The Most Affordable Online Master’s in Special Education Programs

Are you an educator or professional looking to transition into special education? If so, pursuing an online master’s in special education is an affordable way to get you there. A master’s in special education gives teachers advanced qualifications to work with students with a range of disabilities, and opens doors for a number of high-need careers in administration, local and state agencies, residential facilities, community centers, and other related special needs settings. Online graduate education programs are designed with flexible schedules and coursework, allowing busy educators and other professionals the ability to continue working full-time and balance other priorities, including education and family.

While many online colleges advertise cheap online master’s in special education programs, it’s important that students look for schools that offer both high-quality and affordable online master’s in education programs. Many online programs offer lower tuition rates than those on-campus or offer students in-state rates; however, this isn’t the only factor to consider when assessing affordability. Other important elements to look for include length of program (many are offered in an accelerated format); flexible payment schedules and loan programs; and graduate-level scholarship, grant, and other financial aid opportunities.

Below, you’ll find our list of the most affordable online master’s in special education programs in the country. Factoring in a variety of metrics, our College Affordability Score has identified the best online programs in special education. If you’re thinking about returning to school for your degree, and are interested in taking classes online, be sure to take a look at these top programs.

Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost % Receiving Loans Location Description
1Texas A&M University86.253/554%College Station, TX

The online master’s in special education (M.Ed) from Texas A&M University-College Station (TAMU) is delivered by leading educational practitioners in a variety of key areas, including autism, academic and behavioral interventions, bilingual special education, literacy and reading, and others. Students complete the 36 credit hour program (with an applied behavioral analysis [ABA] option) in two years through a virtual classroom using the latest tech software. Graduates of the program go on to fill a number of positions, such as campus leaders, expert teachers, teacher leaders, behavior therapists, response-to-intervention coordinators, and others.

Students participate in both synchronous and asynchronous course formats through TAMU’s cheap online master’s in education, which is also part of the Quality Matters standards-based program of best practices in teaching with technology. The program has been ranked multiple times by U.S. News and World Report as a “best value” for your dollar. TAMU offers a variety of funding opportunities, including scholarships and financial aid, teaching graduate assistantships (GAT), fellowships, and TAMU award programs. In state students benefit further from a reduced tuition rate over the two years.

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2Indiana University – Bloomington83.333/546%Bloomington, IN

Indiana University Bloomington (IU) offers an online special education master’s degree that prepares educators for working with students with mild disabilities (aka high incidence). The program has a focus on inclusive classrooms, though teachers are also exposed to resource and self-contained environments. Students enter into a cohort that continues throughout the typical two-year duration for this 36-credit degree program.

Students pursue an individualized program that includes four online courses in a specified area of interest - autism, behavior specialists, early childhood, instructional strategies, and intense interventions - completed with a capstone project or thesis. IU’s online masters in special education programs are typically more affordable than on-campus programs, and financial aid benefits for online programs are identical to those offered on-campus. IU’s “college affordability initiative” also provides student-friendly resources like the MoneySmarts financial literacy program, guaranteed course sign-up for students who follow a program map and register during priority registration, and a flat-rate tuition versus a per-hour credit rate.

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3Minot State University82.603/570%Minot, ND

The master’s of science in special education (MSEd) from Minot State University is part of the National Association of Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC) Interstate agreement, allowing students to transfer their degree and teach out of state (state-specific certification requirements apply). Graduate students have a choice of focus in one of the following areas: developmental disabilities/autism; spectrum disorders; deaf or hard of hearing; specific learning disabilities; early childhood special education; or special education strategist.

All special education emphases use the “Professional Educator as Reflective Decision Maker” framework, encouraging the development of a proactive (versus reactive) teaching practice. Online programs can be completed from anywhere at a reduced tuition rate from on-campus. Minot State is consistently ranked as offering high-quality and affordable online master’s in education programs, and students are charged by the hour for only the credits needed to complete their degree. Financial aid, including the TEACH grant, are offered to online education students. Minot also offers convenient payment plans for each semester.

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4The University of Texas of the Permian Basin80.172/586%Odessa, TX

The University of Texas of the Permian Basin (UTPB) offers an online master’s of arts in special education (MAEd) that can be completed in as few as 12 months. The online master’s in special education program is held to the same standards as UTPB’s on-campus program and is accredited by The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). Graduates are not only certified to teach, but also qualified to serve in supervisory-level positions, such as director for special education programs or curriculum specialists.

There are six program start dates throughout the year, a convenient option for distance learners. Courses are also only seven-and-a-half weeks long, encouraging a balance between school, work, family, and other priorities. Tuition for this masters in special education program is competitive and charged per credit hour. UTPB makes efforts to keep other costs low, with no application fee as one example. Applying for financial aid for online programs is the same process as for on-campus programs.

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5University of Florida79.513/529%Gainesville, FL

“Teach Well Online Education Specialist” is the official degree name for University of Florida’s (UF) master’s degree in special education, which prepares graduates to work with students who have disabilities, in inclusive classroom settings. Geared towards beginning and practicing teachers, the Teach Well Online Program is designed to be completed part-time over an average two-year period, which balances out to two courses per semester, including summer semester. Graduates choose one of five areas of emphasis: general special education; autism; disabilities in society; early childhood; and education and healthcare transition. UF’s graduate online special education program was ranked fifth in the nation for 2016 by U.S. News & World Report.

Online masters in special education graduates are eligible to receive financial aid funding. Though usually reserved for doctoral programs, UF sometimes also offers grants and scholarships for master’s students. Students can search for available UF scholarships through the school’s user-friendly online database, with filter options by college, degree, scholarships type, and other factors.

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6University of Nebraska – Lincoln78.993/569%Lincoln, NE

University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s online graduate education degree was ranked 14th in the nation for 2016 by U.S. News & World Report. An master’s of arts (MA) or master’s of education (MEd) is available in early childhood special education, a program which prepares teachers and interventionists to work with children preschool-age and younger who have disabilities. A particular curricular emphasis is placed on family- and community-centered practices. This program is designed for practicing educators or those with a bachelor’s in education who want to pursue special ed specialization.

Online special education degree graduate students can apply for university grant assistance and other financial aid through FAFSA. UNL prides itself on offering graduate programs that are more affordable than those in many other states. Courses are charged per credit hour, with a slightly higher rate for online versus on-campus programs to help cover waived student fees. In addition to federal financial aid, UNL also offers graduate students short-term loans and provides information on alternative loan programs.

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7The University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley76.461/538%Edinburg, TX

The master of education offered through the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) is a 30-credit hour online program that can be completed in as few as 10 months. Applicants to the program are not required to have an initial teacher certification. In addition to instruction on special education instructional strategies and assessment, program participants receive an educational background in important topics like the legal foundations of special education. Graduates are equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to become teacher leaders in any special education setting.

UTRGV’s offers an affordable online master’s in education, with a fixed-tuition cost and full cost breakdown available on its master’s of education webpage. Applicants to UTRGV’s program are eligible to receive a TEACH grant and/or a partner scholarship of $2,000 from participating educational institutions. Graduate scholarships are also available through UTRGV. Federal financial aid is available to qualifying applicants.

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8University of Louisiana at Monroe76.252/556%Monroe, LA

University of Louisiana at Monroe (ULM) offers a master of arts in teaching in either a secondary or elementary setting for students with mild to moderate disabilities. ULM’s education department is a member of NASDTEC and the graduate education program is NCATE-accredited. Students who hold a bachelor’s degree outside of education but who have an interest in teaching in the state of Louisiana are encouraged to apply. Most students complete this program, which includes a final internship, in three years.

Online courses are offered in eight-week sessions. Most masters in special education online students take two to three courses per session, a pace that allows them to maintain a full-time status. ULM charges tuition per credit hour, a rate that includes all tuition and fees (specific course or professional fees may still apply). FInancial aid grants and loans are available to students who apply through FAFSA.

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9Western Governors University74.932/5N/ASalt Lake City, UT

A master of science (MS) in special education (K-12) is offered through Western Governors University (WGU), a 100% online and nonprofit university. With a curriculum developed based on input from educational leaders on WGU’s Education Program Council, this program prepares graduates with the teaching and instructional design skills necessary for working with students who have special education needs. Students in the program typically already have a bachelor’s degree in teaching (though not necessarily special education). Culmination of the program requires a teacher work sample, which is developed as a unique solution for a real-world issue in the field. Most students are able to complete this self-paced online program in two to two-and-a-half years.

With no on-campus facilities to maintain, WGU is in a unique position to offer its students a cheap online master’s in education compared to many similar programs. In addition, 76% of WGU students receive some form of financial aid, including scholarships and grants. WGU also offers tuition assistance and part-time programs to active-duty servicemembers.

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10Fort Hays State University72.263/572%Hays, KS

Fort Hays State University (FHSU) offers a master of science (MS) in special education, a 36 credit-hour program that can be completed with an emphasis in gifted or high-incidence special education, both of which are accredited by NCATE. The program was ranked the fifth best online graduate education program for veterans in 2016, as well as a top online education program nationwide, by U.S. News & World Report. Special educators are an occupation in high demand across the state of Kansas. FHSU takes a unique and personalized approach to online learning, incorporating a variety of tools beyond the traditional learning platform, including YouTube, Facebook, and Google Apps for education.

FHSU’s virtual college offers competitive tuition rates that are charged per credit hour. Masters in special education students are eligible for a variety of financial aid options through FAFSA, and also have access to an unaffiliated but dedicated online degree and distance learning scholarship. Affordable payment options are also available through FHSU’s short- and long-term loan programs.

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11University of Nebraska at Kearney71.633/555%Kearney, NE

A master of arts in special education (MAEd) is offered through University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK) with the following choice of emphases: gifted, advanced practitioner, or special education. The advanced practitioner option is reserved for students who already have a bachelor’s degree in teaching with a special education certification. Students take 24 credit hours worth of courses for all three programs. The gifted program includes a thesis or non-thesis degree option, while the special education emphasis requires completion of a practicum.

Tuition is charged per credit hour, with discounted rates for in-state residents. Most traditional on-campus fees are waived, making online degrees a more affordable option. Graduate students are eligible to apply for UNK’s Continuing Student Scholarships, made available through the UNK Foundation, with over 400 scholarships are awarded each year. Full-time graduate students may also apply for UNK’s competitive Reichenbach Scholarship, reserved for two existing and two new graduate students annually. Graduate special education degree students can also apply through FAFSA for additional financial aid, including TEACH grants.

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12University of North Carolina at Charlotte71.463/534%Charlotte, NC

The University of North Carolina (UNC) at Charlotte offers a master of arts in teaching (MAT) with an emphasis in either adapted curriculum or general curriculum for K to 12. This is a hybrid degree program, with some courses offered in classroom and others online. All degree requirements must be completed within six years of taking the first course. Students in the adapted curriculum emphasis learn how to address multiple disabilities at once and adapt and make the general curriculum more accessible. Students in both programs complete a culminating internship/seminar.

Distance education is charged per credit hour, with a discounted rate for in-state residents, along with specified graduate and tech fees. Online masters in special education students are eligible for merit- and need-based scholarships offered by UNC when they apply for financial aid through FAFSA. UNC also offers students an affordable payment plan option, with only 10% of their tuition down for the semester and a minimal plan setup fee.

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13University of Alaska Anchorage71.182/544%Anchorage, AK

A master’s degree in special education is available in an online format through University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA). This program, which includes instruction in theory, research, and teaching practices, is designed for educators who are seeking advanced qualification in special education. Students complete 36 credit hours, including a field placement in a school or agency setting. Residents of specified states must contact UAA before enrolling to discuss online and internship requirements. Completion of the degree also includes completion of an electronic portfolio and passing a comprehensive exam in the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) standards.

Online courses through UAA cost the same tuition rate as on-campus courses and are charged per credit hour, with reduced rates for Alaska residents. In addition to federal financial aid, masters in special education online students may apply for the UAA Completion Grant, which is awarded to full-time students completing at least 30 credits per year.

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14Eastern New Mexico University69.173/542%Portales, NM

Eastern New Mexico University (ENMU) offers a master’s of special education degree, designed for educators who already have or are seeking certification in special education. The licensure program, which includes an additional internship, can be completed separately but is not part of the master’s degree program; however, a thesis degree option is available for the master’s degree. Graduates are prepared for a number of positions in the special education field, such as advanced special education teacher, case manager, parental advocate, administrative liaison, and others.

Students in this affordable online master’s in education program may be eligible to apply for available graduate or teaching assistantships. Tuition is charged by credit hour, with a slightly higher rate for online students versus on-campus students (many traditional fees are waived) and reduced rates for in-state students. The ENMU foundation offers a variety of both general and education-oriented scholarships for graduate students, and federal and state financial aid is also available to those who apply through FAFSA.

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15University of North Dakota68.543/530%Grand Forks, ND

The master’s of science (MS) in special education degree through University of North Dakota (UND) is offered in an accelerated format. Courses are asynchronous, and the average completion time of the 32-credit program is one-and-a-half years. Available specialization areas include: autism spectrum disorders; early childhood special ed; emotional disturbance; general special ed; gifted/talented; intellectual disabilities; learning disabilities; special education strategist; or visual impairment. In addition, students may arrange a specified course sequence to pursue the Board Certified Behavior Analyst certification.

All online students receive in-state tuition, regardless of residency status, and tuition rates include all mandatory fees. Active duty military, veterans, and their family members are also eligible to receive tuition assistance. In addition to state and federal financial aid, online masters in special education graduate students may also apply for scholarship money through UND’s Ben & Ruth Gustafson Continuing Education Endowment. UND accepts all employer payments for continuing education programs as well, and option that existing teachers may want to look into before applying.

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16University of Missouri – Columbia68.063/562%Columbia, MO

University of Missouri-Columbia (MU), or “Mizzou,” offers an online master’s of education in early childhood and special education. Graduates learn the skills necessary to work with infants and young children through age eight who show signs of developing or who already have mild to moderate learning disabilities. Instruction is also given in how to deliver culturally-sensitive interventions in a school and home environment. The program is designed for current educators or early childhood center staff members. MU’s online graduate education program received a top national ranking for 2016 by U.S. News & World Report.

Regardless of residency status, all online students pay in-state tuition rates, with only a small nonresident fee applied. MU students have a unique opportunity to have their tuition covered through a new program, BeLL-Online (Behavior, Language, and Literacy Online), a grant-funded version of this degree. Recipients to this new program also receive a stipend each semester and travel funds to attend the Missouri Division of Early Childhood Conference. This cheap online master’s in education program is open to 45 students, three cohorts of 15 students each, over the next three years. Additional MU graduate scholarships for education students are also available, with more than 60 awards given out each year.

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17Washington State University68.023/551%Pullman, WA

Washington State University’s (WSU) master’s of special education (EdM) is designed for educators who are seeking special education licensure for K to 12 in the state of Washington, which has a high need for additional special education teachers. The 37-credit program is designed around the Washington State Special Education Core Competencies and includes all courses needed to earn the special education teaching endorsement. A separate special education teaching endorsement is also available through WSU and can be applied toward the EdM degree.

Tuition rates are charged per credit, and full-time students receive a discounted rate. With the exception of international students, online masters in special education students are eligible for the same financial aid opportunities as on-campus students. WSU offers graduate students exclusive Global Campus scholarships based on merit, academic achievements, and financial need, as well as a number of other WSU scholarship opportunities. Federal TEACH grants are also available for those who commit to teaching in a high-needs area after graduation.

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18Rowan University67.643/552%Glassboro, NJ

The master of arts in special education at Rowan University is a three-track program open to both students who are seeking initial or already have their special education certification. Students seeking certification complete the Graduate Endorsement track, while educators who already have their special ed certification can opt for the Autism Spectrum Disorders track or the Learning Disabilities track. This part-time, accelerated program is designed to be completed in five to seven semesters. A research/thesis component is required for all three program tracks.

Teachers in the state of New Jersey are eligible for a discounted tuition rate when they apply for the MA program through the New Jersey Teacher Outreach Program (NJTOP). Tuition rates, which are the same for both in- and out-of-state students, is charged per semester hour and do not entail additional fees. Students who apply to this affordable online master’s in education program through FAFSA may also be eligible for financial aid though Rowan.

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19University of Houston67.573/551%Houston, TX

University of Houston (UH) offers an affordable online master’s in education in special populations, which prepares educators to teach and lead in the field of special education. Students choose from two tracks: a special education emphasis or educational diagnostician emphasis. Students in the special education track also meeting certification requirements for teaching early childhood through 12th grade in the state of Texas. Graduates are prepared to work in a variety of special education environments, including public and private early childhood schools, agencies, foundations, public/private organizations, and residential facilities. Full-time students typically take two to three years to complete the MEd program.

Online programs usually have a discounted tuition rate, though costs depend on several variables, including residency status and whether a student registers for part- or full-time status. UH offers several graduate fellowships, and scholarships are also available through the Houston Alumni Organization. UH grants and additional financial aid are also available through FAFSA.

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20University of Alaska Southeast67.262/548%Juneau, AK

The master’s of special education from University of Alaska Southeast (UAS) prepares teachers to work with children and teenagers who have disabilities and are part of Alaska’s native (and non-native) communities in both rural and urban areas. Current educators, paraprofessionals, and other school-based personnel are encouraged to apply. All online masters in special education courses and audio conference-based courses are offered in evenings and during the summer to meet the needs of working professionals. Completion of the 33-credit program includes a master’s thesis project.

Graduate students have access to a range of financial aid sources through both federal and state governments, as well as UAS, to help pay educational costs. Graduate students are eligible to apply for the UAS Scholarship, which is offered annually. Tuition is charged per credit hour and is the same rate for residents and non-residents up to four credits, after which the rate increases for non-residents. To help students budget and and make educational payments more affordable, UAS offers an interest-free payment plan option, with up to 10 payment periods per year available.

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21University of Houston-Victoria67.223/592%Victoria, TX

University of Houston-Victoria’s (UHV) master’s of education in special education is available online for current practitioners in general or special education. A wide variety of topics, including behavioral assessment/intervention and programming and transition, allow graduates to work with individuals who have special needs in a variety of community setting, such as regional education centers and local agencies. A curricular focus is placed on educational law, and students are expected to learn the background and current policies in order to best assist individuals in public schools and other institutions. Online students are expected to take final comprehensive exams on-site, but all other requirements can be completed online.

Annual student enrollment is kept small and annual tuition rates affordable, with reduced tuition rates offered in the summer months. UHV awards an average of $32 million in financial aid annually. Graduate students of this cheap online master’s in education program can also apply for fellowships through the School of Education & Human Development that cover all tuition and fees.

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22Montana State University – Billings67.153/554%Billings, MT

A master’s degree in special education general or special education advanced is offered by Montana State University-Billings (MSUB), with both degree programs certified by NCATE. The general degree is available to students with a general teaching background who want to secure their special ed certification, while the advanced option is available to those who wish to pursue advanced research in the field, work in an administrative-level position, or go on to earn their doctoral degree in special education. Most courses are offered online for both programs, though some on-site classes or events may be required. The advanced program option can be completed in five semesters, while the general degree program is designed to be completed over three years.

Tuition for this affordable online master’s in education program is charged per course credit, with discounted rates for residents of Montana. Students enrolled in at least six credit hours are eligible to apply for financial aid through FAFSA. In addition, MSUB offers annual graduate studies endowment scholarships in annual amounts of $1,250. Graduate assistantships are also available to qualifying applicants and include a semester stipend and tuition waiver.

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23The University of Arizona66.843/577%Tucson, AZ

University of Arizona’s (UA) online master of arts in special education is available in three tracks: behavioral support, disabilities, or deaf and hard of hearing (DHH), with additional concentrations in challenging behavior; autism spectrum disorders; sensory impairments; or gifted students. The DHH program is only available online to students in specified states (more information is available online). Flexible course options are designed to meet the needs of practicing educators. These programs do not lead to teacher certification, though certification programs are available through several partner colleges.

Tuition cost varies by program but is charged on a per unit basis. Financial aid, including TEACH grants, are available to masters in special education students who apply through FAFSA. In addition, graduate students who take at least nine credits and who live and work in Arizona can apply for additional funds through the Arizona loan forgiveness program. UA’s graduate college of education scholarships are also awarded annually.

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24University of Arkansas66.673/5N/AFayetteville, AR

Rated as one of the best online programs in 2016 for both graduates and veterans by U.S. News & World Report, the master’s in special education through University of Arkansas (UofA) prepares educators to work with students who have a range of physical and learning disabilities. This program has also received national recognition by the Council for Exceptional Children. Additional certificates in applied behavior analysis (ABA) and autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are available through UofA. Educators learn how to work with students with disabilities, as well as gifted and talented children, in both inclusive classroom and resource or special education environments.

Tuition is charged per credit hour, and all online masters in special education students are charged in-state tuition rates regardless of residency. UofA has been ranked among the top 75 most affordable public universities by The Princeton Review’s annual publication. The Arkansas Teacher Opportunity Program (TOP) offers tuition reimbursement grants, up to $3,000 annually, for current Arkansas teachers and administrators. Financial aid is also available through FAFSA.

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25University of North Texas65.803/554%Denton, TX

The University of North Texas’s online school offers a cheap online master’s in education with a focus in autism intervention or educational diagnostician. Both programs are NCATE-approved and designed to be completed in less than two years. Students in the autism intervention emphasis may also earn teacher certification through UNT’s IMPACT program. Graduates in autism intervention are prepared to take on roles as a special educator, autism specialist, life skills coach, or case manager. Educational diagnosticians specialize in assessment issues in the classroom. Both online programs offer mostly asynchronous courses that can be completed during any semester, including summer.

Tuition is charged per credit hour, with discounted rates offered to Texas residents. Partial funding of up to $1,000 is available through UNT to all eligible graduate students. UNT also offers short-term loans to help students cover and gradually pay back the amount due for current tuition and fees during each semester.

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