The cost of a graduate degree shouldn’t hold you back.
We’ve compiled this ranking of the most affordable master’s degrees in special education so that you can earn a graduate degree, advance your career, and better serve your students.
What are the options for a master’s degree in special education?
A master’s degree can be earned in-person, which is ideal for students who prefer face-to-face experiences with faculty and peers. For working professionals, however, an online master’s degree can be a better fit.
If you still need to earn your bachelor’s degree and would like a broad foundation in mainstream education, take a look at our ranking of the Most Affordable Online Bachelor’s in Elementary Education Degrees.
How much can you earn with a master’s degree in special education?
Based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, here’s a quick breakdown of how much you can expect to make as a special education teacher:
- Preschool: Mean annual salary of $52,460
- Elementary: Mean annual salary of $57,040
- Middle School: Mean annual salary of $58,560
- Secondary: Mean annual salary of $59,700
What can I do with a master’s degree in special education?
Once you’ve earned your degree, you can find a job as a special education teacher, educational diagnostician, certified behavior analyst, intervention specialist, or special education director. You may work in a public or private school, a correctional facility, or an alternative or nontraditional school.
What are the requirements for a master’s degree in special education?
Many master’s degree programs, even fully online ones, require in-person field experiences. If you plan to enroll in an online program through a school outside of your state, make sure to find out if you’ll be able to complete any student teaching requirements in your local area.
Remember that licensure and endorsement requirements vary by state as well. Check with your state’s Department of Education to be sure that you’ll qualify for your license or endorsement in the place you plan to teach.
What are the most affordable master’s degrees in special education?
We strive to provide you with accurate, comprehensive rankings to help you make the best choices for your education. Our information comes from individual college websites, U.S. News & World Report, and the IPEDS database. Using these sources, we examined tuition costs and financial aid availability to bring you the 15 most affordable online master’s degrees in special education.
1. Kentucky State University
Kentucky State University emphasizes a student-centered teaching philosophy and a focus on social responsibility. The commitment to both outstanding academic quality and accessibility is a defining factor in the teacher preparation programs at Kentucky State. The Special Education program features a unique combination of interactive virtual coursework and intensive field experiences.
Kentucky State offers a program that leads to a Master of Arts in Special Education (MASPE) degree and P-12 Certification in Learning and Behavior Disorders (LBD). The program is suitable both for teaching candidates who are seeking initial licensure, and those who are certified in another area and are now seeking an add-on license in LBD. The degree requires between 36 and 45 credit hours and includes courses such as:
- Legal and Parental Issues in Special Education
- Curriculum and Methods in Learning and Behavior Disorders
- Instructional Assessment Methods
- Inclusion, Collaboration, and Advocacy
All candidates in the MASPE program will complete a student teaching experience in a public school classroom. During this experience, teaching candidates will work with students who have Individual Education Plans. The program aligns with Kentucky Teacher Standards, the Council for Exceptional Children Standards, the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education, and the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (In TASC) Standards.
2. Texas Woman’s University
With a student body of almost 15,000, Texas Woman’s University is the largest university in the nation that primarily serves women. The university was founded in 1901, evolving from the Girls Industrial College to Texas Woman's University in 1957. The remarkable degree programs at TWU are addressing the nationwide teacher shortage by offering an affordable, accessible means to prepare teachers to serve all learners.
The Master of Education in Special Education is a hybrid degree track that is predominantly online while still requiring a limited number of on-campus classes. Two tracks are available within the M.Ed. program. One features an Intervention Specialist concentration, while the other leads to a Diagnostician Certification. Both tracks require 36 credit hours. Coursework for the Diagnostician Certification track includes:
- Instructional Interventions for Students with Disabilities
- Legal and Administrative Issues of Special Education Programs
- Clinical Instruction in Psychoeducational Assessment
- Advanced Assessment and Evaluation of Individuals with Disabilities
A number of master’s degrees and certificate programs in special education are available 100 percent online. Programs with fully online coursework are available leading to an M.S. in Education of the Deaf, Speech and Language Pathology, and Child Life. As of 1972, men are also admitted to TWU.
3. The University of Texas of the Permian Basin
Washington Monthly recently recognized the University of Texas of the Permian Basin as one of the best four-year colleges for adult learners. The numerous fully online degree programs at UTPB offer flexibility and convenience without sacrificing on rigorous academic standards. Graduates of the UTPB Special Education program will be prepared to serve as transformational educators at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.
The online Master of Arts in Special Education from UTPB can be completed in as little as 12 months. The program offers an optional concentration in Autism. Both with and without the Autism concentration, the degree track requires 36 total credit hours. Courses for the M.A. in Special Education are eight weeks long. Students will complete courses such as:
- Cultural Diversity in Education and the Social Sciences
- Programs and Practices for Exceptional Learners
- Foundation and Legal Aspects of Special Education
- Transition Programming for Exceptional Learners
Six start dates are available for the online Special Education program. Although the application process does ask students to submit GRE scores, this requirement is waived for applicants with an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or above. As of 2017, the tuition rate for the program is $9,722.52, or $270.07 per credit hour.
4. Western Governors University
The competency-based approach and highly relevant degree tracks at Western Governors University have earned national acclaim. An impressive 73 percent of WGU graduates felt that their college education was worth the cost. (Compare this to a national average of just 38 percent.) Flexibility and affordability make WGU an outstanding choice for both traditional and nontraditional college students who aspire to a career in special education.
The Master of Science in Special Education is designed for certified teachers who wish to earn an add-on license. While the coursework for the program is fully online, students will complete 240 classroom hours of supervised teaching with exceptional learners. Candidates for the M.S. in Special Education will complete classes such as:
- Introduction to Special Education, Law and Legal Issues, Policies and Procedures
- Psychoeducational Assessment Practices and IEP Development/Implementation
- Behavioral Management and Intervention
- Instructional Models and Design, Supervision, and Culturally Responsive Teaching
Western Governors University offers a unique tuition model. Students pay a flat rate for each six-month term ($3,190 per term, as of 2017). During each six-month period, students are welcome to earn as many credits as they are able. Through this system, 73 percent of WGU students complete the Special Education program in 12 to 36 months.
5. Minot State University
The innovative distance learning opportunities at Minot State University bring practical, career-centric degree programs to students all over the country. The university has been widely recognized for affordability by publications such as BestColleges.com, Online Course Report, and College Choice. The Special Education program at MSU transforms students into reflective decision makers and empowered advocates for children and adults with disabilities.
All students in the Master of Science in Special Education track will choose a program emphasis. Options include Deaf or Hard of Hearing, Specific Learning Disabilities, Early Childhood Special Education, and Special Education Strategist. (All of these emphasis areas are also offered as stand-alone graduate certificates.) Regardless of emphasis area, core coursework for the degree includes:
- Research Design and Methodology
- Consultation and Supervision in Special Education
- Law and Policy in Special Education
- Psychoeducational Aspects of Exceptional Children
Faculty advisors will work closely with each student in the Special Education program to design a personalized course of study. The degree track requires the successful completion of a capstone thesis. For the 2017-2018 academic year, the tuition rate for graduate-level coursework is $356.22 per credit hour. Abundant financial aid and scholarship opportunities are available for distance learning students.
6. University of Arkansas at Monticello
Three campuses make up the University of Arkansas at Monticello: the main location in Monticello and satellite locations in McGehee and Crossett. In addition to these physical locations, UAM also fosters an extensive online presence, with five out of six of its graduate degrees offered fully online. These online programs include an array of options and specializations for current and future educators.
In addition to the Special Education track, the online Master of Education is also available through a Content Track and a Teacher Leader Track. The M.Ed. program can be completed in as little as one year. Required coursework for the Special Education track includes:
- Teaching Methods for Persons with High-Need Exceptionalities
- Research and Assessment for School Improvement
- Providing Positive Behavioral Supports in the Classroom Environment
- Application of Assessment Data for Exceptional Learners
The program requires students to hold a valid teaching license prior to applying. Additionally, applicants should show a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher, either overall or in the last 60 hours of undergraduate coursework. Students with lower undergraduate GPAs may still be accepted if their GRE scores meet specific benchmarks. A Master of Educational Leadership and a Master of Arts in Teaching is also available fully online through UAM.
7. University of North Texas
The University of North Texas is home to a number of nationally renowned teacher preparation programs. UNT’s College of Education was ranked 13th in the nation for Best Online Graduate Education Programs by U.S. News & World Report. The online special education degree tracks at UNT live up to the university’s reputation for adaptable, rigorous academic programs.
Students may choose between an Educational Diagnostician concentration and an Autism Intervention concentration. Both tracks can be completed in as little as 15 months. Full-time teachers can take up to four accelerated courses in the summer, two classes in the spring, and two in the fall to complete all 33 credits in less than a year and a half. The curriculum for the M.Ed. in Special Education includes courses such as:
- Teaching Students with High Functioning Autism
- Characteristics of Individuals with Learning Disabilities
- Educational Research and Evaluation
- Teaching Social Skills to Children and Youth with Disabilities
A typical graduate-level, three-credit course at UNT costs $1,400. Qualifying students may be eligible to receive a one-time departmental award of $1,000. Other financial aid and scholarship opportunities are available for students in a graduate program. Students who are taking only online courses will have some standard costs, such as the student recreation center fee and student union fee, waived.
8. Eastern New Mexico University
Roughly 6,000 students attend the Portales campus of Eastern New Mexico University, including over 1,400 graduate students. The university offers renowned programs in family and consumer science, aviation science, forensic science, hospitality management, and teacher education. Through the Alternative Licensure Certificate in Special Education, students are eligible for employment as a special education teacher as soon as they are accepted into the program.
The coursework for the alternative licensure program is offered fully online. However, the internship requirement will be completed in a public school classroom. Candidates who are already working as a teacher will complete their internship on the job, while other students will receive an internship placement at a school in their local area. The certification program requires 21 credit hours, but does not lead to a master's degree. The curriculum includes courses such as:
- Exceptional Student Regular Classroom
- High Incidence Disabilities: Theory to Practice
- Emotional Disturbance: Theory to Practice
- Literacy Assessment and Evaluation
ENMU places a strong emphasis on diversity as one of the strengths of its student body. The university is a member of the Hispanic Association of Colleges, and it also holds a federal designation as a Hispanic-Serving Institution. The tuition costs at ENMU rank among the lowest 10 percent of 81 public institutions in the Southwest.
9. Indiana State University
For 14 years running, Indiana State University has been named among the best colleges in the Midwest by the Princeton Review. Widely recognized for outstanding student engagement, community service, and value, Indiana State offers superb degree programs both on its main campus in Terre Haute and through distance learning opportunities. The Special Education program is designed to prepare graduates to work in public and private schools, as well as in group homes, child and family service agencies, and medical settings.
The fully online M.S. in Special Education requires a minimum of 39 credit hours. Successful graduates of the program will earn licensure in mild interventions. Students will be required to complete a three-credit Special Education Action Research course as their culminating experience. Other requirements include:
- Diversity and Disability in Today’s Schools
- Learning Strategies in Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies
- Assistive Technology
- Development Through the Lifespan
The Special Education master’s degree can be earned in as little as 14 months through full-time study. Students are permitted to take up to seven years to complete the program (although most will take much less time). Indiana State also offers fully online programs leading to an M.S. in Career and Technical Education, an M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction, and an M.S. in Educational Technology.
10. West Virginia University
In an evaluation by the Center for World University Rankings, West Virginia University placed in the top 1.5 percent of universities worldwide. The College of Education and Human Services at WVU has offered outstanding undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degree programs for more than 50 years. WVU offers a flexible Special Education program that is available to students nationwide.
The Special Education track at WVU leads to a Master of Arts degree. Students may choose from available concentrations in Autism Spectrum Disorders, Early Childhood Special Education, Gifted Education, Multicategorical Special Education, Severe/Multiple Disabilities, or Special Education with an emphasis in Applied Behavior Analysis. This unique program alternates between on-demand (asynchronous) coursework and real-time (synchronous) engagement with faculty. Core courses for all of the specialization tracks include:
- Educational/Legal Foundations: Special Education
- Academic Interventions for Special Needs
- Technology Applications for Special Needs
- Collaborative-Consultative Inclusion Strategies
Students will participate in numerous field experiences through K-12 schools in their local area, with online supervision from WVU faculty. The program is available either as a certification track, leading to special education licensure for K-6 or 5-Adult, or as a degree-only track. WVU’s degree program is NCATE-accredited and aligns with the standards of the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC).
11. University of Houston-Victoria
Founded in 1973, the University of Houston-Victoria has grown into a highly respected institution with award-winning faculty and a vibrant student community. The university serves over 4,400 total students, including roughly 1,100 graduate students. Both the on-campus and online programs at UHV emphasize the importance of personalized attention to help each student succeed. The high-value M.Ed. program at UHV provides an in-depth examination of the legal, social, and cultural aspects of special education and disability.
Students of the M.Ed. in Special Education will learn to assess, teach, reinforce, and evaluate both children and adults with disabilities. A number of concentrations are available, including Applied Behavior Analysis, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and Educational Diagnostician Certification. Required coursework for the Educational Diagnostician Certification track includes:
- Human Growth and Development
- Diagnostic Teaching, Assistive Technology, and Instructional Strategies
- Appraisal, Instructional Coaching, and Collaboration for Students with Disabilities
- Behavior Assessment and Adjustment of Exceptional Children and Youth
The 2017 U.S. News & World Report ranking for Best Ethnic Diversity featured UHV tied for 12th among regional colleges in the West. The website College for All Texans named UHV the seventh most affordable public university in Texas. The university awards $35.1 million in financial aid annually.
12. University of West Florida
The main campus of the University of West Florida is in Pensacola. Additional satellite campuses are scattered throughout the region. A variety of online programs bring UWF’s innovative, collaborative degree programs to students around the country. The Exceptional Student Education program is NCATE-accredited and regionally renowned for its highly relevant and intensive curriculum.
UWF offers a comprehensive degree track leading to an M.A. in Exceptional Student Education. The core curriculum for the degree consists of 21 credit hours. In addition to this core, candidates will be required to complete a 15-credit hour cognate. Pre-approved options for the cognate include Special and Alternative Education and Applied Behavior Analysis. Courses within the core curriculum include:
- Issues in Teacher Education: A Bio-Psycho-Social Perspective
- Educational Assessment
- Issues in Classroom Management
- Investigative Strategies and Empirical Foundations in Learning and Development
Applicants with an undergraduate GPA below 3.0 may be conditionally admitted with GRE scores at or above the 50th percentile. Once accepted, all M.A. candidates will be assigned a faculty mentor to offer support and advice throughout the degree program and beyond. For Florida residents, the graduate tuition rate is $377.60 per credit hour. For out-of-state students, the cost is $1,037.24. A special tuition rate of $482.60 per credit hour is available for residents of Alabama.
13. University of Nebraska at Omaha
The philosophy of the University of Nebraska at Omaha is rooted in local, national, and global service. To that end, UNO offers a comprehensive array of undergraduate and graduate programs across nine academic colleges. U.S. News & World Report notes that the tuition at UNO is one of the lowest compared to all of the four-year institutions in Nebraska. The combination of affordability and outstanding scholarship provides a perfect environment to earn an online master’s degree in special education.
Four tracks are available within the Special Education Graduate program: Special Education Generalist, Behavior Intervention Specialist, Inclusion/Collaboration Specialist, and Applied Behavior Analysis. The Special Education Generalist program leads to an endorsement in either K-6 or 7-12 special education. This track leads to a Master of Science degree and requires 36 credit hours. Students in this track will complete courses such as:
- Reading and Writing in Special Education
- Language Development and Disorders for Teachers
- Research Methods in Special Education
- Methods and Materials in Special Education
UNO has been consistently recognized by the Military Times as one of the best universities for active military personnel and veterans. Extensive financial aid opportunities are available for graduate students, including the UNO Advantage Scholarship Program, Summer Graduate Scholarship, and the Dissertation Scholarship.
14. Northwest Missouri State University
Northwest Missouri State University offers 40 master's degrees and a number of other post-baccalaureate certificate and degree programs. The strong academic standards at Northwest have earned the university the top slot in U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of the moderately selective regional universities in Missouri. (Northwest has earned this distinction three out of the last four years.) The teacher preparation programs at Northwest provide an accelerated pathway to becoming a leader in special education.
The fully online Special Education program at Northwest leads to a Master of Science in Education degree. The track requires a total of 30 credit hours and can be completed in as little as 12 months. The coursework for this degree program includes:
- Data Literacy and Assessment for Schools
- Multicultural Education for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
- Transition/Career Education for Students with Disabilities: Process and Resources
- Theories and Techniques of Behavior Analysis and Intervention
Online classes at Northwest are based on a seven-week format. Multiple start dates for the program are available throughout the year, offering flexibility and convenience for working professionals. As of the 2017 school year, the tuition rate for the M.S.Ed. in Special Education is $9,750, regardless of state residency. Students can pay for each course as they enroll.
15. University of South Florida
The University of South Florida was founded in 1956 and has thrived in the 60 years since then. Today, USF is one of just 49 public research universities in the nation to be classified by the Carnegie Foundation as both a Doctoral University with "Highest Research Activity" and as a “Community Engaged" institution. According to U.S. News & World Report, the education programs for graduate students at USF Tampa rank 36th nationwide.
USF offers two fully online graduate degree programs in special education. One is the Master of Arts degree in Exceptional Student Education, with possibilities for endorsement in Autism, Severe and Profound, Gifted Education, and Reading. The other is the Master of Arts in Autism Spectrum Disorder and Severe Intellectual Disabilities, which leads to endorsements in Autism and Severe Disabilities. The M.A. in Exceptional Student Education requires courses such as:
- Advanced Psychoeducational Assessment of Exceptional Students
- Transitional Programming for the Adolescent and Young Adult Exceptional Student
- Management and Motivation of Exceptional and At-Risk Students
- Consultation and Collaboration in Special Education
The GRE requirements for the Exceptional Student Education program may be waived for students with an undergraduate GPA above 3.0. The requirement may also be waived for students who have completed nine credit hours of special education graduate coursework with a GPA of 3.0 or above.