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
WILL THIS PROGRAM PROVIDE ME WITH THE SKILLS I NEED TO ADVANCE MY CAREER?
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
DO I NEED PREVIOUS WORK EXPERIENCE TO GET IN?
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.
CAN I WORK WHILE I COMPLETE MY ONLINE DOCTORATE IN SPECIAL EDUCATION?
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.
WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES TO EARNING MY SPECIAL EDUCATION ONLINE?
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?
Concordia University - Chicago
|River Forest, IL||Cost: $$$$$||
Students at CUC can earn an Ed.D. or Ph.D. in educational leadership with a specialization in special education. Students earning a Ph.D. in special education online complete a research-based curriculum, while learners pursuing an Ed.D. complete more practical requirements. The Ed.D. program requires prior experience as a teacher or school administrator, and applicants to either program must hold a related master's degree.
The Ed.D. and Ph.D. curricula require 61 and 67 credits, respectively. Students complete core courses in topics such as ethics, organizational change, and policy analysis. The special education specialization covers topics like program supervision, assistive technologies, applied behavior analysis, and current issues and trends in special education. Ph.D. students take additional research courses. Learners present a dissertation project that either summarizes their independent research or reviews and analyzes existing research.
While CUC offers the program entirely online, students in the Chicago area can complete the curriculum in a hybrid format, which includes weekly in-person classes. Online students have access to financial aid and student loans, and the university guarantees tuition will not increase during the length of a program for continuously enrolled students.
CUC is affiliated with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. The school was originally founded as a teaching college, and its teaching programs hold accreditation from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation and the Illinois State Board of Education.
|Philadelphia, PA||Cost: $$$$$||
Drexel offers an online doctorate in educational leadership and management that incorporates the latest research in instructional leadership. The Philadelphia-based school holds Carnegie classification as an R1 doctoral university. The university's doctorate in special education online program includes research and data-analysis courses and is capped with a doctoral dissertation.
Drexel's doctor of education program is suitable for working educators, and participants can work through classes on a part-time basis. Students in this cohort-based program progress through the curriculum together in lock-step, taking two courses per term and graduating in three years. Learners can also choose to take only one class per term and graduate in about five years. While the program is available completely online, students near Philadelphia or the District of Columbia can attend in-person classes on Fridays and Saturdays three times each term.
The special education concentration includes coursework in instructional leadership, school law and policy, special education leadership, and organization and administration. Learners can pursue special education internships in areas including leadership, collaboration and personnel, and finance and management. Students can share their work with peers through an online and on-campus doctoral student colloquium.
Drexel launched its first online courses 20 years ago. Today, the university offers 150 online certificates and degrees. Asynchronous courses follow 10-week quarters. Drexel's school of education offers 17 degrees and enrolls more than 1,100 students. Military students and their families qualify for discounted tuition rates.
|Hampton, VA||Cost: $$$$$||
HU offers an online Ph.D. in educational management with a concentration in special education. The curriculum emphasizes contemporary issues within the education system. Learners gain the skills necessary to find research-based solutions to problems in the field. The program requires 66 credits and prepares graduates for leadership roles in public or private schools, policy-making agencies, and instructional corporations.
Unlike many other online Ph.D. programs in special education, HU's degree track delivers coursework in leadership theories and management techniques. The curriculum focuses on the cultural and sociological contexts of education. Learners also explore policy implementation and research-based educational interventions. Students complete a research seminar, a dissertation, and two internships.
Although HU delivers program coursework online, doctoral students must visit the Hampton, Virginia, campus for two-week summer residencies. During these experiences, learners can take advantage of networking opportunities, dissertation guidance, and professional mentoring.
Online students can access several support services, including advising, library assistance, and career services. Transfer students can apply up to nine previously earned credits toward their doctorate. Founded as the Hampton Normal School, HU is a historically Black college. The university's tradition of accessible education began with an extension program formed in 1929.
|Lynchburg, VA||Cost: $$$$$||
Liberty — an evangelical Christian university located in Lynchburg, Virginia — offers an online Ed.D. in curriculum and instruction with a special education cognate. The curriculum of this program is focused on educational practice and academic leadership.
Students earning a doctorate in special education online focus on the practice of teaching and build qualitative and quantitative analytical skills and leadership abilities. Learners take comprehensive exams and defend a dissertation. Transfer students can apply up to 15 transfer credits toward their doctoral degree.
Students can complete all coursework online or they can opt to attend in-person intensive courses during summer sessions. Liberty delivers online courses asynchronously, allowing students to work full time while earning a degree. The program follows an eight-week course schedule and offers eight start dates per year. Liberty accepts applications on a rolling basis.
Reverend Jerry Falwell founded the school in 1971, and Liberty launched its first distance education programs in 1985. The university now offers more than 400 online degrees and certifications and enrolls more than 100,000 students. Distance learners gain access to several services, including academic assistance, career services, and library resources.
The school's Ed.D. program holds accreditation from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. Liberty holds regional accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
|Virginia Beach, VA||Cost: $$$$$||
Regent's doctorate in special education online program offers advanced standing to students who hold an education specialist degree. Students can transfer in up to 25% of their required credits.
Regent offers an Ed.D. in special education and a Ph.D. in education with a special education emphasis. These programs require 66 and 75 credits, respectively. Both programs are available online and include four-day summer residencies at the school's Virginia Beach campus. During residencies, students interact with faculty mentors and dissertation committees. Learners also have the opportunity to network with fellow students. Participants earn two credits for each residency experience.
Both the practitioner-focused Ed.D. and the research-focused Ph.D. include instruction in data-driven decision-making. The special education curriculum explores best practices for special education, fad interventions, and high-incidence disabilities. Online learners can access various resources and services, including a digital library.
Founded in 1978, this Christian university offers degrees in more than 130 disciplines. Regent delivers online courses through Blackboard, which facilitates online discussion boards, labs, simulations, and web conferencing. Distance learners can also access 24/7 technical support. Regent's school of education boasts accreditation from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.
Slippery Rock University
|Slippery Rock, PA||Cost: $$$$$||
The online Ed.D. in special education at SRU includes on-campus experiences during weekends and summer sessions. The cohort-based program consists of 60 credits, and most students graduate in three years.
SRU's special education department — one of the oldest in the nation — prepares learners to serve as educators and instructional leaders in public and private schools, human service agencies, and higher education institutions. Students can attend on-campus sessions in Harrisburg or Cranberry Township. Students in this program progress through the curriculum as a group, taking two courses each term.
The degree requires participants to complete 18 credits in leadership and content, 12 research credits, and 15 dissertation credits. The remaining coursework focuses on special education classroom interventions, assessment methods, and applied behavior analysis techniques. Unlike many online doctoral degree programs in special education, SRU's curriculum offers courses specific to program development and social competence for pupils on the autism spectrum.
The online program includes asynchronous and synchronous courses. Transfer students can apply up to 12 approved master's-level credits toward their doctorate.
SRU opened in 1889 as a teacher training institute. The university holds regional accreditation from the Middle State Commission on Higher Education. SRU offers more than 150 majors and enrolls about 8,500 students. Online students can access academic advising, career services, and technical support.
Texas Tech University
|Lubbock, TX||Cost: $$$$$||
Texas Tech offers a Ph.D. in special education online program that incorporates groundbreaking research. Texas Tech houses the Burkhart Center for Autism Education and Research and the Virginia Murray Sowell Center for Research and Education in Sensory Disabilities. These centers provide students with access to top research faculty and personnel.
Participants must earn 90 credits, covering the theoretical and cultural foundations of education, research design, and research methodology. Students complete a special education core comprising 21 credits of coursework in grant writing, program evaluation, and legal issues in special education. Through 24 elective credits, learners explore the needs of exceptional students. The program also requires an interdisciplinary focus, comprising six credits.
In addition to completing independent research and a dissertation, students undertake a one-semester internship with a public school, educational research agency, college special education program, educational service center, or social service agency. Texas Tech accepts up to 30 applicable transfer credits.
Located in Lubbock, Texas Tech offered its first distance education programs in 1967. The university launched its first online program — a master of education in instructional technology — in 1996. Online students work closely with an academic adviser and have access to many resources, including an online library system and research assistance.
University of Northern Colorado
|Greeley, CO||Cost: $$$$$||
Students pursuing an online Ph.D. in special education from UNC can also add a director of gifted education endorsement to their diploma. Students in the Ph.D. program develop creative leadership skills and prepare to address various challenges in the field.
The curriculum includes 77 credits of coursework in topics like educational theory and pedagogy, and the program emphasizes research-based practices. Learners complete practical coursework in grant writing, professional writing, and teacher preparation, along with courses in qualitative and quantitative research methods. Students work with their adviser to develop a research proposal and complete a dissertation.
UNC offers externship opportunities, which provide hands-on experiences in areas including university teaching, administration, and research. Students can also take courses that discuss the transition of children and youth with exceptionalities, gifts and talents, curriculum development, and teaching infants and preschool children with exceptionalities. Learners have the option to select an area of special interest; options include emotional disturbance, autism, visual impairment, hearing impairment, and learning disabilities.
The special education program at UNC holds accreditation from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. All online students pay the same per-credit tuition, regardless of their state of residency. Distance learners gain access to career services, financial aid assistance, technical help, and veterans services.
University of Toledo
|Toledo, OH||Cost: $$$$$||
UT launched its online Ph.D. in special education program in 2017 — the first online doctorate offered in Ohio. This program emphasizes research- and evidence-based interventions and includes virtual internships that provide hands-on learning and leadership preparation.
Students work closely with faculty members while completing 70 required credits of coursework. Learners can enroll on a full-time or part-time basis. Students are asked to travel to the campus twice each year to meet with their adviser; however, learners whose schedules do not permit campus visits can attend meetings through video conferencing.
The curriculum includes seminars in early intervention and special education. Students also gain the research skills necessary to complete their research project and dissertation. Learners take courses in survey research, single case design, and quantitative and qualitative methodology. Full-time students can earn a degree in three years, while part-timers typically graduate in five years.
UT serves more than 20,000 students annually through 13 colleges and schools. Online learners have access to the same services as on-campus students, including technical support, tutoring, a writing lab, and a digital library. Students can connect with early childhood and special education experts through UT's membership in DEC's Consortium for Innovations in Doctoral Education.
Applicants must hold a related master's degree, earned with a minimum 3.0 GPA, and submit professional recommendations. UT recommends that applicants also submit GRE scores.
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.
CURRICULUM FOR AN ONLINE MASTER'S DEGREE IN DOCTORATE IN SPECIAL EDUCATION
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.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO GET AN ONLINE MASTER'S IN DOCTORATE IN SPECIAL EDUCATION?
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%|
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|
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.
- Best Online Doctorate in Special Education Programs of 2018
School Location Ball State University Muncie, IN Concordia University-Chicago River Forest, IL Drexel University Philadelphia, PA Hampton University Hampton, VA Liberty University Lynchburg, VA Regent University Virginia Beach, VA Slippery Rock University Slippery Rock, PA Texas Tech University Lubbock, TX University of Northern Colorado Greeley, CO University of Toledo Toledo, OH West Virginia University Morgantown, WV
- Best Online Doctorate in Special Education Programs of 2017
School Location Concordia University-Chicago River Forest, IL Hampton University Hampton, VA Regent University Virginia Beach, VA University of Northern Colorado Greeley, CO