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Top 25 Online Master’s in Special Education Programs for 2017

Teachers who work with special needs students need more than just patience and compassion; they also require extensive training and on-the-job practice. Earning an online master’s in special education will enable you to educate children with disabilities by improving their academic, social, and behavioral competencies.

An online special education master’s degree gives you the chance to make a meaningful difference in others’ lives while, at the same time, entering a well-paying career with the potential for personal and professional growth. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 6% increase in the employment of special education professionals between 2014 and 2024.

WHAT ARE THE BEST ONLINE MASTER’S IN SPECIAL EDUCATION PROGRAMS?

How to Choose an Online Master’s in Special Education Program

There are many factors to consider prior to enrolling in an online special education master’s program. For example, you should investigate how long it will take to complete your degree, especially if you plan to continue working and need to study part-time. You should also determine if programs have any on-campus requirements on top of online coursework, particularly if you select a school located in a state other than the one where you reside.

Additionally, it is important to decide what subfield you want to specialize in and that your school adequately prepares you for jobs in that particular subfield. For example, you may wish to specialize in applied behavioral analysis, which requires you to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.

You also need to assess the price of master’s in special education online programs, factoring in administrative and technology costs, along with related fees.

Careers for Graduates of Master’s in Special Education Programs

The professional opportunities in this field are as exciting as they are varied, which means you can define your own career trajectory once you complete your online master’s in special education. Advancements in educational assessment tools allow schools to identify special needs students earlier than in the past. These advancements drive the demand for professionals who are well-trained and who can deliver appropriate instruction for this unique population of students.

Job Outlook and Salary

The job outlook for special education teachers is strong, as the BLS projects that the field will grow 6% by 2024. This is at least partly attributable to better screening of children’s disabilities, meaning their needs can be identified earlier so that they can enroll in special education programs. Professionals who specialize in particular areas, such as working with students with severe disabilities and those on the autism spectrum, are likely find job opportunities more plentiful. Salary for special education teachers varies depending on location and years of experience.

Employment Growth for Special Education Teachers
Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024
491,100 522,000

Source: BLS

SALARY GROWTH BY EXPERIENCE

Your salary as a special education teacher is likely to increase once you acquire several years of experience. Salaries can start at around $41,000 for preschool special education teachers, and can increase to $57,600 with 20 or more years of experience. Education administrators can make significantly more, with salaries starting at around $50,400 and increasing to over $80,000 as they become seasoned professionals.

The overall median salary for special education teachers is $57,910, according to the BLS. Other factors that affect your salary include bilingualism and specialization in areas such as applied behavioral analysis, behavior management, and autism spectrum disorder. Special education as a career can be both meaningful and lucrative, allowing professionals to impact young people’s lives while also earning a salary commensurate with their level of experience.

PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATIONS

Joining professional organizations after you complete your online special education master’s degree allows you to network with peers and share your knowledge of the field. These organizations strengthen your understanding of best practices and give you access to various perks, including conferences where you can hear from special education experts. In addition, professional organizations offer career resources and job boards that keep you updated about various occupational tracks you can pursue throughout your career. Special education professional organizations include:

National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET)

NASET is a membership organization dedicated to supporting professionals in the field and fostering excellence in research, policy, and practice. It also serves as a national forum for special education ideas through publications, awards, and educational resources.

American Federation of Teachers (AFT)

AFT is a union organization that represents 1.6 million teachers in more than 3,000 local affiliates across the United States. Along with its demand for high-quality public education, it advocates for fairness, democracy, and economic opportunity for teachers and their students.

National Education Association (NEA)

NEA is the largest professional organization in the United States with 3 million members. The organization offers student memberships and is committed to advancing public education at every level through its 50 affiliates across the country.


To determine the best online master’s in special education programs, we looked at the most important factors prospective students, mainly common predictors of future success and a school’s commitment to online programs. This boils down to admissions rate, student loan default rate, retention rate, graduation rate, and the percent of students enrolled in online classes. All data points are taken from information provided by colleges and universities to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Each factor is weighted evenly in order to give an objective view and determine the 10 best online master’s in special education programs. To calculate our rankings, we looked at a school’s ranking when organized by a single factor, and then averaged each category’s ranking to find an overall score: Admissions Rate (20%) + Default Rate (20%) + Retention Rate (20%) + Graduation Rate (20%) + Percent of Students Enrolled in Online Classes (20%) = Final score.