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For dedicated special education teachers seeking to further their expertise or embark on leadership roles, pursuing an online master’s degree is a significant step. However, juggling full-time work while avoiding excessive financial strain can be a challenge, which is why has compiled this list of the most affordable online master’s in special education programs. Here, you can find top-quality programs that offer a straightforward, cost-effective educational path to help you excel in your field while staying within your budget.Additionally, we’ll break down the cost considerations for online graduate degrees and provide insights into the factors that can influence affordability. Later on, we’ll explore the various options for financing your degree, from out-of-pocket payment plans to securing scholarships, grants, and federal loans. With all of these factors in mind, you’ll be well-suited to make a confident decision to advance your career in special education.

Cost Breakdown for an Online Master’s in Special Education Program

Whether you’re a working professional looking to expand your skill set or a passionate educator seeking specialized knowledge, understanding the costs of obtaining your online master’s in special education is a crucial step toward achieving your educational goals.

  • Tuition: Tuition fees is assessed per term or credit hour. Per-credit tuition often allows flexibility in the number of courses taken each term. In contrast, per-term tuition may be easier to budget for working professionals who need to plan their educational expenses ahead of time.
  • Fees: Various fees might apply, covering tech support, academic resources, and digital library access. These fees support online learning infrastructure and access to educational materials.
  • Personal Technology: Students must invest in personal technology, including a computer, software, and a reliable Wi-Fi connection, to participate in online classes effectively.
  • Books and Learning Materials: While some online resources may be free, students may need to purchase textbooks and other learning materials essential for coursework.

While financing all of these elements may initially feel overwhelming, it’s essential to consider how online students save money compared to those enrolled in on-campus programs. For example, you’ll save on commuting and housing expenses, which can be significant for traditional on-campus students. Additionally, you won’t be required to pay for on-campus facilities like gyms or laboratories.

Factors Influencing the Cost of an Online Master’s in Special Education Program

Tuition rates for online graduate institutions are influenced by many factors, shaping the cost of education for students nationwide. These can include:

  • Public vs. Private Institution: Public schools generally offer lower tuition rates than private ones because they receive government funding, which can reduce the financial burden on students. Private colleges, lacking state support, often charge higher tuition for operating costs.
  • Nonprofit vs. For-Profit: Nonprofit institutions often prioritize education over profit, which can lead to more reasonable tuition rates. For-profit schools, driven by profit motives, tend to have higher tuition costs.
  • Student Residency Status: In-state residents often enjoy significant tuition discounts at public universities, while out-of-state and international students usually pay higher rates. Some private institutions have a consistent tuition rate for all students.
  • Student Military Status: Active-duty military members, veterans, and their dependents may qualify for tuition discounts or special financial aid programs at some schools, making education more affordable.

Understanding these factors is essential for those seeking higher education online, as it allows for informed decision-making and can help you find an institution that aligns with your financial situation and educational goals.

Most Affordable 50 Online Master’s in Special Education Programs

Most Affordable Online Master's in Special Education Programs Badge

Fort Hays State University

The University of Texas Permian Basin

Arkansas State University

University of Nebraska Omaha

University of North Texas College of Education

Texas A&M University

University of Arkansas at Monticello

Montana State University

Western Governors University

Columbus State University

Emporia State University

Indiana University Bloomington

University of Houston

Northwestern State University of Louisiana

Pittsburg State University

Fitchburg State University

University of Louisiana Monroe

University of Nebraska - Lincoln

UF College of Education

Kentucky State University

Purdue University

Indiana State University

Minot State University

University of Kansas

Florida International University

Kennesaw State University

Texas Tech University

University of Oklahoma

University of Arkansas

West Virginia University

Liberty University

UW Professional & Continuing Education

University of North Dakota

Alliance University

University of Nebraska at Kearney

North Carolina State University

Buena Vista University

Wichita State University

The University of Texas at Tyler

Georgia College & State University

Holy Family University

Northwestern College

Saint Mary's University of Minnesota

University of West Alabama

Xavier University

University of Maine

University of North Carolina

Missouri State University

University of Alaska Southeast

Appalachian State University

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How we rank schools

This list features some of the most affordable online master’s in special education programs in the U.S. All are offered at nonprofit, accredited institutions, either public or private, with a high standard of academic quality for post-secondary institutions.

We evaluated each degree program on tuition costs, admission, retention and graduation rates, faculty, reputation, and student resources. Then, we calculated the Intelligent Score on a scale of 0 to 100. Read more about our ranking methodology.

Next, we compared our picks to a list of aggregated college rankings from reputable publications like the U.S. News & World Report, among others, to simplify a student’s college search. We pored through these rankings so students don’t have to.

How to Pay for an Online Master’s in Special Education Degree


For some students, paying for some or all of their tuition out-of-pocket may be beneficial. This approach can be advantageous as it can help you avoid accumulating student loan debt and incurring interest, which is especially pertinent since many graduate loans are unsubsidized, with interest accruing immediately.

Some universities offer flexible payment plans that allow students to pay tuition in installments, making it more manageable to cover costs without loans. This responsible financial strategy reduces the long-term financial burden, ultimately offering greater financial security upon completing their special education degree.

Federal student loans

Most graduate students will qualify for federal funding after submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) through Direct Unsubsidized Loans and Grad PLUS Loans. These loans can provide essential financial support, but it’s crucial to avoid overborrowing. Every dollar borrowed accrues interest, and these loans will eventually need repayment.

If you’re considering taking out a federal loan to fund your education, it’s essential to secure grants, scholarships, and even part-time work to minimize the need for federal loans and reduce any long-term financial burden. Careful financial planning and utilizing multiple funding sources will help ensure a manageable path to achieving your degree without excessive debt.

Private education loans

While private education loans exist and can fund your education, they should only be used as a last resort. These are generally not recommended due to higher interest rates and less favorable repayment terms than federal loans. Federal loans offer extensive borrower protections and flexibility, making them a safer choice.


Scholarships are an excellent source of funding for a graduate degree, as they don’t need to be repaid and can significantly offset the costs of your education. Opportunities can be merit-based, need-based, or specific to special education programs, making them feasible for various students. Scholarships can reduce your financial burden by a considerable degree, ultimately making your degree more affordable and accessible.

To access these opportunities, reach out to your institution’s financial aid office, explore online scholarship databases, and check with professional organizations related to special education to see if they offer a scholarship you qualify for.


Grants are another excellent option for financing your education. Like scholarships, they don’t need repayment. The Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) grant, in particular, offers up to $4,000 per year to students who commit to teaching in high-need fields, such as special education, at low-income schools for at least four years.

To apply for a TEACH grant, complete the FAFSA and meet specific eligibility requirements. You can also explore other grant opportunities from your institution, professional organizations, and federal or state governments to help.


Work-study programs can help you gain valuable work experience while earning money to help cover the costs of your graduate degree.

Federal work-study, provided through the FAFSA, offers part-time employment opportunities on or off-campus to eligible students with financial need. To apply, you must submit the FAFSA and express interest in work-study.

Institutional work-study opportunities may also offer on-campus jobs related to your field. Check with your school’s financial aid office for available positions.

Employer tuition assistance

You can also utilize employer tuition assistance to finance your education. Many employers offer financial support or reimbursement for higher education to their employees as a way to build upon their current skill set and expertise. These programs can significantly reduce the financial burden of a graduate degree, making it a cost-effective choice for those aiming to advance their careers in special education.

To take advantage of this opportunity, inquire with your employer’s Human Resources or benefits department about available tuition assistance programs, eligibility criteria, and application procedures.

Applying for Financial Aid

For most students in the United States, the Free Application for Federal Student AId (FAFSA) is the gateway to financial assistance for college. This free online form gathers information about a student’s or their family’s financial situation to determine their eligibility for federal funding, which may include loans, grants, work-study programs, and aid from many states and colleges.

To apply, you’ll want the necessary documents readily available — including your Social Security Number, tax returns, and bank statements. You must provide details on your income, assets, household size, and immigration status to complete the application.

Learn more about the FAFSA

Whether you’re a prospective college student or a returning scholar, our Ultimate FAFSA Guide offers a step-by-step breakdown of the FAFSA application process, ensuring you navigate the complexities with confidence. The guide also includes a detailed list and explanation of the types of funding available and valuable insights on handling questions about household size and immigration status.

Student loan forgiveness and repayment

Student loan forgiveness in the United States remains a contentious issue without a comprehensive solution. Amidst ongoing debates, borrowers must take a proactive approach when it comes to repayment — and this might mean exploring other options before taking out a federal loan. As college counselor Dana Marvin puts it: “It is smart of families to look into every other way to fund the student’s education before accepting any loans. All avenues for scholarships, both from the school and outside organizations, as well as grants from the state, should be looked into before officially taking out a loan.”

If you must take out loans, know that there are already some federal loan forgiveness programs available for teachers and those who work in public service. The Teacher Loan Forgiveness program offers up to $17,500 in forgiveness for educators who teach in low-income schools for five years — which can significantly alleviate student loan debt if you’re committed to teaching special education. Similarly, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program provides relief for individuals working in public service, including non-profit organizations and government agencies. After making 120 qualifying payments, the remaining debt is forgiven.

How to Choose the Online College or University that’s Right for You

Step 1: Clarify what you want

Searching for the ideal online program to help you meet your educational goals begins with cultivating a clear vision of what you need to be successful.

First, pinpoint your area of focus, considering various specializations within special education, such as autism, learning disabilities, or emotional and behavioral disorders. Understanding which type of students you’re most passionate about working with will be pivotal in making this decision.

It’s also important to consider your ideal delivery format and which scheduling option best suits your lifestyle. Asynchronous part-time options offer flexibility for working professionals, allowing them to balance their studies with their careers. On the other hand, synchronous full-time programs are ideal for those with more time to dedicate to their studies and a desire for a structured, immersive learning experience.

Step 2: Research schools and programs

Now that you have clarified your goals and preferences, conducting thorough research is essential. Start by ensuring the institution and program hold proper accreditation, ensuring you’ll receive a quality education that future employers will respect. Then, consider the following questions to help guide your research:

  • Is the curriculum tailored for online learning?
  • What is the student-to-faculty ratio for online classes?
  • Are there opportunities for hands-on experience or internships in your location?
  • How is student engagement fostered in the virtual environment?
  • What support services are available to online students?

This information is often accessible on school websites, but attending virtual open houses and directly contacting program coordinators can provide in-depth insights, helping you make a well-informed decision for your educational endeavors.

Step 3: Prepare for applications and tests

Once you have narrowed down your options and know which programs align with your educational goals, preparing for applications is essential. Start by thoroughly reviewing each school’s specific admission requirements and deadlines. Ensure your application materials, such as transcripts, recommendation letters, and personal statements, are in order and ready to submit well before the deadline.

If the program requires GRE scores, consider enrolling in a test prep program to maximize your chances of success. These programs can provide valuable test-taking strategies and guided practice, ultimately boosting your performance and giving you a competitive edge in the application process.

Step 4: Select your program

If you submit multiple applications, you may have numerous acceptance letters. Now is an excellent time to revisit each program’s curriculum, ensuring it aligns with your career goals. Consider specialization availability and whether the delivery format still fits your needs. Then, evaluate factors like faculty experience and financial aid offers. Ultimately, choose the program that best supports your aspirations, offering the right balance of content, resources, and flexibility to help you excel.

Step 5: Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

Financing a graduate degree of any kind can feel daunting, but there are many financial aid resources available to help special education professionals fund their degrees. Prioritize scholarships and grants, such as the TEACH grant, as they don’t require repayment. Explore opportunities at your institution, and don’t hesitate to contact a financial aid counselor for guidance.

Federal loans can bridge financial gaps, but avoid heavy reliance on these as they will have to be repaid with interest, making your education more expensive in the long run. If you’re eligible, work-study and employer tuition reimbursement programs can help ease your financial burden.

Essentially, crafting a combination of these options will ensure that you take a sustainable path toward meeting your educational goals while minimizing the burden of student loans.

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