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

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?

1

George Washington UniversityWashington, DC

GWU offers one of the best online special education master’s programs with licensure in the country. The master’s of arts in secondary special education and transition services is a 12-month program that prepares teachers and specialists to serve the needs of students with emotional and behavioral disabilities in middle and high school. This program is nationally recognized by the Transition Guideposts of the Department of Labor National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth and the CEC Advanced Knowledge and Skills Base for Transition Specialists.

The 33 credit-hour curriculum emphasizes social justice in action and offers evening classes and clinical internships in therapeutic school settings throughout DC and the surrounding region. Coursework covers a variety of topics, including affective development and behavior management in special education, developmental assessment of adolescents, and curriculum and instructional methods in special education. This program boasts exceptional post-graduation employment placements and a teacher-retention rate that is higher than the national average.

2

University of FloridaGainesville, FL

UF offers an online master’s in special education degree through the Teach Well Online Academy. This online program is ideal for practicing teachers in special education or teachers in other disciplines who are interested in acquiring the skills needed to teach students with disabilities in inclusive settings. Students must choose one of six specialization tracks: general, autism focus, disabilities in society, early childhood studies, education and healthcare transition, or dyslexia.

Courses are delivered asynchronously online, allowing students to complete coursework at their own pace. Students are expected to complete two courses per semester, including summer sessions, and can earn their degree in just two years. All online students pay the same tuition rate, regardless of residency. However, all out-of-state students will be charged with a flat rate non-resident fee. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis and are considered as they are received. UF is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

3

Saint Joseph’s UniversityPhiladelphia, PA

SJU offers an online master’s in special education built on the foundation of the Response to Instruction and Intervention (RtII) program, a research-based strategy for student achievement that has been successfully implemented in school districts across the U.S. The master’s of science in education-special education program can be completed in just three years and features asynchronous courses, allowing students to complete coursework at their own pace.

The program is perfect for practicing teachers seeking certification in special education or those who want to better serve students with special needs in general classrooms. In addition to a master’s of science in special education, students can earn three additional certification in either autism spectrum disorders, the Wilson Reading System, or special education for teachers. SJU is accredited by the Middle States Commission on HIgher Education.

4

Asbury UniversityWilmore, KY

Asbury offers an online master’s of arts in teaching with a specialization in learning & behavior disorders for students who have already earned a bachelor’s degree and wish to pursue teacher certification. This online special education master’s can be completed in either a traditional or alternative route. The traditional route has students complete all coursework and then complete one semester of student teaching, while the alternative option does not require any student teaching and instead applied clinical hours based on a student’s existing classroom teaching experience.

Courses are delivered synchronously in live, web-based conferences that meet one evening per week for seven weeks. Students typically enroll in six to nine credits each semester and can earn their degree in seven to eight semesters. Asbury is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

5

Nova Southeastern UniversityFort Lauderdale, FL

NSU offers a master’s of science in exceptional student education/special education (ESE) that can be completed either on-campus or online. The on-campus option allows students to enroll in evening or weekend classes at NSU locations throughout Florida. This program is intended for certified teachers who want to earn a master’s of science in ESE and those who want to earn a certifications in a variety of related areas.

This 36-credit program includes customized concentrations on several topics: autism, developmental/intellectual disabilities, emotional/behavioral disorders, gifted learners, learning disabilities, and pre-K disabilities. The curriculum includes courses on a variety of subjects, such as educational research, special education law, and educational and psychological assessment of exceptional students. Student must also complete an applied professional in a school setting. NSU is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission of Colleges.

6

Liberty UniversityLynchburg, VA

Liberty is the largest evangelical Christian university in the world, serving more than 100,000 online students each year. The school offers an online master’s of arts in teaching – special education that is ideal for those without prior teaching experience who are seeking licensure in special education. This 36-credit online master’s in special education includes a few required on-campus intensives. Graduates are prepared to pursue careers as special education teachers.

The curriculum includes courses on a variety of topics, such as behavior management, educational assessment and intervention, collaboration for special transitions, strategy building for inclusive classrooms, and a student teaching requirement in a student’s chosen licensure area. Students can transfer up to 50% of the program’s required credits from another accredited institution. This online special education master’s program is fully accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education Standards.

7

University of South FloridaTampa, FL

USF offers a master’s of arts in exceptional student education that is intended for teachers and other professionals already working in education, special education, or a related field. This master’s in special education online is structured to allow students to work full-time while earning their degree. However, this degree does not lead to teacher certification.

Students are required to complete a common core of classes and a specialization in exceptional student education, behavior disorders, learning disabilities, or intellectual disabilities. They can also enroll in electives that can lead to endorsements in autism, severe and profound disabilities, gifted education, and reading. Core courses cover a variety of topics, such as working with families, instructional approaches for exceptional populations, and consultation and collaboration in special education. USF is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

8

Morningside CollegeSioux City, IA

Morningside offers one of the best online special education master’s programs in the country. This fully accredited master’s of arts in teaching is a convenient and affordable program that is ideal for elementary and secondary education teachers who seek further training in the field of special education. Courses are delivered asynchronously online, allowing students to complete coursework at their own pace.

The 36-credit curriculum includes 18 credits in a professional foundations core and 18 credits in the special education degree track. Core courses cover a variety of topics, such as learning in educational settings, instructional technology, educational research, and data collection and analysis. Teachers seeking endorsements in the state of Iowa may select instructional strategist options for K-8 elementary, 5-12 secondary, behavior disabilities and learning disorders, or intellectual disabilities. Students may transfer up to 9 graduate credits from another accredited institution into this program, subject to approval. Morningside is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

9

Greenville UniversityGreenville, IL

Greenville offers a special education master’s of arts that has been nationally recognized as one of the best online master’s in special education programs in the country. This program can be completed in 24 months with 100% of courses delivered online. This degree is ideal for teachers working in special education and other related fields who want to enroll in courses online throughout the year.

This 30-credit MA includes foundational education courses and concludes with a capstone research project. Students seeking the learning behavior specialist I endorsement from the Illinois State Board of Education must also complete a clinical practicum in addition to all other degree requirements. The program requires students to maintain a minimum GPA of 3.0 throughout their tenure to graduate. Greenville is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

10

Concordia UniversitySeward, NE

Concordia offers a master’s of education with an emphasis on early childhood special education that can be completed in two years of full-time study. This 36-credit online master’s degree in early childhood education features classes scheduled in eight-week sessions. Students who enter the program with a previous teaching certification in Nebraska are eligible to apply for the early childhood special education teaching certificate upon completion of all degree requirements.

Courses are delivered in a cohort format, where students are grouped together and enroll in the same classes concurrently. The curriculum includes core courses on a variety of topics, such as contemporary thought in education, psychological foundations of teaching and learning, and family and culture. Applicants to this early childhood special education master’s program are not required to submit GRE scores. This program is accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.

11

Slippery Rock University of PennsylvaniaSlippery Rock, PA

Slippery Rock offers four distinctive master’s in special education online programs with specializations in autism, supervision, birth to grade eight, and middle to high school grades. The M.Ed. in special education autism is a highly specialized degree that provides teachers and professionals with the skills to support students diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. The special education birth to grade eight and the special education middle to high school grades programs train teachers and special education professionals to work with diverse student populations in inclusive classrooms. The special education supervision program prepares students for teaching certification and administrative leadership careers in special education.

Each program is aligned with the Pennsylvania Department of Education competencies and with Council of Exceptional Children standards. All courses are taught asynchronously online, allowing students to complete coursework at their own pace. With the exception of the autism degree, students can complete any of these programs in just one year. Slippery Rock is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

12

Saint Mary’s University of MinnesotaWinona, MN

Saint Mary’s offers a variety of online special education master’s programs with both licensure and non-licensure options. The master’s of arts in special education specializations are open to students without teaching licensure, those who wish to study special education without obtaining licensure, and those who already hold a general teaching license and wish to add additional licensure in special education.

Courses are delivered completely online or in a blended format that combines distance learning with face-to-face instruction on-campus. Non-licensure students can finish this 36-credit program in just two years by enrolling in two classes per semester. Those seeking licensure will have an extended timeline depending on the specific requirements of their selected program. The school also offers a doctoral program in special education for those who want to continue their education after graduation. Saint Mary’s is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

13

Ball State UniversityMuncie, IN

Ball State offers an online master’s of arts in special education with specializations in applied behavior analysis, autism, special education/exceptional needs administration, response to interventions, and severe interventions. The school also offers blended programs in hearing impairment, early childhood special education, and mild interventions that combine online classes with on-site courses in Muncie or Indianapolis, depending on the specialization.

This 30-credit degree includes 15 credits in a student’s major focus area, one research course, and nine credits in a second focus area. The online master’s in special education does not lead to initial teaching licensure but can be individually tailored towards various special education licensing options and graduate certificates. This program is nationally recognized by the Council for Exceptional Children and the school is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

14

Florida International UniversityMiami, FL

FIU offers a fully online master’s programs in special education with an exclusive focus on autism. The online master’s of science in special education: autism endorsement recognizes the growing demand for teachers with the specialized skills to meet the needs of students with autism spectrum disorders. This program is ideal for those already working in the field of special education and is one of a select few that leads to an autism endorsement.

The 36-credit curriculum is grounded in classroom-based research that prepares teachers to work with diverse students and their families. Distance learners must complete 12 three-credit courses that are offered in six accelerated eight-week terms. Core courses cover a variety of topics, including foundations of educational research, instructional technology, and integration of assessment, curriculum, and instruction. FIU is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

15

Indiana Wesleyan UniversityMarion, IN

IWU offers a master’s of education with a major in special education that is ideal for those who are already teachers but who require state licensure in Indiana and a number of other states. Students can complete this 33-credit program in just 25 to 26 months. The fully online curriculum is aligned with the standards of the Council for Exceptional Children.

Core courses cover a variety of topics, including personal attributes and leadership, leading instructional improvement, and the culturally competent teacher leader. Many courses include embedded clinical requirements. Graduates are eligible to apply for the Indiana Intervention Specialist Mild/Moderate licensure. The school recommends that out-of-state students look into licensure and major requirements in their home state before applying to this program. All online students pay the same tuition rate, regardless of residency. IWU is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

16

University of North DakotaGrand Forks, ND

UND offers an online master’s in special education that is ideal for certified teachers and non-certified individuals who want to strengthen their skills serving youth with mild to moderate disabilities. The online master’s degree in special education requires a minimum of 32 credit hours and can be completed in roughly 18 months. Courses are delivered entirely online and include some live web classes on evenings or weekends.

Students may choose one of the following specializations: autism, early childhood education, emotional disturbance, intellectual and learning disabilities, special education specialist, and visual impairment. This program also offers the approved sequence of classes for the Board Certified Behavior Analyst as well as those required for graduate certification in autistic spectrum disorders. All online students pay the same tuition rate, regardless of residency. UND is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

17

Minot State UniversityMinot, ND

MSU offers an online master’s program in special education that boasts a curriculum that is aligned with the Council for Exceptional Children professional standards. The master’s of science in special education is offered completely online and consists of a set of core classes, a capstone thesis, and an emphasis in one of the following areas: specific learning disabilities, early childhood special education, deaf or hard of hearing, or special education strategist.

Students must complete between 31 and 45 credits to graduate, depending on their area of emphasis. These areas of emphasis are also offered as stand alone certificates. Students work with a faculty adviser to craft an individualized plan of study that will prepare them to meet their long-term career goals. This degree leads to licensure in North Dakota, and out-of-state students should learn about their home state’s licensure requirements before applying to this program. MSU is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

18

Georgetown CollegeGeorgetown, KY

Georgetown created its online special education master’s program in response to the growing need in Kentucky for teachers with the specialized training needed to support children with moderate to severe disabilities. This master’s of arts with certification in moderate and severe disabilities is ideal for certified teachers in a field other than learning and behavioral disabilities. The program is offered in entirely online and blended options. Students in the blended cohort must attend three evening face-to-face classes per week and are assigned online activities. Students in the entirely online option enroll in classes that are offered asynchronously, allowing them to complete coursework at their own pace.

In both options, students are expected to complete one course every seven weeks to earn their degree in approximately two years. This degree leads to P-12 certification in moderate and severe disabilities, although a passing score on the Praxis exam is required to earn the certification. Georgetown is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

19

George Mason UniversityFairfax, VA

George Mason offers a master’s in special education with an emphasis in applied behavior analysis that offers courses that are approved by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. This online master’s in special education delivers courses asynchronously, allowing students to complete coursework at their own pace. The program prepares classroom teachers and those working in other settings to support the needs of populations with disabilities. Graduates are prepared to pursue careers as teachers, behavior analysts, specialists, and administrators in schools, private practices, psychiatric hospitals, and training centers.

This 30-credit program can be completed in just 18 months. Core courses cover a variety of topics, including computer applications for special populations, special education research, and several courses on applied behavior analysis. Students who complete the optional 15-hour practicum qualify for behavior analyst certification. George Mason is accredited by the Southern Association of College and Schools Commission on Colleges.

20

Michigan State UniversityEast Lansing, MI

MSU offers one of the best online special education master’s programs in the U.S. The 30-credit master’s of arts in special education delivers courses asynchronously online, allowing students to complete coursework at their own pace. Students typically enroll in two courses per semester and complete the program in just two years. Courses are taught by special education faculty members who have extensive experience as researchers, teacher educators, and special education teachers.

Students can pursue an emphasis in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) or learning disabilities (LD). The ASD endorsement prepares students to teach autistic children in K-12 settings, while the LD endorsement trains educators how to teach children with learning disabilities in pre-K through 12th grade settings. Students can also pursue a graduate certificate in applied behavior analysis while earning their master’s degree. MSU is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

21

West Chester University of PennsylvaniaWest Chester, PA

West Chester offers an innovative online master’s program in special education that emphasizes universal design for learning and assistive technologies. This 33-credit program includes a seven-course core in professional and special education and a four-course concentration, which leads to certification in universal design and assistive technologies. This master’s of education in special education program is ideal for educators, family members, and other stakeholders who want to receive the specialized training needed to support the learning needs of special needs students.

The curriculum includes classes on a variety of topics, such as family systems and legal issues in special education, contemporary issues and trends, and behavior management. Courses completed in this program may be applied to Pennsylvania Level I teaching certification. All courses are delivered completely online using a cohort model that fosters collaboration and peer support among distance learners. West Chester is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

22

University of Nebraska at Kearney Kearney, NE

UNK offers an online master’s of arts in education: special education program that is ideal for educators in Nebraska who currently hold teaching certificates in any discipline and who wish to obtain certification in special education. This fully online master’s degree requires 36 credit hours and can be tailored towards certification in either K-6 or 7-12 grade levels.

The curriculum includes a core component that reflects the mission of the College of Education in areas like research, democracy, diversity, and technology. Core courses cover a variety of topics, including education research, philosophy of education, curriculum development in multicultural education, and technology tools for teachers. In addition to these core courses, students must pursue one of three areas of emphasis: advanced practitioner, gifted education, or special education. UNK is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

23

Rowan UniversityGlassboro, NJ

Rowan offers an accelerated online master’s of arts in special education that is ideal for new and continuing teachers who want to better serve children with disabilities. This online master’s in special education offers three tracks: graduate endorsement, autism spectrum disorders, and learning disabilities.

The graduate endorsement track is perfect for students who do not currently hold the special education endorsement, while the autism spectrum disorders track is designed for licensed teachers who are interested in working with children on the autism spectrum. Finally, the learning disabilities track is ideal for educators who want to specialize their teaching style towards the needs of children with learning disabilities. This program includes 30 to 36 credits, depending on a student’s chosen track, and can be completed in five to seven semesters of part-time study. Rowan is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

24

Spring Arbor UniversitySpring Arbor, MI

Spring Arbor offers one of the best online master’s in special education for certified and noncertified teachers seeking to work with special needs populations. This online master’s of special education is one of four accredited and nationally ranked graduate education programs at Spring Arbor that is designed specifically for adult learners.

The program consist of four core foundation courses and two endorsement options: learning disabilities and autism spectrum disorder. The foundation courses explore a variety of topics, including current issues in special education, human development, and law and policy. The learning disabilities endorsement includes 12 courses, while the autism spectrum disorder concentration consists of 13 courses. All online students pay the same tuition rate, regardless of residency. Students can complete this program in approximately two years. Spring Arbor is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

25

Texas A&M UniversityCollege Station, TX

Texas A&M offers a nationally-ranked special education master’s of education program that is ideal for educators, coaches, counselors, therapists, administrators, and other professionals who are interested in working with special needs populations. This 36-credit M.Ed. offers courses both synchronously and asynchronously online and can be completed in just two years.

The curriculum covers a variety of subjects, including autism, academic and behavioral interventions, positive behavior supports, prevention programming, bilingual special education, literacy, and transition. Students can also pursue an applied behavior analysis option. Those who complete all required coursework are eligible to sit for the Behavior Analyst Certification Board exam. In fact, Texas A&M alumni are in the top 10% of all online programs when it comes to pass rates for the ABA certification exam. Texas A&M is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

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.