Top 10 Best Online Master’s in Special Education Degree Programs for 2020

In a field like Special Education, roles are always changing. As our understanding grows, we learn how to more effectively meet the needs of students with learning disabilities, physical challenges, and other special requirements. For teachers in Special Education, the continually-growing body of research can be hard to keep up with. That’s one of the primary values of a Master’s in Special Education – learning the most current techniques and approaches (such as special education inclusion), and training to contribute to them in your own career. 

While the consensus may be that a Master’s in Special Education may lead to more rewarding teaching opportunities, there are other things you can do with this degree. For example, If you’re looking for high pay jobs in special education, earning your master’s degree can lead you in that direction. Special education masters degree jobs include working as a curriculum developer, director of a center, and educational audiologist. An online Special Education Master’s degree can prepare busy working professionals for any of these roles, without having to leave their current career to go back to school. 

Ranking the Best Online Special Education Master’s Degree Programs 

For special education professionals who want to take the next step in their career, Value Colleges has ranked the top online special education master’s degree programs, taking a broad look over all of the online offerings from accredited, legitimate colleges and universities across the US. To organize the ranking, editors gave programs the usual VC treatment, averaging scores on Tuition Cost, Student Satisfaction, and Alumni Salary for a full picture of return on investment

1. Texas A&M University

Texas A&M University offers an MEd or MS in Special Education online program. This graduate program is distinguished by offering two different degrees, which most universities that do offer a Master’s degree in Special Education cannot match. The MEd degree and the MS degree are quite different, despite being in the same field. The difference is in the length, structure, and specific focus of the two degree programs. The MEd degree is targeted toward individuals who want to go into teaching after receiving their master’s degree. As you might expect, this degree includes more practical experience. Many students who choose the MS degree program due go onto teach special education students. However, the MS degree path is really targeted toward students who plan to continue their education in this field by pursing a doctoral degree. Students looking for an online special education Masters degree should keep in mind that Texas A&M has not one, but two online special education Masters degree programs. 

Texas A&M is known as one of the best public universities in the country. In fact, it is considered to be one of the top 50 universities, public or private, in the country by many sources. As a public university, it has relatively low tuition and thus offers excellent value for money. (Note: A teaching certificate is not required to pursue a graduate degree in special education at Texas A&M.)

Degree: MEd or MS in Special Education

2. Purdue University

Purdue University offers an MSEd in Special Education that can be completed totally online. The MSEd (Master of Science in Education) program is unique in that it can be completed in only 20 months by full-time graduate students. This is significantly quicker than most Masters degree programs, even online programs. As an online special education Masters degree program, it can be completed online, just like other online special education Masters degree programs. The MSEd program at Purdue can even include obtaining a special education license.

Purdue is another public university that combines the prestige of a renowned private university with the affordable tuition rates of a public university. The university is considered to be a very high research activity institution, which is a designation that greatly contributes to the reputation of a university. Purdue is especially affordable for in-state students from Indiana. 

Degree: MSE in Special Education

3. University of Florida

The University of Florida offers an online MEd degree with several Special Education tracks. This program is designed for practicing special education teachers. This distinguishes it from most of the other programs on this list, which are designed for teachers in other areas or even working professionals in other fields entirely. Another aspect of the program at UF that sets it apart from similar graduate special education programs is its various degree tracks. Most students looking for an online special education masters degree have to make do with the one track that the majority of online special education masters degree programs offer. The degree tracks in the MEd program include Autism, Dyslexia, and more.

The University of Florida is usually considered to be the leader amongst Florida’s numerous public universities. This is underscored by the fact that UF is the only public university in Florida to be a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU), which is one of the most prestigious organizations that a public university can belong to.

Degree: MEd – Several Special Education tracks

4. North Carolina State University

North Carolina State University has an MAT in Special Education program that is a little different than most similar degree programs. The MAT degree is actually a Master of Arts degree, instead of the usual Master of Science degrees that most graduate programs in special education have. Another aspect of the program at NC State that makes it unique is the attainment of a teaching license as part of the program. Some online special education masters degree programs include licensure, but some other programs only include an online special education masters degree.

NC State has quite a few different financial aid options available for students. The university is known for having many different generous scholarships. Quite a few of these scholarships are funded by alumni, as NC State has a large endowment. 

Degree: MAT in Special Education

5. George Mason University

George Mason University has a distinctive MEd in Special Education program that can be completed totally online. This program is unique in that it offers tracks in both Autism Spectrum Disorders and Applied Behavior Analysis. While it is fairly common for graduate programs in special education to include an autism focus, few such programs have a focus in Applied Behavior Analysis. Prospective students looking to get an online special education masters degree with a focus in this area should add GMU to the list of online special education masters degree programs they are considering applying to.

GMU is known for being very affordable. As a public university, it already has relatively low tuition fees. GMU also has many different types of financial aid available to graduate students. The Applied Behavior Analysis focus of the graduate special education degree at GMU includes a certification from The Behavior Analyst Certification Board.

Degree: MEd in Special Education

6. Michigan State University

Michigan State University offers a completely online MA in Special Education program with specializations in either Learning Disabilities or Autism Spectrum. One of the unique things about this program is the considerable amount of practical experience that it incorporates. MSU will help students in the graduate program find schools that will allow them to complete the practical experience required to get the degree. Prospective students who want to pursue an online special education masters degree online and still get valuable experience should consider adding Michigan State University to the list online special education masters degree programs that they’re considering.

MSU is arguably the most prestigious public university in the country. It has been competing with the University of California, Berkeley for this title for decades. No matter which school is ranked higher at the current moment, the fact is that a degree from MSU is recognized and even desired by employers. MSU also offers a graduate certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis that can be completed online.

Degree: MA in Special Education – Learning Disabilities or Autism Spectrum

7. University of Nebraska – Lincoln

The University of Nebraska – Lincoln has online MA or MEd in Special Education degrees in their graduate special education programs. These programs are unique in offering specializations in the education of both hearing-impaired and visually-impaired students. Most online special education masters degree programs only offer specializations in learning and behavioral challenges, but the online special education masters degree at UNL is different.

The alumni network at UNL is known for being very helpful to students and fellow alumni. Recent graduates, especially those in Nebraska, can easily find a distinguished professional in their field who can help them with advice and maybe even career opportunities. Few universities have alumni networks as strong as UNL’s. The graduate special education program at UNL also offers a specialization in Early Childhood Education.

Degree: MA or MEd in Special Education

8. Texas Tech University

Texas Tech University has an excellent MEd in Special Education online program. This program is characterized by its rare Educational Diagnostician specialization. It can be hard for prospective students to find an online special education masters degree program that offers this concentration, due to its highly technical characteristics, but Texas Tech is known for its ability to combine advanced science, online education, and real student support.

TTU is known for its online degree programs, which is fairly rare for a large public university. Many of the programs are highly ranked in their respective fields. TTU also has online degrees in more fields than most universities. TTU’s graduate special education program can also be taken in a hybrid learning mode which incorporates both in-person and online classes.

Degree: MEd in Special Education 

9. University of Washington

The University of Washington has an online MEd in Special Education program with a specialization in Applied Behavioral Analysis. This program is unique because instead of focusing on training special education teachers, it focuses on training behavior analysis professionals only. Prospective students who want to get an online special education masters degree to go into this field can add UW to the short list of online special education masters degree programs that will fit their ambitions. 

UW is classified as one of the leading research universities in the country. This can be seen in the research-based graduate special education programs. Of course, these programs also teach students how to apply research to practical experience. UW is affiliated with over 20 Nobel laureates, which has boosted the prestige of all of the school’s programs. 

Degree: MEd in Special Education – Applied Behavioral Analysis

10. University of Houston

The University of Houston has an online MEd in Special Populations that is a little different from the other programs on this list. Most special education programs focus only on challenged students, while UH also offers a specialization for teaching gifted students. People who want to get an online special education masters degree to teach gifted students may not be able to find many more online special education masters degree programs that offer this focus.

The University of Houston is known for offering very affordable tuition for in-state students. Also, there are quite a few different types of financial aid available. These include scholarships, grants, and more. UH’s graduate special education programs also offer a specialization in Special Education Leadership.

Degree: MEd in Special Populations

How Much Can I Make with a Master’s in Special Education?

You can expect to earn a higher special education teacher salary with masters due to the skills you’re developing. Here are some examples of statistics for a masters in special education salary:

Course Developer: Those holding this role tend to have a median salary of $55,500 annually, according to Payscale. The statistics further indicate that the average salary potential for this career is, on average, $67,703 annually.

Director of an Education Center: According to Payscale, those who are holding the role of working as a Director of Special Education earn an average salary of $73,601. These statistics indicate that there’s potential growth for an average income up to $80,363 annually.

Educational Audiologist: As of July 14, 2019, ZipRecruiter states that an Educational Audiologist’s average annual salary is $64,283. There’s potential for earning as much as $123,500 while working in this field based on your skill level.

Special Education Administrator: Those who work as a Special Education Administrator can expect a higher special education teacher salary with masters. Their average annual income is $96,663, according to Glassdoor, with a potential for earning up to $101,000 per year.

Learning Behavior Specialist: Working as a Learning Behavior Specialist means you can expect an average annual income of $52,727, according to Glassdoor. These statistics further state that there’s potential for earning as much as $78,000 per year.

What Else Can I Do with a Master’s in Special Education Besides Teaching?

There are a variety of career paths you can pursue when you earn your master’s in special education, aside from teaching. Careers with a masters in special education are not limited to working as a teacher, or jobs related to learning. Instead, you can find jobs for special education teachers in hospitals, for example. Here are other job opportunities you can explore with your masters in special education:

Special Education Curriculum Development: Working as a curriculum developer means you’re creating, planning, and administering materials that effectively meet a student’s special needs. You’ll be working toward ensuring these materials have high standards and can also be used to train instructors. It may also be your responsibility to use these materials for training purposes.

Special Education Consulting: If you choose to be a Special Education Consultant, this means you’ll be working with educational programs to ensure they’re meeting standards. It’s also your responsibility to work with parents, as well as to provide that students with special needs are receiving the instruction they require.

Administration in Special Education: Working as an administrator in special education often means you’re holding an upper-level position who manages and holds leadership roles. You’ll be leaving the classroom experience and, instead, working as a decision-maker toward helping facilitate student’s with special needs experience positive outcomes. You’ll report directly to the school’s superintendent, as well as the school board. It will be your responsibility to oversee every facet of the school’s special education program.

Speech Therapist: An example of jobs for special education teachers in hospitals include working as a speech therapist. When individuals are having difficulties with language, you can provide them with the services they need. Because the field is broad, some holding their master’s in special education choose to specialize in particular speech disorders or age groups.

Textbook Writer or Editor: Earning your master’s degree means you’ve gathered an enormous amount of skills and knowledge. Some who earn their master’s in special education opt to become textbook writers or editors. You’ll need previous experience as a classroom teacher to pursue this option, but you’ll likely have obtained that upon earning your Bachelor’s degree.

Human or Social Services Provider: For those who enjoy assisting others with social services can find enriching work once they’ve earned their master’s in special education. You’ll be working alongside physicians, therapists, and nurses to help develop comprehensive treatment plans. You’ll also be helping determine if a client qualifies for social service assistance programs, as well as assisting clients with their activities daily.

Juvenile Corrections Officer: Working in a juvenile detention center once you receive your master’s in special education is another career path you’ll have qualifications. In addition to impacting the lives of juvenile offenders, it will also be your responsibility to oversee the operations of the facility daily. It’s an attractive career opportunity for those who like to assist juveniles regarding the services they need for reentering society.

Related Rankings: