Online Degrees Blog Careers With a Master’s in Special Education

Careers With a Master’s in Special Education

08 June
Special education teachers working with a group of students.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education, estimated that 14% of all public education students in America, or some 7.3 million students between the ages of 3 and 21, received special education services in 2019-2020.1

With so many of today’s students benefiting from special education supports and services, it's no wonder obtaining a special education master’s degree can help boost your career prospects and earnings power. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that special education teachers made an average of $61,500 per year in 2020, whereas the median annual wage for all other education, training, and library occupations was $52,380.2,3

Read on to learn more about the rewarding careers and annual salaries that are available for those who have earned a special education master’s degree.

What is a Master’s Degree in Special Education?

A master’s degree in special education is a graduate-level degree that offers experienced educators additional skills and methodologies they can use to effectively meet the needs of all students, including those with individual differences and dis/abilities.

These individual needs, differences, and dis/abilities can vary greatly and can include high incidence dis/abilities, 2E (Twice Exceptional Student) dis/abilities, and low incidence dis/abilities including:

  • Mild intellectual dis/abilities
  • Emotional and behavioral disorders: Inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity behaviors including ADHD and ODD4
  • Learning dis/abilities: Neurologically based and interfere with social and academic skills and includes reading dis/abilities, written language dis/abilities, language processing disorders, speech learning dis/ability (SpLD), and math dis/abilities such as dyslexia and dyscalculia
  • Speech and language disorders
  • Giftedness accompanied with one or more dis/abilities
  • Physical dis/abilities: cognitive, sensory, and physical impairments5,6

A Brief History of Special Education: Why Advanced Skills Matter

The special education models we know today first took fruition in the early 1970s in the U.S. when special education was finally deinstitutionalized and made part of public-school integration on a federal level. Additional measures to improve special education have been passed since, with many advancements to policy coming in the 1990s.

The groundbreaking Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1990 updated the Education of Handicapped Children Act of 1975 to ensure the availability of measurable, meaningful special education programs. The use of individual education plans (IEPs) and individualized transition plans (ITPs), which prepare students for adulthood, was adopted when the act was further updated in 1997.7,8

Modern special education is local, state, and federally funded and is designed to accommodate and address individual needs effectively, so all students, regardless of dis/ability, can access and engage in equitable educational opportunities. This means, according to today’s laws, every student must receive free and appropriate education.

Educators who continue to develop their special education knowledge to stay current with best practices for their fields are not only meeting federal schooling guidelines, they are also answering the growing need for teachers with special education expertise. thereby giving themselves career resiliency and a way to help all of their diverse learners succeed

A reputable, top-ranked master’s program in special education helps dedicated educators do more in their classrooms. These programs offer a cutting-edge curriculum that helps graduate-level students gain powerful expertise to address the evolving needs of their students and build their careers along the way.

Career Skills Gained with a Master’s in Special Education

A full range of practical, applicable skills and techniques help make special education teachers experts in their field, designing and delivering an educational experience that helps each of their students lead autonomous and self-determined lives in school and beyond.

  • Special educators need to learn how to effectively:
  • Develop IEPs and ITPs for students
  • Introduce assistive technology aids and supports
  • Design unique and responsive lessons for diverse learners
  • Foster a positive peer-supported learning environment in the classroom
  • Implement strategies and programs for students with dis/abilities
  • Teach life and social skills that help students transition to subsequent grade levels, post-secondary education, and work
  • Collaborate effectively with educational professionals, school psychologists, behavioral health experts, and parents to better support students
  • Monitor student performance and evaluate student work
  • Monitor student behavior, social development, and health9

Areas of Focus in Special Education

Within the special education profession, there are a variety of specialties educators can concentrate on as they build their master’s level skills in a leading university program, including:

  • High Incidence dis/abilities (HI)
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
  • Secondary special education and transition
  • Leadership in special and inclusive education

The High Incidence (HI) Master’s Degree: A Closer Look

With a specialized master’s degree in high incidence dis/abilities, you can gain the graduate-level skills to help a wide variety of students, including those who have learning dis/abilities, emotional and/or behavioral disorders, mild-cognitive dis/abilities, and/or autism spectrum disorder.

A top HI master’s program will teach you best practices and methodologies you can apply right away in your classrooms including:

  • Principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL)
  • Multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS)
  • Assessment tools
  • Evidence-based instructional approaches
  • Effective curricula

Tangible Career Benefits With a Special Education Master’s

In addition to being a rewarding and fulfilling career that impacts the lives of others in a multitude of positive ways, special education teaching comes with financial rewards, with the highest 10% of teachers [MCL10] earning more than $100,570 per year.10

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in May of 2020, the median annual wage for special education teachers was $61,500. For comparison’s sake, the median annual wage for all other education occupations was $52,380 for that same time period while the median annual wage for all occupations was $41,950.10,11

Careers with a master’s in special education are on the rise: The overall employment for special education teachers is expected to grow 8% between 2020 and 2030, creating nearly 40,000 additional job openings per year.12

Here is a closer look at average salaries for special education teachers at the various levels of education, according to BLS:

All special education teachers$62,820
Secondary school special education teachers$62,320
Middle school special education teachers$61,820
Preschool special education teachers$61,400
Kindergarten and elementary school special education teachers$60,62010

Example Careers For Educators with Advanced Special Education Skills

In addition to the salary benefits, there are also plenty of exciting career titles available for those who have increased their special education classroom skills. Leading careers with a master’s in special education include, but are not limited to:

  • Career and technical education teacher
  • Adult basic education teacher
  • Literacy education teachers
  • Educational administrator
  • Instructional coordinator
  • Secondary education teacher
  • Post-Secondary Administrator

Gain the Skills to Enrich The Lives of Your Students with Dis/abilities

With a #1 ranked online special education master’s degree from the University of Kansas School of Education and Human Sciences, you’ll make a true difference in your career and in the lives of students with dis/abilities.13

KU offers online master’s degrees, graduate certificates, and licensure endorsement programs in a variety of specialization areas so you can advance your capacities to serve the students you want to impact most. Our admissions advisors are here to answer your questions. Get in touch with us today and start building the special education career that you deserve.

  1. Retrieved on April 9, 2022, from
  2. Retrieved on April 9, 2022, from
  3. Retrieved on April 9, 2022, from
  4. Retrieved on April 9, 2022, from
  5. Retrieved on April 9, 2022, from
  6. Retrieved on April 9, 2022, from
  7. Retrieved on April 9, 2022, from
  8. Retrieved on April 9, 2022, from
  9. Retrieved on April 9, 2022, from
  10. Retrieved on April 9, 2022, from
  11. Retrieved on April 9, 2022, from
  12. Retrieved on April 9, 2022, from
  13. Retrieved on April 9, 2022, from