A career in special education can be personally and financially rewarding. Even better, it also provides a variety of opportunities to impact the lives of others in a positive way. Yet with a steady job growth rate of 6%, standing out among other applicants can be difficult, especially as employers increasingly select candidates who have attained the highest level of education for top-level positions. Earning an online doctorate in special education isn't just a convenient, affordable way to achieve your professional goals, it demonstrates to prospective employers that you're serious about helping others through special education.

Choosing a Program


The best online doctorate in special education programs build upon prior knowledge to help you become the kind of expert employers seek. By strengthening pre-existing skills and building new ones through intensive research and hands-on experience, an online doctorate program can help you achieve your professional goals


Every school has different admission requirements for online doctorate programs. While all applicants are expected to hold a master's degree in a relevant field, some programs require students to have additional professional experience in related areas. If you're interested in a program but concerned that your work history isn't sufficient, contact an admissions counselor for further information.


Online degree programs are designed with busy people in mind, and that includes working professionals who want to advance their careers through education. While virtually all online programs can be completed while employed, some course formats and delivery methods are more convenient than others. It's important to take these factors, as well as the amount of weekly coursework, into consideration before choosing a program.


Earning a degree online lets you receive a quality, comprehensive education when and where it's most convenient for you. Whether you're currently employed, raising a family, or both, there's a distance learning program that fits your schedule. Many online degree programs cost a fraction of their traditional counterparts while offering the same rigorous academics and conferring the same credentials as their on-campus counterparts.

What Are the Best Online Doctorate in Special Education Programs?

School Location Cost Graduation Rate Description Toggle

Concordia University Chicago

River Forest, IL Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 49%

Established in 1864, CUC provides learning experiences to students through a Christian lens. CUC values academic excellence and service. The university also strives to accommodate working professionals through distance programs.

Professionals with an affinity for helping students with distinctive needs can earn an online doctorate in special education through CUC. This program requires 61 or 67 credits, depending on whether learners pursue an Ed.D. or a Ph.D. Courses include supervision of programs for children with disabilities, international perspectives in special education, current issues and trends in special education, and assistive technology for students with disabilities. The curriculum also requires a comprehensive exam and a dissertation.

Students take coursework asynchronously. CUC is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Drexel University

Philadelphia, PA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 74%

Founded in 1891, Drexel prioritizes student-centered learning, research, and problem-solving. As an extension of that mission, Drexel has offered distance learning since 1996.

Working professionals who enroll at Drexel can earn an online doctorate in educational leadership and management with a concentration in special education leadership. This online doctoral degree in special education requires 60.5-61.5 quarter credits. Part-time students typically graduate in three years. Courses include program evaluation in organizations and quantitative research methods in data analysis.

Admission requires an accredited bachelor's and master's degree. Applicants also need at least three years of professional experience. Drexel is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Hampton University

Hampton, VA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 58%

Located in Virginia, HU is one of the top historically black universities in the nation. The university's student body includes nearly 4,300 learners. HU prioritizes accessible and affordable education. To that end, HU ranks first among universities in the South in terms of graduating students with the smallest amount of debt.

Special education advocates can earn a Ph.D. in educational management with a concentration in special education. This degree requires 66 credits, and students typically graduate in 30 months. All students complete a dissertation and learn core educational leadership competencies.

Admission requires a bachelor's degree from an accredited university with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Applicants must also earn a minimum score of 150 on the GRE. Prospective students who do not meet GPA or test score requirements can still earn provisional admission; they may be fully admitted after earning a minimum 3.0 GPA over their first six credits in the program.

HU is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Liberty University

Lynchburg, VA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 50%

A conservative, evangelical university, Liberty provides academic programs that promote a Christian worldview. Liberty serves over 100,000 students, including roughly 30,000 military students.

Students can earn an online Ed.D. in curriculum and instruction - special education at Liberty. This program requires 54 credits, and the average student graduates in about three years. Courses include the history and future of special education, collaboration and communication in special education, and advanced learning theory and research. Each course lasts eight weeks, and the program does not have any in-person requirements.

Liberty is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Regent University

Virginia Beach, VA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 59%

Regent is one of the fastest-growing Christian schools in the nation. The university delivers student-focused and Christ-centered learning, including online programs that primarily serve working professionals and military students.

Regent offers an online doctorate in education with a special education concentration. This degree requires 75 credits, including 21 core credits, 24-26 special education concentration credits, six summer residency credits, and 15 dissertation credits. Courses include advanced study of high-incidence disabilities, data-driven decision-making, bioethics in special education, and issues in education. Each course lasts eight weeks.

Regent is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

What Else Can I Expect from an Online Doctorate in Special Education Program?

All online doctorate in special education programs are different. Core courses and concentrations can vary widely from school to school, and depend heavily on program length and format. To help you to select the program that fits your life best, the following sections are designed to provide a broad overview of doctorate programs.


While course offerings differ from school to school, many topics are integral to any online doctorate in special education curriculum. You're likely to encounter some variation of the following courses in any program:

  • Special education law: Providing a broad overview of legal topics as they pertain to special education, this course helps future instructors understand how laws impact students with disabilities, as well as how these students are taught. Topics covered include advocacy, disability law, and ethical issues in the classroom.
  • Intervention assessment: Students who take part in this course learn to assess the educational requirements of special needs individuals according to specific criteria, and implement instructional methods accordingly. Though typically designated as a required course, the class is sometimes offered as part of a concentration for those interested in a career as an intervention specialist.
  • Instructional leadership: This course explores the administrative aspects of special education instruction and advocacy. Coursework prepares students for upper-level positions in the educational system by examining concepts in public policy, human resource management, and program development. Instructional leadership courses often include a hands-on practicum component.


While most online doctorate in special education programs span between 60 and 100 credit hours, some take as little as a year or as many as five years to complete. The length of an online PhD program is dependent on several variables, including delivery format and whether or not it includes a practicum component. The most influential factor, however, is a program's pacing.

Designed for busy individuals, asynchronous or self-paced programs allow students to review materials and complete assignments at their convenience. Frequently taught in an accelerated format, students with excellent time management skills can quickly complete these programs. Cohort-based programs are much more structured, and often require students to be online at specified times. These programs stress interaction with faculty and other cohort members, and may include group projects or discussion as part of a curriculum. Cohort-based programs typically take longer to complete than their self-paced counterparts.

Accreditation for Online Doctorate in Special Education Programs

The best online doctorate in special education is one earned through an accredited school. Accreditation is a process agencies use to ensure that educational institutions operate according to a variety of important standards. Depending on which agency assesses them, schools may be regionally or nationally accredited. When choosing among schools, understanding the distinction between types of accreditation is crucial to your academic success.

Regionally accredited schools are typically nonprofit, academically-focused institutions like state universities, while nationally accredited institutions are most often for-profit vocational schools. Credits earned at regionally accredited schools transfer easily to other institutions, while those from nationally accredited schools do not. Many employers will not reimburse tuition for nationally accredited programs.

Accreditation also helps the U.S. Department of Education determine which institutions are eligible to receive federal funding. This branch of the government doesn't accredit schools, relying instead on reports from external accrediting agencies. So, who accredits the accreditors? Quality assurance groups like the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) ensure that accrediting bodies operate according to standards. Made up of over 3,000 colleges and universities, CHEA reviews and assesses organizations while providing the public with information about the accreditation process and the dangers of degree mills. CHEA's website also maintains an extensive database of accredited schools and programs.

Employment Outlook for Doctorate in Special Education Graduates

Doctorate in Special Education Careers

If you're a driven, creative person with strong analytical skills and a desire to help others, you're in the right field! Earning a doctoral degree in special ed online can open up a wealth of career opportunities in education, from instructor to principal to policymaker. While many graduates choose to apply their knowledge and skills through teaching, others seek positions as intervention specialists, school principals, board members, or advocates for the disabled. The following are only a few of the numerous career paths you can take after earning a PhD in special education:

Special Education Teacher: Special education teachers provide instruction to students whose disabilities may vary widely in type and severity. By assessing a student's intellectual, mental, and physical needs, they determine the best approach to their student's education and adapt their teaching methods accordingly. Some specialize in teaching particular age groups, or students with particular disabilities.

School Principal: Principals ensure that all operations within a school run smoothly as they manage faculty and other staff members, develop a school curriculum, and oversee financial matters. Most principals have accrued years of teaching experience before taking on this administrative role, and some earn their doctorate while employed as a teacher.

Instructional Coordinator: Charged with curriculum development and implementation, instructional coordinators ensure that schools employ the most effective teaching methods and maintain high educational standards. Most begin their careers as K-12 teachers. Some instructional coordinators with a background in special education assist in the development of materials and lesson plans for special needs students.

Salary and Growth Rate by Career

Position Median Annual Salary Projected Growth Rate
Special Education Teacher $57,910 6%
School Principal $92,510 6%
Instructional Coordinator $62,460 7%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Doctorate in Special Education salary

Many factors can influence a special education expert's annual earnings. Location, experience in the field, and workplace policies are all variables that may impact an individual's salary, but few have a stronger effect on earnings than education. Using data from PayScale, the following table demonstrates the close correlation between higher education and higher salaries, even among individuals with the same degree of experience.

Salary by Degree Level

Highest Level of Education Attained Median Annual Salary
Bachelor's degree $30,251
Master's degree $41,494
Doctorate $75,000


If you're in the process of earning an online doctorate in special education, joining a professional organization can help you get a head start on building a career. These organizations provide students and professionals with an array of resources and opportunities, including career services, certification programs, and annual conferences and seminars. Membership offers a chance to network with other professionals in the field while enhancing your own skill set. The following organizations look great on any resume:

  • National Association of Special Education Teachers: Offering support to former and current instructors as well as students, this group is the largest of its kind in the United States. Members benefit from access to a vast database of professional development tools, including online courses, board certification programs, and a large reference library.
  • Council for Exceptional Children: Since 1922, the Council for Exceptional Children has championed the success of special education students. Today, members can enhance their skills in education and advocacy through workshops, seminars, and professional training.
  • International Association for Special Education: This organization extends membership to special education professionals in over 50 countries. Students interesting in attending its biennial conference can apply to have their attendance and lodging covered by the Marg Csapo Scholarship.

Financing Your Online Doctorate in Special Education Program

Many students feel overwhelmed when it comes to paying for their degrees. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources available to help you understand your options. By filling out the FAFSA, you can easily determine your eligibility for federal funding through grants, loans, scholarships, and work-study programs. Numerous cultural, regional, and professional organizations also offer scholarship opportunities. Additionally, some employers cover all or part of tuition costs if a program is relevant to the workplace.


Approximately two-thirds of today's college students rely on loans to fund their education, but there are plenty of overlooked financing options you can use to reduce your overall student debt.


Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a crucial first step for any student with financial needs. Our FAFSA guide features a step-by-step rundown on the process and answers to several frequently asked questions.


Financial aid for online learning is equivalent to what you'll find for campus-based learning, but that hasn't always been the case. Learn about the changes that have taken place, as well as the different funding opportunities available to online students.


Online college programs can be a flexible, affordable option for single parents who are interested in earning a degree and securing their family's financial future. We've compiled a list of scholarships, grants, and other financial aid options geared toward single moms and dads.


Millions of dollars in free money is available to U.S. military personnel, but much of it goes unused. Learn more about grants, scholarships, and other financial aid opportunities available to veterans, active-duty service members, and reservists.