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.
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?
Western Governors University
|Salt Lake City, UT||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 38%||
Founded in 1997 by a group of U.S. governors, Western offers an online bachelor of arts in special education and elementary education degree for aspiring teachers. Using a curriculum developed by education experts, WGU's online special education degree helps distance learners develop effective teaching skills and content knowledge to instruct students with mild to moderate disabilities. In states offering dual licensure, this degree leads to teacher certification in both elementary and special education (kindergarten to grade 12).
WGA's online specialist degree in special education includes coursework, observations of experienced teachers in classrooms, and a demonstration teaching component. Designed for working adults, the 47-course asynchronous program gives students the flexibility to complete the curriculum from any location and at any time. Most distance learners complete WGU's online special education program within 18-48 months.
Accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, WGA also gives prospective teachers real classroom experience before graduation. Learners complete most assignments and coursework online, but they must also complete at least 75 hours of classroom observations and a teaching component, in which a clinical supervisor observes an aspiring teacher leading a real classroom for 12-20 weeks.
The university helps set up both classroom observations and the teaching component at schools in the learner's area. The online special education program also helps prospective teachers prepare for entering the workforce by creating a professional portfolio, which includes a resume and teaching philosophy. After graduation, WGA continues to offer many professional development opportunities and career support.
|Lynchburg, VA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 47%||
LU, located in Lynchburg, Virginia, offers an online bachelor of science in special education interdisciplinary studies degree to help future educators prepare to work with special needs students. Taught by professors with real-world experience in special education, Liberty's asynchronous courses run for eight weeks. Designed with convenience and flexibility, distance learners can complete the 120-credit online special education degree in 3.5 years.
Liberty's online program focuses on learning disabilities, adaptation techniques, and education theory. Learners study best teaching practices and research-based education theories. Two education classes in the curriculum require a background check. Liberty's online special education degree does not lead to a teaching license, but graduates may continue their studies in LU's licensure-track graduate education program. This degree prepares learners for nonlicensure education jobs, such as tutor or private school teacher.
Accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges and the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, LU provides tuition discounts for veterans who serve as first responders, and awards college credit for military training. Aiming to offer an affordable education, LU gives distance learners free electronic textbooks for all online classes. Students may also transfer up to 75% of required degree credits.
Applicants must have a 2.0 GPA or higher for admission. LU does not require an upfront application fee, and waives the deferred application fee for qualifying military spouses, veterans, and current service members. Admission requirements include a high school self-certification form, proof of English proficiency, and unofficial college transcripts.
Central Methodist University
|Fayette, MO||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 53%||
Founded in 1854, CMU offers classes online and at sites across Missouri to more than 4,000 students. Among CMU's extended studies programs, the bachelor of science in education degree offers learners the opportunity to major in special education, mild to moderate disabilities, or K-12. With a curriculum focused on mind development, teaching methods, and instruction for special needs students, the major prepares degree candidates to evaluate developmental behavior.
Providing flexibility for working adults, online courses last eight or 16 weeks, depending on the class. The 120-credit hour online program offers degree candidates the chance to participate in hands-on learning through internships, projects, and field experiences. The program includes special education-specific classes, including introduction to special education, exceptional child, and counseling in special education.
Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, CMU requires all pre-education students to pass an in-person exam, the Missouri General Education Assessment, before entering the major. Completed during a student's first two years, the exam includes sections on mathematics, science, social science, writing, and reading comprehension. After completing the assessment, degree candidates may apply for admission into the CMU education program.
A private, liberal arts university with headquarters in Fayette, Missouri, CMU encourages applicants to complete a college preparatory program before applying for general admission. Freshman applicants must complete a college preparatory program with at least a 2.5 cumulative GPA, or receive a specific GED, SAT, or ACT test score. To transfer, a student must hold a minimum 2.0 GPA in transferred courses, and complete 60 credit hours or more at an accredited college.
University of Georgia
|Athens, GA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 85%||
Chartered by the state of Georgia in 1785, UGA brands itself as the "birthplace of public higher education in America." More than 230 years old, this university offers an online bachelor of science in special education, providing distance learners with a certification and degree completion pathway.
This online special education degree takes only two academic years (or five semesters) to complete. UGA admits a cohort of degree candidates every fall. By completing the degree as a group, students develop a professional network and close community. Learners must complete 121 semester hours to graduate, but UGA accepts up to 60 transfer hours from accredited colleges and universities.
Degree candidates learn to monitor, plan, and assess the progress of students with high-incidence disabilities in preschool through grade 12. Students complete all courses and exams online, but UGA's special education degree requires one campus visit for orientation.
This online special education program also requires three practicums, which UGA tailors for each individual student. The practicum may involve on-site supervision or video supervision, or both. Learners must direct a class under supervision. After placement in a collaborative or inclusive setting, the distance learner works with students with mild disabilities at all grade levels. The university permits paraprofessionals to complete assignments and practicums in the employee's own classroom.
The practicums take place each semester. The final semester includes a full-time student teaching experience. Accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, UGA offers a special tuition for Georgia residents.
Fort Hays State University
|Hays, KS||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 44%||
Located in Hays, Kansas, FHSU boasts a 96% employment/grad school placement rate for graduates. In order to increase employment opportunities and earning potential, this university offers a special education minor for degree candidates pursuing a bachelor of science in elementary education. The minor requires 21 credit hours, but the entire degree takes 127 credit hours to complete. The special education minor requires student teaching, which lasts four weeks.
Distance learners can complete required student teaching meetings either on-campus or virtually using Zoom video software. FHSU employees work with school districts and students to provide teaching placements. The university does not allow learners to arrange teaching placements.
FHSU's special education endorsement prepares degree candidates for a Kansas teaching licensure. Learners seeking employment outside Kansas may still qualify for a teaching license. Requirements vary between states. FHSU's online special education minor includes restricted and nonrestricted courses. Students must complete specific nonrestricted courses before applying to teacher education and advancing to restricted courses. Learners must complete nonrestricted courses with a "C" grade or higher.
Degree candidates must apply for teacher education and student teaching separately. Teacher education requires passing scores on the ACT, the Core, and the Pre-Professional Skills Test, plus a cumulative GPA of 2.75 and 36 hours of general education credit. Candidates must also submit a national background check from within the last four years. FHSU offers exam and course exemptions for degree candidates with a bachelor's degree or higher.
Dakota State University
|Madison, SD||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 36%||
Founded in 1881 as a school for teacher education in the Dakota territory, this university regards itself as one of the most technologically advanced campuses in the Midwest. A public university governed by the South Dakota System Board of Regents, DSU stands out among other online degrees in education by placing a special emphasis on the connection between computer technology and learning. With a technology focus, DSU's bachelor of science in elementary education and special education degree prepares distance learners to teach with the latest classroom technology.
Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, DSU awards a K-12 educational technology endorsement to all graduates with an education-related degree. With this technology endorsement, graduates qualify to teach computer classes in elementary, middle, or high school. Distance learners complete the asynchronous program using a course management system, Desire2Learn, to access exams, lecture notes, and assignments online.
Learners may complete coursework in four years, but DSU's online special education degree requires an additional year-long capstone residency in public schools. The capstone involves serving as a student teacher at two levels out of elementary, middle, or high school. Placement depends on whether a degree candidate chooses to focus on K-8 or K-12 special education.
DSU graduates may also qualify for a South Dakota teacher certification recommendation after completing the university's education program. Located in Madison, South Dakota, this university offers a tuition discount for distance learners serving in the military. DSU also only charges for tuition and administrative fees, meaning students do not pay service fees when taking classes online.
University of Wisconsin - Stout
|Menomonie, WI||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 54%||
A career-focused polytechnic university, UW-Stout boasts a 98% employment rate for graduates. Among the university's 50 undergraduate majors, UW-Stout's bachelor of science in special education degree prepares future teachers to work with students ages 5-21 who struggle with cognitive, emotional, and behavioral disabilities. The program focuses on a wide age range, making it stand out among online special education degrees. UW-Stout's online specialist degree in special education also offers a post-baccalaureate autism certificate.
Using a framework compatible with the national Council for Exceptional Children, UW-Stout's special education program emphasizes cognitive disabilities. Either with current certification or completion of the Standard First Aid and Personal Safety course, distance learners must demonstrate proficiency in American Red Cross First Aid procedures. UW-Stout offers courses in the fall, spring, and summer. Distance learners can complete the program in four years.
UW-Stout's special education degree requires 120 credits, including 44 credits for general education and 76 credits for the major.
Learners take their courses entirely online, but they must complete student teaching and an electronic portfolio to graduate. Student teaching involves directed special education teaching at selected off-campus schools at three levels: infant, toddler, and preschool; kindergarten; or primary. With department consent, distance learners may qualify for paid internships during their last semester.
Offered as an alternative method for obtaining special education student teaching experience, interns receive a salaried appointment and a license to teach in a cooperating school for one semester. UW-Stout's education programs meet the teaching licensure requirements in Wisconsin only.
University of West Georgia
|Carrollton, GA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 40%||
Founded in 1906, UWG operates out of two campuses in Carrollton and Newnan, Georgia. Among UWG's 87 undergraduate and graduate programs, the university offers a bachelor of science in education degree with a major in special education and teaching. Students complete most courses fully or partially online, but some courses require in-person visits to UWG's rural Carrollton campus, located near the Alabama state border about 45 minutes from Atlanta. Required campus visits vary by course.
This special education degree requires 123 semester hours. Learners can complete UWG's education program in four years. The university's online specialist degree in special education prepares candidates to teach students with disabilities in preschool through high school. This special education degree offers two tracks: adapted curriculum and general curriculum. After completing the program requirements, students may become eligible for a Georgia level 4 teaching certification.
UWG's special education degree requires one semester of student teaching in a public school. Under the supervision of an experienced, qualified classroom teacher, degree candidates teach on the level and in the field of desired certification. Learners complete a student-teaching seminar while working in the classroom.
UWG charges out-of-state distance learners the same tuition rate as students residing in Georgia (ideal for learners living just across the state line in Alabama). The university holds accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, while the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation accredits UWG's special education program. This special education program only accepts admission for the fall semester.
Mayville State University
|Mayville, ND||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 35%||
Located in Mayville, North Dakota, MSU boasts small class sizes, even for online classes. With an average class size of 20, MSU offers an online bachelor of science in special education degree exclusively for currently licensed early childhood, elementary, or secondary teachers. The program offers flexibility for working educators, allowing degree candidates to complete as few or as many classes per semester as they want.
Based on an individual review, MSU may admit students without a teaching license, but who hold a bachelor's degree in education. The university requires a cumulative GPA of 2.75 for admission into the teacher education program. Special education majors must complete at least 36 hours of essential studies.
Students without a bachelor's degree can earn a double major with the bachelor of science in education degree in special education, and major in early childhood, elementary, or secondary education. Learners can add a special education major to their existing bachelor's degree for as few as 30 unduplicated credits.
Required credits for graduation vary by major. An early childhood special education degree requires 164 credits; elementary special education, 148 credits; and a secondary special education degree, 155 credits. Students may complete online early childhood education classes synchronously, and MSU offers synchronous online elementary education classes in North Dakota, Minnesota, South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming.
Regardless of residency, online special education classes cost the same for all students. MSU's education programs meet requirements for a North Dakota teaching license.
Colorado Christian University
|Lakewood, CO||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 50%||
Founded in 1914, this interdenominational Christian college offers more than 100 programs at its main campus in Lakewood, Colorado, a suburb of Denver. It also features programs at regional centers throughout Colorado and online. Among its online programs, CCU offers a bachelor of arts in special education degree with both a teaching licensure and a nonlicensure track.
Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, each degree requires 120 credits to graduate. The licensure track includes 48 credits in special education, 26 credits in liberal arts, 24 in electives, and 22 credits in general education. The nonlicensure track requires 37 credits in special education, 26 in liberal arts, 22 credits in general education, and 35 elective credits. Students complete asynchronous courses in both programs.
CCU's online educator courses are unavailable to distance learners residing in Arkansas, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, and Kentucky. CCU's licensure track requires student-teaching experience. The nonlicensure track does not require student teaching, but learners must complete field experiences during their fall and spring semesters.
After completing requirements for the licensure track, learners may qualify for a Colorado teaching license. CCU's online special education degree meets requirements for Colorado's K-12 and elementary special education generalist teaching license. Graduates must still complete Colorado's teacher license exam. Aspiring teachers seeking employment outside Colorado may still meet teaching license requirements, which vary by state.
Nonlicensure track learners may pursue licensure after graduation through CCU's master of arts in special education licensure program, or the university's alternative licensing program. Students enrolled in CCU's special education programs may apply for a TEACH grant to help with tuition and fees.
University of South Carolina - Aiken
|Aiken, SC||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 41%||
USC Aiken's bachelor of arts in special education degree prepares learners for K-12 special education. Located in Aiken, South Carolina, this university requires degree candidates earn at least 45 hours of college credit before applying to the online special education degree. USC Aiken's special education bachelor's degree online requires 126 credit hours, including 59 hours in major courses. Full-time students can complete the degree in two years.
Working students may enroll in fewer classes, extending their program length. USC Aiken delivers most online classes asynchronously, but some may follow a set schedule.
USC Aiken's online specialist degree in special education requires an internship in special education. The internship involves student teaching at public schools under the supervision of certified special education teachers and university personnel. Accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation and the Council for Exceptional Children, USC Aiken's online special education degree requires a minimum 2.75 GPA for admission into the first semester, and a minimum 3.0 GPA for student teaching.
Degree candidates must also complete a Praxis exam with a grade "C" or better prior to enrolling in professional courses.
Through USC Aiken's special education program, currently certified teachers in South Carolina can add on a certification in special education. This university's special education degree also leads to qualification for South Carolina teacher certification in kindergarten through grade 12. USC Aiken accepts applications for the fall and spring semesters.
University of West Alabama
|Livingston, AL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 33%||
One of Alabama's oldest universities, UWA began in 1835 as a church-related women's academy. Today, the university offers more than 90 fields of study online and in-person at the UWA campus in Livingston, located in Alabama's Sumter County. Aspiring educators may pursue UWA's online bachelor of science in special education degree.
This hybrid program provides graduates with certification in collaborative teacher and special education K-6 and 6-12, further qualifying graduates for relevant teaching jobs. Learners can complete most courses online, but they must also attend on-campus seminars and complete field experiences and an internship in Alabama-approved schools.
Degree candidates can complete UWA's special education degree in 3-4 years. The special education program requires 128 credit hours, including 63 hours of general education requirements, 28 hours in professional education, and 37 in teaching field courses. Each course lasts eight weeks. UWA's special education program includes a first aid course and CPR training. Students may apply for an Alabama teaching certification after graduation.
UWA offers an extensive transfer credit policy. The university accepts up to 60 credit hours from a two-year college, and up to 90 credit hours from a four-year college. Transfer students can apply for the educator program in their first year. Learners must undergo a background check with fingerprinting for admission into the educator preparation program and clinical experiences in schools. Internship admission also requires a passing Praxis II score and a "C" grade or better in the general studies, teaching field, and professional education areas.
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?
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
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.
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)|
|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.
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.
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 Bachelor's in Special Education Programs of 2018
Ranking School Location 1 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA 2 Western Governors University Salt Lake City, UT 3 University of Georgia Athens, GA 4 Central Methodist University Fayette, MO 4 East Carolina University Greenville, NC 6 University of Southern Mississippi Hattiesburg, MS 7 University of Wisconsin - Stout Menomonie, WI 8 University of West Georgia Carrollton, GA 9 Dakota State University Madison, SD 10 Colorado Christian University Lakewood, CO 11 University of West Alabama Livingston, AL 12 Fontbonne University Saint Louis, MO 13 Northeastern State University Tahlequah, OK 14 University of South Carolina - Aiken Aiken, SC 15 Prescott College Prescott, AZ