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The 10 Best Online Masters in Special Education

Special education teachers have the dedication and skills to discover each child’s unique path to classroom success.

A career in Special Education is extremely rewarding. You’ll spend your day making a tangible difference in the lives of people that are often ignored, stereotyped and marginalized in our society. Plus, you’ll help overextended parents that may not know how to grapple with their children’s issues the way a seasoned professional can. Whether you want to work in autism, behavioral disorders, learning disabilities, with adults, teenagers, children or toddlers, you’ll find programs that prepare you on this list. You can work in a classroom, or aid people who do. You can consult, or have one-on-one sessions with clients with diverse needs that allows you flexibility and evolving, varied challenges as opposed to the routine of more traditional work. Often you’ll find that the certifications these programs prepare you for are national, or internationally honored, allowing you to practice where you’d like. This is also a field with far greater demand than supply of Special Educators, and as we learn more about special needs people, the population requiring these services grows even larger. However, while looking through this list, make sure to check if the program you’re considering applying for can lead to a licensure where you want to practice.


  • Affordability (1/3): the estimated out-of-state tuition per credit hour rate.
  • Flexibility-enhancing features (1/3): the range and quality of flexibility-enhancing program components, including the ability to accelerate degrees, work part time, follow different concentrations, get credit for prior experience, learn asynchronously, and other components.
  • Student Services (1/3): the variety and quality of online student services, including online academic and personal counseling, tech support, writing center, as well as a low student to faculty ratio.

1) University of Missouri – College of Education

Also known as Mizzou, this public research university was founded in 1839 in Columbia, Missouri. Last year it had over 32,000 students enrolled. It offers over 300 distinct degrees through 19 academic colleges. It is considered one of the country’s top-tier research schools, and is one of 34 public schools that are members of the Association of American Universities, an organization of leading research universities. Mizzou is known for its versatile, multi-faceted programming, and is one of only six public American universities that offer schools of medicine, veterinary medicine, engineering, agriculture and law on the same campus. In 2016 it was ranked 103rd among national universities by U.S. News & World Report. Its College of Education was founded in 1868, and has been ranked in the top 50 of USNR’s doctoral university rankings. In 2011, Mizzou merged its Center for Distance and Independent Study with MU Direct: Continuing and Distance Education to make its current platform, Mizzou Online.

Mizzou’s online special education master’s program comes in four distinct concentrations: Autism, Early Childhood & Autism, Early Childhood Special Education and Gifted Education. Applicants for these programs should have a 3.0 GPA in their last 60 hours of undergraduate coursework. Their GRE scores should include 291 or better on their combined verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning, and a 3.5 or better on the analytical writing section. All four concentrations require 30 hours of course work, with some potential extra, negotiable work. In the case of the Gifted Education, the program is broken down into 15 hours of gifted education courses and 15 hours of core courses. The programs focus on established methodologies and practices of working with special needs, culturally diverse children and their families in school and home settings. It ranks the highest on this list for its student services

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  • Estimated Out-of-State Tuition: $353
  • Flexibility-Enhancing Components: Four options

2) Concordia University

Concordia is a liberal arts school located in St. Paul, Minnesota, and founded in 1893. It’s an affiliate and member of a ten part educational system, created by the second largest Lutheran church body in America, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS). In 2014, its student body encompassed just over 4,000 students. Concordia offers students access to undergraduate, graduate continuing education, and licensure degrees, certificates, classes and programs. Much of its programming is offered through other affiliates, and its robust online campus. It’s ranked 103rd in the Midwest region by U.S. News & World Report. It was included on this list in part due to its accelerated course schedule. It boasts a high employment rate among graduates, with 92% of its 2013-14 students who were polled saying they said they were employed after graduating.

Concordia’s Special Education Master’s can be completed in 36 credit hours, entirely online. Students will generally finish a 3 credit hour course every 7 to 8 weeks. Each week students will need to spend one hour on an audio/visual chat. The coursework focuses on ethics, strategy, teaching students with math/lingual difficulties, as well as intervening with students who struggle emotionally and behaviorally in lasting, effective, evidence-based ways. Students will hone in on evaluating, planning and programming for special needs students, while building advanced skills in instructional design, teaching, collaboration, communication, and practical standards. Special Education skills taught include strategy, social/emotional health, social/cultural competence, classroom management and academic competence. The program culminates in a research Capstone project that reviews and analyzes education research based on a specific question. Concordia received the third highest mark on this list for its student services.

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  • Estimated Out-of-State Tuition: $395
  • Flexibility-Enhancing Components: Accelerated courses

3) West Virginia University

This public, land-grant university is known for its intense research. It’s classified as an “R1” Research University (Very High Research Activity) by the Carnegie Foundation. It takes in tens of millions of dollars in research funding from external sources, including funding from the Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute, to study Alzheimers and other brain diseases. It was founded in Morgantown, West Virginia in 1867. WVU offers students 191 different bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral, and professional degree programs through 15 colleges in campuses throughout West Virginia and around the world. WVU boasts schools of pharmacy, medicine, public health, law, media, education & human resources, business & economics, creative arts and more. In 2016, WVU was ranked 360th by Forbes, 170th by USNR and 120th by Washington Monthly among American schools.

WVU offers online Special education master’s in Autism Spectrum Disorders, Early Childhood Special Education, Gifted Education, Low Vision/Blindness, Multicategorical Special Education, Severe/Multiple Disabilities and Special Education with emphasis in Applied Behavior Analysis. All of these specialization areas utilize live sessions that students must tune in for, as well as on demand lessons that can be accessed at any time. The program also arranges for students to work with local institutions to gain practical experience. Some courses are also taught through Second Life, the online game in a virtual world. Students must complete 36 credits to graduate from this program, and WVU recommends that even those with a master’s degree take on a second one to further specialize in their career.

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  • Estimated Out-of-State Tuition: $462
  • Flexibility-Enhancing Components: Number of specialization areas

4) Emporia State University

ESU is a public university in Emporia, Kansas. It has over 6,000 students according to recent estimates. It was established in 1863, and is one of six public universities governed by the Kansas Board of Regents. It offers degrees in over 80 courses of study and is competitive in NCAA Division II sports. The Koch family is heavily involved in ESU, funding education on leadership, ethics and business. ESU has one of the oldest schools of Library and Information Management in America, and has branches in six states. ESU’s Teachers College was featured in a U.S. Department of Education video looking at professional development in schools in 2011, and was one of four American colleges praised for its education program by teaching critic Arthur Levine in a national study of teacher education in 2006. ESU has a non-profit, partially trust-funded research program that works to help the austerity-plagued Kansas education system. It’s called the Jones Institute for Educational Excellence and offers some grants for educational students.

Emporia offers a few different special education programs. It has an Autism Spectrum Disorders certificate program, a Master’s of Sciences in Early Childhood Unified education, Instructional Specialist Elementary, Instructional Specialist for reading for pre-K through 12th grade, Instructional Specialist for Elementary STEM (with a certificate program as well, and a specifically Special Education MS in two concentrations, focusing on mild/moderate disabilities and/or children and who are gifted, talented, and creative. Students can focus on becoming a reading, elementary content and STEM in the Special Education MS as well, or get broader MS’s in those concentrations that can also apply to Special Education. The Special Education MS program focuses on early intervention and serving families with special needs infants. The programs are rigorous and high incidence. Applicants must submit two references, two disposition assessments, a statement and a writing sample.

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  • Estimated Out-of-State Tuition: $470
  • Flexibility-Enhancing Components: Two concentrations

5) Arkansas State University

Arkansas State University is a public research university founded in 1909. It’s the premier campus of the Arkansas State University system, which is the second largest in the state. The system serves over 21,000 students as of Fall 2016. USNR ranked it #61 in the Southern region, and 134th by Washington Monthly among national master’s programs. ASU began its master’s degree programs in 1955, and premiered its first doctoral degree on educational leadership in 1992. It offers master’s, bachelor’s and associate degrees through colleges of Agriculture and Technology, Business, Education, Engineering, Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, Media and Communication, Nursing and Health Professions, and Sciences and Mathematics. ASU has been increasing its admission standards, and has seen a growth in average GPA of its students and a huge bump in its Honors College student body in recent years. In 2012 and 2013 it had record graduation numbers.

The ASU MSE in Special Education can be completed in as little as 16 months. This accelerated completion timeline is part of why it made this list. Students must complete 36 hours of highly integrated, practically-based curricula. Graduates can obtain Arkansas licensure to teach special education for children from K-12. Graduates will become experts at teaching students with developmental, learning and behavioral issues, as well as consulting teachers in general education who have students with those issues. The curriculum is based on the principals and recommendations of organizations like the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) and CAEP. It tackles current issues in Special Education, philosophy, diagnoses, delivering services, creating different solutions for students with a range of disabilities, and positive behavioral intervention, support and reinforcement. It also helps students become well versed in Special Education law, and statistics/research. ASU also boasts the most affordable Special Education program on this list.

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  • Estimated Out-of-State Tuition: $288
  • Flexibility-Enhancing Components: Slightly accelerated

6) Eastern Kentucky University

This public institution was founded in Richmond, Kentucky in 1906. It serves almost 16,000 students, with nearly 2,500 graduate students. It offers a range of degrees through its colleges of Business and Technology, Education, Health Sciences, Justice and Safety, Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences and Science. It has several branches throughout Kentucky, and offers 40 undergraduate and graduate options online. EKU has offered teacher’s education for nearly 100 years. It received sterling rankings from USNR for 2017, including 29th among Top Public Schools, 79th among southern regional universities and 78th in Best Online Graduate Education Programs. The Chronicle of Higher Education has commended EKU as a great college to work for. Special Educators often end up teaching subsequent generations to expand the pool of educators in the field. EKU has been multiply cited for its LGTBQ resources, and for being a military friendly university.

EKU offers several Master’s in Special Education. These include Special Education for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Special Education in Interdisciplinary Early Childhood Education, Special Education for Learning and Behavior Disorders and a certificate in Special Education for Learning and Behavior Disorders. Each program offers slightly different tracks to further customize students’ education. These programs focus on leadership, positive reinforcement, and the belief that graduates will effect substantive change in the environments and students they encounter. Tuition is $500 per credit hour. Prospective students should make sure the EKU programs fulfill licensure requirements where they hope to work. Admissions requirements include prior graduate coursework, or GPA’s over 3.0 (3.25 or higher in the last 60 hours), or satisfactory GRE/MAT scores (GRE of 150 Verbal and 140 Quantitative or MAT score of 389).

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  • Estimated Out-of-State Tuition: $500
  • Flexibility-Enhancing Components: Nnumber of related degrees

7) Western Governors University

WGU is a private, nonprofit university founded in Salt Lake City, Utah. It was the brainchild of 19 U.S. governors, who established the school in 1997 after the idea was created at a meeting in 1995. Over 78,000 students attend WGU. It uses a competency-based learning model, which means concrete skills are prized over abstract learning. It was the first school in the country to offer this model to students. It is entirely online. The school is made up of four mini-schools, which all offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees: the College of Business, the College of Information Technology, the Teachers College, and the College of Health Professions. In 2015, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) ranked WGU’s secondary teaching program as the best value in teacher education.

WGU’s online M.S. in Special Education prepares graduates to work with students that deal with mild to moderate, wide-ranging disabilities in (K-12). It was the first entirely online school to receive a NCATE accreditation for teacher licensure in the country. Prospective students should have a bachelor’s and be licensed to teach, and able to spend 15+ hours a week on the program. Students will be immersed in instructional design, research fundamentals, and a teaching work sample in which they’ll put what they’ve learned into practice in educational programs near them. Part of why WGU made this list is due to its competency based credits, which allow students to complete the program at a pace that makes sense to them, and gives them more control over when and where they study. This model allows students to progress through the program by demonstrating their mastery of subject areas.

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  • Estimated Out-of-State Tuition: $372
  • Flexibility-Enhancing Components: Competency based credits

8)University of Nebraska-Lincoln

UNL (or sometimes NU), is a public research university that has been applauded for its value, graduation rates and programming quality. It was founded in 1869, and is the oldest university in Nebraska. Over 25,000 students attend UNL, over 5,000 of them in postgraduate programs. UNL offers an immense catalog, with over 150 undergrad majors, 20 pre-professional programs, 100 graduate programs and 275 programs of study through nine colleges including agricultural sciences, architecture, arts and sciences, business administration, education, engineering, performing arts, journalism and law. Some recent accolades its won include being listed on Princeton Review and Kiplinger’s best values at a public university in 2014 and 2016 respectively. It was cited by U.S. Dept. of Education for having low costs and a high graduation rate, and USNR ranked it among “A-Plus Schools for B Students.” Over 30 of its students have been either been named Rhodes Scholars, or awarded Nobel/Pulitzer prizes.

UNL was included on this list in part due to its array of degree options. Students can specialize in Deaf and Hard of Hearing Education (Pre-K through 12th grade), Early Childhood Special Education (birth to 5), Visual Impairments (Pre-K through 12th grade, also potentially requiring summer on-site course participation). Those programs can be earned in the M.A. or M.Ed. entirely online. UNL offers a wealth of other related programs that can be earned with some online coursework, like certifications in Behavior Specialization, Early Childhood Special Education and Sensory Disabilities. Students can gain graduate level competency in a wide range of studies including autism, motor speech disorders, speech science, traumatic brain injury, hearing science, fluency disorders, vestibular and balance disorders, language and phonological disorders and much more.

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  • Estimated Out-of-State Tuition: $609
  • Flexibility-Enhancing Components: Number of degree options

9) Ball State University

This public research university was founded in Muncie Indiana in 1918. It has a student body of over 21,000 students. Ball State is renowned for its doctoral degrees, high research activity and eight highly respected schools including College of Applied Sciences and Technology, College of Architecture and Planning, the College of Communication, Information, and Media, College of Fine Arts, College of Health, College of Sciences and Humanities, Miller College of Business and its Teacher’s College. The Ball State Teacher’s College offers academic departments in Counseling Psychology and Guidance Services, Educational Leadership, Educational Psychology, Educational Studies, Elementary Education, and Special Education. Its Special Education department offers eight programs recognized by the Council for Exceptional Children, and is considered the most comprehensive special education program in the State. Overall it boasts six undergraduate majors and three graduate programs.

Ball State’s Special Education online masters was placed on this list in part due to its range of focus areas, including Applied Behavior Analysis, Autism, Director of Special Education/Exceptional Needs, Response to Interventions and Severe Interventions, all completely online. Students can blend a variety of graduate certificates and teacher license options to create a personalized master’s degree in special education. Students should check their state teaching license requirements and liaise with the Office of Teacher Education Services to learn about gaining licensure. Students are offered a choice of two sample plans of study for each of the entirely online focus areas. They can earn their master’s degree in five semesters through Ball State Online.

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  • Estimated Out-of-State Tuition: $590
  • Flexibility-Enhancing Components: Wide range of focus areas

10) University of North Dakota

University of North Dakota is the state’s oldest school, founded in 1883, six years before the state was founded. It has nearly 15,000 students, with almost 3,000 in postgraduate programs. UND offers students access to 224 fields of study, with 90 undergraduate majors, 73 undergraduate minors, 54 master’s programs, 27 doctoral programs, two professional programs (medicine and law), and a specialist diploma program in educational leadership. It also has an interdisciplinary program allowing students to earn a degree in a customized course of study. Its online program has been consistently highly ranked by USNR, has ranked highly as a military-friendly online school, and is the 5th most affordable school on this list. It made this list in part due to its number of specialization areas.

UND’s master’s in special education online is offered in the following areas: Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD), Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE), Emotional Disturbance (ED), General Special Education, Gifted/Talented (G/T), Intellectual Disabilities (ID), Learning Disabilities (LD), Special Education Strategist (SES), and Visual Impairment (VI). Students can complete these programs in as little as one and a half years. All classes are offered asynchronously to give students greater flexibility. It also offers in-state tuition rates regardless of where students reside. TheBestSchools.Org ranked this program in the Top 30 of Best Online Master’s in Special Education. Students will be qualified upon graduation to diagnose learning difficulties/exceptionalities in children and young adults, create and plan curriculum, and work with a team of professionals in schools, hospitals and other human service organizations. The program helps students become familiar with cutting edge issues, research and trends in special education, increase their inquisitive nature and apply their education in an internship/practical setting.

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  • Estimated Out-of-State Tuition: $410
  • Flexibility-Enhancing Components: Number of specialization areas