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Best Online Bachelor Degree Programs in Special Education

Nov 24, 2021

Online Special Education Degree Overview

Special education is a field of study with many levels of degrees. These programs train students in a variety of ways pertaining to both understanding pedagogical practices as well as developing skills to best communicate and connect with special education students and their families. Online programs can be particularly beneficial for licensed teachers with full-time teaching positions who wish to add special education as an area of expertise. Teachers can continue with their teaching careers while furthering their own education at their own pace.

In all public schools, and many private schools, teachers are required to have at least a bachelor's degree in special education in order to attain a full-time teacher position. Along with a bachelor's degree, there are certain qualifications needed to become a special education teacher, including licensure and possible certification in particular areas. Continue to explore the many options available for online degree programs and job opportunities for the special education field.

Best Online Bachelor's Degree Programs in Special Education

Study.com did the research to come up with the best online bachelor's degree programs in Special Education. We took accessibility and affordability into account and used data from the U.S. Department of Education to look at other factors, including acceptance rates, tuition costs, and graduation rates. All of the schools on the list offer online bachelor's degree programs in special education that take into account flexibility, faculty mentorship opportunities, tutoring programs, and more. These factors combined result in a list showcasing the best of the best. Any of these online degree programs included would be a great option for students looking to study special education anytime, anywhere.

1. East Carolina University

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

The top school on our list is East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, which offers a fantastic Bachelor of Science in Special Education program. Their Partnership Tech program is an affordable part-time online degree completion program focused on developing excellent teachers. This program allows students to begin their education at any North Carolina community college and then transfer to East Carolina University to complete their teaching degree in special education. The BS in Special Education has two tracks - the General Curriculum will ready students to serve children with disabilities who are working toward their high school diploma and the Adapted Curriculum is designed for those planning on working with children who have more significant cognitive disabilities.

2. Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$30500 67% 56% 100% Yes Yes AP / ACE Credits

Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, located in Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, is an ideal option for working adults looking to study special education online in either a 16-week or 8 week accelerated format that best fits their busy schedule. Students can choose between the Bachelor of Science in Education: Preschool - Grade 3/Mild Intervention and the Bachelor of Science in Education: Kindergarten - Grade 6/Mild Intervention online degree programs - and both offer courses designed by faculty who are accomplished in the education field.

3. Fort Hays State University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$5280 91% 43% 96% Yes Yes AP / ACE Credits

Students seeking special education training at Fort Hays State University can enroll in their terrific online Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education with a Special Education minor program. Located in Hays, Kansas, this school's purpose is to equip graduates with the necessary skills to serve all students in their future classrooms, including those with disabilities from pre-kindergarten through 6th grade. The program is well suited for those looking to add a minor to their major in elementary education and become more marketable upon graduation.

4. Dakota State University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$9536 77% 43% 93% Yes Yes AP / ACE / NCCRS Credits

The top-notch Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education/Special Education from Dakota State University in Madison, South Dakota, offers hands-on special education courses with a K-12 educational technology endorsement built into the degree curriculum. With this unique advantage, graduates are will be qualified to integrate technology into the classroom and teach computer classes at the elementary, middle and high school levels. This degree is a great option for students who are looking for a comprehensive curriculum that will teach strategies to help children develop social skills and tools to manage their behavior.

5. Chaminade University of Honolulu

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$26134 95% 59% 99% Yes Yes AP Credits

The online Bachelor of Science in Special Education offered at Chaminade University of Honolulu in Honolulu, Hawaii, is a transfer program offered to students transferring from Leeward Community College. Enrolled students will be prepared for special education careers in schools that are diverse and multicultural and can be licensed to teach Special Education K-12, K-6, or 6-12. Among other skills, this wonderful program will help students develop a knowledge of learner differences, effective instructional strategies for special education students, and the commitments and ethics of the teaching profession.

6. Liberty University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$16118 51% 47% 99% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

Students at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, can obtain an online Bachelor of Education in Special Education degree with a teaching licensure track built in. This stellar program is one of the only 100% online programs preparing students for teaching licensure in the country. Special education training at this Christian-based school is the perfect choice for students who want to learn how to integrate biblical principles into their profession from faculty experienced in the field.

7. The University of West Florida

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$5776 31% 46% 90% Yes Yes AP Credits

The University of West Florida in Pensacola, Florida, offers an awesome online special education program in its Bachelor of Arts in Exceptional Student Education, which prepares them to work with gifted children and those with disabilities. Graduates who complete this specialization program are eligible for certification in exceptional student education for grades K-12 and K-6 with endorsements in Reading and English for Speakers of Other Languages. This distinctive program includes two 100-hour field experiences in K-12 classrooms as well as a capstone experience.

8. University of West Alabama

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$10990 35% 35% 97% Yes Yes AP Credits

Located in Livingston, Alabama, the University of West Alabama offers an online Bachelor of Science in Special Education: Collaborative Teacher, K-6/6-12 program for students looking to add versatility to their teaching career. Working teachers can earn their certification and learn from one of the leading trainers of educators in the state with this hybrid program. While most of the degree can be completed online, students will need to attend on-campus seminars and complete an internship and field experience in an Alabama-approved school.

9. Midway University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$24850 60% 44% 100% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

Midway University in Midway, Kentucky, offers the unique opportunity for enrolled students to get a Learning and Behavior Disorders add on with any of its Bachelor of Arts teacher education programs, such as its BA in Elementary Education or BA in Secondary English Education. This add-on certification program provides specific training for teaching children with special education needs. Midway University accepts transfer credits so students who may have completed education programs at outside universities are also eligible for this terrific 21 credit hour add on.

10. Chadron State College

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$6948 No Available Data (2019-2020) 45% 96% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

Chadron, Nebraska, is home to Chadron State College which offers an amazing Bachelor of Science in Education - Special Education program for grades K-12. This program incorporates video technology format courses, which gives students the added advantage of video classes, face-to-face learning, and peer interaction while still keeping the same flexibility of location that students look for in online courses. Partnered with on-the-job experimental learning, Chadron State College provides a program that will appeal to online learners looking for an accommodating online education without completely losing the classroom setting.

11. University of Georgia

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$12080 45% 87% 97% Yes Yes AP Credits

Next on the list is a great online program offered at the University of Georgia in Athens, GA. The Bachelor of Science in Special Education is a two-year program for students working towards a teaching certification in Special Education General Curriculum P-12, although, students who cannot commit to this timeframe can be accommodated with a three-year program. Varying from other programs on this list, it is a cohort model which allows students to work through the program as a group along with a large amount of field experience in Georgia schools each semester of the program.

12. Western New Mexico University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$6305 No Available Data (2019-2020) 34% 95% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

Western New Mexico University, located in Silver City, offers a Bachelor of Science in Special Education that will qualify students for a K-12 special education license in the State of New Mexico. Although practice teaching is a requirement for this program, the school allows students with a 3.0 GPA who desire placement outside of Silver City, or its surrounding areas, the opportunity to do so. This opportunity for accommodation is one more reason that Western New Mexico University is perfect for students in need of a flexible and high-quality special education program.

13. Indian River State College

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$2764 No Available Data (2019-2020) 41% 67% Yes Yes AP Credits

Finishing the list of schools is Indian River State College in Stuart, FL, and its online Bachelor of Science in Exceptional Student Education with Reading and ESOL Endorsements program. Students can enroll in this program after they've completed an associate's degree. This program focuses on preparing students to teach in classrooms with children who have disabilities and may speak other languages. The ability to graduate with an associate's degree and a bachelor's degree presents a fantastic opportunity for students to build their special education credentials.

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

Online Associate Degrees in Special Education

Although a bachelor's degree in special education is needed to become a full-time, classroom teacher, the place where some students begin this process is with an Associate in Arts in Education or Early Childhood Education. Many of these programs can be found 100% online and typically include 60-67 credit hours of coursework, with course lengths varying from 5-8 weeks. Coursework includes general education courses as well as overview courses that look at current educational best practices and theories. While an associate degree does not provide a license pathway for teaching, students do develop skills to begin working with children and are able to work in early childcare/daycare settings as they continue their education. Furthermore, if someone has a passion for working with special needs children and wants to gain experience while completing their degree, they could become a special education assistant.

Online Bachelor's Degrees in Special Education

Depending on the school and program, students may receive a bachelor's in education in special education or even a dual degree with a bachelor's degree in elementary education and special education. Bachelor's degree programs allow teachers to continue to acquire knowledge about primary/secondary subject areas, as well as continue training specifically for teaching special needs children. Online programs provide students the opportunity to complete the coursework from home; however, most programs will also require students to complete student teaching or internship experiences in a local school under a mentor teacher to fully complete their program. Online programs typically consist of 120-140 credit hours.

Online Master's Degrees in Special Education

The common online master's degree for this specialty is a Master of Arts in Teaching in Special Education. This program can work for those who already have a teaching degree and want to add special education training to their area of expertise, as well as those who have an unrelated bachelor's degree and want to make a shift in their career. This degree program can have both core classes that are more generalized in education, as well as specific special education courses, and is typically about 36 credit hours in full.

Furthermore, for teachers who are already licensed, there are also online master of education programs that specifically focus on curriculum and instruction related to special education. Courses range from 6-8 weeks in length, and there is also the ability to transfer in many credits.

Online Doctoral Degrees in Special Education

For those interested in continuing their training even further to the doctorate level, there are a few pathways for special education teachers. The online Doctorate of Education (Ed.D.) in Special Education program allows teachers to continue their specialization in special education practices. Those pursuing this fully online degree can continue to teach in the elementary or secondary classroom or even expand into the post-secondary field by becoming a college instructor.

If becoming a post-secondary instructor of special education curriculum is a teacher's goal, then pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in Education, specialized in special education, is another option. This online program includes 8-week long courses that focus on research and leadership.

Finally, if a teacher is interested in moving into an administrative position, then an online Organizational Leadership Doctorate in Special Education will be more aligned with their career goals. This program includes various courses ranging in length from 3-8 weeks with a total of 60 credit hours in the program. While similar to other doctorate programs requiring completion of a dissertation, this program will include instruction in leadership, budgeting, and other areas that align more with school administrative duties rather than classroom teacher duties.

Online Certificates in Special Education

Some teachers, who already have a degree and license to teach, may be interested in having additional certification in special education but do not want to complete an additional degree program. For these teachers, there are online certificate programs that will allow them to expand their knowledge and gain skills necessary to best help their special needs students. These programs typically require 18 credit hours and align with specific state educational requirements so that the certification will be acknowledged for the classroom teacher.

Special Education Specializations/Concentrations

A special education degree program can include concentrations. For instance, if a student is pursuing a Master of Science in Education degree, some potential areas of concentration could be focused on specific special needs, such as autism, or a more focused approach on intervention skills for working with children with special needs. These specialized graduate programs are available fully online with students able to complete them in a little over a year's time. While information in these concentrations would be covered in a general sense in a special education degree program, a teacher could choose to specialize in certain areas that would benefit them in their unique teaching career. While most of these specialized online programs are accelerated, students will still be receiving instruction in areas such as communication, organization, and management.

Curriculum/Coursework for an Online Bachelor's Degree in Special Education

Students pursuing an online bachelor's degree in special education will receive a plethora of knowledge in basic content areas, pedagogy, and strategies and skills for working with special needs children. Curriculum will range from general education courses, when a student first begins their degree program, all the way to practicum/observation/student teaching experiences and potentially ending in a culminating project or dissertation, if a student chooses to continue on to a doctorate program. With fully online programs, students may have slight differences in certain aspects of their curriculum, such as completing video-classroom observations in some stages of their degree; however, most online bachelor's degrees will still cover the same coursework as an on-campus program. Among various special education bachelor's programs, there are some common course topics that can be found:

  • Diversity in Education
  • Assessments in Special Education Learning
  • Behavior Management/Support
  • Special Education-Legal & Ethical Best Practices
  • Collaboration & Inclusion
  • Technology Integration
  • Foundational Methods in Core Content Areas: Social Studies, Literacy, Math, Science

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

Even though traditional bachelor's degrees take about four years to complete, with the ability to transfer credits to so many online programs, many students are able to finish their programs in a shorter amount of time than the typical four years. Additionally, some online special education programs are self-paced and allow students to receive credit for specific competencies through their courses or through proven experience that they have already attained from the workplace. With this being said, a bachelor's degree in special education typically takes about 3-4 years to complete in its entirety.

Accreditation for Online Bachelor's in Special Education Degrees

There are several national and regional accreditation organizations that recognize programs in the field of special education. One example of an organization granting accreditation includes the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. An example of a regional accreditation that some schools with special education programs might have would be the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. One organization that gives programmatic accreditation is the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.

It is important to ensure that the state department of education for the state in which you plan to teach will recognize the program you are completing if that program is based in a different state. This will allow you to more easily begin your teaching career when you have finished your program and attain your teaching license.

How to Choose a Special Education School & Program

When choosing which school and program is the best fit, students should consider several factors. Although coursework in any online program will be through distance-learning, almost every special education program will require in-person observation hours and student teaching with a mentor teacher in a local school. If having this hands-on experience is of importance for a student, they may want to compare the amount of required hours in the field for each program and make their choice according to the program that allows the most time in the classroom. Also, if students are interested in eventually moving out of the classroom and having more of an administrative or guidance role with special needs students, they may want to choose a program that has more of a concentration in leadership courses as opposed to a concentration on classroom teaching and pedagogy.

Special Education Licensure & Certification

Those interested in working as special education teachers will most likely need a license to teach. Depending on whether a teacher is in the public or private school sector will determine what license or certification is required. For public schools, teachers must be licensed to teach in their specific grade level or concentration area; private schools may or may not require a teaching license. To obtain a license, prospective teachers generally must complete a bachelor's degree and student teaching assignments as well as pass a background check and certification exams for both teaching pedagogy and specialized areas. Certification exam requirements will vary by state. For example, California requires prospective teachers to take the CSET or CBEST exam, Texas requires the TExES exam, and several states require the Praxis exam instead of a state-specific test.

For those interested in working with special needs children in a different capacity, there is also the career of a special education counselor. In addition to having a bachelor's degree, a special education counselor also needs to complete the process of state-specific internships, testing, and field experience to gain the appropriate certification and licensure to practice as a counselor in this role.

Similarly, if a teacher is interested in pursuing an administrative role in a school setting, they will need to be licensed as an administrator, following their state's guidelines which typically include having a master's degree and successfully passing both a test and background check.

Special Education Career Information

For most students pursuing a bachelor's degree in special education, their goal is to be a k-12 classroom instructor. However, depending on the level of education a student receives, there are other potential jobs available. There is a need for early childhood special education teachers, or someone could work as a special education director or school administrator. Let's look more closely at some career options.

How to Become a Special Education Teacher

To become a special education teacher, attaining the state-specific requirements for licensure is necessary. State requirements vary but most include the completion of a bachelor's degree program, a student teaching experience, background check, and certification tests.

A special education teacher has different responsibilities from those of a traditional classroom teacher. A special education teacher focuses on understanding the specific learning needs of their students, modifying their work accordingly, developing individualized educational plans for their students, communicating with students' parents about student progress, and ensuring students can successfully progress through each grade level of school.

While some special education teachers may work in medical or residential institutions, they mostly work in public or private school settings alongside other teachers and school administrators. According to the BLS, special education employment is projected to increase by 3 percent from 2019 to 2029, and the median salary for a special education teacher in May of 2019 was $61,030.

How to Become a School Administrator

Some individuals with a degree in special education may decide to pursue a career in overall school administration. These teachers bring a unique perspective to the role of principal having worked with such a specialized portion of the overall student population. To begin their career as a school principal, there are a few additional steps that must be taken. Most schools require candidates to have a master's degree in administration or leadership and at least a few years of experience in the classroom, which a special education teacher would have if they wanted to make that transition.

Principals have many responsibilities including budgeting, discipline, community outreach, evaluation and guidance of teachers. According to the BLS, primary and secondary principal employment is projected to increase 4% from 2019 to 2029 with the median salary in May 2019 being $96,400.

Financial Aid and Scholarship Information for Special Education Degrees

There are several ways in which students planning to pursue a special education degree can receive financial aid and scholarships for their program. First, each student who wishes to receive a bachelor's degree in special education needs to complete the FAFSA, Free Application for Federal Student Aid, to determine if they are eligible for federal aid for their program.

Certain schools will also offer scholarships that are specific to education programs. For example, Western Governors University offers a prospective teacher scholarship that covers up to $4,000. This scholarship also includes a specific amount of money used as a stipend during the internship portion of the student's program when the student is in a local classroom working alongside a mentor teacher. Liberty University is another school that offers specific online scholarships for students.

Students should also research grants that are available in specific programs as well as donors and scholarship funds outside of their university organization for any potential eligibility. It is also important for students pursuing a special education degree to research scholarships from state-specific organizations focused on special education.

Professional Organizations in Special Education

There are many professional organizations for educators in general, as well as special education teachers specifically. Each organization offers unique information and focus areas for professionals in the education field. A few of these organizations include:

  • The National Education Association (NEA) is a national teacher union with almost 3 million members. This is an education organization not specific to special educators, but rather open to anyone in the education field. The NEA has been in existence for over 50 years and strives to make the lives of educators better, hoping to protect teachers in times of need. Many states and even individual school districts have their own chapters of NEA, as well.
  • The National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET) is a national organization focused on both special needs students as well as supporting special education teachers. This is also a place for special education teachers to learn and grow from one another. Members of NASET have access to professional development specific to special education, as well as continuing education courses and academic journals specific to the field. There are various ways to join NASET: online, by mail, and through local school districts.
  • The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) is an international organization focused on supporting students with disabilities. This organization is also represented with chapters in many universities and colleges in the country which makes this an accessible organization for special education degree students. The council strives to advocate for students, as well as be leaders in standards of education and best practices. When applying for membership, an interested applicant will begin by choosing which stage of their career they are in: still a student, within the first few years of professional teaching, or an experienced educator.
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