A graduate degree in the field of education will serve you well, no matter your specialty. You’ll earn a higher salary and likely work in a more focused environment. That is no different for a degree in Special Education.
With a Master’s in Special Education, you will work with K-12 students with mild to severe disabilities. You’ll not only learn general pedagogy but also how to adapt lesson plans to cater to specific needs. In short, a graduate degree in special education will be rewarding both financially and vocationally.
What kind of Online Master’s in Special Education should you get?
Many colleges and universities across the country offer graduate degrees in special education. But you’ve chosen a great combination of factors: online and affordable. A tight budget and a busy schedule should not keep you from meeting your career goals.
Some of the highest quality educational options these days are offered online. These programs end up being exactly the same as in-person degrees, but with the added benefit of being affordable! So rest assured, these 15 programs are all online and all under $12,000 per year.
You’ll find a number of common areas of focus among these schools. For example, if you want to study autism spectrum disorder, these three schools offer concentrations in the area: University of Texas of the Permian Basin, University of North Texas, and University of Houston-Victoria. Or if applied behavior analysis is an interest of yours, then you should check out Kentucky State University, Texas Woman’s University, or University of Nebraska Omaha.
Bottom line: you have options! If you’re looking for other affordable graduate programs, take a look at our ranking of the Most Affordable Online Graduate Colleges.
How much money do people make with a Master’s in Special Education?
The teaching profession can sometimes get a bad reputation for average income. However, by earning a graduate degree, you’re putting yourself in the highest bracket of earners in this profession. Special education teachers make an impressive median annual salary of nearly $59,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
This figure changes depending on which level you’re teaching at in the K-12 spectrum:
- High School: $60,180/year
- Middle School: $59,510/year
- Elementary School: $58,600/year
- Preschool: $53,640/year
Even more, many states are experiencing a shortage in qualified special education teachers. That means you’ll be in high demand! Employment rates are projected to increase by 8 percent in the next 10 years, though that rate could be higher in specific states.
What can you do with an Online Master’s in Special Education?
Special education teachers are influential in the lives of thousands of kids across the country. They work with students with mild to severe disabilities. This could range from learning, emotional, physical, and mental disabilities.
You’ll either work alongside individual students in their regular classrooms, or work with a classroom of students in your own space. Either way, you’ll be catering to the needs of specific students.
A primary part of your job will be developing Individualized Education Programs for each student in your classroom. This IEP will connect you with each students’ teachers, parents, and other para-professionals. Together, you’ll track their progress and adapt lesson plans to fit their needs. Basically, you’ll be a superhero without a cape.
What are the requirements for an Online Master’s in Special Education?
You’ll find that these programs vary in their requirements. That’s because each state is different in their requirements for teachers. Some programs are designed for people who are existing licensed teachers; others only require a bachelor’s degree without specifying the area.
Some requirements, however, will be the same throughout. After completing your program, you’ll need to take the Praxis Special Education test. This is a nationally standardized test that all teachers must pass before getting licensed.
Your curriculum will likely follow a similar arc no matter which school you choose. Program lengths tend to range from 12 to 24 months. This varies, of course, with whether or not you’re attending as a full-time or part-time student. As is common with a master’s degree, most of these schools include a curriculum that requires 30+ total credit-hours.
What are the best Online Master’s in Special Education?
One great thing about all of these programs is that they share a common feature: affordability! No matter which school you choose, you know it’s one of the best “bang for your buck” programs in the nation.
Here at College Choice, we’ve crunched all the data. We started first with the net cost of each program in the nation and then factored in graduation rates, retention rates, and the early salaries of graduates.
Our final list offers the 15 Most Affordable Online Master’s in Special Education in the nation. Our figures and information come from the university and colleges’ websites, PayScale, and nationally recognized U.S. News & World Report and The National Center for Education Statistics. Change the life of a child by choosing one of the schools below!
See our rankings methodology page.
Kentucky State University
Average Net Price: $6,503
Kentucky State University may be small in terms of enrollment, but it makes big waves when it comes to affordable education. It is first on our list of 15 Most Affordable Online Master’s in Special Education, with an average net price of $6,503. KSU works hard to increase the amount of qualified teachers in the state through affordable education.
The online Master of Arts in Special Education at Kentucky State University is the best of the best. It is targeted toward recent college graduates who are looking for a Certification in Learning and Behavior Disorders. This program gives you intensive online training as well as clinical experience with classes like:
- Legal and Parental Issues in Special Education
- Inclusion, Collaboration, and Advocacy
- Prescriptive Teaching
- Instructional Assessment Methods
After you’ve completed your online coursework, you’ll be placed into a Student Teaching position. This means you’ll work in a classroom for a semester and be shadowed by a professional teacher. When the semester is over, you’ll be more than ready to jump into a classroom of your own.
Texas Woman's University
Average Net Price: $8,881
Texas Woman’s University is based in Denton, TX. Even though it is now a co-educational school, Texas Woman’s University remains one of the largest universities that primarily enrolls women. The school offers the most affordable tuition rates among other public universities in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
At Texas Woman’s University, you can choose one of two tracks in the Master of Education degree: Diagnostician Certification or Intervention Specialist. Both tracks require 36 credit-hours. The curriculum divides its coursework into core areas: Interventions, Support, Assessment, and Research. Some of these courses include:
- Students with Emotional/Behavioral Disorders
- Clinical Instruction in Intellectual Assessment
- Collaborating for Effective Intervention
- Developmental Disabilities
Here’s one thing to keep in mind if you’re aiming for the Diagnostician Certification. In Texas, you need to have both a teaching certification and at least two years of experience in a classroom as a prerequisite for this program. If that’s your case, Texas Woman’s University also offers a hybrid MA in Teaching.
University of Texas of the Permian Basin
Average Net Price: $9,109
Located in Odessa, TX, the University of Texas of the Permian Basin is part of the larger state system. UTPB keeps its classes intimate with a student-to-faculty ratio of 18:1. Its online graduate education programs are ranked in the top 200 in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report.
You can earn your MA in Special Education in as little as 12 months at UTPB. This online program is designed into 8-week courses. You can pay as you go, and complete classes at your own pace. The curriculum has a total of 36 credit-hours, and you can choose the Autism track if you want to specialize. Some core classes include:
- Educational Psychology
- Programs and Practices for Exceptional Learners
- Characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorders
- Behavior Management and Social Skills
A number of things set UTPB apart. For one, you do not need a teaching certificate to apply to this program. Even more, if your GPA was above 3.0 for your undergraduate degree, the GRE is waived for your application. This makes applying to UTPB accessible and simplified.
Western Governors University
Average Net Price: $9,115
Delivered completely online, Western Governors University is a private university with headquarters in Salt Lake City, UT. It has a 20-year legacy in a competency-based learning model that lets students learn at their own pace. WGU is designed for working adults, and the average age of students is 37.
There is high demand but high reward in Western Governors University’s MS in Special Education. It is intended for certified teachers who want to work in K-12 special education. You’ll take a total of 12 classes. Afterwards, you’ll complete a practicum that involves 240 hours of classroom time. A sampling of coursework includes:
- Instructional Design Production
- Behavioral Management and Intervention
- Psychoeducational Assessment Practices
- IEP Development/Implementation
Western Governors University has statistics on its side when it comes to the Special Education program. Over 97 percent of WGU graduates would recommend the program to others. Even more, WGU is recognized for its affordability. The National Council on Teacher Quality named it the #1 Best Value Teaching Program in 2015.
New Mexico Highlands University
Average Net Price: $9,783
A small public university, New Mexico Highlands University is based in Las Vegas, NM. It was recently recognized by the Brookings Institution as a national leader in promoting student social mobility. The liberal arts model and affordability at New Mexico Highlands University certainly lends a hand in that. Around 3,765 students attend each year.
Options abound at New Mexico Highlands University. Through the Department of Special Education, you can earn an MA in Special Education as well as a number of graduate certificates. Within the degree, you can choose two tracks: Special Education Gifted or Secondary Education. Both consist of 36 credit-hours with classes like:
- Diagnosis of Exceptional Child
- Reading Instruction for Special Education
- Instructional Strategies for Gifted Education
Beyond the master’s program, you’ll have the chance to add up to three graduate certificates to your resume: Bilingual, Reading, or TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages). Each of these require 12 additional credit-hours, but are invaluable for your future classroom abilities.
Minot State University
Average Net Price: $9,987
Minot State University is one of the largest universities in North Dakota. Founded in 1913, it enrolls around 3,200 students. Over 500 of those students attend fully online. BestColleges.com recently named Minot State University as having the third most affordable out-of-state tuition rate in the nation.
At MSU, the MS in Special Education is divided into three categories: core classes, a capstone thesis, and an emphasis area. Your core classes consist of 27 credit-hours, and your emphasis area will total 32-40 credit-hours. Among the required core coursework, you’ll find:
- Psychoeducational Aspects of Exceptional Children
- Consultation and Supervision in SPED
- Law & Policy in Special Education
- Clinical Practice
The bulk of your program is through your emphasis area. You can choose from four tracks: Early Childhood Special Education, Specific Learning Disabilities, Special Education Strategist, or Deaf/Hard of Hearing Education. Each of these areas function as a graduate certificate upon completion.
University of North Texas
Average Net Price: $10,424
As the flagship university of the North Texas System, the University of North Texas is a touchstone for higher education in the state. It offers 103 bachelor’s, 86 master’s, and 38 doctoral degree programs. UNT students are highly involved in study abroad programs, research initiatives, and academic programs.
Uniquely specialized, UNT offers a Master of Education in Special Education with an online concentration in Autism Intervention. This program is designed to be completed in 15 months, though current educators can take accelerated courses to finish earlier. In total, you’ll complete 33 credit-hours. Some highlight courses include:
- Introduction to Autism Spectrum Disorders
- Autism Assessment
- Teaching Students with High Functioning Autism
- Collaboration with Parents/Paraeducators/Professionals
UNT offers more than just a well-rounded education. It offers an affordable education. Students in this program are eligible for a $1,000 departmental award to offset tuition costs. Even more, UNT has a fantastic school-wide reputation for student aid. Over 72 percent of students receive some form of tuition assistance at UNT.
Eastern New Mexico University
Average Net Price: $10,481
Eastern New Mexico University is part of the state university system. It is based in Portales, NM but has branches in Ruidoso and Roswell. ENMU runs a highly-respected online program as well. It offers over 30 online degree options at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. ENMU delivers a wide variety of online education-based master’s programs.
Taking a slightly different approach, you can earn an online Master of Education in Special Education Pedagogy at ENMU. Using Blackboard as your online platform, your classes will be interactive and engaging. Your 36 credit-hour curriculum will dive you into special education research, theory, and practice with classes like:
- High Incidence Disabilities: Theory to Practice
- Class and Behavior Management with Exceptional Children
- Literacy Assessment and Evaluation
- Theories of Learning and Motivation
Eastern New Mexico University knows that tuition is sometimes a deal breaker when it comes to education. That’s why it has made it possible for you to pay the lower in-state tuition rate even if you’re an out-of-state student. You just have to be enrolled in six or less credit-hours per semester. You will also be eligible for a TEACH grant or other scholarships.
Indiana State University
Average Net Price: $10,681
A public university in Terre Haute, Indiana State University is a strong regional institution. It is consistently named one of Princeton Review’s “Best in the Midwest.” Indiana State University organizes itself between six academic colleges, one of which is the Bayh College of Education. ISU also hosts a number of fully online programs.
The online MS in Special Education at Indiana State University gives options for everyone. If you’re already a licensed teacher, and want to add a license in special education, you can complete this program with just 24 credit-hours. Otherwise, you’ll enroll in a minimum of 39 credit-hours through classes like:
- High Incidence Disabilities
- Learning Strategies in Reading and Language Arts
- Advanced Topics in Special Education
- Behavior Management
The final requirement for this program is a class called Special Education Action Research. This is a highlight for most students. You’ll design an action research project using UDL (Universal Design for Learning) principles. This is a fantastic way to synthesize your learning and create a tangible portfolio for a potential teaching placement.
University of Houston-Victoria
Average Net Price: $10,995
Located in southern Texas, the University of Houston-Victoria is home to around 4,300 students. It works hard to keep its education affordable and accessible. UHV awards an average of $34 million in financial aid each year. Originally, UHV was exclusively an upper-division and graduate school. In 2010, it began admitting freshmen and sophomore students.
The School of Education, Health Professions, and Human Development at UHV delivers a versatile online Master of Education in Special Education. You can take this degree in a number of different directions. You can specialize in Applied Behavior Analysis, Autism Spectrums Disorders, or earn a Diagnostician Certification. Regardless, you’ll take:
- Diagnostic Teaching, Assistive Technology, and Instructional Strategies
- Applied Behavior Analysis
- Human Growth and Development
- Intellectual Assessment
The faculty at UHV are top-notch. Within the School of Education, Health Professions, and Human Development, faculty members are active in outreach programs and research. For example, students and faculty have recently participated in education symposiums, literacy events, and special education trainings.
University of Nebraska Omaha
Average Net Price: $11,223
A rapidly-growing public research institution, the University of Nebraska Omaha is one of the state’s primary location for higher education. Its student body is comprised of over 15,700 students. Over 86 percent of them are from Nebraska. UNO was ranked the #1 University for Military Friendliness three years in a row by Military Times.
At the University of Nebraska Omaha, you’ll earn an MS in Special Education with the potential of specializing in a specific track. Students choose from four concentrations: Applied Behavior Analysis, Behavior Intervention Specialist, Inclusion and Collaboration, or Special Education Generalist. Some highlight coursework includes:
- Mental Health in Schools: Risk Factors and Interventions
- Teaching Students with Exceptionalities
- High Incidence Disabilities
- Readings in Special Education
The final requirements for the special education program at University of Nebraska Omaha are two-fold. First, students have the choice to either pass a comprehensive written test or write a thesis. Then, students embark on a graduate-level internship experience. This is a 16-week internship in your area of focus.
Northwest Missouri State University
Average Net Price: $11,262
A mid-sized state university based in Maryville, MO, Northwest Missouri State University is a strong regional school. It has a high track-record for its alumni. In fact, 99 percent of its graduate students found work within six months of graduation last year. All students also receive free laptops and textbooks, which offsets tuition costs in a huge way.
Offered fully online, the Master of Science in Special Education at Northwest Missouri State University prepares students for mild and moderate disabilities in K-12 settings. The classes are arranged in 7-week segments, and students will complete a total of 30 credit-hours. Most students are able to complete the degree in a year. Classes include:
- Teaching Students with Mild to Moderate Disabilities
- Student Evaluation and Assessment
- Theories and Techniques of Behavior Analysis & Intervention
- Leadership in Special Education
Northwest Missouri State University has two additional Masters in Education degrees that are worth considering if you’re interested in the field. You can choose the online MS.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction, or the MS.Ed. in Educational Leadership K-12.
Southern Arkansas University
Average Net Price: $11,428
Founded as an agricultural school in 1909, Southern Arkansas University is now a public university that serves over 4,700 students. The graduate program at Southern Arkansas University delivers 19 programs, all of which have the option of online delivery or a hybrid combination of online and in person.
Southern Arkansas University hosts an online Master of Education in Special Education (K-12). The curriculum is designed directly from the Council for Exceptional Children. Most students take two years to complete the program, which consists of 30 credit-hours. The classwork ranges from education policy to classroom application:
- Survey of Exceptional Children
- Nature and Needs of Students with Mild Disabilities
- School Law
- Instructional Planning
College Choice isn’t the only one taking note of Southern Arkansas University’s program. In 2016, Top Master’s in Education, a qualified guide to higher education, listed it as the #6 Best Value School for Master’s in Special Education.
American Public University
Average Net Price: $11,470
American Public University System consists of American Military University and American Public University. Both are private, online universities that are not affiliated with the United States military or government. However, many of its students are active duty military personnel. Combined, the system provides over 200 degree programs.
Offered through American Military University, a subset of APU, you’ll be able to earn an online M.Ed. in Teaching with a concentration in Special Education. This is the best of both worlds. You’ll not only get a graduate degree in teaching, you’ll also specialize. Within the 30 required credit-hours, you’ll take three core classes in this specialization:
- Foundations of Special Education
- Classroom Accommodations and Modifications for Special Needs Learners
- Living and Learning with Exceptional Students
If you are an active-duty military, a veteran, or even part of a military family, this might be a perfect fit for you. American Military University offers amazing tuition benefits for those who serve and their families. You’ll receive a tuition grant, free textbooks and technology, and more.
Average Net Price: $11,755
Located in Beaumont, TX, Lamar University is a public research university and a member of the Texas State University system. In 2015, U.S. News & World Report ranked it as the #35 Best Online Graduate Education Program in the nation. Students in the College of Education and Human Development maintain a 96 percent pass rate for all certification tests.
Going through Lamar University’s M.Ed. in Special Education will prepare you for more than just the classroom. The curriculum includes important elements on designing learning environments, analysing behavior, and conducting research. You’ll complete 36 credit-hours in total, and take a combination of core courses and special education courses such as:
- Psychoeducational Evaluation of Exceptional Learners
- Instructional Process with Exceptional Children
- Modification of Curriculum & Instructions for Atypical Learner
During the last five weeks of your program, you’ll take Psychoeducational Evaluation of Exceptional Learners. This a simulation experience in which you’ll get to apply your learnings. This culminating experience is a great way to synthesize your classroom knowledge.