Hero Image The 25 Most Affordable Online Master’s Degrees in Special Education for 2021

The 25 Most Affordable Online Master’s Degrees in Special Education for 2021

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There were no special education instructors in the U.S. before 1975. This fairly new profession has brought education to students with mental, physical, and emotional disabilities, helping them achieve their potential and excel in the classroom. 

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states there are nearly half a million special education teachers working in U.S. classrooms. The BLS expects the profession to grow about 3% between 2019 and 2029, which is on par with the average for all professions. The median salary for a special ed teacher is currently $61,420 a year — a number that may increase for those with a master’s degree in special ed.

Featured Online Programs

Figuring out where to apply? These top, accredited schools offer a variety of online degrees. Consider one of these accredited programs, and discover their value today.

The 25 Most Affordable Online Master’s Degrees in Special Education of 2021

  1. Western Governors University
    Location

    Salt Lake City, UT

    WGU's online master's in special education program prepares licensed teachers to educate K-12 children and adolescents. WGU's 12-course, 36-credit curriculum emphasizes the foundations of instructional design, behavioral management and intervention, and psychoeducational assessment. All learners must also complete a 240-hour practicum at a school. 

    • Graduation rate: 17%
    • School status: Private
    • Number of programs offered: 60+
    • City location: Salt Lake City, Utah
    • Admission requirements: Transcripts, valid teaching license
    • Contact: (866) 225-5948
    • Website 
  2. Texas Woman's University
    Location

    Denton, TX

    TWU's special education master's degree features a 30-credit curriculum that appeals to both licensed teachers and education researchers. Students analyze high-incidence and low-incidence disabilities, assessments for effective interventions, and legal and administrative issues. Learners can customize the program by earning an optional educational diagnostician certification. 

    • Graduation rate: 44%
    • School status: Public
    • Number of programs offered: 75+
    • City location: Denton, Texas
    • Admission requirements: Transcripts, bachelor's degree, 3.0 GPA
    • Contact: (940) 898-3188
    • Website
  3. University of Houston-Victoria
    Location

    Victoria, TX

    UHV's 30-39-credit special education master's online offers four concentrations: applied behavior analysis, autism spectrum disorders, diagnostic certification, and dyslexia. Each track emphasizes coursework in diagnostic teaching, assistive technology and instructional strategies, and programming and collaboration. UHV provides resources for distance learners, including online workshops, top job boards, and networking sites. 

    • Graduation rate: 51.7%
    • School status: Public 
    • Number of programs offered: 80+
    • City location: Victoria, Texas 
    • Admission requirements: Bachelor's degree, 2.5 GPA
    • Contact: (361) 570-4371
    • Website
  4. Southeastern Oklahoma State University
    Location

    Durant, OK

    SOSU's online master's in special education program requires a 30-credit curriculum that full-time students can complete in 12 months. Specialty coursework prepares students to use positive behavioral intervention, teach children with autism, and analyze behavior in the workplace. At SOSU's Career Management Center, students can search for a new job and explore internship opportunities. Online services include mock interviews, resume and cover letter critiques, and one-on-one career counseling. 

    • Graduation rate: 29%
    • School status: Public
    • Number of programs offered: 60+
    • City location: Durant, Oklahoma
    • Admission requirements: Bachelor's degree, 2.75 GPA
    • Contact: (844) 515-9100
    • Website
  5. University of Florida
    Location

    Gainesville, FL

    Students who want to learn asynchronously choose UF's special education master's degree. The 36-credit curriculum features four concentrations: autism, disabilities in society, dyslexia, and early childhood studies. All students complete coursework in designing instruction for inclusive classrooms, learning strategies, and collaborative practices. UF uses a GRE score cutoff, and in-state students save approximately 75% on tuition compared to out-of-state degree-seekers. 

    • Graduation rate: 88%
    • School status: Public
    • Number of programs offered: 300+
    • City location: Gainesville, Florida 
    • Admission requirements: Transcripts, recommendation letters, GRE, 3.0 GPA
    • Contact: (352) 392-0726
    • Website
  6. Averett University
    Location

    Danville, VA

    Students can select from six concentrations, including child psychology, effective student assessment methods, and behavior management. The program uses a cohort-based format, and students take 1-2 courses at a time. Students in the accelerated track can earn a degree in 24 months, while other learners can graduate in 28-32 months. Averett features several career-centered resources for all students, including academic portfolio assistance, interest inventories, and professional etiquette training. 

    • Graduation rate: 33%
    • School status: Private
    • Number of programs offered: 151+
    • City location: Danville, Virginia
    • Admission requirements: 3.0 GPA, Virginia state teaching license
    • Contact: 1-800-AVERETT
    • Website
  7. Missouri State University-Springfield
    Location

    Springfield, MO

    MSU's online master's in special education prepares graduates to educate children with blindness or low vision. The program's 39-credit curriculum requires coursework in the principles of orientation and mobility, the application of technology in special education, and the methods of teaching independent living skills. All students complete a practicum experience.

    • Graduation rate: 55%
    • School status: Public
    • Number of programs offered: 170+
    • City location: Springfield, Missouri 
    • Admission requirements: 3.0 GPA, three recommendation letters, FBI check (out-of-state students)
    • Contact: (417) 836-5517
    • Website
  8. The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
    Location

    Edinburg, TX

    Licensed teachers who can learn in an accelerated format should consider UTRGV's special education master's degree. The program's 30-credit curriculum uses seven-week courses and features coursework in the legal foundations of special education, applied behavioral analysis, and the foundations of assessment in special education. 

    • Graduation rate: 43%
    • School status: Public
    • Number of programs offered: 120+
    • City location: Edinburg, Texas
    • Admission requirements: 3.0 GPA, GRE scores, two recommendation letters, resume
    • Contact: 1-833-887-4842
    • Website
  9. The University of Texas at Tyler
    Location

    Tyler, TX

    Licensed Texas teachers can enroll in UT Tyler's special education master's online program. During the program's two-year, 36-credit curriculum, students hone knowledge and skills related to learning theory, educational strategies, and individual assessment of cognitive function. The program uses a cohort learning model. More than 95% of graduates pass the special education TExES exam on the first try. 

    • Graduation rate: 45%
    • School status: Public
    • Number of programs offered: 80+
    • City location: Tyler, Texas
    • Admission requirements: Texas teaching license, 3,25 GPA, GRE scores
    • Contact: (903) 566-7055
    • Website
  10. Lamar University
    Location

    Beaumont, TX

    LU's online master's in special education program appeals to licensed educators who want to earn a special education endorsement. All courses last five weeks and include educational psychology, special education law, and functional behavioral assessment. 

    • Graduation rate: 33%
    • School status: Public
    • Number of programs offered: 100+
    • City location: Beaumont, Texas
    • Admission requirements: Teaching license, 2.5 GPA, two years of teaching experience, letter from applicant's principal.
    • Contact: (866) 223-7675
    • Website

  • Methodology: Here's How We Rank Schools


    At Best Value Schools, we help students of all ages get the best possible value for their education. When choosing the best schools and programs, we prioritize tuition rates, student debt, financial aid opportunities, graduation rates, and the availability of online programs.
    We source unbiased data from government and educational databases like the National Center for Education Statistics and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for 6,374 schools across the U.S. We organize that data into five weighted categories to compile our school rankings.































    Metric Data Used Percentage
    Academic Quality Full-time faculty percentage, student-to-faculty ratio, student retention and graduation rates 25%
    Affordability Tuition rates, median student debt, and financial aid 35%
    Reputation Admission and enrollment rates 15%
    Program Offerings Number of program options 10%
    Online Enrollment Score Portion of learners taking at least one online course 15%

    You can read more about our comprehensive evaluation process on our methodology page.

Have Questions About Special Education Master’s Degrees? We Have Answers.

  • Do I need a master's degree to be a special education teacher?

    That depends on the regulations in the state you reside in. Some states require master’s level certification for their K-12 teachers. Either way, you may be eligible for a higher salary with a master’s-level degree.


  • Is an online master's of special education as good as an in-person degree?

    Although that depends on the program you choose, colleges and universities provide top-level education for online students, with highly qualified faculty and resources that are no different from what in-person students receive.

  • Can I get a master's degree in special education while I'm working?

    Yes, most programs allow you to take classes part-time. Asynchronous programs offer classes you can take at your convenience, whether that means early morning, late at night, or some other time.

  • What jobs pay the most in the field of special education?

    Administrative jobs tend to pay more than classroom jobs, with elementary and secondary school administrators earning a median pay of $98,880, according to the BLS.

  • How can I find the best online masters of special ed for my own needs?

    Do your homework: think about your goals, and review top programs’ websites. Talk to admissions counselors, and see if you can sit in on a virtual class. Also, consider your finances, and look for financial aid.


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Degree Overview 

Schools design master’s degrees in special education for students with undergraduate degrees in education or similar fields. You will learn about disabilities in children of all ages, from preschool to post-secondary, and the ways you can help these students reach their academic potential. 

Common coursework in a master’s program in special ed includes classes on:

  • Behavioral disorders
  • Psychology
  • Language development
  • Trends in special education leadership

You may be able to focus on a particular disorder, such as autism, or take classes that teach you how to write curriculum or become an administrator.

Degree Requirements 

You will need a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university in education to apply to a special education master’s program online. Programs may also require provisional certification in an educational content area. Many programs look for a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0, as well as the GRE or Praxis tests.

Other standard application requirements for an online special education master’s degree include recommendation letters, an essay that answers the institution’s questions, and an interview to ask and answer questions. 

Courses in an Online Master’s in Special Education Degree

When researching programs, prospective students should read through course descriptions to ensure the content aligns with their specialized teaching career goals. For example, individuals who want to work with high school students with disabilities should look for a program that covers education methods specific to this age group. While courses vary by program, the following list outlines five common special education classes.

Application of Technology in Special Education
Most Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) include a technology component. In this class, future teachers learn how to use technology to break down learning barriers for students. For example, students who struggle to process visual information can benefit from computer audio that reads assignment instructions to them.
Applied Behavior Analysis
In an applied behavior analysis course, participants learn how to use the principles of motivation to encourage positive actions in students. This course focuses on how to effectively help learners with behavioral disabilities improve their social interactions. Class participants read through case studies and discuss what factors contribute to helping students overcome behavioral challenges.
Cognitive and Behavioral Teaching Approaches
This course covers common research-based cognitive and behavioral teaching approaches that special educators use in the classroom. Class participants learn how to empower students to control their own behavior. The course discusses methods other than external reinforcements that teachers can use to help students with disabilities stay on task.
Practicum
Most special education master’s degrees include a practicum component that gives students hands-on, supervised experience working with learners with disabilities. Some programs require multiple practicums with various age groups.
Teaching Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders
Since autism is a relatively common disorder, many special education programs include a class devoted to this topic. In this course, students discover how to enhance learning and social interactions in children with autism spectrum disorders. While this class does not teach students how to diagnose this disorder, it teaches them signs of the disorder so they can make professional recommendations for testing.

Career Path for Master’s in Special Education Degree 

For many graduates from an affordable master’s program in special education, the classroom is their logical destination. They may be employed in pre-K, primary, or secondary level classrooms — both in mainstreamed classes as well as those which focus solely on students with special needs.

Some graduates of master’s of special education online programs may enter public service, working at the state, regional, or even federal level to create policy that benefits students with special needs. Others may work as educational administrators at the school or district level, working with students in a broad range of settings to ensure the best possible academic experience. 

Still, others may become instructional coordinators, overseeing school curriculum and teaching standards for students with special needs. This field is growing faster than average, with the BLS projecting 6% growth over the next decade.

Job Outlook & Salary 

Special education professionals enjoy strong job prospects. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs for special educators to grow 3% between 2019 and 2029. In 2020, these professionals earned a median annual salary of $61,420. However, related occupations that graduates with a master’s in special education can pursue feature higher growth rates. For example, the BLS projects the need for instructional coordinators to grow 6% between 2019 and 2029. In 2020, these professionals earned a median annual salary of $66,970.

Graduates with an online master’s in special education can also potentially work as medical scientists, focusing on the needs of youth with special needs, and making a median annual salary of $91,510 in 2020. 
They may also work at the college or university level as postsecondary teachers, who earned an annual median salary of $80,790 in 2020. It is increasingly common for colleges and universities to have an office dedicated to the needs of students with disabilities, and this is a common destination for those with a master’s in special education.

Scholarships for Special Education Students

Students can help offset the costs of their education with financial aid opportunities, such as scholarships. Many organizations offer scholarships reserved specifically for education students, several of which we outline below.

Applegate-Jackson-Parks Future Teacher Scholarship

Students pursuing an education-related bachelor’s or master’s degree can apply. Applicants must demonstrate their knowledge of voluntary unionism through a 500-word essay.

Amount: $1,000
Deadline: February 10

Joseph T. Weingold Scholarship

Students in New York currently completing a degree program that leads to special education certification may apply. The Arc New York Chapter also reserves scholarship funds for current employees who want to further their studies in this field.

Amount: $3,000
Deadline
: January 11

TEACH Grant

The U.S. Department of Education provides this grant to prospective teachers who plan to work in a high-need field in a low-income area. Recipients must take specific classes during their studies and commit to the award’s career requirements. Otherwise, this grant converts to a loan.

Amount: $4,000
Deadline
:October 31

Related Degrees

Degrees similar to special education include the following:

  • A psychology degree will allow you to work with students in a school setting, as a school counselor or psychologist, or in medical settings. You may also open a private practice that focuses on treating children with mental disabilities.
  • Studying law would allow you to carve out a professional niche as a special education advocate or consultant. You might take the bar exam in your state to practice law, or you could work in government, helping to shape policy for special education needs.
  • A degree in writing at either the graduate or undergraduate level would be helpful if you wish to work on curricular materials, such as textbooks and lesson plans, for special education students. You might also write articles or books on children with special ed needs on a freelance basis.

Mary Van Keuren picture

Mary Van Keuren

CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Mary Van Keuren is a contributing writer who covers higher education, online graduate programs, college planning, and more for Grad School Hub. Her writing has also appeared in MSN, Bankrate, and NextAdvisor.com.

Additional Resources

Use articles and resources to uncover answers to common questions, get guidance on your goals, and learn about applying to schools.


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