University revives special education graduate program

Augustana University will reintroduce an updated special education graduate program this spring after being inactive for 13 years.

Education chair Laurie Daily said the new program will be entirely online, compared to the low-enrollment, in-class program that ran from 1984 to 2005.

“We offered [the old program] face-to-face,” Daily said. “It didn’t work.”

Daily is confident the online program will attract more pupils. The Master of Arts in Education program began in 2010, and Daily said its success only indicates a growing demand for online programs by working teachers looking to earn a master’s degree and teach at the same time.

“[The master’s in education has] been very successful,” Daily said. “We have about 275 students enrolled from all around the country.”

In 2015, Daily began communicating with former Dean of Students Jim Bies about the prospects of an online special education program.

“Special ed has been a focus for Augustana since the 60s,” Daily said. “We’ve had the deaf ed program, the special ed undergrad program, communication disorders [and] sign language interpreting. We’re very focused on serving students with disabilities in a variety of different ways.”

The program will start in 2019 and offer two specialization areas: early childhood education and K-12 special education. The department plans to add an autism specialist program in three or four years.

Students will take two classes a semester: one class for the first seven weeks, another for the last seven weeks. One seven-week class will be offered in the summer.

“Theoretically, we’ll have 36 [students] start in the spring,” Daily said. “We just launched the application for the program in mid- to late-September, so we’ll be accepting people to start in February.”

Daily said more than anything the department is excited to offer a program that supports a career currently in critical shortage.

According to the US Department of Education, 43 states experienced shortages in special education teachers in 2017.

“We need more special education certified teachers nationwide,” Daily said. “People are really passionate about making sure we have well-qualified teachers to support kids with disabilities.”

Special education major Sarah House said she is looking forward to the new program.

“I’m excited because I could apply next year if I wanted to,” House said. “I had been talking to professors about graduate programs last year, and they told me that [the SPED graduate program at Augustana] was a possibility. Within the near future, I’d like to come back and get my master’s through Augie.”

Special education major Rochelle Ramharter said that an online program will be better for the university and more accessible to students.

“[The program] is less than two years, and it’s online, so people can do it really quickly and from far away,” Ramharter said. “We’re going to be able to get people from all around the country who are interested.”

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