The Graduate School of Education and Human Development garnered more than $7 million in federal grants and tuition revenue to support its special education programs this year, with more than half that amount arriving in late October.
Seventy-five percent of the funding – allocated in four separate grants from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs – will support master’s level student tuition. The graduate school will use the other 25 percent for administrative costs, operational costs and a student research assistant.
“Special education is an area of significant shortages across the United States. We cannot produce enough special educators, and the positions just go vacant,” Carol Kochhar-Bryant, chair of the department of special education and disability studies, said. “We’ve got a big moral issue, we’ve got a social issue and we’ve got an economic issue by not attending to students’ needs all the way through school.”
Tuition support from the grant may enable an additional 100 students to join the 400-student special education department, Kochhar-Bryant said.
With growing shortages in special education teachers across the country, professors like Pamela Leconte say these new grants are necessary to support future educators.
“Special education is not going away any time soon. It continues to grow in a lot of places, especially with this current time of economic need,” Leconte, an assistant research professor in the special education department, said. “We need teachers who have to be qualified in certain subjects as well as in special education.”
The grants will support students in four particular areas of special education that the graduate school and the Department of Education agreed would need the most training: traumatic brain injury specialization, early childhood leadership in administrative roles, secondary transition specialization and bilingual specialization.
Graduate School of Education and Human Development Dean Michael Feuer said “the areas being funded by these three grants represent a fraction of the work we are doing to prepare high-quality special education practitioners.”
“These funds are integral to our ongoing efforts to meet the complex needs of learners with special needs while also helping to address the concerning shortage of special education teachers and administrators through tuition support,” Feuer said.
Due to low salary rates for special educators nationally, Kochhar-Bryant said students in special education programs often “end up with really high debt.”
Because the department has a hybrid curriculum with both on- and off-campus courses, most master’s students are not eligible for teaching or research assistantships that could help offset the cost of tuition.
“It does place some of our students at a disadvantage, which is why we need these sort of opportunities for tuition support,” Kochhar-Bryant said.