TOP 30 CHEAP MASTER’S IN ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNING ONLINE DEGREE PROGRAMS
By BVS Staff
Due to the continued influx of immigrants and non-English speakers into the United States, online TESOL master’s degrees (TESOL stands for Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) are becoming more and more popular. Whether schools label this degree as an ESL (English as a Second Language), ELL (English Language Learners), or TESOL program, they all have the same goal: to train teachers to provide instruction in English to children and adults from other countries.
That being said, all schools differ somewhat in their instruction, including whether or not they provide teacher licensure or certification. The good news is that if you choose distance education, you are practically guaranteed at least one significant benefit: cheap tuition. Online colleges often provide students with reasonably inexpensive prices, and in fact, public institutions sometimes offer in-state rates to all online learners. Combine this with convenient scheduling, flexible admission requirements, and asynchronous learning, and it’s no wonder so many teachers are choosing online education.
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The 30 Best Online ESL Master’s Programs Ranking Methodology
For this ranking, we looked for public and private (non-profit) colleges and universities that offer online Master’s in TESOL degrees. Because the focus of this list is on affordability, we only considered programs with average* tuition rates of $20,000/year or less.
*For public schools, we calculated the average value of their in-state and out-of-state rates.
In addition, we only considered programs that are available entirely online (not including site fieldwork). Also, note that graduate certificate and endorsement programs were not eligible for consideration unless attached to a master’s degree (such as an MEd) that is also 100% online.
After compiling a list of all the colleges that offer online TESOL master’s degrees and meet the above criteria, we then collected data in four categories:
- Program Popularity: Out of all education master’s degree students, how many choose to major specifically in TESOL? That is, how successful is the ESL program at attracting students to their degree over other education-related options? To find out, we calculated both the number of students who earned their master’s degree in TESOL in the 2015-16 school year as well as the percentage of all education program graduates that that number represents.
- Curricular Focus: What percentage of the program’s required classes focus specifically on ESL topics (as opposed to less-relevant and/or more general education content)?
- Teacher Preparation: Does the program lead to initial teacher licensure? Does it provide add-on/advanced certification to degree candidates who already have their teaching license? Earning these credentials are typically a requirement for anyone who wants to be a TESOL instructor in a K-12 school.
- Affordability: What is the average annual cost of attendance?
After collecting and sorting all the information, we ranked the candidates according to their performance in each area. Finally, we summed up the results and gave each school a final score using a curve so that the top-scoring program earned an even 100 points.
Read more about the best cheap Master’s in ESL online programs below!
Cheap Online ESL Master’s Programs Ranked
Arkansas Tech University
At Arkansas Tech University, you'll find everything you'll need to become a successful TESOL instructor. The flexible program caters to a wide range of students by offering not only online classes, but also evening and weekend courses. If you live locally and can make it to campus occasionally, you might also consider applying for a graduate assistantship. GAs receive tuition waivers and small stipends for the work they do, which could include working in the Writing Center, helping with test prep, or even teaching in ATU's English Language Institute. But even if you can't make it to campus, you'll benefit from the robust, focused, elective-laden curriculum that helps make ATU home to best cheap online TESOL master's degrees.
Given all the great options on this master's in English language learning online ranking, why should you earn your degree from Arizona State? Well for starters, it has one of the cheapest programs on this list. But aside from its low cost, ASU also boasts an extraordinarily high-quality education program. U.S. News & World Report has even recognized the quality of ASU's graduate education degrees in its own rankings. For the TESOL program in particular, perks include accelerated classes (just 7.5 weeks each), experienced faculty, and an added focus on curriculum and instruction.
At Hamline, TESOL education is about more than improving students' English skills. It's also about promoting social and economic equity by giving non-native children the resources they need to succeed. As such, this MA in TESOL goes far beyond teaching methodologies. Indeed, the program also aims to help TESOL teachers become experienced researchers, culturally-sensitive mentors, and advocates for diversity in the classroom. This is also a top master's in ESL online for anyone looking to cut their tuition costs. Between special TESOL scholarships, alumni discounts, and employee partnership discounts with businesses across Minnesota, Hamline is a master at helping their students save money.
Greenville University provides an opportunity for you to earn your degree completely online while training for a booming career path. The only in-person requirement is that you participate in a 100-hour field experience, as this is mandatory to obtain an ESL Endorsement in Illinois. However, you only need to complete a practicum if you are a licensed teacher who wants to earn an endorsement. Otherwise, you can swap out the practicum for another ESL class. But regardless of your career plans, you'll also have to take a research course and tackle a comprehensive capstone project before graduating with your master's in ESL online from Greenville.
Saint Cloud State University
It may be online, but Saint Cloud's TESL program nonetheless offers an immersive, culturally diverse experience. For example, roughly half of all program members are either international or from a diverse U.S. background. SCSU achieves this cultural balance by being a school that celebrates diversity at every turn; the university even supports an English for Academic Purposes initiative and has an Intensive English Center on campus to promote research in ESL strategies. Saint Cloud is also one of just a few schools on this online TESOL master's degrees ranking to offer graduate assistantships to help defray the cost of tuition.
University of Texas of the Permian Basin
UTPB takes a unique approach to its English language learning program. Whereas most schools on this online master's in TESOL ranking lump ESL and bilingual education together, the University of Texas of the Permian Basin actually splits them apart. Students who choose the Bilingual Education track are typically proficient in Spanish who want to work in a truly bilingual environment (such as an international school). In contrast, the ESL track offers more traditional training for instructors who plan to teach non-native English speakers in a U.S. (English-speaking) classroom. The latter option prepares graduates to take the ESL supplemental test in Texas.
Southeast Missouri State University
Cape Girardeau, MO
At Southeast Missouri State, faculty understands that not all students in the same program have the same career goals. This understanding extends to the school's MA in TESOL degree, which is as flexible as it is accommodating. While enrolled in this top online master's in English language learning program, you'll enjoy the freedom to attend courses throughout the summer and, if you live locally, even attend class on campus. You can also adapt the course content to serve your individual needs. For example, you'll design a program of language instruction specifically adapted to your desired occupational setting, be it an elementary school classroom, community college, or adult education center.
Spring Arbor University
Spring Arbor, MI
Spring Arbor's cheap master's in ESL online program is full of perks for busy adult students. Not only is the coursework available 100% online, but the application doesn't require a GRE or GMAT score. What's more, the curriculum includes two separate tracks to accommodate specific career goals. If you're a certified public school teacher and want to earn your ESL Endorsement in Michigan, opt for the K-12 Track. Otherwise, take the Adolescent and Adult Education path - this will prepare you to teach overseas or in a community-based or college setting. But while the details of each track differ, the core curriculum is equally strong in both, covering a crucial set of topics in linguistics, culture, and language evaluation.
When it comes to effective teaching strategies, Webster University leads by example. Even in its online program, TESOL classes are small and interactive to encourage lively discussion amongst classmates. While earning an accredited online TESOL master's degree from Webster, you'll also benefit from the use of technology. Blogs, video conferencing, and discussion tools not only enhance your personal learning experience, but also provide examples for how you can incorporate technology into your own classroom one day. Also note that this degree comes with two tracks: K-12 ELL (designed for licensed content area teachers) and ESL/EFL Education (for future overseas and/or adult educators).
Western Governors University
Salt Lake City, UT
Like all Western Governors' programs, this MA in English Language Learning features a competency-based approach. That means that you'll earn credit as you demonstrate your understanding of course material (by taking tests), not by running out the clock in a classroom. The degree primarily caters to already licensed teachers who want to boost their knowledge of ELL curriculum design and pedagogy. As such, students enrolled in WGU's accredited master's in English language learning online study everything from culture to language production to assessment theory. And like most top programs, the curriculum incorporates research courses and hands-on field experience.
If you're a Christian who wants to incorporate your faith into your teaching, Biola University should probably be your top choice. In fact, it's the only school on this online ESL master's programs ranking to explicitly integrate religious principles into its TESOL curriculum. Not only will you take a required class in "Bible/Theology" but you'll likely also discuss biblical principles in courses like "Ethics, Values, and Intercultural Communication for TESOL Professionals." In addition, you'll take three electives: two in TESOL subjects and one in theology (e.g., "Survey of Genesis" or "Perspectives on the World Christian Movement").
Kennesaw State University
The diversity of school-aged children is on the rise in Georgia, and Kennesaw State University has responded by developing a high-quality, accessible TESOL program. Although it will take you a year and a half to two years to earn your MEd degree, KSU has cleverly organized its course sequence so that you can secure an ESOL Endorsement after just two semesters. While earning this NCATE-accredited online master's in TESOL, you'll take classes in all the expected areas. This includes curriculum development, content area teaching strategies, collaborative practices, and much more.
Olivet Nazarene University
Most candidates who apply to Olivet Nazarene's ESL/Bilingual Education program are licensed teachers who want to add an extra certification to their byline. As such, this degree is supremely career-focused. For example, the curriculum runs in the reverse to most programs; that is, you'll start by taking the ESL endorsement classes and finish up with the MAEd general education coursework. This creative approach allows you to prioritize important topics and earn your TESOL credential as soon as possible. Other perks for choosing this master's in English language learning online include cohort-style classes and accelerated terms (so you can finish in less than two years!).
Trevecca Nazarene University
How does Trevecca Nazarene University distinguish itself from other schools on this master's in ESL online ranking? Most importantly, it puts a strong emphasis on practical applications - including methods to improve student learning. Consider classes like "Authentic Curriculum Design" and "Technology and Language Learning." These courses (along with many others) help teachers leverage their skills and resources to maximize students' opportunities for growth. And that eye toward the practical will strengthen your career prospects, too. You'll even develop an E-portfolio to help track your progress throughout the program and create a record of achievement to show future employers.
Campbellsville University's MA in TESOL describes itself as a "truly global program." This means that the curriculum doesn't stop at the mechanics of language acquisition, but rather explores the use and significance of language in the context of various cultures. In addition to a class in "Language and Culture," you'll also consider how different linguistic experiences shape learning through courses in "Contrastive Analysis," "Linguistic Phonetics," and more. And like many other top online master's in TESOL programs, Campbellsville's curriculum includes both a practicum and research paper requirement (with optional thesis component).
A pioneer in education, Emporia State was the first university in Kansas to create a TESOL graduate program. And the fact that the degree is available online demonstrates how far ESU will go to make its innovative courses accessible to the public. Indeed, the curriculum features some particularly unique classes. Examples include "Computer-Assisted Language Learning in TESOL," "Composition Theory and Rhetorics," and "Brain-Based Learning for Educators." You can even take a "Special Topics in TESOL" course that covers niche concepts like legal issues and ESL special education. To top it all off, Emporia State's sub-$15k average yearly tuition makes this one of the most affordable master's in ESL online!
University of Maryland-Baltimore County
Prospective and experienced teachers alike can benefit from UMBC's cheap online TESOL master's degree program. Aside from its affordability, this program offers students a valuable education in all things ESL, from curriculum development and language acquisition to cross-cultural studies and linguistics. Although this is not an initial licensure program, currently practicing teachers can leverage their UMBC education to earn an add-on K-12 ESOL certification. At the same time, the program also offers plenty of flexibility for non-certified teachers. For example, you can choose where to complete your internship (not necessarily a K-12 school) and can opt to wrap up your degree with either a thesis or final seminar course.
Troy's second language instruction program doesn't cater exclusively to teachers. Rather, it invites anyone who earned their bachelor's degree in a language-related discipline - such as English, sociology, or linguistics - to put their skills to use in a rapidly growing field. As a non-certification program, this cheap master's in ESL online degree prepares graduates for teaching careers outside of the K-12 environment. Even so, you'll study many of the same topics here as you would in traditional teacher licensure programs, including grammar, language skills, and educational assessment. And while all students must complete a practicum, you can choose to round off your studies with either a capstone class or thesis project.
University of Northern Iowa
The University of Northern Iowa has made a name for itself in online education thanks to its rigorous commitment to high-quality academics. In fact, all UNI's online courses are designed according to the "Quality Matters" set of professional standards, which are based on national research and best practices. In addition, the university's ESL program uses top-notch video conferencing and learning management systems to ensure an engaging, interactive experience for online learners. And on the off chance you run into technical issues while pursuing this top online ESL master's program, you can get help with a quick call to UNI's team of support specialists.
University of North Dakota
Both certified and non-certified teaching professionals stand to benefit equally from the University of North Dakota's accredited master's in English language learning online program. Although the degree doesn't lead to initial licensure, it will qualify certified teachers for an ESL/TESOL endorsement in North Dakota (and possibly other states as well). In terms of academics, this program delivers a robust set of courses in ELL methods, linguistics, multicultural/lingual education, and more. The program also emphasizes hands-on experience; not only will you participate in a 90-hour practicum, but you'll also complete a scholarly project or independent study class.
Murray State University supports a part-time, online MA in TESOL that is ideal for busy adult professionals. Taking one or two classes per term, you can graduate from this program and qualify for an ESL Endorsement in just two to three years. But what makes Murray State stand out on our online master's in TESOL ranking is that it provides graduate assistantships. And these aren't restricted to on-campus students; because GA duties could include designing and/or administering web-based courses, online learners are eligible to apply. If you become a GA, you'll work no more than 10 hours per week (off-campus) and receive a small stipend as compensation.
New York state residents who want to teach in K-12 ESL or bilingual classrooms can get all the training they need at Canisius College. The program offers both certification and non-certification tracks, plus the curriculum provides electives in unique topics like "Adolescent Literacy." As part of the core sequence, you'll also take a "Research in Reading" class and complete a supervised field experience in a school setting. Other reasons Canisius has one of the top online TESOL master's degrees? Consider its CAEP accreditation, small class sections, and flexible scheduling (including three annual start dates).
If you're looking for a program that doesn't focus exclusively on ESL topics, Lamar University is likely your best bet. In contrast to other schools on this online TESOL master's degrees ranking, Lamar's MEd in Teacher Leadership primarily covers general pedagogical subjects. For example, core classes address school/community relations, school law, student expectations and motivation, and more. That being said, you'll still get a good dose of ESL training, albeit a relatively smaller portion. More specifically, you can expect to take a four-course sequence of classes on ESL curriculum, teaching methods, literacy, and language learning.
Texas A & M University-College Station
College Station, TX
Texas A&M University's English language learning program is unique compared to others on this master's in ESL online ranking. That's because the school offers its ESL emphasis within an MEd (or MS) in Curriculum and Instruction. As such, the coursework incorporates core classes like "Cultural Foundations of Education" and "Curriculum Development." But don't worry; you'll still take plenty of classes in TESOL. In fact, the 18-credit emphasis covers everything from ESL teaching methods to content area instruction and academic writing for international students. Be advised, however, that this is not a teacher certification program, so you'll need to have already obtained your teaching license if you hope to work in K-12 ESL classrooms.
University of Northern Colorado
The University of Northern Colorado's multilingual education program caters to students both in the US and abroad. Although the degree doesn't lead specifically to teacher licensure, UNC argues that its comprehensive curriculum will elevate your skills above those who hold TESL certificates. Even so, the degree primarily prepares graduates for work in administrative positions, adult education settings, and international schools. But perhaps the best feature of this accredited online master's in TESOL program is its focus on immersive learning. Between hands-on projects (where you'll develop a language assessment, for example) and on-site teaching requirements, you'll have no shortage of opportunities to put your skills to the test.
For a flexible yet interactive master's in English language learning online, check out Azusa Pacific University. Upon enrolling in the program, you'll join a cohort (a set group of students) with which to take all your classes. This model helps ensure that you'll get to know your peers before you graduate, even though coursework is asynchronous. Speaking of coursework, APU's program is 100% TESOL-focused, meaning you won't have to waste time with classes on general education or other tangentially-related topics. Rather, you'll study a rich assortment of ESL subjects ranging from second-language pedagogy and English grammar to language learning technology and program design.
University of Mary Washington
If you have absolutely no teaching experience but still want to earn an MEd in TESOL, you're in luck. The University of Mary Washington offers an Initial Licensure Program that also meets the requirements for ESL endorsement in Virginia. To earn this top online master's in TESOL, you'll first need to complete a 27-credit sequence of (mostly) general education classes, such as "Teaching and the Development of the Learner" and "Instructional Technologies." This sequence also includes a 6-credit, semester-long supervised teaching internship. But that's not all! You'll also need to take 18 credits on TESOL topics - "Introduction to English Linguistics," for example - before securing your ESL endorsement.
Sam Houston State University
Sam Houston State University offers a one-stop-shop for teachers who want to earn their both their MEd and ESL certificate. When you first enroll in this cheap online master's in TESOL program, you'll take required core classes in subjects like "Second Language Acquisition and Development" and "Applied Linguistics in ESL/EFL Settings." Interestingly, this core comprises a rather small portion of the curriculum (only 12 credits). You'll get to select your remaining 18 credits from a pre-approved list of electives. This list includes more ESL classes (e.g., "Teaching Second Language Writing") as well as courses in reading and education theory (e.g., "Language Arts: Theory and Instruction").
If you want to teach English as a second language in a K-12 school, Asbury University has a great option for you. Asbury's affordable online ESL master's program qualifies aspiring teachers for their initial certification, while current educators can earn an additional certification for their rÃ©sumÃ©. Either way, you'll benefit from a program that features live, synchronous web conferencing; project-based, collaborative activities; and accelerated 7-week terms. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. For even more hands-on learning, you'll also complete two clinical experiences and produce an independent research project.
Northern Arizona University
At Northern Arizona University, you'll find an MEd in ESL and Bilingual Education that's ideal for professionals from a variety of backgrounds. Because the program doesn't require applicants to have a teaching certificate, admission is open to K-12 instructors as well as non-traditional educators (such as those working in after school programs or adult education centers). As for the curriculum, courses focus on crucial topics like English immersion, bilingual assessment, and cultural aspects of ESL instruction. This CAEP-accredited, online ESL master's program also includes a required fieldwork experience, graduate seminar, and two teaching- and/or language-related electives.
Thanks for reading our ranking of the 30 top cheap Master’s in English Language Learning online programs!
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