Special Education students with teacher

Master of Education inSpecial Education

Program summary

Learn to support students with special needs. This online degree program focuses on current issues and topics in the field of special education and gives you the opportunity to choose an emphasis in academic and behavioral supports, applied behavior analysis, or autism.

100% Online

Complete your Penn State course work at your own pace and 100% online.

Application deadline

Apply by July 1 to start August 26

Credits and costs

33 Credits$1,017 per credit

Nationally Recognized

US News and World Report graduation education special education badge
Our graduate education programs are highly ranked by U.S. News & World Report.

Gain Knowledge and Skills to Support Students with Special Needs

  • Receive advanced training in academic and behavior management strategies.

  • Use evidence-based practices to support individuals with special needs or those who are at risk.

  • Apply reading and theory to real-world educational settings.

  • Find solutions to everyday classroom issues.

Advance Your Teaching Proficiency with Online Courses

The 33-credit master’s in special education online program includes core and capstone courses, plus an area of emphasis. This online program is not designed to lead to initial teacher certification in any state; however, it may help you renew or maintain your existing certification if you are already a certified teacher.

Required Courses (6 credits)

  • 3

    Strategies for educating learners with disabilities in inclusive settings with an emphasis on instruction, accommodations, collaboration, and consultation.

  • 3

    The purpose of this class is to help teachers find solutions in the literature to everyday classroom problems. In line with this purpose, teachers will learn how to (a) find information in the literature, (b) evaluate the technical adequacy of the information, and (c) apply the information in their setting.

Choose an Emphasis Area

Applied Behavior Analysis (24 credits)

  • 3

    Introduces students to single-case research design and methodology. This course is designed to provide the student with all the necessary tools needed to formulate questions that require repeated measures observation and analysis, including the use of visual and statistical analytic methods.

  • 3

    Explore current issues and research in the field of special education.

  • 3

    This course covers the foundational underpinnings of the field of applied behavior analysis, which uses principles of behavior to positively impact client outcomes. The field emphasizes an empirical base through the use of experimental analysis of key variables in order to develop evidence-based interventions.

  • 3

    This course teaches the basic principles of applied behavior analysis, the building blocks necessary for developing evidence-based behavioral interventions.

  • 3

    This course teaches students how to conduct and interpret various behavioral assessments. Students will explore various behavioral assessments including skills assessments, preference assessments, direct and indirect functional behavior assessments, and experimental functional analysis.

  • 3

    This course utilizes the concepts and foundations taught in the prerequisite courses in order to guide students towards developing the skills necessary in implementing evidence-based practices and selecting the appropriate procedures when targeting behaviors for change.

  • 3

    This course builds on the concepts taught in the prerequisite courses and will cover organizational behavior management, which can be defined as using a behavior analytic framework to teach students how to train, supervise, monitor, and provide feedback to personnel who are implementing academic and behavior change programs.

  • 3

    In this class students will learn about the governmental and professional disciplinary standards that regulate the field of behavior analysis in special education. Beyond the letter of the law, students will work through case studies where ethical dilemmas are presented in an effort to tease out the underpinnings of ethical behavior.

Autism (24 credits)

Students who choose this emphasis area will also need to select 9 elective credits at the 500 or 800 level.

  • 3

    This course will include an overview of characteristics and learning traits, classification systems, assessment strategies/issues, approaches, and interventions related to individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Special emphasis will be given to selecting evidence-based practices and enhancing collaboration among individuals with ASD, their families, and supporting professionals.

  • 3

    The course content includes an overview of basic principles of applied behavior analysis (ABA) and elements of empiricism in education settings. Basic principles include reinforcement, stimulus control, punishment, prompting, fading, generalization, and maintenance. Special emphasis will be given to the application of ABA principles to classroom settings. A historical perspective will be outlined concerning the application of ABA to individuals with autism as well as the use of ethics in treatment and education. Empirically based interventions for persons with autism will be covered, including discrete trial, analysis of verbal behavior, and direct instruction. Finally, issues affecting persons with autism and their families will be addressed, including functional analysis, sleeping, eating, toileting/grooming, and determining credibility of treatments.

  • 3

    Language development and communication strategies, issues, pragmatics, communications systems, augmentative and alternative communication systems (AAC), social deficits in autism, and approaches for teaching social skills.

  • 3

    Types of assessment, such as screening, diagnosis, and identification of skills in development diagnosis; identification of skills in developmental domains, such as sensory, oral motor, play, and communication; practical strategies detailing what to teach based on assessment results; and an overview of curricula approaches and materials.

  • 3

    Explore current issues and research in the field of special education.

Academic and Behavioral Supports (24 credits)

Students who choose this emphasis area will need to select 3 elective credits.

  • 3

    An introduction to the empirical study of variables and conditions that influence school learning.

  • 3

    Provides aspiring leaders with learning opportunities and activities authentic to school leaders and leadership roles in educational organizations.

  • 3

    This course will teach students the role of the general education teacher in supporting the use of assistive technology (AT) by students with disabilities in general education classrooms.

  • 3

    Overview of motivation, encouraging positive behaviors, effective classroom management, performance feedback, functional behavior assessment, collaboration, generalization, and maintenance of behavior.

  • 3

    Evidence-based methods for designing, delivering, and adapting instruction for students with special needs in general education settings.

  • 3

    This course provides an overview of special education law and methods to assess learners with special education needs in the general education setting.

  • 3

    Explore current issues and research in the field of special education.

Capstone Course (3 credit)

  • 3

    Capstone projects generally relate to topics explored in both the student's area of emphasis, as well as in an initial research course. Projects may involve quantitative or qualitative data collection or syntheses of literature.

Course Availability

If you're ready to see when your courses will be offered, visit our public LionPATH course search (opens in new window) to start planning ahead.

Advance Your Career

A group of educators collaborating as they review documents at a table

You can use the knowledge gained from this program and the support of Penn State career resources to pursue careers in a variety of fields, depending on your goals.

Job Titles Related to This Degree

The following roles are often held by people with this type of degree:

  • Behavior Analyst
  • Learning Disabilities Special Education Teacher (LD Special Education Teacher)
  • Special Education Inclusion Teacher
  • Special Education Resource Teacher
  • Special Education Teacher

Employment Outlook for Occupational Fields Related to This Degree

Estimates of employment growth and total employment are provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and are subject to change. While these occupations are often pursued by graduates with this degree, individual outcomes may vary depending on a variety of factors. Penn State World Campus cannot guarantee employment in a given occupation.

Special Education Teachers, Secondary School

employment growth (10 years)
total employment

Special Education Teachers, Preschool

employment growth (10 years)
total employment

Special Education Teachers, Kindergarten and Elementary School

employment growth (10 years)
total employment

Special Education Teachers, Middle School

employment growth (10 years)
total employment

Demand for Behavior Analysts Is Increasing

According to Lightcast, demand for behavior analysts holding BCBA or BCBA-D certification has increased by 5,852% over the past 12 years. The emphasis in applied behavior analysis within the master's degree or the stand-alone ABA certificate will help prepare students to sit for the BCBA certification examination.

Career Services to Set You Up for Success

Student having a virtual meeting on a laptop with a career counselor

From the day you're accepted as a student, you can access resources and tools provided by Penn State World Campus Career Services to further your career. These resources are beneficial whether you're searching for a job or advancing in an established career.

  • Opportunities to connect with employers
  • Career counselor/coach support
  • Occupation and salary information
  • Internships
  • Graduate school resources 

Ready to Learn More?

Get the resources you need to make informed decisions about your education. Request information on this program and other programs of interest by completing this form.

* required1/3

I agree to be contacted via phone, email, and text by Penn State World Campus and affiliates. I understand my information may also be shared with select providers to offer ads that may be of interest to me.Privacy Policy. reCAPTCHA protected. Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

Learn more about this program

Download Program Brochure All my programs

Ready to take the next step toward your Penn State master's degree?

Apply by July 1 to start August 26. How to Apply 

Costs and Financial Aid

Learn about this program's tuition, fees, scholarship opportunities, grants, payment options, and military benefits.

Costs and Financial Aid

Graduate Tuition

Graduate tuition is calculated based on the number of credits for which you register. Tuition is due shortly after each semester begins and rates are assessed every semester of enrollment.

2023–24 Academic Year Rates

Tuition rates for the fall 2023, spring 2024, and summer 2024 semesters.

How many credits do you plan to take per semester?Cost
11 or fewer$1,017 per credit
12 or more$12,203 per semester

2024–25 Academic Year Rates

Tuition rates for the fall 2024, spring 2025, and summer 2025 semesters.

How many credits do you plan to take per semester?Cost
11 or fewer$1,027 per credit
12 or more$12,325 per semester

Financial Aid and Military Benefits

Some students may qualify for financial aid. Take the time to research financial aid, scholarships, and payment options as you prepare to apply. Military service members, veterans, and their spouses or dependents should explore these potential military education benefits and financial aid opportunities, as well.

To view the detailed list of cost of attendance elements, select “World Campus” as the location on the tuition site.

Earn a Valuable Credential along the Way

A figure walking on a path that includes a certificate part of the way through their progress

Show mastery of specific subjects before your degree is complete. Thanks to shared courses across programs, students can often earn a certificate along with their degree in less time than if they earned them separately.

Certificate Programs Related to This Degree

To do so, you must complete a separate certificate application on the Graduate School website and pay the associated application fee before completing all of the credits required for the desired certificate. For example, to earn the Graduate Certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis along with the Master's in Special Education, you will need to submit two separate applications — one for the master's program and one for the graduate certificate program.

Progress toward the following graduate certificates can be earned while completing this degree program, if you apply and are accepted into the program:

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is an effective, evidence-based approach used by teachers and therapists to create lasting, positive change in an individual's life. This online ABA certificate program is designed to help you prepare for the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, Inc.® (BACB®) exam.

Learn more about the Graduate Certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis

Learn to assess individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and develop evidence-based practices to enhance social, behavioral, communication, and academic gains. As the number of children diagnosed with autism continues to rise, so does the demand for skilled professionals with expertise.

Learn more about the Postbaccalaureate Certificate in Educating Individuals with Autism

Customize Your Degree

This special education degree program focuses on current issues and topics in the field of special education and gives you the opportunity to choose an emphasis in academic and behavioral supports, applied behavior analysis, or autism.

Designed for education professionals who want to learn skills to effectively support students with disabilities.

Topics include, but are not limited to:

  • effectively managing behaviors
  • designing and delivering instruction
  • administering educational assessments


This emphasis is for professionals who want to gain in-depth knowledge of the principles and procedures of ABA, with or without the goal of becoming a Board Certified Behavior Analyst® (BCBA). Education professionals certified as BCBAs develop, implement, and monitor programs to promote positive behavior change in individuals with special needs.  

Course work includes: 

  • developing, implementing, and monitoring programs to promote positive behavior change in individuals with special needs  
  • 21-credit, 315-hour, 7-course sequence based on the Behavior Analyst Certification Board’s 5th Edition Task List and intended to prepare you to sit for the 5th Edition BCBA certification examination 

Applicants will need to meet additional requirements, such as a completed graduate degree and supervised fieldwork experience, before they can be deemed eligible to take the examination. You are not required to take the certification exam as part of this emphasis. 

Designed to help you acquire comprehensive, evidence-based knowledge to assist in developing effective educational programming for students with autism spectrum disorders.

Course work involves:

  • assessing individuals with autism spectrum disorders
  • developing strategies to foster social, behavioral, communicative, and academic gains
  • using applied behavior analysis when working with children with autism
  • enhancing collaboration among individuals with ASD, their families, and educators

Who Should Apply?

If you have a background in education or human services and would like to work with children and youth with disabilities, or if you are a(n):

  • behavior specialist
  • social worker
  • mobile therapist
  • educational consultant
  • speech pathologist
  • instructional designer
  • mental health counselor
  • psychologist

Set Your Own Pace

Adult student doing course work online while a child plays nearby

Whether you are looking to finish your program as quickly as possible or balance your studies with your busy life, Penn State World Campus can help you achieve your education goals. Many students take one or two courses per semester.

Our online courses typically follow a 12- to 15-week semester cycle, and there are three semesters per year (spring, summer, and fall). If you plan to take a heavy course load, you should expect your course work to be your primary focus and discuss your schedule with your academic adviser. 

To Finish Your Degree in One to Two Years

  • Take 3–4 courses each semester

To Finish Your Degree in Two to Three Years

  • Take 2–3 courses each semester 

To Finish Your Degree in Three to Four Years

  • Take 1 course each semester

Convenient Online Format

This program's convenient online format gives you the flexibility you need to study around your busy schedule. You can skip the lengthy commute without sacrificing the quality of your education and prepare yourself for more rewarding career opportunities without leaving your home.

A Trusted Leader in Online Education

Penn State students wearing caps and gowns at their commencement ceremony

Penn State has a history of more than 100 years of distance education, and World Campus has been a leader in online learning for more than two decades. Our online learning environment offers the same quality education that our students experience on campus.

How to Apply to Penn State

A new student holding a sign that reads, We Are Penn State and #PennStateBound

Apply by July 1 to start August 26

Application Instructions

Deadlines and Important Dates

Complete your application and submit all required materials by the appropriate deadline. Your deadline will depend on the semester you plan to start your courses.

  • Fall Deadline

    Apply by July 1 to start August 26
  • Spring Deadline

    Apply by November 1 to start January 13
  • Summer Deadline

    Apply by April 1, 2025, to start May 19, 2025

Steps to Apply

  1. For admission to the Graduate School, an applicant must hold either (1) a baccalaureate degree from a regionally accredited U.S. institution or (2) a tertiary (postsecondary) degree that is deemed comparable to a four-year bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited U.S. institution. This degree must be from an officially recognized degree-granting institution in the country in which it operates.

    GPA — All applicants are expected to have a GPA of 3.0 or higher from prior coursework.

  2. You will need to upload the following items as part of your application:

    Official transcripts from each institution attended, regardless of the number of credits or semesters completed. Transcripts not in English must be accompanied by a certified translation. Penn State alumni do not need to request transcripts for credits earned at Penn State, but must list Penn State as part of your academic history. If you are admitted, you will be asked to send an additional official transcript. You will receive instructions at that time.

    Test Scores — GRE scores are not required

    English Proficiency — The language of instruction at Penn State is English. With some exceptions, international applicants must take and submit scores for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or International English Language Testing System (IELTS). Minimum test scores and exceptions are found in the English Proficiency section on the Graduate School's "Requirements for Graduate Admission" page. Visit the TOEFL website for testing information. Penn State's institutional code is 2660.

    References (3) — You will need to initiate the process through the online application by entering names, email addresses, and mailing addresses of three references. Upon submission of your application, an email will be sent to each recommender requesting they complete a brief online recommendation regarding your commitment for success in an online program.

    The letter should address the nature and quality of the applicant’s professional/workplace performance and an assessment of the applicant’s readiness to pursue online graduate degree study. The references must be provided by professional colleagues such as coworkers, supervisors, academic instructors or advisers, classmates, business partners, etc. We are unable to accept references from family members or personal friends/acquaintances. Please inform all recommenders they must submit the form in order for your application to be complete.

    Program-Specific Questions/Materials

    Résumé or curriculum vitae — Upload your résumé (one to two pages) to the online application.

    Personal Statement — A  statement (one to two pages) addressing your purpose and objectives in enrolling in a graduate program in special education.

  3. To begin the online application, you will need a Penn State account.

    Create a New Penn State Account

    If you have any problems during this process, contact an admissions counselor at [email protected].

    Please note: Former Penn State students may not need to complete the admissions application or create a new Penn State account. Please visit our Returning Students page for instructions.

  4. You can begin your online application at any time. Your progress within the online application system will be saved as you go, allowing you to return at any point as you gather additional information and required materials.

    • Choose Enrollment Type: "Degree Admission"
    • Choose "WORLD CAMPUS" as the campus

    Checking Your Status 
    You can check the status of your application by using the same login information established for the online application form. 

    Technical Requirements  
    Review the technical requirements for this degree program. 

    Applying as a Nondegree Graduate Student

    Apply as a "nondegree" graduate student to begin taking courses right away. You may take up to 15 credits in nondegree status before submitting your application portfolio. If you apply as a nondegree graduate student, you must re-apply to the master's degree to be considered for admission into the Master of Education in Special Education degree program.

    To apply as a nondegree graduate student:

    1. Begin the application process
    2. Select "Nondegree Admission"
    3. Choose "WORLD CAMPUS" as the campus
  5. 5. Complete the application.

Admissions Help

If you have questions about the admissions process, contact an admissions counselor at [email protected].

Contact Us

Customer service representative wearing a headset

Have questions or want more information? We're happy to talk.

To learn more about the Master of Education in Special Education, please contact:

World Campus Admissions Counselors
Phone: 814-863-5386
Email: [email protected]

Paul Smith
Administrative Support Assistant
Department of Educational Psychology, Counseling, and Special Education
125G CEDAR Building
University Park, PA 16802
Phone: 814-863-4452
Email: [email protected]

Learn from the Best

Offered by Penn State's College of Education, this degree program is renowned for preparing and supporting education professionals. Delivered online through Penn State World Campus, this program is taught by the same nationally recognized faculty who teach our rigorous, high-quality residential program.


  • Mary Katherine Harris

    • Degree
      Ph.D., Disability Disciplines and emphasis in Applied Behavior Analysis, Utah State University
    • Degree
      Special Education Credential, Chapman University
    • Degree
      B.A., Psychology, University of California at Berkeley

    Dr. Mary Katherine (Katie) Harris is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst-Doctoral Level and assistant professor of special education. She has worked with children and adults with autism and developmental disabilities in a variety of educational and community-based settings. She is passionate about supporting teachers and providing instruction in the science of Applied Behavior Analysis. She teaches courses in Ethics, Foundations, Concepts & Principles, and Behavior Change Procedures & Management in the Verified Course Sequence for the Applied Behavior Analysis program.

  • Elizabeth M. Hughes

    • Degree
      Ph.D., Curriculum and Instruction, Clemson University
    • Degree
      M.Ed., Special Education, Clemson University
    • Degree
      B.A., Elementary Education and Human Development, Boston College

    Dr. Elizabeth M. Hughes is an assistant professor of special education at Penn State. Her scholarship focuses on the role of language when learning mathematics, specifically for students with learning disabilities. Her research evaluates mathematical writing strategies, vocabulary supports, and video modeling as evidence-based practices to support learning mathematics.

  • Rick Kubina

    • Degree
      Ph.D., Special Education, The Ohio State University
    • Degree
      M.A., Special Education, The Ohio State University
    • Degree
      B.A., Psychology/Sociology and Women’s Studies, Youngstown State University

    Dr. Rick Kubina, BCBA-D, is a professor of special education at Penn State and a Board Certified Behavior Analyst with doctoral designation. Dr. Kubina's research focuses on the science of individual measurement and performance/learning improvement. He is the co-author of The Precision Teaching Book and the co-founder of Chartlytics, a web application system for precisely pinpointing and recording behavior for making decisions and using repeated problem-solving to help learners experience effective and efficient learning outcomes.

  • David Lee

    • Degree
      Ph.D., Special Education, Purdue University
    • Degree
      M.Ed., Special Education, California University of Pennsylvania
    • Degree
      B.S., Psychology, University of Pittsburgh

    Dr. David Lee, BCBA-D, is a professor of special education. The focus of Dr. Lee’s research is to develop, evaluate, and disseminate programs to support students with or at risk for emotional/behavior disorders. His research draws upon a behavior analytic framework to create positive, function-based interventions for students, primarily in middle/high school.

  • David B. McNaughton

    • Degree
      Ph.D., Special Education, Penn State
    • Degree
      M.S., Special Education, Penn State
    • Degree
      B.Ed., Special Education, University of Windsor

    Dr. David B. McNaughton is a professor of special education at Penn State. His teaching and research focus on the development of effective educational programs for individuals with severe disabilities. He is especially interested in the effective use of technology by individuals who use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) and how AAC can be used to achieve important educational and vocational outcomes.

  • Kelly Mercorella

    • Degree
      Ph.D., Applied Behavior Analysis, Columbia University
    • Degree
      M.S., Applied Behavior Analysis, Columbia University
    • Degree
      B.S., Psychology, Fordham University

    Dr. Kelly Mercorella, BCBA-D, is an assistant professor of special education at Penn State and teaches a variety of courses for the online M.Ed. program in Special Education. Dr. Mercorella's research interests center around facilitating reading comprehension for elementary students with disabilities, particularly designing interventions to instruct students on visualization strategies related to reading. Prior to earning her doctorate, Dr. Mercorella was a special education teacher in both self-contained and inclusive settings, serving students from Pre–K through fifth grade.

  • Paul J. Riccomini

    • Degree
      Ph.D., Special Education, Penn State
    • Degree
      M.Ed., Special Education, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania
    • Degree
      B.A., Mathematics, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania

    Dr. Paul J. Riccomini, an associate professor of special education at Penn State, began his career as a middle and high school general education and special education math teacher. His research focus is on effective instructional strategies and assessments for students with dyscalculia and students with learning disabilities in mathematics. He is a co-author of Response to Intervention in Math (Corwin, 2010) and Building Number Sense through the Common Core (Corwin, 2013), as well as three math intervention programs targeting fractions, integers, and algebraic equations.

  • Jonte C. Taylor

    • Degree
      Ph.D., Special Education, Auburn University
    • Degree
      M.Ed., Collaborative Teaching and Special Education, Auburn University
    • Degree
      B.A., Mental Retardation Education, Tuskegee University

    Dr. Jonte Taylor (“JT”) is an assistant professor of special education at Penn State. He taught for approximately 10 years with a variety of populations from pre-K to adult in settings ranging from inclusive classrooms to residential treatment facilities. His research interests include science education for students with disabilities, evaluating innovative classroom practices, and bullying issues for students with autism, learning disabilities, and emotional/behavioral disorders.


Ready to take the next step toward your Penn State master's degree?

Apply by July 1 to start August 26. How to Apply