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.

What are the best special education programs of 2020? Here are our top 10:

Rank School Location
1 Western Governors University Salt Lake City, UT
2 University of Georgia Athens, GA
3 Fort Hays State University Hays, KS
4 Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College Saint Mary of the Woods, IN
5 University of Wisconsin-Stout Menomonie, WI
6 University of Alaska Southeast Juneau, AK
7 East Carolina University Greenville, NC
8 Central Methodist University-College of Graduate and Extended Studies Fayette, MO
9 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA
10 University of South Carolina - Aiken Aiken, SC

Choosing a Program

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.

WHAT ARE THE BEST ONLINE BACHELOR'S IN SPECIAL EDUCATION PROGRAMS?

Rank School Location Cost Graduation Rate Description Toggle
1

Western Governors University

Salt Lake City, UT Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 29%

Founded in 1997, WGU prioritizes accessible education. The university also offers competitive tuition rates that can provide students with a great return on their investment. Learners can access over 60 online, competency-based education programs, including a bachelor's in special education.

WGU prepares graduates to educate students with mild to moderate disabilities. This degree requires 47 courses and can lead to elementary and K-12 special education licenses. Students typically earn their degree in 42 months. Courses include human growth and development across the lifespan, introduction to instructional planning and presentation, and assessment in special education.

This program is accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. WGU holds regional accreditation from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

2

University of Georgia

Athens, GA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 86%

Established in 1785, UGA is the state's flagship institution. The university emphasizes rigorous learning environments, leadership opportunities, and applied learning. Annual enrollment exceeds 38,000 learners, and students benefit from a vast alumni network that includes over 315,000 members.

UGA's College of Education offers an online bachelor's degree in special education. This program serves as a degree completion pathway and leads to certification. Students can graduate in two years. Courses include teaching reading at the secondary level, instruction of individuals with mild disabilities, and behavior management. This program also includes a practicum and student teaching experiences.

Applicants need at least 60 transfer credits from an accredited institution to gain admission. UGA holds regional accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

3

Fort Hays State University

Hays, KS Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 44%

FHSU was the first public school founded in Kansas and continues to be one of the largest universities in the state. FHSU offers over 200 degree and certificate programs, including some of the best online programs in the nation.

Individuals with an affinity for helping students with distinctive needs can earn an online bachelor's in elementary education with a minor in special education. Participants complete 21 minor-specific credits. Notable courses include principles of instruction in special education and clinical immersion, behavior strategies and support, and technology applications in special education. This degree also requires a special education student teaching experience.

Admission into the program requires a minimum 2.75 GPA. FHSU holds regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.

4

Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College

Saint Mary of the Woods, IN Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 57%

SMWC values student-centered learning and innovation. The college offers 50 programs, many of which can be completed online. The school boasts a 13-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio, allowing learners to build meaningful relationships with their professors.

SMWC's online bachelor's program in special education prepares graduates to meet the needs of elementary learners. This degree requires 120 credits. Courses include philosophical and ethical foundations of education, special education law and procedures, and education in a global society. This program requires clinical and supervised teaching experiences.

Online coursework includes essays, exams, group projects, and discussion board posts. Professors typically offer virtual office hours. Additionally, SMWC provides online tutoring and technical support. Learners can choose from multiple start dates each year. SMWC holds regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.

5

University of Wisconsin-Stout

Menomonie, WI Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 58%

UW-Stout emphasizes applied learning and research to solve modern problems across multiple fields. The university offers 74 programs, including 49 undergraduate options.

Nontraditional learners can earn an online bachelor's degree in special education that leads to Wisconsin teaching licensure in cross-categorical special education. This degree requires 120 credits. While students take coursework entirely online, they must complete an on-site student teaching experience.

Online courses utilize an asynchronous format. Students engage in weekly modules that include discussion forum posts, group work, essays, and exams. Transfer students with a minimum 2.75 GPA may apply. This special education program is accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. UW-Stout is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

6

University of Alaska Southeast

Juneau, AK Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 36%

Based in Juneau, UAS operates within the University of Alaska System. UAS values innovation and accessible programs, and students can access most coursework online with no in-person attendance. Students also benefit from a 12-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio.

UAS offers an online bachelor's degree in special education. This program prepares graduates to respond to the needs of students with disabilities and leads to a K-12 teaching license. This degree requires 120 credits, including 35 general education credits, 22 breadth credits, 63 major credits, and three Alaska native knowledge credits.

Courses include artistic expressions and oral narratives of Alaska natives, transition planning for secondary students, and multicultural education. UAS holds regional accreditation from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

7

East Carolina University

Greenville, NC Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 65%

Located in Greenville, North Carolina, ECU has an enrollment that exceeds 28,000 students. Learners at ECU graduate with about 30% less debt than the national average. Distance learners can access 126 online programs, including a degree completion pathway that leads to a bachelor's in special education.

This cohort-style program begins during the summer. Participants choose from general curriculum and adapted curriculum pathways. Courses include introduction to exceptional children and instructional programming in special education. Students also engage in practicum experiences. Distance learners access coursework through the Blackboard learning management system.

Applicants must have completed certain prerequisite coursework. ECU is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

8

Central Methodist University-College of Graduate and Extended Studies

Fayette, MO Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 65%

CMU principles include student-centered learning, ethical leadership, and social responsibility. Students can access over 45 undergraduate programs and six graduate programs. Additionally, the university offers distance learning through its College of Graduate and Extended Studies.

Individuals passionate about helping students with disabilities can earn an online bachelor's degree in special education. This degree requires a minimum 124 credits, including general education credits, professional education credits, and special education credits. Courses include diagnostic and prescriptive procedures, counseling in special education, and psychology of the exceptional child.

Admission requires a minimum 2.5 GPA, SAT or ACT scores, and official transcripts. Transfer students with a GPA of at least a 2.0 from an accredited school may apply. CMU is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

9

Liberty University

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

Liberty delivers coursework from an evangelical Christian perspective. Students can choose from over 600 programs of study, including more than 400 online programs.

Liberty offers an online bachelor's degree in special education. This program features 120 credits, and students typically earn their degree in 3.5 years. Graduates qualify for a state license. Courses include inclusive planning for diverse learnings, special education law and characteristics, and behavior management.

Online courses follow an eight-week format. Liberty utilizes the Blackboard online learning management system. Faculty typically deliver courses asynchronously, allowing students to complete coursework as their schedule permits within deadline dates. Liberty holds regional accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

10

University of South Carolina - Aiken

Aiken, SC Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 40%

Located about 20 miles northeast of Augusta, Georgia, USC Aiken boasts a 14-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio. The school offers online degree completion options through its Palmetto College branch, including a bachelor's in special education.

Individuals pursuing an online bachelor's degree in special education complete classes like assessment of people with exceptionalities and foundations in reading in elementary and special education. They also take a senior seminar and engage in a special education internship. Additionally, certified South Carolina teachers can earn add-on special education certifications by completing the appropriate coursework, choosing from certification options like multicategorical special education and emotional disabilities.

To apply, learners must have already completed 45-60 college credits and have a minimum 2.75 GPA. USA Aiken holds regional accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. Its special education program is accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.

What Else can I Expect from an Online Bachelor's in Special Education Program?

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.

CONCENTRATIONS OFFERED FOR AN ONLINE BACHELOR'S IN SPECIAL EDUCATION

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

CURRICULUM FOR AN ONLINE BACHELOR'S IN SPECIAL EDUCATION

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.

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO GET AN ONLINE BACHELOR'S IN SPECIAL 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.

CERTIFICATIONS AND LICENSURE

  • 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.

Accreditation for Online Bachelor's in Special Education Programs

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.

What Can I Do With a Bachelor's in Special Education Degree?

CAREER PATHS

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%

EDUCATIONAL PATHS

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.

Employment Outlook for Bachelor's in Special Education Graduates

BACHELOR'S IN SPECIAL EDUCATION SALARY

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

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.

Financing Your Online Bachelor's in Special Education Program

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.

AN OVERVIEW OF FINANCIAL AID

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.

UNDERSTANDING THE FAFSA

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 STUDENTS

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.

SCHOLARSHIPS FOR SINGLE PARENTS

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.

FINANCIAL AID FOR VETERANS AND ACTIVE MILITARY

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.