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RMU launches master’s program in special education

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Pittsburgh – Robert Morris University has launched a master’s of education degree in special education, responding to the growing demand of students and of an industry hungry for teachers qualified to work with children with special needs.

Over the past 30 years, the number of students with special educational needs has far outpaced the number of instructors certified to serve them. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has forecast faster-than-average growth in demand for special educators, increasing 17 percent between 2008 and 2018. In Pennsylvania, even general education students are now required to take at least two special education courses.

“In the past decade, Pennsylvania has seen a 15 percent growth in need for special education teachers,” said Vicki J. Donne, assistant professor of secondary education and graduate studies, who led the program’s development. “Even with budget cuts that’s likely to continue, because special education instruction is federally mandated.” 

The School of Education and Social Sciences’ program officially begins in the fall, although two students earned their degrees in May. It requires 30 credit hours (10 courses), which may be completed in an accelerated format through evening classes offered in eight-week sessions twice a semester. Field visits and a student-teaching practicum round out the coursework.

That scheduling was key to the enrollment of Deanna Hiltz, who was already working as a long-term substitute teacher at an elementary school in Beaver County. The weekly night classes allowed her to keep working, and she was able to complete some of her field work requirements through her on-the-job experiences. 

“Even as a general elementary education teacher, having knowledge and background in special education is a help,” said Hiltz, who also teaches traditional students. “It gives you a solid understanding of the law, as well as material that is useful for all kinds of kids.” 

Susan Perich, another May 2011 graduate, said the flexible schedules and the support of faculty was vital. She was employed as an assistant coach to RMU’s Colonials softball team while pursuing her degree. 

“The professors really work with students to help accommodate your needs,” she said. “I wanted to do my practicum at the beginning of the spring semester – not the end – because of the softball team’s traveling schedule. They helped me make it happen.” 

For additional information about the program, contact Vicki Donne at donne@rmu, or 412-397-5465, or check out