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Pursuing a career in special education is rewarding for many professionals, and the demand for special education teachers and researchers is growing. During the 2018-19 school year, 7.1 million students received special education services — up from 6.4 million students in 2011-12.

Pursuing an online doctorate in special education is a flexible way to advance your career. Graduates of these doctoral programs can pursue administrative roles and higher education positions. An online doctorate in special education also provides the skills needed to seek positions that affect educational change at the policy level.

Accredited 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 Can I Expect From an Online Doctorate in Special Education Program?

Completing a doctorate in special education prepares graduates to encourage positive change in special education outside the classroom.

As education continues to evolve, and as children's needs change, the demand for compassionate special educators in teaching, administrative, and policymaking positions has grown. Completing a doctorate in special education prepares graduates to encourage positive change in special education outside the classroom.

Students pursuing an online doctoral degree can choose between an Ed.D. and a Ph.D. in special education. Learners interested in administrative roles may find an Ed.D. in special education a better fit due to the emphasis on management and leadership, while those who are interested in becoming professors may pursue a more research-based Ph.D. in special education.

Most doctoral programs in special education take 3-5 years. Coursework emphasizes research and academic writing. Learners can often choose from concentrations like policy and administration, emotional and behavioral disorders, and low-incidence instruction. Most programs conclude with a dissertation.

Admission Requirements for Online Doctorate in Special Education Programs

Although each program maintains unique admission requirements, applicants usually need to have a master's degree in a related area to pursue a doctorate in special education.

Before applying, look into the specific requirements for the schools you are interested in attending. These requirements may include a minimum GPA, letters of recommendation, a personal statement, related work experience and a CV or resume, and GRE scores.

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What Courses Will I Take in an Online Doctorate in Special Education Program?

Coursework in an online doctorate in special education program prepares graduates for leadership roles in education. Programs may focus more on educational research or teaching, and some programs allow you to concentrate in specific areas of interest within special education.

In addition to taking traditional courses, learners practice research and academic writing. Programs culminate in a dissertation presentation and defense. The courses listed below represent a sampling of what you might encounter while pursuing a doctorate in special education.

Statistical Methods

This foundational course prepares students to critically evaluate and properly use educational research to create strong academic papers. Students learn research methods to locate and compile educational data, interpret statistics, and present educational findings. This course also includes instruction on probability, correlation, inference, and computer statistics programs.

Education of Exceptional Children

Focusing on research unique to exceptional children, this course delves into the characteristics of students who qualify for special education services, including those with learning disabilities, gifted students, and English language learners.

Introduction to Qualitative Research

This course introduces students to qualitative research methodologies. Learning the steps of qualitative data analysis, students create research questions to guide their research. Applying learned research techniques, students conduct qualitative research studies by collecting, analyzing, and compiling qualitative data.

Law of Exceptionalities

In this course, degree-seekers examine case, state, and federal laws impacting special education policy. Learners analyze how interpretations of landmark cases shaped educational settings for students with exceptionalities.

Doctoral Dissertation

During the dissertation process, students develop a topic of interest and select faculty members to be part of their dissertation committee. Students then write a proposal identifying a problem to research. Once approved, students independently work on their dissertation. Once complete, they defend their final dissertation in front of their committee.

What Can I Do With an Online Doctorate in Special Education?

Students who earn a doctorate in special education can impact education from a leadership position and influence educational policy. Special education majors should be passionate about fair and equitable education for all learners.

With an emphasis on leadership and research, a doctorate in special education prepares graduates for fulfilling, in-demand administrative and academic roles. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 4% job growth for elementary, middle, and high school principals and 9% job growth for professors and other postsecondary teachers between 2019 and 2029.

Explore where a doctorate in special education can take you and learn more about special education careers.

Special Education Professor

Special education professors provide instruction at colleges and universities. Along with teaching, professors may research and write academic papers, and some professors supervise teaching assistants. Earning a doctorate in special education qualifies graduates to teach education courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Special Education Administrator

Special education administrators oversee special education departments within public schools or entire school districts. Responsibilities may include managing and evaluating special education staff, attending special education meetings with educators across the state, and ensuring that special education programs adhere to state and federal laws and regulations.


As an academic administrator at a college or university, a provost is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of a school. Sometimes referred to as a vice president, a provost collaborates with department heads and academic deans to create and fund initiatives.

Executive Director of Education

An executive director of education is comparable to the chief executive officer of a school, district, or educational organization. An executive director of education manages daily operations such as choosing and evaluating curriculum programs, managing budgets, and maintaining academic excellence.


The superintendent of a school district works with the board of education, staff members, and community members to ensure the school district is successful and in compliance with laws and regulations. Superintendents attend board of education meetings, identify goals to create and implement strategic plans, and oversee budgets.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Doctorate in Special Education Programs

Is a doctorate in special education worth it?

A doctorate in special education is necessary for many administrative positions within school districts and educational organizations. Students who are interested in creating education policy or teaching at the university level should consider pursuing an online doctorate in special education.

What can I do with a doctorate in special education?

A doctorate in special education can lead to a career as a superintendent, academic dean, or college professor.

Is it better to earn an Ed.D. or Ph.D. in special education?

An Ed.D. is a better fit if you are interested in pursuing a leadership role like superintendent. Alternatively, a Ph.D. in special education may be a better option if you are interested in conducting research or becoming a professor.

How much money can I make with a doctorate in special education?

According to PayScale, the average annual salary for professionals with an Ed.D. is almost $79,000. However, keep in mind that a worker's salary potential varies based on their specific title, experience, and location.

What are the highest-paying jobs I can get with a doctorate in special education?

According to the BLS, postsecondary administration professionals earned a median annual salary of $95,410 in 2019. At the same time, elementary, middle, and high school principals made a median annual salary of $96,400.