HUNTINGDON COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) — A new graduate program at Juniata College will equip educational professionals with the knowledge and skills needed to support all learners in the classroom.

Beginning in August, the college will offer a Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Special Education program online. It will provide flexible, yet rigorous graduate courses delivered by Juniata’s full-time faculty, experience adjuncts and skilled practitioners, according to officials.

“There is a major shortage of special education teachers nationwide,” Assistant Professor of Education Dr. Katie E. Holdebrand Hoffman said. “We need qualified special education teachers. In Pennsylvania, teachers are encouraged to earn a master’s degree or the equivalent, and this would allow them to obtain the level two certification they will need, as well as ensuring they are well prepared with content knowledge and skills.”

Officials said as a liberal arts college, Juniata is well-positioned to create a unique experience for those desiring a breadth and depth of knowledge related to special education while cultivating a collaborative community of online learners. Graduate students work one-on-one with their adviser to individualize a plan to meet their learning needs.

“Juniata is widely known for our excellent undergraduate programs and the partnership between our faculty and students,” Hoffman said. “That is true of our graduate programs as well. Our graduate professors know their students, value those relationships and create an online community so students can learn from one another.”

By 2030, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there will be 920,500 new jobs in the field of education, representing a 10 percent growth.

It’s also reported that nationwide, 13 percent of children and youth identified in schools as having a disability. Of this number, approximately 80 percent spend a portion of their day in an inclusive setting. Tremendous strides in the field of special education have been made since the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was enacted in 1975.

“Special education is still a relatively young field,” Hoffman said. “At one time, students receiving special education services were primarily educated in a self-contained classroom and a more categorical approach was utilized.”

Now, Hoffman said they’ve moved to a more inclusive approach where they can educate children and youth with needs in the least restrictive environment, which is often the general education classroom.

“Programs are highly individualized,” she said. “We want to ensure we capitalize on strengths and attend to the needs of the individual regardless of the specified disability. We need to use the best approach, one that has research to suggest its effectiveness for our students.”

Hoffman said they rely on evidence-based practices.

“It’s not just about special education or special education teachers,” she said.”It’s a collaborative approach among a variety of educational professionals, including general education teachers, special education teachers, mobile therapists and speech and language pathologists. They are all a part of a collaborative team.”

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The addition of the M.Ed. in Special Education builds upon the college’s existing offerings, which include graduate degrees in accounting, business administration (MBA), organizational leadership, data science and bioinformatics.

For more information, contact Hoffman at hoffman@juniata.edu. You can also visit juniata.edu.