Online Colleges for Special Education

Since 1975, when the U.S. Congress first passed legislation related to the education of children and teenagers with special needs, the field of special education has developed significantly. Today, special education teachers provide instruction to about 6.4 million students, age 3 to 21, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). These teachers work in a variety of settings to impart skills and knowledge to a wide range of students with diverse physical, cognitive, developmental and other disabilities, including blindness and deafness, autism, emotional disturbance and multiple combined disabilities. Most special education teachers are employed in a school setting, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, but others work in hospitals or other care facilities, or go to students' homes. Special education teachers often work closely with school psychologists and counselors -- related fields that some people with special education degrees choose to pursue.

Special Education Online Programs

To be licensed as a special education teacher usually requires a bachelor's degree in education or a related field and completion of a teacher training program, according to the BLS. Some states require a master's degree to become a special education teacher. While in-classroom training is an important component of education degree programs, it's possible to complete online special education programs. For example, an online Bachelor of Arts in Special Education program might feature classes in subjects like psychoeducational assessment practices and teaching practices in reading and math, and also facilitate and require supervised teaching done in area schools. An online Master of Arts in Education/Special Education can help students learn about the diagnosis and assessment of disability, student-behavior management, and more.

Some degree programs prepare teachers to work with students who have a particular kind of disability, while others are broader and prepare teachers to work with a variety of disability types encountered in K-12 classrooms. In terms of the related career of school counselor or school psychologist, according to a survey of these professionals, the U.S. Department of Labor reports 47 percent of school counselors hold a master's degree, an additional 32 percent of those with a master's degree also have a post-master's certificate, and 19 percent have a doctoral degree.

Job prospects may be somewhat competitive in the field, as the BLS only anticipates 6 percent job growth, slower than average, for 2012-2022. This growth rate could result in 26,600 new jobs during that time. However, special education teachers working at the preschool level may find some of the greatest opportunities -- the BLS forecasts a 16 percent job growth rate at that grade level during the 2012-2022 period. Special education teachers in preschool, kindergarten and elementary school earned mean annual wages of $56,460, according to May 2014 BLS data, while the BLS shows that all other special education teachers had mean annual wages of $57,820. Educational, guidance and school counselors who often also collaborate with teachers to create individualized education plans, or IEPs, for special education students, earned mean annual wages of $56,040.


  1. Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselors. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Handbook, May 2014. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211012.htm
  2. Fast Facts, National Center for Education Statistics. https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=64
  3. Special Education Teachers, Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Jan. 8, 2014. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/special-education-teachers.htm
  4. Special Education Teachers, Preschool, Kindergarten, and Elementary School, Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Handbook, May 2014. http://www.bls.gov/oes/2011/may/oes252041.htm
  5. Special Education Teachers, All Others. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Handbook, May 2014. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes252059.htm
  6. School Psychologists, U.S. Department of Labor, 2015. http://www.onetonline.org/link/details/19-3031.01#Education

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