2024 Best Online Doctorate in Special Education Programs

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A doctorate in special education is a strategic degree choice for educators who are looking to enhance their knowledge of special education and help others reach their academic potential.

Best Online Doctorate in Special Education Programs

Doctoral graduates may pursue work in the classroom, in administration, in higher education, and more. Special education professionals with advanced credentials often have the opportunity to teach students with disabilities, influence curriculums, and lead academic organizations.

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If you have a passion for special education, then a doctoral degree could help you grow your impact and influence in the field.

Online Doctorate in Special Education Programs

Man taking Online Doctorate in Special Education

Online doctoral programs in special education may open the doors for careers in the classroom, research settings, and more. Schools typically offer two distinct doctoral pathways for this field of study: a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and a Doctor of Education (EdD).

Select the program that most interests you to jump to that section of the guide:

The program that’s best for you will depend on your personal interests and professional goals.

EdD in Special Education

K-12 Education Administrator with EdD in Special Education degree

Obtaining an EdD in Special Education online can be a strategic step toward beginning or advancing a career in education administration or public policy.

Completing this program can help you gain a broad perspective that may allow you to affect special education in your local community. As opposed to a PhD program, EdD programs usually focuses on applying and implementing existing research to the field of special education.

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As such, you can learn how to address the challenges faced by educators, how to improve an organization, and how to advance equity in an organization. Upon graduation, many graduates take positions as school leaders, professional development providers, and service providers.

PhD in Special Education

Special education manager with a PhD in Special Education degree

A Ph.D. in Special Education is designed to help you become a special education professional who can thrive in both educational and behavioral settings.

During your studies, you can expect to take courses in subjects like behavioral and developmental disabilities, behavior analysis, educational strategies, and more. Being a Doctor of Philosophy, a PhD program is more heavily focused on research. Most of these programs require a dissertation component, where you can contribute original research to the field.

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With the education that PhD programs provide, graduates may go on to become leaders in the field. Many graduates pursue roles as entrepreneurs or administrators. Common positions include special education manager, curriculum specialist, professor, and researcher.

Common Online Doctoral in Special Education Specializations

Woman taking Doctoral in Special Education Specializing in High Incidence

Online doctoral programs in special education often allow students to pursue a concentration. Some common concentrations that you may encounter include:

  • Autism. You’ll study current research in this specialty area, and you’ll explore how to best meet the personal and educational needs of children with autism.
  • Early Childhood. You’ll study the ways in which you can identify disabilities in children, assess their needs, and administer the proper assessment procedures.
  • High Incidence. You can learn the various instructional approaches that help students with high-incidence disabilities learn.
  • Low Incidence. You can learn how to help students with low-incidence disabilities develop their critical skills.
  • Teacher Leadership and Learning. This specialization teaches you how to shape and mold a curriculum that represents the different needs of students.

Taking on a concentration can be a way to specialize your knowledge and open the door to careers in related fields. Different schools can offer different concentrations for their special education doctorates, so it’s beneficial to compare different programs’ offerings.

Special Education Careers and Salaries

Special Education Careers and Salaries

Online doctoral programs in special education typically lead to careers in K-12 schools or higher education. Those who pursue a PhD in Special Education may be more interested in research, teaching, or administrative positions in postsecondary schools. Those who pursue an EdD often want to advance in K-12 schools, whether it be through teaching, leading, or administrating.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, here are the median salaries for potential career paths in special education.

Careers Annual Median Salaries
Training and Development Managers $120,130
K-12 Education Administrators $98,420
Postsecondary Education Administrators $96,910
Postsecondary Teachers $79,640
Instructional Coordinators $63,740
Special Education Teachers — Preschool $62,420
Special Education Teachers — High School $62,120
Special Education Teachers — Middle School $61,820
Special Education Teachers — Kindergarten and Elementary School $61,640
Fundraisers $60,660

Some educators prefer to stay in the classroom to directly work with students who have disabilities, while others work to improve the special education curriculum. Doctoral professionals may also qualify for other administrative or leadership roles in the field.

Special Education Doctorate Curriculum & Courses

students pursuing Special Education Doctorate attending class

Here are some of the courses you may come across in a special education doctoral program:

  • Intro to Law and Higher Education Issues for Students with Autism: You can learn about the issues that affect students with autism.
  • Education of Exceptional Children: This course introduces you to the challenges faced by exceptional children.
  • Introduction to Applied Behavior Analysis: In this course, you’ll learn about the behavioral principles that are prominent in developmental centers and schools.
  • Introduction to Emotional and Behavioral Disorders: This course provides a foundation in educating children with disorders.
  • Policies and Issues in Special Education: This course familiarizes you with the various policies that affect the field of special education.
  • Education as a Field of Scholarship: In this course, you’ll review scholarship in education as a basis for careers in research.
  • Scholarship and Writing: This course can help you develop technical skills across service, teaching, and scholarship.
  • Methodological and Conceptual Issues in Special Education: You’ll study the methodological traditions of the humanities and sciences and how they influence issues in special education.
  • Civic Professionalism: In this course, you are introduced to many of the practices and ethics in education.
  • Research Funding and Proposal Development: This course teaches you how to develop proposals that will generate the necessary funds to continue programmatic work.

These represent only a few of the courses you may encounter, depending on the program and concentration you choose.

Admissions Requirements

Woman preparing requirements for Doctorate in Special Education

Here are some typical admissions requirements for doctorate programs in special education:

  • Letters of recommendation
  • Academic writing sample
  • Statement of purpose
  • Master’s degree
  • Minimum master’s GPA of 3.0, on average

Every program is different, so it’s beneficial to carefully review the specific requirements of the programs you’re interested in. Some schools may also require you to submit GRE or GMAT scores, though a growing number of schools no longer request them.

Special Education Doctoral Programs Accreditation

University offering Special Education Doctoral Programs

It’s beneficial to earn your doctoral degree in education online or on campus at a regionally accredited school. Much like an online masters in special education, holding an accredited doctoral degree can be a valuable asset in your job search post-graduation.

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An institution can receive regional accreditation when a regional accrediting agency evaluates it and determines that it consistently gives students a high-quality education. As such, your school’s accreditation status testifies to the legitimacy of your education. Many employers, especially in the education field, only recognize academic credentials that are awarded by accredited institutions.

Financial Aid and Scholarships

Doctorate in Special Education Financial Aid

Common forms of financial aid include federal aid, state aid, scholarships, and grants. The FAFSA is the federal application for student loans. Your state may also request your FAFSA results to determine your eligibility for need-based aid.

Scholarships and grants are monetary awards that do not need to be repaid. There are a variety of scholarship programs based on merit, need, or area of study. You can search for these opportunities through your school as well as outside organizations. Some schools also offer assistantship or fellowship opportunities for doctoral students. You can see if your employer offers tuition benefits as well.

What Can I Do with a Doctorate in Special Education?

Teacher guiding students with special needs

Doctorate in special education online programs may open the doors for a variety of careers in postsecondary education and special education.

Many graduates go on to become teachers in various settings, such as K-12 schools and higher education institutions. These graduates have extensive knowledge and training regarding the unique needs of students with disabilities. So, it’s also common for these professionals to fulfill leadership and administrative positions.

Those in leadership may act as academic deans or provosts. Others may become special education managers or curriculum specialists.

How Long Does It Take to Complete a PhD in Special Education Online?

Man pursuing PhD in Special Education Online

The amount of time it takes to complete a doctoral program in special education online depends on several key factors. An online PhD in Special Education program usually requires between 67 and 77 credits to complete. In comparison, EdD programs often require between 61 and 66 credits.

If taken full-time, then you may be able to complete the doctorate degree in special education online in 3 to 5 years. Some students choose to take the program part-time to allow for maximum flexibility.  Most PhD programs require a dissertation component, which can add time to your overall completion timeline. Each school can offer specific timelines for their doctoral programs, so it’s helpful to check your options with prospective schools.

Is a Doctorate Degree in Special Education Worth It?

Special Education Teacher conversing in sign language with a student

Yes, a doctorate degree in special education is worth it for many students. You might consider this degree path if you’re passionate about education and helping students with disabilities reach their potential.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4% job growth is projected for special education teachers over the next ten years, which is as fast as the average for all occupations. Similarly, employment for instructional coordinators is expected to grow 7% over the same period.

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Demand for these professionals is expected to continue rising as disabilities in children are being diagnosed at earlier ages. Education professionals who understand the needs of these children are vital.

Universities Offering Online Doctorate in Special Education Degree Programs

Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited and offer degree programs online or in a hybrid format.

Ball State University

Ball State University

Ball State University offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Special Education. Several concentrations are available, including American Sign Language and Deaf Studies, Behavior Analysis and Autism, and Low Incidence Teaching and Learning. The program requires the completion of 91 credits. Upon completion of two consecutive semesters in residence, the majority of remaining classes may be completed online.

Ball State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Grand Canyon University

Grand Canyon University

Grand Canyon University offers a Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership. Educators who are interested in working with students with diverse needs may find an ideal fit in the Special Education emphasis. The curriculum is housed entirely online. Graduates often pursue careers as school administrators, special education consultants, curriculum developers, and learning advocates.

GCU is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Liberty University

Liberty University

Liberty University offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Special Education. Potential classes include Disability and Learning, Advanced Learning Theory, and Assessment and Evaluation in Special Education. Classes meet conveniently online and are typically 8 weeks long. The program’s 60 required credit hours can typically be completed in 3 years of full-time attendance.

Liberty University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

National University

National University

National University offers a Doctor of Education in Special Education. The curriculum covers topics like research methods, curriculum, assessment, and emotional and behavioral disorders. The program requires the completion of 48 credits. Classes are held 100% online and start every Monday, allowing educators to take the next step in their professional journey at their earliest convenience.

National University is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.

Nova Southeastern University

Nova Southeastern University

Nova Southeastern University offers a Doctor of Education in Special Education. The curriculum is designed to prepare educators for advanced roles in academic settings, nonprofit organizations, direct service agencies, and research institutions. Classes can be completed online, but summer residencies may be required. The program requires the completion of at least 55 credits.

Nova Southeastern University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Slippery Rock University

Slippery Rock University

Slippery Rock University offers a Doctor of Education in Special Education. The curriculum covers concepts like content learning, special education teaching and learning pedagogy, and leadership. The curriculum consists of 60 total credit hours. The program utilizes a blend of synchronous and asynchronous online courses complemented by in-person summer courses.

Slippery Rock University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Texas Tech University

Texas Tech University

Texas Tech University offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Special Education. The curriculum emphasizes research, teacher education, program development, evaluation, and culturally sensitive practitionership. Up to 30 qualifying credit hours may be transferred in toward the program’s 90 required credit hours. The program admits incoming students four times each year in spring, fall, and summer terms.

Texas Tech University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

University of Florida

University of Florida

The University of Florida offers a 100% online program for a Doctor of Education in Special Education. Available specializations include Teacher Leadership and Learning, Dyslexia, Early Childhood, and Disability in Society. The curriculum spans 90 total credit hours of core, research, specialization, and dissertation coursework. Most students attend part-time and complete their degree requirements in 4 years.

The University of Florida is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

University of North Dakota

University of North Dakota

The University of North Dakota offers a Doctor of Education in Educational Practice and Leadership. Students can tailor the curriculum to their goals with concentrations such as Higher Education, School Leadership, Instructional Design, or Special Education. On average, the program’s 90 required credit hours can be completed in 3 years when studying full-time. All classes meet entirely online.

The University of North Dakota is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

University of Northern Colorado

University of Northern Colorado

The University of Northern Colorado offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Special Education. Many graduates pursue careers in settings like schools, universities, nonprofit organizations, businesses, or government agencies. The program’s 77 required credits can typically be completed in 5 years of part-time attendance and in 3 years of full-time attendance.

The University of Northern Colorado is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Getting Your Doctoral Degree in Special Education Online

Teacher pursuing Doctoral Degree in Special Education Online

Earning a doctoral degree in special education can help develop your expertise and grow your qualifications as a special education professional.

Accredited schools may offer special ed PhD programs and EdD programs online. The degree path you choose can influence your coursework as well as your career trajectory after graduation. While a PhD is geared toward research and higher education, an EdD is more practice-oriented, designed for education professionals who want to further their teaching or administrative careers in the field.

You can begin researching accredited universities today to find the online doctoral program in special education that’s right for you.

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David Garcia
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David has a Bachelor of Arts in English with a concentration in Film from Syracuse University. While in school, much of his time was dedicated to Syracuse’s literary magazine, both as a writer and editor. David’s current interests include literary and film studies as well as social justice.