2020 Most Affordable Online Master’s in Special Education Degrees

What Are the Goals of Online Master’s in Special Education Degrees?

Special education is a dynamic field that is constantly evolving. Teachers usually pursue a special education master’s degree to keep up with the latest research in the field and improve their skills in the classroom.

States typically require special education teachers to hold at least a bachelor’s degree and a recognized license or certification before they can practice. Most schools prefer to hire graduates with a degree in special education. Applicants with a bachelor’s degree in another field often must complete a teacher preparation program before earning licensure.

Many schools now offer online master’s degrees in special education in addition to their on-campus programs. Students who enroll full time can usually complete the program in two years, while part-time learners can take as long as four years.

Top 10 Affordable Online Master’s in Special Education Degrees 2020

Rank School
1 University of the Cumberlands
2 Texas Woman’s University
3 Fitchburg State University
4 University of Florida
5 Wilmington University
6 Brandman University
7 George Washington University
8 Webster University
9 Lamar University
10 University of North Texas

FAQ

What do special education teachers do?

Special education teachers work with students with different types of disabilities. They adapt lessons to meet the needs of each student and teach basic life skills.

Do you need a master’s degree to be a special education teacher?

Although some states may not require a special education master’s degree to teach, earning a master’s degree can lead to leadership positions and higher salaries.

Can special education teachers work in hospitals?

A small percentage of special education teachers work outside of the classroom in settings like students’ homes, special care facilities, and hospitals.

Accreditation for Online Master’s in Special Education Degrees

Accreditation refers to the process in which a recognized accrediting agency evaluates an institution’s academic offerings and operational standards. Although it is a completely voluntary process, most schools seek accreditation to assure students, parents, and other stakeholders of the quality of their programs.

Regional accrediting agencies focus on nonprofit, degree-granting institutions, while national accreditors focus on career-oriented schools. The Distance Education Accrediting Commission accredits schools that offer primarily off-campus programs, including online courses and degrees.

The U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) oversee the accreditation process in the United States. Although they do not accredit schools and programs, they make sure accreditors apply the highest recognized standards to the institutions and programs they review.

Since 2014, the CHEA has recognized the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation as the main accrediting agency for teacher preparation programs, which includes special education.

2020 Most Affordable Online Master’s in Special Education Degrees

Many distance learners cite flexibility and affordability as two of the main reasons behind their decision to pursue an online degree. We ranked the best online master’s in special education programs based on the following factors.

1

University of the Cumberlands

Average Net Price: $5,970

School Website

The University of the Cumberlands is located in Williamsburg, Kentucky, and offers an online master’s in special education.

The program’s 42-credit curriculum includes courses in research methods, special education assessment and evaluation, classroom behavior management for special student populations, and educational psychology. Graduates qualify for teaching licensure in Kentucky. Out-of-state students must check reciprocity agreements to determine if this program qualifies them for licensure in their home state.

Admission requirements include a bachelor’s degree with a minimum 2.75 GPA. Applicants must also submit three letters of recommendation and GRE or Praxis CASE scores. Cumberlands allows students to transfer in up to nine credits from an accredited graduate program.

Cumberlands is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. The special education program is accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.

2

Texas Woman's University

Average Net Price: $8,587

School Website

Texas Woman’s University is the nation’s largest women’s college, operating campuses in Denton, Houston, and Dallas. TWU offers a variety of on-campus and online programs, including a master of education in special education.

TWU’s 30-credit online master’s in special education offers a concentration in interventions or leads to educational diagnostician certification. In both cases, the curriculum covers instructional interventions for students with disabilities, collaborating for effective intervention, and legal and administrative issues of special education programs. Students pursuing certification must complete a 160-hour supervised practicum.

Admission requirements include teaching licensure, at least two years of teaching experience, and a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited university with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Applicants must submit a resume, a letter of intent, two professional letters of recommendation, and a copy of their teaching license.

TWU is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

3

Fitchburg State University

Average Net Price: $3,828

School Website

Fitchburg State University’s 60-acre campus is located in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Fitchburg State offers a variety of online programs, including a master’s in special education.

This graduate program offers several concentrations, some of which lead to initial licensure. Some concentrations offer a hybrid delivery method, while others eliminate all in-person requirements. Each option requires 36-39 credits, but curricula vary by concentration. The program typically takes two years to complete.

Prospective students must submit official bachelor’s transcripts, three letters of recommendation, a resume, and a one-page essay responding to one of several prompts. Applicants must have a minimum 2.8 GPA in previous college coursework.

Fitchburg State is regionally accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

4

University of Florida

Average Net Price: $19,053

School Website

Located in Gainesville, UF offers over 200 online, asynchronous programs, including an online master of education in special education.

UF’s unique 36-credit special education master’s degree offers four tracks: autism, disabilities in society, dyslexia, and early childhood. The curriculum for each track includes the same four core courses: designing instruction for inclusive classrooms, families and transition for students with disabilities, teaching learning strategies, and collaborative practices in inclusive schools.

Prospective students must submit GRE scores, a resume, three letters of recommendation (two must be from professional or academic sources), and official transcripts.

UF is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

5

Wilmington University

Average Net Price: $8,636

School Website

Located in New Castle, Delaware, WilmU offers a variety of online programs, including a master’s of education in special education.

Individuals pursuing this degree may select from five degree routes. Some routes lead to initial state licensure, while others cater to existing educators. Most options require 33-54 credits, and each route delivers all coursework asynchronously. The general curriculum includes courses in foundations of special education, instructional strategies, and advanced behavioral techniques. Some routes include a practicum or capstone requirement.

WilmU uses an open, rolling admissions process, so individuals may apply at any time. Applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree with a minimum 3.0 cumulative GPA and submit official transcripts and SAT, ACT, or Praxis Core test scores. Before enrollment, individuals must schedule a meeting with a program advisor and register for WilmU’s MED 6102 e-folio courses.

WilmU is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. The special education program is accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.

6

Brandman University

Average Net Price: $19,450

School Website

Brandman operates a central campus in Irvine, California, alongside 25 regional campuses throughout California and Washington. Brandman also offers an online campus with many online degrees, including a master’s in special education. Students may complete this degree entirely online or through a hybrid format.

Brandman’s 36-credit online master’s in special education includes courses in research and evaluation methods, leadership and policy in special education, advanced assessment and program evaluation, and collaboration in special education. The curriculum culminates in a capstone course and adheres to the Council for Exceptional Children’s Advanced Content Standards.

Applicants must submit official transcripts and two letters of recommendation. To qualify for this program, individuals must have a current special education teaching license or complete Brandman’s EDU 511 Collaboration For Inclusive Schooling course.

Brandman is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission. The special education program is accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.

7

George Washington University

Average Net Price: $30,834

School Website

Located in Washington, D.C., GW provides experiential and flexible learning programs for individuals hoping to launch or advance their careers. To that end, GW offers several online programs, including an online master’s in special education for culturally and linguistically diverse learners.

The 33-credit program leads to K-12 certification. The curriculum includes courses covering the development of children with disabilities, quantitative research, the development of language and literacy, and academic and psychosocial assessment of culturally and linguistically diverse learners. Students must complete a supervised field-based internship to graduate.

Admission requirements include a bachelor’s degree, a resume, a statement of purpose, and two letters of recommendation. The program starts during the fall or summer term, but individuals may apply at any time.

GW is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. The special education program is accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.

8

Webster University

Average Net Price: $13,500

School Website

Webster is a private, nonprofit university located in St. Louis, Missouri. Webster offers several distance learning programs, including an online master’s in special education. Students in the program may select from one of seven concentrations to tailor the curriculum to their career goals.

The program’s 33-credit curriculum covers professional ethics, research, learner development, and teacher leadership. Notable courses include global issues in special education, assessment of learning and learning problems, disability and ethics, and planning for the inclusive classroom. This program serves working educators looking to advance their knowledge in current issues and trends in special education.

Admission requirements include a bachelor’s degree with a minimum 2.75 GPA and a prerequisite course in the psychology of the exceptional students.

Webster is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

9

Lamar University

Average Net Price: $9,969

School Website

Located in Beaumont, Texas, LU offers 139 programs, including an online master’s in special education.

The program requires 36 credits and typically takes 18 months to complete. The curriculum covers tests, measurement, and evaluation; educational psychology; special education law; reading and language arts for diverse learners; and models for change through collaboration.

Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree with a minimum 2.5 cumulative GPA, a teacher’s license, and two years of teaching experience. LU accepts applications on a rolling basis and offers multiple start dates throughout the year.

LU is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

10

University of North Texas

Average Net Price: $9,185

School Website

Located in Denton, Texas, UNT offers a variety of accelerated online programs, including a master of education in special education with a concentration in autism intervention.

The 33-credit program uses an eight-week course schedule for the fall and spring semesters and a choice of three-week, five-week, or 10-week sessions for the summer semester. Full-time students can complete the program in 15 months. The curriculum consists of 11 courses, including an introduction to educational psychology, special education law, and positive behavioral interventions in educational and related settings.

Prospective students must submit official transcripts, two professional or academic letters of recommendation, a resume, a personal statement, and GRE scores. UNT waives the GRE requirement for applicants with a 3.25 undergraduate GPA.

UNT is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

11

University of Kansas

Average Net Price: $16,678

School Website

Based in Lawrence, Kansas, KU now operates five campus locations. KU also offers several programs through distance learning, including an online master’s in special education.

The program includes three emphases: autism spectrum disorder (ASD), secondary special education and transition, and high incidence disabilities. The curriculum requires 30-36 credits depending on the emphasis. Sample courses include understanding research in education, career development for youth, and methods for learners with higher-functioning ASD. Students must complete a master’s project and practicum to graduate.

Admission requirements include a bachelor’s degree with a minimum 3.0 cumulative GPA, a statement of purpose, official transcripts, three professional references, and a current resume. The application fee is $65.

KU is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

12

Western Governors University

Average Net Price: $7,790

School Website

Western Governors University is a private, nonprofit online university that provides self-directed programs for working professionals. WGU offers an array of business, teaching, IT, and nursing degrees, including an online master’s in special education.

WGU’s unique format allows students to move through the curriculum at their own pace without adhering to a traditional term schedule. The curriculum consists of 12 courses, covering behavioral management and intervention, instructional design production, research foundations, and psychoeducational assessment practices. Students must also complete a capstone project, a 240-hour supervised practicum, a teacher work sample project, and pass the Praxis exam to graduate.

Admission requirements include a bachelor’s degree and a teaching license. Applicants must also complete an online learning readiness assessment and complete a 20-30 minute phone interview prior to enrolling.

WGU is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

13

Arkansas State University

Average Net Price: $7,209

School Website

Arkansas State University opened its doors in 1904 as an agricultural school. Today, A-State offers several programs through distance learning, including an online master’s in special education.

The program’s 36-credit curriculum includes courses in contemporary issues in special education, educational diagnosis and assessment in special education, positive behavior interventions and support, and special education law. Students must also complete an internship to graduate. Each class in the program lasts seven weeks, and students can graduate in 16 months.

Applicants must have a minimum 2.75 undergraduate GPA and a valid teaching license to qualify for admission. Applicants must provide a copy of their license and submit official transcripts, a written commitment from an approved mentor, and the professional dispositions signature document. The application costs $30.

A-State is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

14

University of Memphis

Average Net Price: $13,446

School Website

The University of Memphis is a public university located in Memphis, Tennessee. UofM offers several online degrees through its UofM Global campus, including a special education master’s degree.

The program trains individuals to teach students with mild learning disabilities or developmental delays. The curriculum emphasizes behavior management, inclusion, and collaboration with teachers. Completing this program leads to initial teaching licensure in special education. The program delivers all online coursework asynchronously.

Prospective students must submit an application, official transcripts from all previously attended schools, and a $35 application fee. The admissions office typically processes applications within 3-6 weeks of receiving a complete application.

The University of Memphis is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

15

University of Missouri-Columbia

Average Net Price: $16,489

School Website

The University of Missouri was founded in 1839 and became the nation’s first public university west of the Mississippi River. It is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and offers over 125 online degrees, including a master of arts in special education.

The program’s 33-credit curriculum covers assessment and evaluation, behavior management, cross-categorical disabilities, and strategies for students with disabilities. Learners typically take one or two courses each semester and complete the program within three years. Students must pass a comprehensive written exam to graduate.

All prospective students must have a minimum 3.0 GPA and submit GRE scores. Prospective students can apply for March 1, May 1, and October 1 deadlines.

Mizzou is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. Mizzou’s special education program is accredited by the Teacher Education Accreditation Council.

16

Campbellsville University

Average Net Price: $10,380

School Website

A private, Christian university located in Campbellsville, Kentucky, CU offers a variety of online programs, including a special education master’s degree

This 30-credit special education degree typically takes two years to complete. Each course in the program lasts eight weeks, and the program delivers all coursework asynchronously. The curriculum includes courses in research methods, learning disabilities, assessment and strategies for success for all students, and reading theories and practice. Students must also complete a research practicum.

Applicants must submit three professional reference letters, GRE or Praxis CORE/CASE scores, a criminal background check, a one-page personal essay, and a copy of their teaching license.

CU is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. CU’s special education degree is regionally accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.

17

Drexel University

Average Net Price: $34,995

School Website

Located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Drexel offers a variety of distance learning programs, including an online master’s in special education.

The 45-credit curriculum includes courses in applied behavior analysis, collaborative special education law and process, and special education leadership. All students in the program complete a thesis, lesson study, or practitioner course as a capstone. The program delivers all coursework asynchronously.

Applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree with a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0. They must also submit official school transcripts, two professional letters of recommendation, and a personal essay.

Drexel is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. As of March 2020, the special education process was completing the accreditation process with the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation.

18

University of Washington

Average Net Price: $21,656

School Website

Based in Seattle, UW offers a slate of highly-respected distance learning degrees, including an online master’s in special education.

This 45-credit curriculum includes a capstone project and final master’s examination. The curriculum also covers applied behavior analysis, assessment, instructional strategies, and ethics and professionalism. The program delivers all coursework synchronously, with distance learners logging in at set class times. Graduates can sit for the Behavior Analyst Certification Board exam.

Prospective students must have a bachelor’s degree and six months of experience in applied behavior analysis. Applicants must submit unofficial transcripts, a two-page statement of purpose, GRE test scores, a resume, and two letters of recommendation.

19

Liberty University

Average Net Price: $8,333

School Website

A private, Christian university based in Lynchburg, Virgina, Liberty enrolls the bulk of its 100,000 students in its 400 online programs. Among Liberty’s distance learning offerings is an online master’s in special education.

The 36-credit program typically takes 1.5 years to complete. The curriculum trains individuals to develop instructional plans and teach students with a range of mild to severe disabilities. Notable courses include collaborating for successful transitions, curriculum fundamentals, and the principles of behavior management. All learners in the program also complete student teaching. Graduates can apply for initial teaching licensure.

Prospective students must have a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA. Liberty is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

20

National University

Average Net Price: $15,480

School Website

National University is the largest private, non-profit university in San Diego, California and offers over 50 online programs, including a special education master’s degree.

The 45-credit curriculum covers research, current principles and methods in special education, and law and leadership practices. The program includes a capstone research requirement. NU uses an accelerated format that allows students to focus on one course per month.

Prospective students must submit an application and official transcripts from all previously attended schools and universities for consideration. The admissions office may request additional documents depending on each applicant’s academic standing.

NU is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission

21

Regis University

Average Net Price: $13,177

School Website

A Jesuit university located in Denver, Colorado, Regis offers an array of distance learning degrees, including an online master’s in special education. Students may elect to complete this program entirely online or through a hybrid format.

The program’s 43-credit curriculum includes courses in teaching exceptional learners, strategies for diverse populations, math for special educators, and professionalism in education. The curriculum also includes a student teaching element and prepares students for the Colorado state licensure process. Each course lasts eight weeks, and most students graduate in three years.

All program applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree with a minimum 2.75 GPA. Prospective students must also complete an interview and submit a resume, official transcripts, and a criminal background check.

Regis is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission

22

The University of Texas at Tyler

Average Net Price: $9,423

School Website

The University of Texas at Tyler’s 259-acre campus is located about halfway between Dallas, Texas, and Shreveport, Louisiana. UT Tyler offers several distance learning programs, including an online master’s in special education with diagnostician certification.

UT Tyler’s 36-credit program caters to working educators and takes two years to complete. The program’s curriculum adheres to the Council for Exceptional Children Advanced Special Education Diagnostician Specialist Standards and prepares individuals to become a certified educational diagnostician. Notable courses include managing and instructing diverse learners, developmental testing, and school law. The program delivers all coursework asynchronously.

Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree and a valid teaching license to qualify. They must submit official transcripts, GRE scores, and copies of their teaching license and teaching service record. All prospective students must complete an admission interview and pass a criminal background check.

UT Tyler is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

23

Mississippi College

Average Net Price: $11,630

School Website

Mississippi College is a private university based in Clinton and affiliated with the Mississippi Baptist Convention. MC offers several online programs, including a special education master’s degree.

The program’s 30-credit curriculum uses an accelerated seven-week course format and typically takes 10 months to complete. The program includes coursework in curriculum development, the psychology of exceptional children, organizational procedures for special education, and current education and psychological testing procedures. Graduates can apply for a special education mild/moderate K-12 endorsement and upgrade their license to Class AA status.

Applicants must have a renewable teaching license in elementary, secondary, or K-12 subject areas. They must submit official transcripts from all previously attended schools or universities, GRE scores, and a copy of a valid teaching license.

MC is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

24

Touro College

Average Net Price: $16,072

School Website

Based in New York City, Touro College is a private university with Jewish roots that offers an online master’s in special education. The program includes three concentrations: early childhood and special education (birth-2), childhood and special education (grades 1-6), and teaching students with disabilities (grades 1-12).

The program’s 42-credit curriculum covers the history and philosophy of education and special education, educational technology in general and special education, and basic reading and writing instruction. Students must also complete a practicum and a field experience. Successfully completing this program leads to licensure in both general and special education.

Applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Applicants must also submit official school transcripts and GRE or GMAT scores.

25

Indiana University-Bloomington

Average Net Price: $20,579

School Website

Indiana University Bloomington is IU’s flagship campus. IU offers several programs through distance learning, including a special education master’s degree.

This program caters to licensed educators looking to add certification for mild or intense intervention to their current license. The curriculum includes core courses in assessment and remediation of the mildly handicapped; classroom management and behavior support; collaboration and service delivery; and families, schools, and society. In addition to coursework, students must complete a field experience in a classroom in their community.

Prospective students must hold a bachelor’s degree with a minimum cumulative 2.75 GPA. Applicants must submit transcripts, a personal statement, two letters of recommendation, and a $70 application fee.

IU is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Teaching Certifications and Licenses

Although all states require that teachers earn a license, specific licensure requirements vary by state. Most states typically require a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, completion of a state-approved teacher preparation program, a background check, and a passing score on all state-mandated exams.

Some states participate in a teacher license reciprocity agreement, such as the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC). NASDTEC’s member states allow licensed out-of-state teachers to practice by issuing a temporary license until they are qualified to apply for a permanent one.

Many states require teachers to complete a certain number of continuing education credits to maintain or renew their license. Completing a master’s degree often satisfies this requirement.

Career and Salary Outlook for Master’s in Special Education Graduates

The following table provides salary information for special education teachers on a national scale. Other factors — such as location, experience level, and degree level — also impact salary levels.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists the top-paying five states for special education teachers as follows:

  1. Oregon ($81,990)
  2. Rhode Island ($81,180)
  3. Virginia ($78,340)
  4. Iowa ($75,280
  5. Michigan ($72,670)

The states that hire the greatest number of special education teachers include the following:

  1. Florida (7,310)
  2. California (2,950)
  3. New Jersey (2,340)
  4. Virginia (2,220)
  5. Michigan (1,880)
Bottom 10% Annual Salary Median Annual Salary Top 10% Annual Salary
Less than $39,680 $61,030 More than $97,070

Source: BLS

Scholarships and Financial Aid for Master’s in Special Education Students

Start your search for financial aid to help fund your online master’s in special education by filling out the FAFSA. Colleges and universities all over the country often rely on the FAFSA to determine the financial aid that each student is qualified to receive.

Some school districts offer tuition reimbursement programs for teachers who want to pursue a master’s in their field. The TEACH Grant Program provides funding for undergraduate and graduate students who plan to pursue a teaching career. Grant recipients agree to teach in a high-need educational area or a critical-need facility after graduation.

Bishop Charles P. Greco Graduate Fellowship
Who Can Apply: Administered by the Knights of Columbus, this program accepts applications from graduate students who plan to pursue a career teaching students with disabilities. Applicants must be Knights of Columbus members or related to a member in good standing.
Amount: $2,000

Joseph T. Weingold Scholarship for Special Education Students
Who Can Apply: Administered by the New York Chapter of The Arc, this program accepts applications from students currently enrolled in an accredited New York State special education program leading to licensure in the field.
Amount: $3,000 ($1,500 per semester)

Studying Special Education Online

Online master’s in special education programs offer convenience through asynchronous coursework and multiple start dates. Pursuing a special education master’s online can also lead to substantial savings, as students do not incur additional on-campus costs like rent or parking fees. Some schools also allow distance learners to pay in-state tuition rates.

Additionally, many distance learners can pursue an online master’s in special education while still working full time.

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