ABERDEEN, S.D. (Press Release) – A new master’s degree program approved for Northern State University will help fill a critical workforce need for special education teachers, especially those who educate students with visual impairments.
Northern’s new Master of Science in Education (M.S.Ed.) in Special Education, approved this week by the South Dakota Board of Regents, will be offered both online and on campus starting in fall 2021.
The program also includes a specialization for teaching students with visual impairments, which will expand Northern’s longtime partnership with the South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
“This is an exciting time for the university,” said NSU College of Professional Studies Dean Dr. Doug Ohmer. “This program will be unique in the nation, and as it grows, will become a hallmark program for the Millicent Atkins School of Education and the College of Professional Studies.”
Critical Teacher Shortage
A critical shortage of special education teachers has created a workforce need nationwide, and specifically in South Dakota. For over a decade, the U.S. Department of Education has identified special education as an area of teacher shortage in South Dakota, Ohmer said. The shortage of educators who specialize in teaching students with visual impairments is even more critical.
NSU Associate Professor of Special Education Dr. Cheryl Wold said special education faculty members field calls most semesters from school administrators in South Dakota and North Dakota desperately seeking special education teachers.
“Launching this master’s degree in special education will provide administrators with another option to help fill those positions,” said Wold, who also serves as NSU Faculty Senate president. “Because the program will be offered online, administrators can grow their own special education teachers by finding a certified teacher in their own community, who would like to become a special education teacher and is ready to go back to school.”
Northern’s new master’s degree also provides an option for undergraduate students, Wold said. An accelerated option will allow undergraduate special education majors to take 12 credits at the graduate level in their last year. By staying at NSU an additional year to complete the rest of the graduate level courses, she said, the students will have completed their master’s degree in special education as well.
History of Collaboration
The program will build on the longtime partnership between Northern and SDSBVI. Wold said the two have a long history of over 40 years of collaboration. That has included SDSBVI staff being guest speakers in NSU classes; NSU professors taking students on field trips to SDSBVI; NSU visual impairment courses being held at SDSBVI; and NSU special education majors completing student teaching or other practicum experiences there.
“Having the opportunity to specialize in teaching students with visual impairments through the new master’s degree will draw graduate students from across the country to benefit from this longstanding partnership,” she said.
Ohmer said the type of relationship NSU and SDSBVI have is unique. Nationwide, 36 universities are listed as having programs to prepare teachers to teach students with visual impairments. Northern is one of three that includes a practicum in a school for the blind and visually impaired – and the only university in the nation with a school of the blind and visually impaired within the bounds of its campus location.
“As time progresses,” he said, “we will form a partnership team with the leadership and faculty of the SDSBVI to deepen the relationship and find additional ways to collaborate in areas such as science and the fine arts.”
To learn more about studying special education in Northern’s Millicent Atkins School of Education, visit the NSU Special Education Department online.