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Best Bachelor's in Special Education Degree Programs

Oct 20, 2021

Special Education Degrees

Special education teachers work with students who have been identified to have mild to severe learning, social, emotional, behavioral, and/or physical disabilities. These specialized teachers play the important role of assessing and developing adapted curriculums for students with disabilities. Special education teachers typically work in public schools with students, teachers, and school support staff. Prospective special education teachers will need at least a bachelor's degree in special education and must obtain licensure from the state of intended teaching.

Top Special Education Degrees

1. SUNY College at Geneseo

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$8927 65% 80% 84% Yes Yes AP Credits

2. Western Washington University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$8343 90% 68% 86% Yes Yes AP Credits

3. Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$10507 71% 68% 92% Yes Yes AP Credits

4. Bowling Green State University-Main Campus

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$11316 72% 61% 95% Yes Yes AP Credits

5. Westfield State University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$10849 87% 61% 86% Yes Yes AP Credits

6. University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$8840 82% 67% 81% Yes Yes AP Credits

7. Kutztown University of Pennsylvania

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$10950 90% 54% 92% Yes Yes AP Credits

8. Illinois State University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$12836 82% 70% 89% Yes Yes AP Credits

9. Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$10958 84% 60% 90% Yes Yes AP Credits

10. Bridgewater State University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$10732 88% 61% 91% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

11. Georgia College & State University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$9530 80% 64% 96% Yes Yes AP Credits

12. University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$8270 85% 60% 86% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

13. Towson University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$10198 76% 71% 81% Yes Yes AP Credits

14. Utah State University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$7659 91% 54% 86% Yes Yes AP / ACE Credits

15. University of Nebraska at Kearney

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$7701 85% 56% 94% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

16. Clarion University of Pennsylvania

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$11149 95% 52% 96% Yes Yes AP Credits

17. College of Charleston

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$12939 78% 66% 83% Yes Yes AP Credits

18. Brigham Young University-Provo

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$5790 67% 78% 71% Yes Yes AP Credits

19. Millersville University of Pennsylvania

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$12250 79% 56% 88% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

20. Auburn University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$11492 81% 79% 72% Yes Yes AP Credits

21. Appalachian State University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$7409 77% 73% 70% Yes Yes AP Credits

22. Brigham Young University-Idaho

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$4208 96% 60% 61% Yes Yes AP Credits

23. Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$12744 91% 58% 91% Yes Yes AP Credits

24. Arizona State University-West

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$10803 82% 48% 98% Yes Yes AP Credits

25. University of Oklahoma-Norman Campus

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$9063 80% 70% 96% Yes Yes AP Credits

26. Fitchburg State University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$10505 88% 58% 91% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

27. SUNY Cortland

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$8806 46% 71% 86% Yes Yes AP Credits

28. Indiana University-Bloomington

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$10947 78% 79% 84% Yes Yes AP Credits

29. University of Mississippi

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$8828 88% 66% 86% Yes Yes AP Credits

30. Winona State University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$9666 68% 59% 90% Yes Yes AP / ACE / NCCRS Credits

31. University of Kentucky

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$12360 96% 66% 94% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

32. Miami University-Oxford

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$15193 80% 81% 82% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

33. University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$7403 82% 59% 88% Yes Yes AP Credits

34. East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$11476 85% 52% 89% Yes Yes AP / ACE Credits

35. Indiana University of Pennsylvania-Main Campus

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$13354 93% 56% 92% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

36. University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$9366 78% 66% 91% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

37. University of South Dakota

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$9332 86% 59% 94% Yes Yes AP Credits

38. University of Northern Colorado

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$9987 91% 52% 93% Yes Yes AP Credits

39. University of Missouri-Columbia

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$10477 81% 71% 89% Yes Yes AP Credits

40. University of Southern Indiana

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$8546 93% 50% 92% Yes Yes AP Credits

41. University of Wisconsin-Stout

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$9463 91% 60% 83% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

42. Ball State University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$10020 77% 67% 91% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

43. East Carolina University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$7238 79% 66% 79% Yes Yes AP / ACE Credits

44. Eastern Washington University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$7526 96% 54% 96% Yes Yes AP Credits

45. University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$7656 76% 61% 75% Yes Yes AP Credits

46. University of North Florida

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$5964 72% 67% 84% Yes Yes AP Credits

47. Western Carolina University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$4277 69% 62% 85% Yes Yes AP / ACE Credits

48. Grand Valley State University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$13180 83% 67% 87% Yes Yes AP Credits

49. University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$7695 79% 62% 76% Yes Yes AP / ACE / NCCRS Credits

50. The University of Tennessee-Knoxville

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$13264 79% 72% 91% Yes Yes AP Credits

To get a more in-depth look at our school ranking methodology, please visit Study.com's ranking methodology page.

Tuition information is based on published tuition and required fees, per data by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

What Kinds of Special Education Degrees Are There?

Degrees in special education can be obtained at the associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels. For a person who wishes to work as a special educator, they will need a bachelor's level degree in special education and state licensure. Students who are more interested in working as directors at the district level, researching in areas of special education, developing curriculum, and working in policy may be interested in master's or doctoral level degrees. Additionally, students may choose to specialize in leadership, specific areas of disability, or inclusive excellence.

Associate Degrees in Special Education

An Associate of Arts in Teaching provides the initial two years of education required to attain a teaching license. Associate degrees are typically 60 credit hours and take two years to complete. These programs may offer classes in-person or online. Once students have completed the required credits, they will be able to transfer to a four-year university or obtain an entry-level position in special education classrooms, such as a teaching assistant. Teaching assistants, also known as paraprofessionals, assist the special education teacher by sanitizing the classroom and creating lesson materials.

Bachelor's Degrees in Special Education

A Bachelor of Science or Arts in Special Education prepares teachers to work with students who require extra support within the school system. Special education degree programs are generally 120 credits and take four years to complete. Many programs also require students to take general education and major-specific courses. During the final year of the special education course sequence, students must work towards a state teaching license and complete a student teaching assistantship (TA). While participating in a teaching assistantship, students work off-campus in a special education classroom under the guidance of a practicing special education teacher.

Master's Degrees in Special Education

Master of Arts in Special Education, Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT): Special Education, and Master of Education Special Education programs are advanced degree programs that instruct students in the best practices how to teach students with disabilities. Master's programs in special education are typically 30 to 36 credits and take one to two years to complete. These programs can be offered either online or on-campus. Some master's programs will lead to licensure while others will provide instruction around advanced teaching strategies. Prior to the conclusion of their program, students will often complete a final project.

Doctoral Degrees in Special Education

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Special Education or Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Special Education programs train students to research and teach at the university level and to take on leadership roles within educational communities. Students will be expected to complete original research, publish their work, and defend a dissertation. Some programs may also require their students to complete an exam to receive their diploma. Doctoral programs in special education are about 90 credits, but some programs may allow students to transfer qualifying master's credits if they have them. Depending on the number of credits the student transfers in and how long it takes for the student to complete a dissertation, doctoral programs in special education can take as little as 3 years and as many as 7 years to complete.

Certificates in Special Education

Students can apply to graduate certificate programs after they have graduated from a bachelor's or master's program in special education. These programs are between 12 and 16 credits and take less than a year to complete. Graduate certificates can help students specialize in a certain area of special education or assist students in the advancement of their careers. Programs may offer courses in leadership, specific areas of disability, or inclusive excellence. Some certificates that students may pursue include:

  • Graduate Certificate in Special Education Administration
  • Graduate Certificate in Inclusive Practices
  • Graduate Autism Spectrum Disorders Certificate
  • Applied Behavior Analysis

Special Education Bachelor's Degree Concentrations

Many concentrations in special education programs are found at the bachelor level. Students who have a concentration in a special education program become experts in that area and be well prepared to research or work with students within the population of that concentration. It should be noted that not all programs offer the same concentrations. If prospective students are interested in a particular area or concentration, they should research programs that offer their desired coursework. Some areas of concentration at the bachelor level include, but are not limited to:

  • Elementary (K-6) education
  • Middle-level subject-specific concentrations
  • Adapted curriculum
  • Deaf curriculum
  • General curriculum
  • Educational interpreting
  • Mild to intensive dual license

Curriculum for a Bachelor's Degree in Special Education

The curriculum for a special education bachelor's degree is a combination of general education and major-specific courses. Students in special education programs will work with students with cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and learning disabilities. Additionally, students will leave programs ready to work with early childhood, elementary, middle, and high school level students. Students will also likely complete classroom observations and work as a teaching assistant as part of their coursework. Some common courses that special education programs offer include:

  • Foundations in Special Education - One of the first classes that students in special education bachelor's programs will take is a broad overview of special education as a field. Students will learn about the laws and implications of working with exceptional children.
  • Instruction for Students with Mild Disabilities - Many special education teachers will work with students who have mild disabilities. Students in special education programs will learn the best teaching strategies and material development for teaching students with mild disabilities.
  • Instruction for Students with Severe Disabilities - Special education educators will likely work with students who have been diagnosed with severe mental and physical disabilities. Aspiring teachers will learn the best practices for designing curriculum, using assistive technology, and implementing the most successful teaching strategies for students with severe disabilities.
  • Assessment- Special education teachers will need to know how to academically assess the students in their classroom. Prospective special education teachers will learn how to screen, assess, and identify academic skills and deficits.

How Long Does it Take to Get a Bachelor's in Special Education?

It takes approximately four years and the completion of 120 credit hours to achieve a bachelor's degree in special education. If students only attend class part-time, however, it may take more than the suggested four years to get a bachelor's degree. Students may also choose to attend online classes instead of in-person. Online classes offer flexibility that on-campus programs do not, and many students find it easier to work part-time or fulfill family obligations while taking classes online.

On the other hand, students may be able to shorten the time it takes to obtain a bachelor's degree if they transfer credits from qualifying high school classes, an associate program, or a previous university.

Accreditation for Bachelor's in Special Education Degrees

Accreditation is important for all students interested in acquiring a college degree, but it is especially important for students interested in special education programs. Regionally accredited programs are guaranteed to be high quality, deliver nationally approved course content, and follow guidelines set by regional and institutional agencies. Additionally, accredited programs guarantee that students will have options for financial aid. The Council for Higher Education (CHEA) oversees all regional accreditation, and students can visit the U.S. Department of Education's website for more detailed information on accreditation of certain regions.

There are two accrediting institutions that students interested in special education programs should be made aware of. The first is the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). CAEP ensures that teacher training programs prepare competent educators that will be successful in the classroom. The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) is another accrediting program that specifically targets special education teachers. While CAEP accredits all teaching programs, the CEC focuses solely on special education. Students who attend programs accredited by or that follow the standards of the CEC will be sure to leave with an expert understanding of the best practices of special education.

Special Education Licensure & Certification

All states require aspiring public-school special education teachers to be licensed (also known as a certification) in the grade and area that they plan to teach. For example, California requires prospective teachers to take the CSET or CBEST exam, whereas Texas requires teachers to take the TExES exam. On occasion, special education teachers may not need certification to work in a private school setting. Once students have graduated from a bachelor's degree program, they will need to complete a teaching assistant program, pass a background check, and pass a general teaching exam to become licensed. Often times, special education teachers will need to complete continuing education or professional developments to stay up to date on best practices and to maintain their teaching license. Because licensure requirements vary by state, students who are interested in pursuing a degree in special education should research the state they plan to teach in to make sure the program they choose covers all requirements for licensure.

How to Choose a Special Education School & Bachelor's Program

Deciding on a special education program can seem like an intimidating task, but if students keep a few factors in mind, the process should seem much less daunting.

First, students should decide which type of career they wish to pursue. If students want to work as a special education teacher, then a bachelor's degree will be required; if students want to work at the district level or research, then a master's or doctoral degree may be needed.

Next, students should decide if they would prefer a program that is online or one that is on campus. While online degrees may be more flexible, in-person programs will offer more face-to-face support and contact. Students may also want to consider the requirements of the bachelor's programs. Many programs will require a teaching assistantship and classroom observations, so students should make sure they have the proper resources to complete these requirements.

Finally, students can gather more information about specific programs by contacting current students, faculty, and admissions.

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

Special education teachers work with students who need extra support beyond the general education classroom. They work with students who have a wide range of learning, emotional, mental, and physical disabilities. While working with these students, special education teachers will adapt general education lesson plans to meet student needs. Special education teachers also help in the development and progress monitoring of Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). Many special education teachers work in K-12 public schools, but some may work in private schools, residential centers, student homes, and hospitals. To become a special education teacher, students will need at least a bachelor's degree and a state license. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), special education teachers made a median salary of $61,030 in 2019. Because of the need for teachers in special education, the projected growth for this profession is 3% between the years of 2019 and 2029. Some students with a bachelor's in special education will seek to further their own education and become a special education counselor. A career as a special education counselor requires at least a master's degree and training beyond a bachelor's degree. These school-based counselors work with students to develop their academic and social skills. School counselors, according to the BLS, made a median salary of $57,040 in 2019 and have a projected job growth of 8% in the years of 2019 and 2029.

How to Become a Special Education Instructional Assistant

Some students may decide to gain experience before taking over their own classroom and become a special education instructional assistant. Special education assistants need only a high school degree, but some college courses or an associate degree is preferred. Assistants in the special education classroom will likely prepare lesson materials, work one-one-one with students, and aid the head teacher in class instruction. According to the BLS, teaching assistants made a median salary of $27,920 in 2019 and have a projected job growth of 4% between the years of 2019 and 2029.

How to Become a Special Education Director

Special education directors work with school districts to manage their special education programs. They will likely work with teachers, administration, parents, and principals to ensure that the special education program is operating effectively and within the district's budget. Administrators in special education will also supervise special education teachers, aids, and support staff. To become a special education director students typically need a minimum of a bachelor's degree, but most jobs require a master's degree in special education. Some employers may also look favorably on a candidate with a doctorate degree. Many states also require prospective directors to have a few years of experience working in the special education system. States will also require a passing score on a state licensing exam. BLS does not have specific data on special education directors, but the median salary for kindergarten through secondary administrators was $96,400 in 2019. However, PayScale states that the average salary specifically for a director of special education is $72,733.

How to Become a Special Education Consultant

A special education consultant's job is to work with school districts and staff to improve and monitor comprehensive special education programs. These consultants work to ensure the special education system is operating within legal parameters. They also serve as liaisons between the state, federal, and private school agencies. Special education consultants may also work with general education administration to make sure programs are adhering to equitable opportunities for all students. Many employers will require the special education consultant to possess a master's degree in special education or a related field. Some states will also require a few years of experience working in the special education system and an endorsement in an area of special education. The BLS does not have specific data on special education consultants, but it does have information on instructional coordinators who serve a similar purpose. In 2019, the median salary for an instructional coordinator was $66,290, and the job outlook is expected to grow 6% in 2019-2029.

Financial Aid & Scholarship Information for Bachelor's in Special Education Degrees

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the application that students complete to receive financial aid from the federal and state government prior to every school year. Financial aid is important for all students entering a special education program to be familiar with because it is how students will receive the funds to attend school. Aid can cover the expenses of tuition, school fees, room and board, textbooks, school supplies, and transportation. There are several types of financial aid options.

Grants are need-based and do not need to be repaid. Pell Grants are a specific type of aid and are awarded based on financial need to students who have not received a bachelor's, graduate, or other professional degree. Work-Study is offered as a job within the school and are usually first-come first-served. Loans are money that is borrowed and gathers interest over time. They must be repaid once the student has graduated. The three types include subsidized, unsubsidized, or private loans.

Scholarships can be offered by schools, employers, nonprofits, communities, religious groups, individuals, or organizations. These are often rewarded based on specific requirements or achievements. Generally, scholarships are meant for certain groups of people such as veterans, first generation college students, or students of color. Students interested in a special education degree may even find scholarships specific to their program.

Professional Organizations in Special Education

Once students have graduated from a special education teaching program, they should consider joining a professional organization. Professional organizations offer special educators the opportunity to learn from other professionals, network, view job postings, participate in professional development, and receive access to free resources. There are many organizations that special education teachers may join, and below is a list of some that may be of interest:

  • Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) -- The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) focuses on the education of students with disabilities. Aspiring special educators should join this organization for information on how to educate students in their classrooms. Students, student teachers, and practicing educators alike can join this organization for access to books, resources, and professional development.
  • National Association for Special Education Teachers (NASET) --The National Association for Special Education Teachers (NASET) is an organization that supports special education teachers in their endeavors. NASET is dedicated to assisting future, current, and past special education teachers through online forums, original research, and publications.
  • American Academy for Special Education Professionals (AASEP) -- The American Academy for Special Education Professionals (AASEP) is a community of special educators dedicated to improving the practices used to serve students with special needs. Members of this association professional development and cutting-edge research.
  • American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) --The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) was established in 1876 to conduct research concerning the best practices for working with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Members of AAIDD have access to training, networking, and publications.
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