Best Online Bachelor’s in Special Education Programs

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Badge (Online) with 2-Line TitleBachelor'sin Special Education2017
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The special education field is rewarding and fulfilling, and an online degree in special education leads to a career that is challenging and fosters personal growth. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that special education teachers held 450,700 jobs in 2014, and the field is still growing.

Special education professionals work with students who have mental and physical disabilities. There is a growing need in the education system for assistance and guidance for special needs students, making a bachelor’s degree in special education exceptionally marketable and useful. Below, we’ll discuss how to choose the best online bachelor’s in special education program for you.

Bachelor’s in special education programs often provide options for tailoring the curriculum to your specific career goals. Explore all the options within each potential program. Here are a few aspects to consider when researching online bachelor’s in special education programs.

  • Internships and field experience: Gaining field experience while earning a degree in education equips graduates with knowledge and skills, along with semesters or years of experience to pad your résumé. Look for programs with built-in fieldwork or internships.
  • Concentrations: Programs often offer focuses of study. In special education, pursuing these concentrations could involve researching and learning about specific disabilities or taking courses in physical therapy.
  • Core courses: Different programs have different core requirements, which all students in the program are required to complete. Look for a program with core courses likely to contribute to your goals in the field. Common core courses in special education include special education assessment and special education practicum.
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Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Graduation Rate Location Description
1 Liberty University 75.00 46% Lynchburg, VA

For students looking for a Christian-based online special education degree, Liberty University offers a BS degree track in the field. Categorized as an interdisciplinary studies track, Liberty’s online bachelor’s in special education effectively equips students with the tools to approach a career in special education within the context of a Christian worldview. Although the school takes a faith-based approach, the program does not lack in its attention to modern and contemporary movements and trends in the field of special education, providing students with a comprehensive understanding of the subject area.

With a requirement of only 50% of the 45 major hours to be taken through Liberty, transfer students are welcome to finish out their BS in special education in this online program. Though the online BS in special education at Liberty is a non-licensure track, students can opt for a 5th year MAT licensure program that will allow them to enter the teaching field following their completion of the 5th year.

Liberty’s nonprofit status allows for some of the lowest tuition rates of many similar online programs, and students may apply for financial aid and scholarships. Tuition payment plans are also available.

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2 East Carolina University 67.50 58% Greenville, NC

East Carolina University offers an online completion track for students who finish the first two years of their special education program at a North Carolina community college. After completing the first two years of the program, students may transition into the online special education degree program through ECU, made possible through the school’s partnership with the State Employee Credit Union (SECU). Upon taking and passing the Praxis Core tests in reading, writing, and math, students can apply to the Partnership East (PE) program and to ECU.

Although the coursework of ECU’s online degree program in special education is based entirely online, students will be required to complete an internship during their final year of study in a public school classroom. Occasionally throughout the course of study, students may also have to observe a public school classroom, prior to entering the full-time internship.

To apply to the PE program, students will need to submit transcripts, scores from their Praxis Core tests, and from their ACT or SAT, as well as satisfactory completion of the required coursework at their North Carolina community college of choice.

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3 Drexel University 66.75 65% Philadelphia, PA

Though physically based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Drexel University offers an online degree in special education for students who may already have college credit hours under their belts. The BS in education degree at Drexel is a part-time program, and students may choose a concentration in PreK-4, or in PreK-4 and special education. Students should be able to complete the program in about two and a half years, or after ten academic terms, depending on the number of courses taken each term. The online special education degree program at Drexel also allows students to pursue certification in the state of Pennsylvania through additional pedagogy-based learning hours, as well as twelve weeks of in-person, full day teaching as a student teacher.

For those students wishing to transfer to Drexel’s online special education program, the university requires a minimum of 24 previously earned credit hours, and a minimum GPA of 2.5. Tuition rates for Drexel’s online program are 40% less than regular rates, and special tuition discounts are available for Drexel alumni and members of the military. Financial aid is also available.

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4 Old Dominion University 66.00 49% Norfolk, VA

For residents of Virginia and Washington, the online special education degree program at Old Dominion University offers a path to Virginia licensure. Graduates of this degree completion program can pursue careers in teaching at the primary, middle, and secondary levels, as well as potentially eventual careers in school administration, principalship, and curriculum supervision. The 300 and 400 level courses in the program are designed to transform students into qualified and trained teaching professionals in special education.

While 40 of the required credit hours can be completed entirely online, students will also be required to complete 42 credit hours of field experience in a teaching environment. Online courses are attended synchronously, and course materials are accessible at any time via the online portal.

ODU’s online special education program advisers assist potential students in making a smooth transition into the program. Before applying, students must take and pass the Praxis Core tests.

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5 Western Governors University 61.50 27% Salt Lake City, UT

As the first entirely online program to gain accreditation from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), the BA in special education program at Western Governors University produces graduate students that are highly trained, and well-prepared to enter the teaching field. For those students with some college credit hours already completed, the special education track at WGU can be finished in about two and a half years. For students who have no previously completed hours, the coursework will take about four years, on average.

Students at WGU have the power to set their own pace and to take and complete coursework on their own schedules. Since courses are offered asynchronously, students don’t have to worry about being at their computers at a certain time to watch a lecture. A cohort seminar and demonstration teaching are requirements of the program, and these are offered twice a year. Tuition is based on time-to-completion, rather than credit hours, so fees are the same no matter how many credit units a student takes each term—a model that makes WGU especially economical for those students able to move quickly through the coursework.

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6 Fort Hays State University 58.75 41% Hays, KS

Despite being physically based in Kansas, Fort Hays State University offers an impressive array of online-based degree programs, including a BS in elementary education. The program offers an option for a minor in special education, making graduates more marketable to potential employers, and better able to effectively teach all of their future students, no matter their disabilities. The school's online program in special education at Fort Hays requires a total of 136 credit hours, of which 12 must be in student teaching. Completing the special education degree online through Fort Hays State University prepares students to enter diverse classrooms and offers unique experiences through the course of study.

Tuition for virtual education at Fort Hays is considerably lower than its on-campus counterpart, and financial aid is available for qualifying students. Thanks to the school's NCATE accreditation, any graduate of the online special education program through Fort Hays will hold a BS in elementary education degree that is valid in all states (though specific state licensure must also be obtained in order to practice).

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7 Dakota State University 48.00 42% Madison, SD

In addition to maintaining a campus in Madison, South Dakota, Dakota State University offers convenient, online programs for many degree tracks. The school's BSE degree program offers a track in elementary and special education that prepares students for jobs in special education, particularly in teaching in the K-8 or K-12 area. Student teaching experience in two different areas (primary, middle, or secondary) will allow students in the program to see what areas they excel in, and make a more informed decision about their ultimate career paths.

Since the same professors who teach on-campus courses also teach the school's online courses, students in the school's online special education degree program at DSU benefit from the same breadth of knowledge and attention that on-campus students receive. Since many online courses are taught synchronously with on-campus courses, online students have the opportunity to collaborate and work with on-campus students in ways not offered by many other online degree programs. DSU’s innovative use of classroom technology also prepares students to work in today’s modern classroom. The degree includes a built-in K-12 education technology endorsement.

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8 Prescott College 41.75 45% Prescott, AZ

The limited-residency programs at Prescott College are innovative in their combination of online and on-campus learning. Prescott offers students a rich, exciting way to take control of their education. Students in the school's limited residency BA in education and teacher preparation program learn in their own communities, as well as through online-based curriculum under the supervision of vetted and endorsed mentor faculty members. Through this degree program, students work toward certification in special education, as well as elementary, secondary, and early childhood special education. Prescott's online special education degree programs offer various post-degree teaching certificates for students looking to add more value to their resume and skill set.

Once students are paired with a mentor, they may collaborate and meet virtually or on-site. Coupled with online coursework, the school's mentor program fosters a one-on-one, face-to-face element that most other online programs lack.

New Student Orientation is required of all students, and financial aid is available for qualifying students.

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9 Fontbonne University 39.25 34% Saint Louis, MO

The Paraprofessional Pathways program at Fontbonne University offers an opportunity for current teaching assistants and paraprofessionals in educational settings to gain their teaching certification and a BS in special education. Graduates of this exceptional program gain certification in K-12 mild/moderate cross-categorical.This unique and innovative online special education degree program allows students to stay with their jobs and continue working even as they work towards completing their coursework and certification.

Students in the Pathways program will take just two 16-week online courses during the fall and spring terms, and two eight-week online courses during the summer term. Depending on the individual policies of the student’s district, the program's required clinical experiences may be completed through the student’s current paraprofessional job.

Fontbonne University online special education degree program boasts an impressive 96% career outcome rate for graduates, and all students have access to more than 10 free career services offered through Fontbonne.

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10 Notre Dame College 32.25 36% Cleveland, OH

For students looking for an online special education degree program that offers licensure in K-12 mild to moderate intervention, Notre Dame College is a great option. With all coursework offered and delivered online, students supplement their field-experience learning with expansive and effective digital course materials. All courses in the online special education degree program through Notre Dame College are taught by experienced faculty members, and graduates of the program are well-versed in today’s changing pedagogies. Some online courses may require virtual attendance at set times, while others may be completed at a student’s own pace.

Notre Dame College's BA in education is accredited by both the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. Tuition is affordable and competitive, and financial aid is available for qualified students. Transfer students may transfer college credits earned in the previous five years.

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There are no one-size-fits-all academic programs. Programs differ by school. Each program has specific requirements and policies, but the chart below lists common concentrations within special education programs.


Concentration Description Careers this concentration prepares for
Communication Disorders Learn appropriate and effective methods to teach students with various communication disorders. Teacher, Tudor, Teacher’s Aid
K–5 Focus on special education in kindergarten through fifth grade. This concentration prepares students to work with young children, assess their needs, and help them progress. Teacher, Administrator, Aid
Secondary Education This track focuses on working with exceptional secondary students, usually from grades 8 to 12. Teacher, Administrator, Aid, Tutor


Not all schools offer the same concentration options or curricula. Each school provides a unique set of coursework. Below are common courses in special education degree programs.

  • Special education assessment: This course teaches appropriate and effective methods for assessing the academic progress of students with disabilities. These methods are often learned alongside those for a general classroom.
  • Early childhood disabilities: This course explores disabilities some experience during early childhood and how teachers can effectively work with these students. Coursework delves into how these disabilities affect children emotionally, mentally, and physically.
  • Foundations of teaching: A degree in special education is, above all, an education degree. This course provides the necessary background for studying education.


Most online degrees in special education require about 120 credit hours, though there is some variation among programs. Cohort-based programs may require more time to complete, as students work through the coursework in groups. On the other hand, the flexibility of individually-paced programs allows students to complete coursework according to personalized timelines. A 120-credit bachelor’s degree generally requires two to four years to complete, depending on pace, course load per semester, and specific program requirements.


  • Board Certification in Special Education: Offered through the American Academy of Special Education Professionals, this certification shows commitment and excellence, representing high qualifications in the special education field. The certification requires a master’s degree.
  • State Teaching Licensure: An online degree in special education prepares students to seek state licensure. Since each state has different licensure requirements, check with your state’s department of education to ensure you are on the path to licensure.

In choosing the best online degree in special education for you, consider each potential program’s accreditation. Most schools are regionally accredited, and some may be nationally accredited. The Higher Learning Commission gives regional accreditation to schools that meet its criteria. When it comes to programs in special education, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education is one of the top accrediting organizations.

The U.S. Department of Education handles policies in United States school systems. This agency also provides aid and assistance to students; you will submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year to receive financial aid. The U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation both provide comprehensive lists of their accredited post-secondary schools. Check their websites to find the best online degrees in special education.


A career in special education is ideal for those with a great deal of patience and adaptability. While working in the special education field can be stressful, it is highly rewarding and fulfilling. From careers in art therapy to early intervention, graduates with a bachelor’s degree in special education have a wide range of opportunities.

Preschool Teacher

Preschool special education teachers work with young children who have not yet entered kindergarten. Special education preschool teachers teach children basic life skills and adapted versions of the normal preschool curriculum.

Median Annual Salary $52,460

Projected Growth Rate 7%

Kindergarten and Elementary Teacher

Kindergarten and elementary school special education teachers help students acquire basic academic and life skills necessary to progress through primary and secondary education.

Median Annual Salary $55,490

Projected Growth Rate 6%

Middle/High School Teacher

Middle school and high school special education teachers help students establish and maintain life skills, while delivering the appropriate academic curriculum.

Median Annual Salary $64,020

Projected Growth Rate 6%

School Social Worker

Social workers positioned inside schools focus on students’ wellbeing and intervene when issues arise. A social worker with a background in special education is exceptionally equipped to handle these kinds of interventions.

Median Annual Salary $46,890

Projected Growth Rate 12%


Beyond the bachelor’s degree in special education, graduate and vocational paths are available to those interested in continuing their education. For example, occupational therapists are often needed in special education classrooms to help disabled students with daily activities. With a master’s degree, a certified occupational therapist can earn a higher salary than a teacher with a bachelor’s degree.


A bachelor’s degree in special education prepares students for the wide range of career options available within the special education field. A bachelor’s degree, paired with professional experience, earns special education professionals salaries that grow throughout their careers.

Job Title Overall Median Salary Median Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0–5 years) Median Salary for Mid-Career Employees (5–10 years) Median Salary for Late-Career Employees (20+ years)
Preschool/Elementary Teacher $45,011 $40,851 $45,378 $57,900
Secondary Teacher $49,087 $42,087 $48,778 $61,900
Art Therapist $43,493 $40,954 $47,683 $50,868
Teacher Assistant $22,727 $22,810 $23,587 $25,027
Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant $46,821 $45,940 $47,040 $50,313


Professional organizations in special education help graduates network and find job opportunities. A number of nationally and internationally recognized organizations provide important services and opportunities for their members, most with minimal or no membership fees.

Undergraduate students have a myriad of funding opportunities, such as loans, scholarships, and grants. Always fill out the FAFSA, after which your school will provide you with individualized funding opportunities. Special education students may pursue opportunities for extra federal funding through the TEACH Grant, and some states offer discounted tuition rates and waivers for those studying to become special education teachers.


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