Best Online Special Education Programs

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by Marisa Upson
Published on September 27, 2021

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An online bachelor's in special education program teaches students how to help children who are managing physical, mental, and emotional disabilities adapt and thrive in learning environments despite these challenges. By assessing a student's abilities, they develop Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) that may include adaptive devices for children with physical disabilities or special learning applications for students with autism spectrum disorders.

Many special education graduates pursue careers as teachers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 8% job growth for these teachers between 2020 and 2030 — about as fast as the national average for all occupations. In May 2020, special education teachers earned a median annual salary of $61,500.

Most online bachelor's in special education programs take about four years of full-time study to complete, although some accelerated online programs lead to reduced completion times.

What Can I Expect From an Online Bachelor's in Special Education Program?

An online bachelor's in special education program propels students to careers helping children achieve academic goals despite their disabilities. Success in this rewarding career requires patience, compassion, acceptance, and the ability to explain concepts and develop lesson plans that align with each student's unique needs.

Most online bachelor's in special education programs require 120 credits and take four years of full-time study to complete.

Some schools offer a bachelor's in special education as a degree completion program. Applicants must hold an associate degree or about 60 transfer credits and complete required prerequisite courses. These programs lead to a degree in two years, and students who earned their transferable credits at a community college can save a substantial amount of money.

Most programs require teacher internship experiences in special education settings at the elementary or middle school level, depending on a student's area of interest. Some programs may allow learners interested in non-teaching careers to forego student teaching and take additional courses.

Programs may also feature concentrations, allowing students to align their education with their career goals. Possible options include physical disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, adaptive curriculum, and emotional and behavioral disorders.

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What Courses Will I Take in an Online Bachelor's in Special Education Program?

Assistive Technology

This course teaches students about the technological advancements that help learners with disabilities increase their learning skills and engage with classmates. These advancements may help students with writing, reading, math, note-taking, and other challenges.

Curriculum Development

Students learn strategies for developing a special education curriculum or IEP based on students' disabilities. This course covers several theories in learning and how to adapt learning techniques for different physical, emotional, and behavioral disabilities.

Assessment

This course covers various ways to assess students with disabilities and determine the best approach to support them in an academic environment. Participants learn about gathering information and screening instruments, as well as the positive impact and limitations of these tests.

Introduction to Exceptional Children

This class discusses why it's important for students managing disabilities to gain meaningful access to classrooms, including learning and participation models. Participants learn about appropriate classroom modifications and accommodations for exceptional children.

Supporting Children With Significant Behavior Challenges

This course explores support and intervention strategies for students managing significant or multiple disabilities. Covered topics include adapting the environment, maximizing independence, and functional behavioral assessment.

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Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

What Are Admission Requirements for an Online Bachelor's in Special Education Program?

The admissions process for online bachelor's in special education programs typically mirrors the traditional on-campus process. In addition to the following requirements, some colleges require an interview with an admissions representative, which can be carried out virtually or in person. Some programs also require applicants to possess a certain amount of experience working with children.

Application

Many colleges and universities accept the Common Application, allowing students to apply to multiple institutions through one online portal. Some schools, however, still require students to submit their applications directly, and most accept online or paper applications.

Test Scores

Many four-year colleges require students to submit their official ACT or SAT scorescollege entrance exams that are used to assess college readiness. Some online bachelor's in special education programs waive this requirement for students with exceptional GPAs. Non-native English speakers also need to submit TOEFL or IELTS scores that demonstrate a high level of proficiency in English.

Letters of Recommendation

Most special education programs require 1-3 letters of recommendation that speak to a student's potential and abilities that would help them support and teach children with disabilities. Applicants should ask for letters of recommendation well in advance and address requests to academic instructors or workplace supervisors.

Essays

This portion of a college application demonstrates a student's writing abilities. It also allows them to explain why they chose a specific college, what they bring to the table, and their career goals. Colleges may ask different essay questions, so read the instructions carefully and address the questions in a compelling and clear voice.

Official Transcripts

Colleges and universities require official transcripts from high school and any postsecondary institutions a student has attended. Bachelor's in special education programs may require a minimum GPA, such as 2.0 or higher. Many also accept transfer credits, which can reduce costs and completion times.

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

Career Outlook

Because of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, schools must ensure that children managing disabilities receive the same quality public education as nondisabled children. This law covers people from birth to age 21, offering speech and occupational therapy services and IEP custom learning plans. Schools in the U.S. must attract and retain special education teachers to fulfill this requirement.

Because of this need, as well as early detection of disabilities and the rising number of students with ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, and other disabilities, the demand for special education services continues to grow. While most special education degree-holders pursue careers in elementary or secondary school systems, jobs with government agencies, educational support services, and community organizations are also available.

The BLS reports that primary and secondary schools employed more than 400,000 special education teachers in 2020. Salaries vary based on a worker's level of education, employer, and location. For instance, special education teachers at the primary level earned an annual average salary of $64,790 in May 2020, while those working for individual and family services made an average wage of $84,510.

See where a bachelor's in special education can take you. Learn more about special education careers and check out the 10 most popular college majors.

Career Paths

Special Education Teachers

Special education teachers plan lessons and instruct children with disabilities, helping them succeed through modified curricula and supportive technology. They track their students' progress and meet with parents to discuss children's needs and challenges. To qualify for licensure and teach in public schools, prospective teachers must complete a student teaching experience and pass the state's required exams.

Median Annual Salary: $61,500 (May 2020)

Community Directors

Community directors determine community programs' effectiveness, evaluate their impact, and implement changes that support the community. In addition, they may supervise staff, maintain budgets, and raise funds. Graduates with a bachelor's in special education are particularly qualified to work on programs that support children.

Median Annual Salary: $69,600 (May 2020)

Special Education Advocates

Special education advocates improve conditions for children with special needs, ensuring they get the special education services required by law. They may lobby for a more inclusive educational system or work on behalf of a child and their family, steering them toward agencies and community services that can provide support. Some employers may require a master's for this position.

Average Annual Salary: $40,870 (September 2021)

Recreational Therapists

Recreational therapists develop recreation-based treatment programs for people with disabilities and injuries. These programs may include therapeutic activities like community outings, exercises, sports, and games. Graduates with a bachelor's in special education may choose to specialize in providing therapy for children with disabilities.

Median Annual Salary: $47,710 (May 2020)

Special Education Teacher for Gifted Learners

Students pursuing an online bachelor's in special education may specialize in gifted students. These professionals provide instruction for students whose abilities surpass the standard curriculum. In addition, these special education teachers assess students and develop accelerated learning programs. They may also support families in developing their child's potential through advanced placement classes and other programs.

Median Annual Salary: $61,500 (May 2020)

Special Education Not For You? Check Out These Related Careers.

Continuing Education

Requirements for special education roles vary by state, with some requiring a master's degree in special education before candidates may apply for teacher certification. Additionally, special education consultants who help teachers develop IEPs and act as advisors for government agencies, school boards, and families typically need a graduate degree.

Students looking for advancement opportunities or leadership roles in administrative positions may also need a master's degree to qualify. Graduates interested in these roles may pursue a master's in educational administration.

Additionally, many teachers need to earn a certain number of continuing education credits each renewal cycle to maintain their license. These requirements also vary by state.

How Do I Choose an Online Bachelor's in Special Education Program?

Cost

According to the College Board, the average annual tuition and fees for online and on-campus bachelor's programs ranged from $10,560-$37,650 for the 2019-20 academic year. In-state students attending public colleges and universities tend to pay less, while private nonprofit institutions cost more. Some online programs may also offer cost savings, including no out-of-state tuition fees, no relocation costs, and reduced campus-based student fees.

Program Format

Online learning program formats vary and can influence degree completion times. For instance, asynchronous learning formats offer students the greatest flexibility by eliminating set class times. Alternatively, synchronous learning models require students to attend virtual class sessions in real time — this may appeal to students wanting more direct contact with peers and professors.

Location

While many online bachelor's in special education programs do not require on-campus participation, some programs may include in-person weekend intensives or on-campus orientations. Therefore, students should consider these requirements when choosing potential programs. Additionally, some students may want to have access to on-campus networking opportunities and student activities.

Accreditation

Accreditation ensures that colleges and universities meet certain educational standards. Proper accreditation can lead to credit transferability, financial aid opportunities, and employment and licensure opportunities. Look for schools with regional accreditation and programs approved by your state. Online bachelor's in special education programs accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation are highly regarded.

Student Support

Make sure to look for special education programs that provide support services for online students. Support programs play a significant part in a student's success and can include academic advising, career services, college mentorship opportunities, and networking programs. Many online programs also offer internship placement services, helping students find opportunities close to home.

Best Accredited Online Bachelor's in Special Education Programs

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Western Governors University true View School Profile Salt Lake City, UT

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.

University of Georgia true View School Profile Athens, GA

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.

Fort Hays State University true View School Profile Hays, KS

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.

Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College true View School Profile Saint Mary of the Woods, IN

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.

University of Wisconsin-Stout true View School Profile Menomonie, WI

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.

University of Alaska Southeast View School Profile Juneau, AK

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.

East Carolina University View School Profile Greenville, NC

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.

Central Methodist University-College of Graduate and Extended Studies View School Profile Fayette, MO

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.

Liberty University View School Profile Lynchburg, VA

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.

University of South Carolina - Aiken View School Profile Aiken, SC

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.

Frequently Asked Questions About Bachelor's in Special Education Programs

Is a bachelor's in special education worth it? true

For individuals looking to make a significant difference in the lives of children with disabilities, an online bachelor's in special education provides the knowledge needed to excel in this field. Graduates can go on to careers as teachers, advocates, and community directors.

The BLS projects 8% job growth for special education teachers between 2020 and 2030, including 12% growth for special education teachers working in preschools. Due to early detection and an increasing number of students diagnosed with autism, the demand for these specialists is expected to increase in the coming years.

What can I do with a bachelor's in special education? true

Many graduates pursue careers as special education teachers. These teachers may instruct students with disabilities in their own classroom, developing IEPs specific to each student's needs. Others work in traditional classrooms, adapting learning formats and helping children integrate with their peers. To teach in public schools, students must complete a student teaching experience and pass their state's teaching licensure exams.

Special education degree-holders can also work for government agencies, nonprofit community organizations, student support services, and as independent operators. In these positions, they may find support and community resources for children with disabilities and help parents navigate the available options for their children.

Are special education majors in demand? true

The BLS projects 8% job growth for special education teachers between 2020 and 2030, which is about as fast as the average projected rate for all occupations. Due to federal law and increasing awareness of certain disabilities, the demand for special education majors is expected to increase.

Some students use a bachelor's in special education as a stepping stone to a master's in special education or education administration. These graduate degrees may increase a worker's potential earnings and career opportunities. For example, special education consultants and education administrators typically need a master's degree and can earn higher wages.

How much money can I make with a bachelor's in special education?

PayScale reports that graduates with a bachelor's in special education earned an average annual salary of $54,000 in September 20121. Keep in mind that salary potential varies based on position, employer, location, and experience level.

According to the BLS, special education teachers in secondary schools earned a median annual wage of $62,320 in May 2020, while those in preschools made $61,400 and those in kindergarten and elementary schools earned $60,620. The top 10% of special education teachers made more than $100,000 per year.

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

Wages for special education teachers also vary by state. For example, special education school teachers at secondary schools in New York boast some of the highest earnings, with an annual average salary of $84,370.

Graduates may also pursue careers in other fields, such as community service. The BLS reports that community service managers earned a median annual salary of $69,600 in May 2020, with the top 10% making more than $115,800 per year.

Many schools plan to hold online classes this fall due to COVID-19. Staying open minded about online education can help you make the most of the upcoming term. President-elect Joe Biden promises free community college to all, free four-year college to some, and improved student debt repayment plans. Online education presents many options, including what have become known as "mega-universities." Explore what these options mean for students.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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