Online Master’s in Special Education Programs 2021

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Special education teachers instruct children and design lessons to accommodate students’ needs. Demand continues to grow for special education teachers, who earn a median salary of over $61,000 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). With a master’s degree, special education teachers can increase their earning potential.

Our list ranks the top online master’s in special education programs for 2021. Prospective applicants can use the rankings to find the best fit for their budget and career goals. This article also introduces salary data for special education teachers, common special education master’s courses, and scholarships.

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Top 10 Online Master’s in Special Education Programs

? This represents the average net price of attendance for full-time students as gathered by the National Center for Education Statistics. Individual costs may vary. Costs per credit hour may also vary by program or degree.
Rank School Avg Net Price ? This represents the average net price of attendance for full-time students as gathered by the National Center for Education Statistics. Individual costs may vary. Costs per credit hour may also vary by program or degree.
1 Mount Vernon Nazarene University $9024
2 Liberty University $23800
3 Concordia University-Saint Paul $21750
4 Fontbonne University $25980
5 Nyack College $25350
6 New England College $36754
7 Saint Leo University $7284
8 University of Oklahoma-Norman Campus $11763
9 University of the Cumberlands $23000
10 The University of Alabama $10780

Master's in Special Education: Questions People Also Ask


  • What kinds of jobs can you get with a special education degree?

    A master’s in special education degree prepares graduates for careers as special education teachers at the preK-12 grade level. Other potential career paths for graduates include special education instructional coordinator and lead teacher.


  • How long does it take to get a special education degree?

    Earning a master’s in special education typically takes two years for full-time students. Some accelerated programs offer a one-year route to a master’s degree.


  • Are special education teachers in demand?

    The BLS projects demand for special education teachers to grow 3% between 2019-2029, which is on par with the national average for all occupations.


  • How much do special education teachers make with a master's degree?

    According to the BLS, the median annual salary for special education teachers exceeds $61,000 per year. Educators with a master’s degree often earn higher salaries.


Why Get a Degree in Special Education?

A master’s degree in special education prepares educators for specialized roles and career advancement. During a master’s program, learners gain advanced instructional and assessment skills. Graduates can increase their earning potential and move into roles like lead teacher or special education coordinator.

The online learning format appeals to working educators seeking a master’s degree with a flexible schedule. Online master’s programs in education typically arrange coursework around the school calendar. Therefore, teachers can continue working while pursuing their master’s degree online.

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How Much Does a Special Education Degree Cost?



The cost of a master’s in special education degree varies by factors like school type, location, and delivery format. Typically, public universities charge lower tuition rates than private schools. For example, Washington State University, a public university, charges $610 per credit for its online master’s in special education program. In contrast, the online special education master’s degree at Saint Joseph’s University, a private school, costs $796 per credit.

Some colleges offer tuition discounts for in-state students and/or online learners. At Purdue University, in-state students in the online master’s program in special education pay $379 per credit, while out-of-state students pay $700 per credit. Some programs charge a flat rate for distance learners regardless of residency, which can offer out-of-state students significant savings.

In addition to tuition costs, prospective students should consider related education expenses, such as technology fees, digital education fees, and textbook costs.

Calculating the Cost of a College Degree



The ACO affordability calculator factors in monthly income, expenses, and expected financial aid to help students determine how much they can afford to pay for a degree.

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How Much Do Special Education Majors Make?


After earning a master’s degree in special education, graduates typically pursue careers as special education teachers. According to BLS data, special education teachers earn a median salary of $61,420 per year. However, in many districts, a graduate degree moves teachers onto a higher salary level. The highest-paid special education teachers earn over $100,000 per year.

Salaries also vary by setting. Special education teachers at public schools often earn higher salaries than those at private schools. Teachers at the secondary level also typically earn slightly more than those at the preschool or elementary school level.

Courses in Social Work



A master’s degree in special education strengthens analytical, interpersonal, and teaching skills. During a special education master’s degree, graduate students complete courses in instructional design, assessment methods, and effective teaching practices.

Many master’s in special education programs incorporate a practicum or student-teaching experience to give students real-world training. Learners may also take electives on topics like educational technology, teaching students with autism, and gifted student education.

Courses vary by program, but the following list outlines courses commonly found in master’s in special education programs.

The course examines special education theories and practices, including their historical development. Students survey trends in the field and challenges for special education teachers. The class may incorporate practicum hours to strengthen classroom skills.

The course examines special education assessment tools and methods, appropriate data sources for assessment, and how to make educational decisions based on assessment practices. Coursework also covers diagnostic tools.

Classes in instructional planning train special educators to customize lessons based on student needs and abilities. Educators learn how to design instruction around individualized education plans. The class also covers individualized learning progression, specialized curricula, and transition plans.

Certifications and Licensure for Special Education



Special education teachers need a teaching license to work in public schools. In many states, special education jobs also require an endorsement. In addition to these requirements, educators can pursue voluntary certifications to demonstrate their skills.

National Board Certification


The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards offers national board certification in 25 certificate areas, including a credential for exceptional needs specialists. Candidates must submit three portfolios demonstrating their experience and pass a computer-based assessment.

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Special Education Endorsement


Each state’s board of education manages the licensure and endorsement process. In many states, candidates for a special education endorsement need specialized training, like a master’s degree, to qualify. The endorsement may also require passing scores on a special education teaching examination. The endorsement allows public school educators to pursue teaching roles at the preK-12 level.

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Board Certification in Special Education


The American Academy of Special Education Professionals offers board certification for experienced special education teachers. The credential requires a master’s degree from an accredited institution. Candidates must pass five advanced professional development examinations to earn board certification.

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Scholarships for Special Education



Professional organizations, private foundations, and federal student aid programs all offer scholarships, fellowships, and grants for students in master’s in special education programs. In addition to the following opportunities, master’s students should research scholarships based on factors like their state, school district, and university.


  • TEACH Grants

    Who Can Apply: The federal student aid program awards TEACH grants to educators pursuing a teaching degree. Graduate recipients must agree to teach in a high-need field, such as special education, after earning their degree.

    Amount: Up to $4,000

    Explore Here

  • Applegate-Jackson-Parks Future Teacher Scholarship

    Who Can Apply: This scholarship supports graduate students majoring in education. Applicants must submit transcripts and an original 500-word essay.

    Amount: $1,000

    Explore Here


Online Master’s in Special Education Programs 2021



See Our Rankings Methodology
  1. Mount Vernon Nazarene University
    Location

    Mount Vernon, OH

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Depending on your professional experience, students at the Christian-based Mount Vernon Nazarene University can enroll in 2 pathways to earn a Master of Arts in Education with an emphasis in special education. Both programs, which are accredited by the National Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and Ohio Department of Education, are intended for individuals who plan to work in Ohio. The first option is available to prospective teachers working to receive an initial teaching license as an intervention specialist for mild or moderate disabilities. Students will satisfy 53 semester hours, which include 9 credits of student teaching. Curriculum covers foundational education courses, such as Technology for Educators and Classroom Management and Behavior Analysis, as well as concentration-specific courses exploring professional practices in intervention services and progress monitoring. Students finish coursework in an average of 34 months. An alternative opportunity exists for teachers who are currently licensed in Ohio. The advanced licensure program, which takes around 22 months to complete, requires 30 semester hours and entails 2 credits of practicum experience. In order to be eligible for both options, you must have maintained a minimum 3.0 GPA in undergraduate coursework, pass an interview and mail in transcripts. A copy of your Ohio teaching license must also be submitted for the advanced pathway. Students can utilize a number of resources to assist in their studies. The Center for Student Success provides free tutoring, an academic peer mentor program and writing center services. The Career Development Center assists in networking, job exploration, resume writing and interview preparation.

  2. Liberty University
    Location

    Lynchburg, VA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Liberty University is a Christian-based learning institution aiming to balance academics with spirituality. The School of Education, which is accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, offers a 100% online format to earn a Master of Arts in Teaching Special Education. For added convenience, 8-week classes begin at 8 different times each year. Although there are deadlines for assignments and exams, students decide where and when to access their coursework via the web platform Blackboard Learn. Graduation and initial licensure entails the fulfillment of 36 credit hours, which must be passed with a letter grade of B or above. However, students may receive a C in 2 of their classes. Core curriculum classes include Tests and Measurements, Learning Theory, and Historical and Philosophical Foundations of Education. Concentration-specific courses include Collaborating for Successful Inclusive Classrooms, Educational Assessment and Intervention, and Principles of Behavior Management. Online learners will also participate in a student teaching internship within their location of residency, which requires a background check. The Office of Online Student Life is committed to creating a supportive online community by linking students to helpful videos, campus blogs, counseling services and a spot to submit prayer requests. You will also have access to academic advising, a writing center and technical assistance. In-state and out-of-state enrollees pay the same tuition rates. Veterans pay $140 less per credit hour, and emergency responders are given a 25% discount. In order to be eligible for the program, you must have maintained a 3.0 GPA in undergraduate work.

  3. Concordia University-Saint Paul
    Location

    Saint Paul, MN

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Students enrolled in an online program to earn a Master of Arts in Special Education at Concordia University, St. Paul choose from 3 areas of licensure. The first option, which focuses on specific learning disabilities, requires 33 credit hours, and classes include Teaching Students With Math or Language Difficulties and Collaborative Consultation in Special Education. A second concentration prepares graduates to work with students who have autism spectrum disorders. There are 39 credit hours needed to finish this program, and classes cover Communication and Social Skills Training as well as Interventions: Autism Spectrum Disorders. As a third choice, students can work toward 36 credit hours to specialize in emotional and behavioral disorders. Classes from this curriculum include Behavior Management and Adolescents With Emotional or Behavioral Disorders. All degree options entail an applied field experience as well as a capstone research project. Students will participate in their programs as a cohort, thereby following a structured plan of study with the same group of peers. Courses last for 7 weeks, and students will work through 1 class at a time. Although classes are mostly self-paced, online learners are expected to engage in a real-time web discussion once every week. Tutorial videos are available upon request to acquaint students with online studies. Students also have access to on-campus resources, such as writing center services, free tutoring through Brainfuse, career guidance and academic advising. Admission requirements include a minimum 3.0 GPA in undergraduate coursework, transcripts, the submission of a FAFSA and an essay showcasing your professional experience and future goals.

  4. Fontbonne University
    Location

    Saint Louis, MO

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Fontbonne University is a private, Catholic-based higher learning institution providing students with the opportunity to earn a Master of Arts in Education with a concentration in special education. This degree can be completed through a combination of evening and online classes. The program entails 32 total credit hours with classes such as The Teacher as Leader, Contemporary Issues in Education and Research Methods in Education. All students must take the 2-credit course Action Research, in which they utilize their classroom experiences to compile data and execute an idea or solution. The special education concentration explores the topic through classes like Enhancing Student Achievement Through Positive Behavioral Supports, Differentiated Instruction, Assessment of Ability and Achievement and Counseling Techniques. Courses are delivered in a 16-week format, and online studies are implemented via the learning platform Schoology. Technical assistance is available to help navigate this system. Online students also have access to the Kinkel Center for Academic Resources, which provides free tutoring services for business, math, science and writing subjects. Additional supports include the library, career center and proctoring services. In-state and out-of-state enrollees pay the same tuition rates for on-campus and distance education credits. The school also offers a 15% discount to educators who work a minimum of part-time hours at any pre-K-12 educational establishment. If eligible, students can connect with an admissions representative in order to fill out a registration form, which must be turned in every semester. In order to be admitted to the program, students will submit the graduate school application, transcripts indicating a minimum 3.0 GPA, 3 professional references and a 300-500 word personal statement.

  5. Nyack College
    Location

    Nyack, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Nyack College was founded in the late 1800s with the mission to instill a sense of diversity and community vibrancy through, what the founder A. B. Simpson, a pastor, described as taking "the Good News of God's love" to everyone. From there, Nyack has grown into an institution of over 2,500 students with a robust online education program that takes this founding vision to heart. This is especially true within the Master of Science in Childhood Special Education program that is designed to prepare educators to work with exceptional children in first through 6th grade. The program has 3 tracks depending on a student's experience and certification: initial certification, additional certification and non-certification. The initial certification is only for New York State residents. The 42-credit curriculum is designed for students wishing to become special education teachers without prior experience. There are significant prerequisites for the program, such as a sufficient liberal arts/sciences background (including 30 credits with a C grade or better in a liberal arts or sciences subject), 6 language course credits other than English, an intro psychology course and evidence of computer literacy. The additional certification is a 30-36-credit program for students already possessing a New York State teaching license but who want to specialize in special education. While there are similar prerequisites to the initial certification track, they aren't as rigorous. The non-certification is a 30-credit program ideal for students who don't need certification or who may teach within an independent school setting. The foundational courses for all the programs are the same, including Inclusive Classroom, Exceptional Child, Field for Autism and Literacy. Each certification track, however, includes additional coursework necessary for certification.

  6. New England College
    Location

    Henniker, NH

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    New England College is an established liberal arts college that is committed to instilling values of imagination, respect, caring, appreciation of truth, inquiry, ethics, ecological sustainability and lifelong learning into its curriculum. As a small institution, there is a large commitment to online learning with 900 graduate students completing their degrees online. Students interested in special education can find an excellent program in New England College's Master of Education, Special Education. The Master of Education program is designed for currently certified teachers or prospective students who wish to become certified in a specific concentration, including special education. The curriculum is built to satisfy the New Hampshire State Certification Standards and the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC) Standards. Because of this design, graduates will be prepared to complete certification in the concentration. To graduate from the program, students must complete 37 credit hours. All Master of Education students, no matter the concentration, are required to take the program's core courses (a total of 28 credit hours). Examples of those courses include the Psychology of Learning Communities, Dynamics of Education Reform and Systems Change, Research Practicum and Fundamentals of Educational Inquiry. Of the 9 electives, students will choose courses that are consistent with their special education concentration. All students will complete a final portfolio as well. Because students from all concentrations are required to complete the same core courses, students of special education are exposed to a wide array of backgrounds and interests.

  7. Saint Leo University
    Location

    St. Leo, FL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Saint Leo University has established itself as a leader in online education through its Saint Leo WorldWide programming. The Master of Education - Exceptional Student Education program is an excellent program for prospective students interested in a special education degree with the flexibility and strong online education track record of Saint Leo. The program is designed for general educators who are interested in expanding their areas of certification. Students in the program come from a diverse set of K-12 environments. All of the courses are offered completely online, but there is a fieldwork requirement, which can be completed in the students' own school settings. The program offers 3 tracks for students. Track A is a program that requires 36-39 credit hours of coursework for any student interested in achieving certification eligibility in the State of Florida in Exceptional Student Education (K12). Track B, requiring the completion of 36 credit hours, is for students who already hold a teaching certificate in Florida but wish to gain eligibility for Florida's Exceptional Student Education certification. Track C, also 36 credit hours, isn't a state-approved program, but it's ideal for current teachers who want to expand their knowledge in special education without the goal of certification. While some of the coursework is dependent on the specific track, example courses include Literacy Assessment and Intervention, an Introduction to Law, Ethics, Placement and Diversity in Special Education, Theories and Methods for Mild to Moderate Populations and Collaborating in Inclusive Settings. The program stands out with a faculty who are current practitioners in school administration and well recognized in the field.

  8. University of Oklahoma-Norman Campus
    Location

    Norman, OK

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The University of Oklahoma-Norman Campus has a unique "One University Digital Initiative" with a goal to create innovative educational strategies while also helping students save money through free online textbooks. This commitment to expanding the digital availability of learning materials also extends to the university's online degree programs. For students who need that extra flexibility to complete a degree, OU's Master of Education in Special Education program can be completed either completely online or in a hybrid model, which combines some face-to-face courses on the Norman, Oklahoma, campus and some online coursework. There are 3 concentration options available for master's degree-seeking students: general degree for non-certification, secondary transition and applied behavior analysis. The general degree has the most flexibility and is ideal for current educators (special or general education), family members of students with disabilities, or caregivers or community agency staff who are interested in delving into current theory and practices of special education. The general concentration doesn't lead to certification. The secondary transition education concentration prepares transition coordinators and is a degree typically pursued by students with prior certification in special education or experience in a related field. The applied behavior analysis (ABA) concentration is geared toward students who are interested in learning about the behavior analysis intervention practice that is widely accepted as one of the most effective methods to improve skills of children in special education programs. The Behavior Analyst Certification Board has approved the courses and sequence within UO's program. All of the programs require the completion of 33 credit hours, a number of which are special education core courses such as Applied Behavior Analysis in School, Advanced Assessment, and Contemporary Issues and Research. Both the ABA concentration and the secondary transition program require additional concentration-specific courses to complete.

  9. University of the Cumberlands
    Location

    Williamsburg, KY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The University of the Cumberlands was founded over a century ago with the mission of preparing servant leaders. This servant leadership model extends over to the university's education program, which was established in 1888 with the understanding that teachers have the opportunity to help young people thrive. Now with completely online offerings, students may earn a teaching degree in a completely flexible format. The University of the Cumberlands offers the online Master of Arts in Teaching program where students can specialize in a variety of education areas, including special education-learning and behavior disorders. This program with a concentration in special education is designed for students who already possess teaching certificates to advance their practice and achieve special education certification. Students complete 42 credit hours of coursework in courses such as Teaching Math to Learners With Disabilities, Classroom and Behavior Management, Special Education Evaluation, Working With Parents and Trends in Special Education. Students will also be required to complete 3 clinical experiences including a professional experience. The MAT program sees critical thinking and reflection as pivotal to teacher education, and it is infused in all of the degrees' programming. The average completion time for students is 18 months; however, this often depends on the pace in which the student moves through the coursework. In addition, the University of the Cumberlands has a unique program for veterans wishing to pursue a teaching degree called "Troop to Teachers". Provided there are available funds, eligible students may receive stipends of up to $5,000 to help pay for teacher certification costs or $10,000 in the form of bonuses to teach in schools that serve a high percentage of low-income students.

  10. The University of Alabama
    Location

    Tuscaloosa, AL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The University of Alabama's online education program, Bama By Distance, offers a wide range of distance and hybrid-learning opportunities for students. Prospective students with a bachelor's-level teaching certificate and an interest in pursuing special education have 2 program options through the Master of Arts in Special Education program: collaborative 6-12 certification and gifted and talented certification. Both of these programs are "blended," or hybrid, programs that combine online coursework with in-person weekend and web-assisted courses on the Tuscaloosa, Alabama, campus. This hybrid model allows full-time educators to pursue the degree toward certification. The special education collaborative program leads students to Alabama Class A certification in Grades 6-12, and the coursework is designed to prepare special education teachers of secondary school students with the skills needed to teach students with exceptionalities. Students complete 36 credit hours of coursework in courses such as Diagnosis and Assessment of Exceptional Children and Youth, Creative Problem Solving, Intro to Mild Disabilities and a practicum in secondary student special education. Students in the Gifted and Talented Certification track are prepared to understand the special nature of gifted and talented students in order to adapt and structure educational strategies appropriately. To graduate, students will complete 30 credit hours in coursework such as Psychology of Gifted and Talented Children and Youth, Creative Problem Solving, Teaching Thinking Skills, and Diagnosis and Assessment of Exceptional Children and youth. Students will also complete summer enrichment workshop internships in addition to the regular internship. Additional special education electives are available students.

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