Online Graduate Programs in Special Education
In the realm of online education, doctoral degrees in education are still relatively new, but each year brings new schools and programs. If you're looking to earn your PhD in special education, your online options are becoming wider and more varied. For students who need flexibility in meeting their educational goals, distance learning is a great way to earn a degree and advance your career. Below are links to schools with doctorate and graduate-level programs in special education as well as degrees in general education and teaching. Our site also provides helpful articles and tips on how to make the most of your online learning experience.
EdD: Special Edu
PhD: Special Edu
MEd: Special Edu
|Northcentral University . Northcentral University is a private, accredited school that offers an EdD and PhD in Special Education as well as an MEd degree. NCU has its headquarters located in Prescott Valley, Arizona — just north of Phoenix — and currently serves over 10,000 students. In addition, its online programs can cut several costs associated with campus-based learning like living expenses, childcare expenses, and commuting.
PhD: Special Edu
EdS: Special Edu
MS: Special Edu (Non-Licensure) (Grades K-12)
|Walden University . Walden University is a private online school headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It offers online programs for its EdS, MS, and PhD in Special Education programs that can be completed in two or three years. The school also accepts transfer credits from other regionally accredited to make earning your degree at Walden even faster.
PhD: Special Edu Leadership
MS: Special Edu Teaching
|Capella University . Located in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Capella University is a co-educational school with a massive online course catalog — over 1,500 courses available. This includes the PhD in Special Education Leadership and the MS in Special Education Teaching. The PhD program is designed for students seeking positions in education administration, while the master program is geared towards teachers seeking a license in special education.
MA: in Teaching - Special Edu
MEd: Teaching/Learning - Special Edu
|Liberty University . While Liberty University does not offer a PhD in Special Education, it does provide online programs for an MA and MEd in Teaching Special Education. On average, these programs can be completed a year sooner than a PhD program. Liberty University is the largest Christian school in the country with over 72,000 students enrolled either online or at its campus in Lynchburg, Virginia.
MEd: Special Edu (IR and Cert)
MEd: Special Edu (No IR, No Cert)
|Grand Canyon University . Grand Canyon University is a private, Christian school located in Phoenix, Arizona. GCU offers an MEd in Special Education with programs for both students with and without their IR Certification. These programs are for students who currently hold a bachelor degree and are interest in grades 7 through 12 special education.
MS: Special Edu
|Drexel University . Drexel University is a private research school with its main campus in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; there are also 4 other campus located throughout the country. The MS in Special Education is an online 49.5 credit hour program that awards students with a degree and/or a teaching certificate in this specialization.
MA: Curriculum/Instruction - Special Edu and Reading
MA: Special Edu - Gifted Edu
|University of Nebraska at Kearney . There are two graduate programs available online from the University of Nebraska at Kearney: the MA in Education of Curriculum and Instruction with a specialization in Special Education and the MA in Special Education. UNK is a public school located in Kearney and is one of four campuses for the University of Nebraska.
MEd: Special Edu
|University of Cincinnati . The University of Cincinnati is a public, research school with four campuses: one located in Cincinnati and the rest are spread out in Blue Ash and Batavia, Ohio. The MEd in Special Education is just one of 308 programs that Cincinnati has to offer with online programs available. This program is a 42 credit hour program.
Earning a PhD In Special Education
Special education teachers work with students with varying special needs, using different methods and procedures that are adapted for each learner in order implement a teaching style that best suits their needs and helps them to achieve a higher level of success in school. There are many different types of special needs, including developmental, behavioral, and physical. In order to cater to the needs of these students, special education teachers create individual lesson plans specifically designed for each type of student.
A PhD in special education prepares students to hold leadership positions in research-based settings, working in human services, or as an educator in schools, colleges, or universities. Some may even fill positions within local, state, or national agencies. This specialization will draw on knowledge from many disciplines as a basis of understanding these varying learning disabilities. Through this advanced, research-oriented program, individuals aim to develop and implement effective programs within schools.
PhD programs can typically be completed in four years of full-time study. For students attending part-time, the program could take longer. This all depends on the student and the time they have to commit to coursework each semester. The program usually consists of required coursework, research, specialization courses, and dissertation. Some schools may also require an examination before the PhD can be awarded. In order to qualify for a PhD in special education program, most colleges and universities require you to have a relevant master’s degree in either special education or closely aligned field. Other prerequisites may include:
- A published journal or newspaper article
- A grant proposal for funding
- An essay
- GRE scores
- Letters of recommendation
- Writing sample
Special Education Specializations
In a PhD program, students are required to meet a set number of core requirements that cover various topics, trends, research, analysis, and more. Beyond the core classes, students may also choose to specialize in their degree and cater it to which areas interest them most. Different schools offer varying areas of specialization, so researching what programs are available at each school is important before enrolling. With the vast number of special needs, these specialty areas allow for more research and study into a particular area. Some specialties that may be offered include:
- Early childhood special education: This type of specialization focuses on improving the lives of young children and their families. This may include research, papers, literature reviews, and other methods throughout the program.
- Mild/moderate disabilities: These types of disabilities could include mental and physical developmental learning disabilities that range from needing little assistance to requiring assistance for transportation, communication, and medical needs. This includes a wide range of learning disabilities and students with differing needs.
- Moderate/severe disabilities: Those with more severe conditions generally require long-term special education classes, therapy, and constant supervision and support. There are a wide range of conditions with varying needs.
- Physical and health impairments: These may include orthopedic impairments, brain injuries, various illnesses and conditions, or even multiple disabilities. Students experiencing these types of disabilities may require more physical and medical support than others.
- Orientation and mobility: These types of disabilities typically involve students who need assistance getting around, require physical therapy, or students with hearing impairments that may need interpreters or other aids.
- Visual impairments: Visual impairments can range from needing corrective eyewear to total blindness. Students with visual impairments may require different types of assistance depending on their degree of vision loss.
Licensing and Qualifications
In order to work in special education, you must be licensed through the state in which you work. These requirements for certification vary by state, and many require teachers to complete annual courses in order to keep their license current. If you are interested in working with multiple disabilities, many states offer a special education license that allows this. For those pursuing a PhD in this field, most schools will require students to have had at least a few years of experience teaching before they can be accepted to the program.
Working in special education can be very challenging, so important qualities for these teachers include good communication skills, patience, creativity, critical-thinking, and more. Though it does come with challenges, careers in this field can be very meaningful and rewarding.
Career Outlook with a Doctorate in Special Education
For individuals who go on to achieve a PhD in special education, the two most common career paths are teaching and research, though there are other career possibilities within this field. According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for special education teachers is expected to grow 17 percent between 2010 and 2020. This growth is expected due to the increasing enrollment and growing demand for special education services. With many teachers also reaching retirement age in the coming years, new teachers will be needed to fill those positions.
Some of the potential career paths in special education include:
- Early childhood
- Adult education
- College or university level
- Curriculum and lesson plan designer
- Human services agencies
- Government agencies