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25 Best Online Master’s in Special Education

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by Stephen DeRose / published 1.9.2018 / updated 5.28.2020

Who are our special education teachers? They are the men and women with the patient compassion for those students who simply need to learn a different way. For students with mental, physical, and or emotional disabilities or handicaps, the special education teacher who can adapt lesson plans and truly meet the needs of the student is an educational hero.


Special education teachers can be found throughout all the school levels in both public and private institutions. The majority will work the traditional 10 month school year,  however others work all year. In 2016 the median pay for special education teachers was $57,910 per year according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The educational requirements for special education teachers will vary based on the state and the particular hiring institution. Overall most positions will require the minimum of a bachelor’s degree and some type of state licensing (not typically needed for private schools).

Each degree program at the schools listed below will offer different levels of study; from a general master’s degree, which will offer a broad overview and prepare educators to work with mild to moderate disabilities, to licensure in Applied Behavioral Analysis and the Autistic Spectrum, exposing educators to more moderate and severe disabilities.

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25 Best Online Master’s in Special Education

Online Master's Programs in Special Education1. Penn State University World Campus (University Park, PA)

The Master of Education in Special Education from Penn State is a 32 to 33 credit program offering three areas of emphasis:

  • Academic and Behavioral Support
  • Applied Behavior Analysis
  • Autism

For students taking the ABA emphasis there is an included 18 credit Board Certified Behavior Analyst approved course sequence. Students may choose to sit for the BCAB certification exam upon completion of the program.

There are two core courses for every student in the Master’s program, regardless of the area of emphasis:

  • Teaching Learners with Disabilities in Inclusive Settings
  • Introduction to Research in Special Education

This program is typically completed in one to two years based on full or part time enrollment. The current rate of tuition is $853 per credit. GRE scores are not required to apply.

Online Master's Programs in Special Education2. Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN)

Purdue University offers a Master of Science in Education in Special Education with several career tracks from which to choose:

  • Master’s only
  • Master’s with initial special education licensure
  • Master’s with advanced special education licensure
  • Master’s with advanced special education licensure – intense intervention only

These programs take 31 – 45 credit hours to complete with costs running at $347.85 per credit hour. All course curriculum’s are in accordance with edTPA standards (formerly known as the Teacher Performance Assessment). There are nine required courses for all tracks including:

  • Applied Behavioral Analysis for Teachers
  • Identification, Evaluation and Assessment of Exceptional Individuals
  • Advanced Assistive Technology
  • Advanced Characteristics of Children with Mild Disabilities

Online Master's Programs in Special Education3. Liberty University (Lynchburg, VA)

Liberty University offers a Master of Education in Teaching and Learning – Special Education. Designed for professional seeking a position in the K-12 grades, this is a 36 credit hour program with a current tuition rate of $565 per credit hour for full-time enrollment. The Special Education Cognate classes include:

  • Collaborating for Successful Inclusive Classrooms
  • Collaborating for Successful Transitions
  • Character of Autism Spectrum Disorder and Assessment
  • Communication, Language, and Sensory Aspects for Autism
  • Technology and Diversity

There is also an optional three credit hour practicum. Licensure is not available as part of the degree program, but may be pursued independently.

Online Master's Programs in Special Education4. University of Texas of the Permian Basin (Odessa, TX)

For admission to the Master of Arts in Special Education at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin GRE scores are waived for students with a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0. This degree requires a total of 36 credit hours with a current tuition rate of $270.07 per credit hour. The majority of students are able to complete all requirements within 12 months. Course examples may include:

  • Behavior Management and Social Skills
  • Characteristics of Autistic Spectrum Disorder
  • Research in Special Education
  • Transition Programming for Exceptional Learners
  • Cultural Diversity in Education and the Social Sciences

Courses run for eight weeks in length.

Online Master's Programs in Special Education5. University of Kansas (Lawrence, KS)

At the University of Kansas, the School of Education offers three comprehensive Master’s degree programs in Special Education:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder 
    • Behavior Track
    • Leadership Track
    • Secondary/Transition Track
  • Secondary Special Education and Transition 
  • High Incidence Disabilities Special Education
    • Teacher Track
    • Non-Teacher Track
    • Endorsement Only Track

These programs require 30 to 36 credits, or 10 to 13 courses, with each course running for eight weeks. The majority of students graduate within two years. Class examples from each track may include:

  • Advanced Methods and Assessment: Strategies for Students with Social and Emotional Needs
  • Appropriate Education and Least Restrictive Environment
  • Student Engagement in School and Community
  • Family and Inter-professional Collaboration in Special Education

Southern New Hampshire University6. Southern New Hampshire University (Manchester, NH)

The Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction degree with a concentration in Special Education at Southern New Hampshire is designed to advance the careers of K-12 educators. There are no GMAT or GRE required for admission which is done on a rolling basis throughout the five-term academic year.

This degree requires 12 courses, three of which are specific to special education, with costs currently set at $627 per credit hour. The majority of students will graduate within 15 months, taking two courses per 10-week term. This degree program does not grant licensure upon graduation; however students may seek certification independently.

Online Master's Programs in Special Education7. Indiana State University (Terre Haute, IN)

The Masters of Science in Special Education degree at Indiana State University is ideal for students with an existing teaching license. Those who have such a license may complete as few as 24 credits to add a special education teaching license to their existing certification. Those without prior licensing will be required to take up to 39 credit hours.

GRE scores are not required for admission. Once enrolled, full-time students may complete this degree in as little as 14 months. Students who wish to enroll part-time may take up to seven years to complete all requirements. Current graduate level tuition rates are set at $513.00 per credit hour.

Online Master's Programs in Special Education8. Drexel University Online (Philadelphia, PA)

The Master of Science in Special Education at Drexel offers six concentrations and the option to customize:

  • Applied Behavior Analysis
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Collaborative Special Education Law and Process
  • Multi-sensory Reading Instruction Level I
  • Special Education Leadership
  • Technologies for Special Education

The credit requirements consist of 27 credits in core special education certification courses, 12 credits in the chosen concentration, and six credits dedicated to research for a total of 45 credits. The current cost is $921 per credit. Certifications included in the curriculum are the Pennsylvania Instructional I Special Education PreK-8 or the 7-12 certifications. Drexel utilized a 10-week academic quarter system.

Online Master's Programs in Special Education9. University of Cincinnati (Cincinnati, OH)

Designed for educators of Kindergarten through 12th grade, the Master of Education in Special Education at the University of Cincinnati offers four concentrations:

  • Advanced Studies
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Behavior Disorders
  • Transition to Work

Each track requires a total of 30 credits for graduation. Students typically take two courses per semester, with each semester running for 14 weeks, finishing the degree within six semesters. Courses will vary based on the chosen concentration but may include:

  •  Transition Strategies for Individuals with Disabilities
  • Advanced Assistive Technology and Universal Design
  • Applied Behavior Analysis
  • Positive Behavior and Supports
  • Collaboration and Teaming
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders

Online Master's Programs in Special Education

10. Ball State University (Muncie, IN)

Based on the selected track, the Master of Arts in Special Education at Ball State University can be completed in as little as five semesters. Those tracks include:

  • Applied Behavior Analysis
  • Autism
  • Director of Special Education/Exceptional Needs
  • Response to Interventions

A Severe Interventions concentration is also available completely online but will require additional semesters. All programs consists of a minimum of 30 hours of graduate course work. A number of certifications and licenses are offered including:

  • Applied Behavior Analysis Certificate
  • Autism Certificate
  • Disabilities for Post-secondary Settings with an Emphasis in Autism Certificate
  • Response to Intervention Certificate
  • Mild Interventions License
  • Severe Interventions License

Online Master's Programs in Special Education11. Saint Joseph’s University (Philadelphia, PA)

The Master of Science in Education – Special Education at Saint Joseph’s University offers certification in:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorders Endorsement
  • Wilson Reading System Certification
  • Special Education Certification

Students may add more than one certification to their graduate studies or as stand-alone programs. These tracks range from 36 – 39 credit hours with 8 core courses required regardless of the track including:

  • Theory and Instructional Practice: Students with High Incidence Disabilities
  • Diagnostic Assessment and Progress Monitoring
  • Families, Schools, and Communities: Communication and Collaboration

The curriculum is based in the Response to Instruction and Intervention program. Before graduation, students are required to complete 140 hours in a supervised teaching environment.

12. Xavier University (CincinnatiOH)

There are two comprehensive Master’s programs offered at Xavier University. First is the Master of Science in Special Education. This program focuses more on the legal and political aspects of education and is geared towards professionals with a background in social work, school nursing, or criminal justice. The second degree is the Master of Education in Special Education which is geared towards general educators.

All courses are taught form a unique Jesuit Catholic framework. The current tuition rate is $550 per credit hour. Courses will cover a variety of topics including:

  • Understanding special education laws
  • Addressing behavior disorders
  • Utilizing assistive technology
  • Facilitating the transition to work

Online Master's Programs in Special Education13. Niagara University (Lewiston, NY)

The Master of Science in Education – Special Education at Niagara University is offered through the College of Education. This is a 40 credit hour program which leads to certification in:

  • Teaching students with disabilities, childhood grades 1-6 or
  • Teaching students with disabilities, adolescent grades 7-12

Course requirements for the childhood grades include 12 credit hours of foundation courses, 15 credit hours of advanced courses, six credit hours of electives, and six credit hours of field courses. Students in the adolescent grades track must complete 15  credit hours of foundation courses, 18 credit hours of advanced courses, and six credit hours of field courses. Both tracks end with a one credit Portfolio Advisement and Defense course. Students can complete the degree within two years.

Online Master's Programs in Special Education14. Regent University (Virginia Beach, VA)

Regent University offers a Master of Education in K-12 Special Education with licensure. There are a total of 42 required credit hours to complete this program. All courses are taught online, however there are some required face-to-face components. The curriculum holds to a a conservative Christian perspective and may include topics such as:

  • Legal Aspects and Foundations of Special Education
  • Characteristics of Students with Disabilities
  • Behavior Management and Social Skill Training
  • Language Acquisition and the Communicative Arts
  • Assessing and Teaching Mathematics to Students with Special Needs

Optional certifications in Working with Autistic Children and Reading Specialist Endorsement are also available.

Online Master's Programs in Special Education15. University of Arkansas (Fayetteville, AR)

Offered by the College of Education and Health Professionals, the Masters of Education in Special Education at University of Arkansas is a 36 credit hour program. There are six areas of concentration for students to choose from:

  • Special Education
  • Special Education with initial licensure
  • Special Education with ABA Certificate
  • Special Education with ASD Certificate
  • Special Education with Dyslexia Therapy Endorsement
  • Special Education with Educational Examiner Endorsement

All students are required to participate in a supervised practicum at the end of the program, which is to be completed in a public school. The majority of students are able to complete all requirements within two years. GRE scores are required to apply and the current tuition rate is $420.19 per credit hour.

16. Ashford University (San Diego, CA)

At Ashford University, the Master of Arts in Special Education degree consists of 30 course credits total. All courses are weighted at three credits each and will run for six weeks in duration. During this time students will be exposed to a comprehensive curriculum which emphasizes the areas of research, student assessment, collaboration with parents and administrators, and behavior management. Some current class examples include:

  • Law and Ethics in Special Education
  • Education Based Collaborative Relationships
  • Positive Behavior Supports in the Classroom
  • Evidence-Based Instructional Methods for Students with Mild to Moderate Disabilities

The majority of students are able to complete this degree within 64 weeks.

Online Master's Programs in Special Education17. Fort Hayes State University (Hays, KS)

The College of Education and Technology, Department of Advanced Educational programs at Fort Hayes State University offers a Master of Science in High-Incidence Special Education for PreK-12th grade. Though there are admissions requirements, students do not have to complete an entrance examination for acceptance to this degree.

Accredited by both KSDE and NCATE, there are 36 total credit hours needed for graduation. The majority of students will complete this degree within 18 to 24 months. This program does not grant a teaching license, but rather a full endorsement in High-Incidence Special Education as a supplement to an already existing license.

Online Master's Programs in Special Education18. University of Toledo (Toledo, OH)

The University of Toledo offers a Master’s Degree in Special Education with a focus on Early Childhood disabilities. Early childhood is defined by this program as age’s birth to six years of age. There are a total of 36 required semester’s hours consisting of:

  • 12 hours Foundations Core Courses
  • 18 hours Specialty Courses
  • 6 hours Culminating Activity (which includes thesis, project, or comprehensive exam)

The current rate of tuition is $548.58 per credit hour. Students have a variety of endorsements to choose from as a part of this degree program including:

  • Preschool special needs
  • Transition to work
  • Ohio reading endorsement

Online Master's Programs in Special Education19. University of North Dakota (Grand Forks, ND)

UND’s College of Education and Human Development offers a Master’s in Special Education with nine specialization areas to choose from:

  • Autistic Spectrum Disorders
  • Early Childhood Special Education
  • Emotional Disturbance
  • General Special Education
  • Gifted/Talented
  • Intellectual Disabilities
  • Learning Disabilities
  • Special Education Strategist
  • Visual Impairment

A course sequence for the Board Certified Behavior Analyst is also offered. The various degree tracks require a minimum of 32 credits, and all students must take a two credit Scholarly Project, or four credit Thesis, before graduation. Students are able to complete the degree in as little as one and a half years.

20. University of West Alabama (Livingston, AL)

There are two relevant online graduate degrees offered at the University of West Alabama, the Master’s in Education in Special Education Collaborative Teacher for grades K-6 or the Master’s in Education in Special Education Collaborative Teacher for grades 6-12.

Both programs require 34 credit hours consisting of 16 hours of professional courses and 18 hours in the certification area. Courses run for eight weeks and are currently priced at $429 per credit. Course examples for both programs may include:

  • Characteristics and Strategies for Special Needs Students
  • Teaching the Severely and Profoundly Disabled
  • Developing Receptive and Expressive Communication Skills
  • Seminar in Special Education Issues
  • Seminar in Behavior Management

Online Master's Programs in Special Education21. Saint Mary’s University (Minneapolis, MN)

At Saint Mary’s University the Master of Arts in Special Education has three options:

  • Degree without Licensure – requires 36 credits consisting of:
    • 18 credits special education core courses
    • 12 credits electives
    • 6 credits completion courses
  • Degree with Additional Licensure  for already licensed teachers, wishing to add additional licenses in EBD, LD, or ASD. Requires 42 credits consisting of:
    • 18 credits special education core courses
    • 15 credits specialization courses
    • 3 credits practicum courses
    • 6 credits completion course
  • Degree with Initial Licensure  for those looking for their first teaching license and who wish to teach special education. Requires 65 credits consisting of :
    • 18 credits education foundation courses
    • 18 credits special education core courses
    • 15 credits specialization courses
    • 6 credits student teaching
    • 2 credits capstone course
    • 6 credits completion courses

Student seeking initial or additional licensure will be required to complete some courses on campus.

Online Master's Programs in Special Education22. Spring Arbor University (Spring Arbor, MI)

Open for enrollment to both certified and non-certified teachers, the Master of Special Education at Spring Arbor University offers two concentrations: Learning Disabilities, which requires 12 courses, and Autism Spectrum Disorder, which requires 13 courses. No GRE or GMAT scores are required to apply and the current set tuition rate is $550 per credit hour.

There are four foundation courses shared by both concentrations:

  • Current Issues in Special Education
  • Support and Collaboration – Special and General Education, Parents, Professionals and Agencies
  • Human Development for Special Education
  • Law and Policy for Special Education

Student will graduate this degree confident in their ability to assess students, adapt lesson plans, and monitor and report progress.

Online Master's Programs in Special Education23. Georgia Southern University (Statesboro, GA)

Georgia Southern University offers a Master’s in Education in Special Education available in one or two year tracks. This program is targeted towards working professionals who already have a Level Four Certification or equivalent in Special Education. There are two areas of concentration from which to choose: Adaptive Curriculum or General Curriculum. Course examples may include:

  • Cultural Issues: ESOL
  • Issues and Trends in Literacy
  • Perspectives on Characteristics of Mild Disabilities
  • Introduction to Augmentative Language
  • Methods for Low Incidence Populations

Courses must be taken in sequential order and students are required to complete 36 credit hours for graduation.

Online Master's Programs in Special Education24. Western Governors University (Salt Lake City, UH)

As an exclusively online institution, Western Governors University is proud to be the first school of its kind to receive NCATE accreditation for degrees leading to teacher licensure. This includes the Masters of Science in Special Education K-12. 

This Master’s program requires 31 competency units (the same as a credit hour) for completion. Graduate students are recommended to take eight competence units per term in order to graduate within two to two and a half years. Students are charged a flat tuition rate of $2,890 per six month term regardless of the number of classes; thus the more accelerated the degree, the cheaper the total tuition rate.

Capella University25. Capella University (Minneapolis, MN)

Capella University offers a Master’s in Special Education Training through the School of Education.  The degree requires a total of 58 quarter credits currently priced at $453 per credit. Students may transfer in up to 12 credits which can help with keeping tuition costs down. Typically, students will complete one to three courses per 10-week quarter. Course examples may include:

  • Classroom Management Strategies
  • Adaptive Instruction and Assessment
  • Communication, Consultation, and Collaboration for Special Education
  • Foundations of Learning Disabilities
  • Assessment and Planning for Special Education Students

There is a three week break between each quarter.

25 Best Online Master’s in Special Education

Students looking for a Master’s degree in Eduction may also be interested in the Micro-Master’s program in “Leading Educational Innovation and Improvement” from the University of Michigan. You can read about it here: 17 Online MicroMaster’s Programs Across the Globe.

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