid. Accredited schools have met specific criteria set by the accrediting agency and should provide a more quality experience to students than most nonaccredited schools.

Programmatic Accreditation

Programs can be accredited by different organizations, such as the National Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation. Although programmatic accreditation may be preferred by some employers, students are usually only required to attend an approved program to qualify for licensure. This means a program is approved by the state and meets the requirements for teacher preparation. Generally, though, approved programs are also accredited.

How to Choose an Online Special Education Master's Program

When choosing an online special education master's degree program, you should consider several factors in addition to accreditation.

Flexibility

You should first determine what amount of coursework will work best with your schedule and desired program completion date. Check with your school choices to see if the programs offered are flexible enough to work with your needs, as some programs are only offered as part-time or full-time options.

Residency Requirements

Most online special education master's programs require students to complete some number of student teaching hours. Talk with your admissions representatives to see if these hours can be completed near your home or if they'll need to be completed near the school you are attending.

Cost

The total costs of online special education master's degree programs vary by school and student, and can be affected by residency and prior coursework. When comparing program costs, make sure that you have all associated program expenses included. Keep in mind that there are several types of financial aid available to online special education students.

Certification for Special Education Teachers

While private school special education teachers aren't usually required to be licensed, those working in public schools need to have licensure through their states. To qualify for licensure, candidates need to complete a state-approved program in special education. Most programs include student teaching components that enable students to practice in supervised educational settings.

After completing their program, graduates should review their state requirements for licensure. They may be required to pass a background check and a knowledge assessment before receiving their license. Upon receiving their initial teaching license, educators usually need to renew their license every few years. Candidates should refer to their state teaching licensure websites for more details.

Special Education Teachers: Salary and Outlook

Special education teachers work with exceptional students who have mental, learning, physical or emotional disabilities. They customize educational lessons to fit the needs of students with moderate, mild and severe disabilities. Their duties can include assessing the skills of students, customizing lessons, developing individual plans for learning and planning activities. They may mentor and instruct students in group or individual settings and collaborate with parents and other educators.

Special education teachers create Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for students. They implement IEPs, track student progress and update the IEPs as needed. They also work with students to prepare them for transitioning to the next grade or to life beyond school. Depending on their position, special education teachers may also mentor teacher assistants who are preparing for their own independent teaching positions.

Special education teachers can work with students from preschool through twelfth grade in inclusive or specialized classrooms. Special education teachers in inclusive settings work with disabled students who are in general education courses along with other, nondisabled students. In specialized settings, special education teachers work with only exceptional children, whether individually or in groups.

Some special education professionals work specifically with students who have more severe disabilities, up to age 21. These teachers help students develop basic skills such as time and money management and finding a job. The exact duties of special education teachers vary drastically by where they work and who they work with.

Salary and Outlook

The median wage for all special education teachers in 2018 was $59,780, and the field is expected to grow 3% between 2018 and 2028. Those working in private schools had a median salary of $52,390 while those in local schools had a median salary of $60,430. Special education teachers usually work a 10-month block while school is in session and have a 2-month summer break, unless they choose to work at a summer program. Special education teachers working at year-round schools usually work 9-week blocks followed by 3-week breaks. The salary and expected job growth for special education teachers is shown in the table below by grade levels taught.

Grade Levels Median Salary (2018) Estimated Job Growth (2018-2028)
Kindergarten and Elementary School $59,390 3%
Middle School $60,250 3%
Preschool $55,840 8%
Secondary School $60,600 3%

Professional Organizations for Special Education Teachers

There are numerous professional organizations and resources for special education teachers. Some of the organizations available to online special education master's degree graduates are listed below.

National Association of Special Education Teachers

NASET is the only national organization that is specifically catered to special education teachers and aspiring teachers. Member benefits include special education newsletters and other publications, resources for special education teachers (such as parent handouts), networking, legal and regulatory information, professional development and discounts.

The American Federation of Teachers

AFT connects teachers across the United States and has over 1.7 million members through local groups and affiliates. Member benefits include student debt resources, lesson collaboration, travel and insurance discounts and professional development opportunities.

Council for Exceptional Children

CEC has more than 22,000 members who represent educators and caregivers of exceptional and gifted children. Membership includes access to publications, discounts and networking opportunities that can cultivate critical thinking and progress.