Crunching Numbers: A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Online MSEs
The decision to go back to school can be as scary as it is exciting. Students may second-guess their program choice, or worry that they can’t realistically fit their online classes into their busy schedules. And then there’s the cost: it’s no secret that master’s degrees can be expensive. How will costs be covered? Will the investment pay off down the line? This trepidation is normal, and shows that the undertaking of earning an advanced degree is being taken seriously. A little research – and a lot of planning – can help put minds at ease.
Mind the Math: Costs
The first step toward evaluating what an online master’s in special education means when it comes to the bottom line is figuring out how much the program will actually cost. While tuition and fees are not the only figures that matter, they will make up the bulk of expenses. Many online schools offering a master’s in special education degree offer all US students in-state tuition, regardless of residency. Keep this in mind when reviewing fee schedules. If a preferred school charges $330 per credit-hour, and the program requires 48 credit-hours, the total cost of tuition would be $15,840. This is a good start, but the cost of books, materials and any fees not included in the schedule must also be factored in. Break these figures down on a monthly or yearly basis and see how they work on a broader scale, and with a budget that includes earnings, living costs and other ongoing expenses.
Do not let sticker shock immediately derail plans, either; there are ways to manage costs and make undertaking a master’s degree possible. Investigate financial aid and other programs that can help, like employer tuition reimbursement or special funds from teachers unions and professional organizations. Online master’s in special education degrees are more flexible than most traditional programs, which makes maintaining full-time work or side-jobs much more feasible.
Weigh the Benefits
Although the biggest benefit of earning your online master’s in special education might be learning new ways to help more students succeed, bigger paychecks and better employment prospects certainly help. No degree ever guarantees higher earnings, but a 2011 study from Georgetown University’s Center on Education in the Workforce suggests that higher education generally pays off. We’ll delve into the statistics below, but first, let’s look at what special education teachers typically earn.
The following table highlights how much special education teachers earned in 2013, regardless of educational attainment, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Data includes earnings for instructional coordinators and K-12 education administrators for the benefit of those who might use their MSEs to segue into other careers.
|Special Education Job Title
|Elementary SPED Teacher
|Middle School SPED Teacher
|Secondary School SPED Teacher
|Education Administrator, K-12
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2013
Clearly, there is a huge gap between top and bottom (or even median) earners. Why is this? Experience, job performance and even geography impact wages – and so too does education. According to a 2011 study conducted by Georgetown University, teachers with master’s degrees in special education earned an average of 26 percent more than those with bachelor’s degrees alone. These gains can be even higher if one becomes a special education director, school administrator or other SPED leader.
Getting a sense for the big-picture benefits of earning an online master’s in special education can put program costs in perspective. Consideration must also be given to how long it will take to recover from educational costs. These factors, when combined, can help to make an informed decision on the return-on-investment a master’s degree in special education will provide.