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Online Colleges for Special Education

The field of special education has evolved significantly since the U.S. Congress first passed legislation in 1975 focused on improving ways to meet the educational needs of students with a range of abilities. Special educators may work with individuals who have one (or more) of 13 disabilities covered under federal law: blindness or deafness; cognitive or developmental disabilities such as autism; learning disabilities such as dyslexia; and other disorders that can impact learning, from AD/HD to behavioral and emotional disturbance. Today, those who’ve earned a special education degree may work in all kinds of settings — from classrooms and learning centers to hospitals and homes — imparting skills and knowledge to students who possess an incredibly diverse variety of disabilities.

Best Online Colleges for Special Education

We used a wide range of data to generate our list of the best colleges for earning online special education degrees, primarily facts provided by the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), which is part of the National Center for Education Statistics. This data allowed us to create an overview of the 10 best online colleges for special education from all schools based in the United States. These rankings are designed to help students select the best school for their educational goals and expectations. There’s more about the methodology we used to create this list below.

1

Fort Hays State University

Tuition/Year Tuition per year refers to the average in-state tuition for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
$3,574
Number of Programs Offered Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
38
Accredited
School Type
4-year

Fort Hays State University leads our list due to a combination of favorable rankings in tuition cost, graduation and admissions rates, and the high number of education degrees pursued at the university. More than 6,000 students in 20 countries take classes through FHSU’s Virtual College. FHSU’s online Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education with a minor in special education qualifies students for licensure to teach first through sixth grades. However, the special education endorsement allows graduates to teach students with learning disabilities in pre-kindergarten through the 12th grade. Licensure is through the state of Kansas, so online students in other states are encouraged to contact their home state’s Department of Education to determine license transfer requirements. The program requires 136 total credit hours to complete, including 55 credit hours in general education and 43 credit hours in major courses. Student teaching accounts for 12 credit hours.

Accreditation:

  • Higher Learning Commission
  • North Central Association of Colleges and Schools

Location:

600 Park St.
Hays, KS 67601
Go to School Website 
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2

Fontbonne University

Tuition/Year Tuition per year refers to the average in-state tuition for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
$23,430
Number of Programs Offered Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
8
Accredited
School Type
4-year

Fontbonne University, a coeducational Catholic university founded in 1923, lands in the second spot on our top 10 list partially due to its high graduation rate (seventh of 30 schools) and partially due to the number of education degrees pursued at the university (third of 30 schools). It’s no surprise Fontbonne students earned so many special education degrees, because the school offers a wide variety of online programs for working adults that focus on the special education field:

  • An undergraduate certificate in speech-language pathology assistant
  • A Bachelor of Science in Special Education through their Paraprofessionals Pathways program
  • A Bachelor of Science in Speech-Language Pathology
  • Graduate-level education concentrations in Special Education, Autism Spectrum Disorder, or Diverse Learners
  • A graduate degree in Teaching Special Education through their Paraprofessionals Pathways program
  • A graduate certificate in Autism Spectrum Disorder

Fontbonne also had the highest admissions rate of all thirty schools we analyzed, aside from those with open admissions policies. This is good news for anybody hoping to attend this worthy institution.

Accreditation:

  • Higher Learning Commission

Location:

6800 Wydown Blvd
Saint Louis, MO 63105
Go to School Website 
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3

The University of West Florida

Tuition/Year Tuition per year refers to the average in-state tuition for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
$3,735
Number of Programs Offered Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
22
Accredited
School Type
4-year

The University of West Florida offers many fully online degrees, including a Bachelor of Arts in exceptional student education. Students who wish to enroll in this program must have a cumulative grade point average of 2.50 in all previously completed coursework, as well as a passing score on the Florida general knowledge teacher certification program. The program requires 132 total semester hours to complete, including 60 semester hours of upper-division coursework, and involves finishing a student teaching program, which consists of one semester of student teaching or two semesters of supervised internship. The university makes our list at No. 3 with its favorable tuition ranking (seventh of 30 institutions) and high prominence of education degrees pursued at the university.

Accreditation:

  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education

Location:

11000 University Pkwy.
Pensacola, FL 32514
Go to School Website 
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4

Eastern Gateway Community College

Tuition/Year Tuition per year refers to the average in-state tuition for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
$3,510
Number of Programs Offered Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
17
Accredited
School Type
2-year

Eastern Gateway Community College offers eight fully online associate degrees, including an Associate of Arts in teacher education-intervention specialist. The program is designed to prepare students who desire to work with special needs children in schools and childcare centers. Graduates of the program are eligible to obtain an education paraprofessional or early childhood associate licensure from the State of Ohio Department of Education. Alternately, they can pursue a Bachelor of Arts degree in special education; the college has articulation agreements with many northeastern Ohio four-year universities for easy transfers. The intervention specialist A.A. degree requires 61 semester credits to complete. Even though the A.A. degree is fully online, students are still expected to participate in online discussions with other students and faculty members. The college is one of only three on our list with an open admissions policy, meaning it accepts all applicants with a high school diploma or a GED certificate, and it was also fourth out of 30 institutions for low-cost tuition.

Accreditation:

  • Higher Learning Commission

Location:

4000 Sunset Blvd.
Steubenville, Ohio 43952
Go to School Website 
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5

Chemeketa Community College

Tuition/Year Tuition per year refers to the average in-state tuition for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
$3,600
Number of Programs Offered Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
18
Accredited
School Type
2-year

Chemeketa Community College offers two fully online programs related to special education: the Associate of Arts degree in speech-language pathology and the speech-language pathology assistant certificate. Graduates of CCC’s programs have the potential to work in a variety of settings, including schools, hospitals and rehabilitation centers, under the direct supervision of a licensed speech language pathologist, helping adults and children who have communications disorders better listen, speak and interact with others. Chemeketa Community College makes our list at No. 5 with its affordable tuition rates (sixth out of 30 schools) and open-door admission policy.

Accreditation:

  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities

Location:

4000 Lancaster Dr
NE Salem, OR 97305
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6

Western Governors University

Tuition/Year Tuition per year refers to the average in-state tuition for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
$5,780
Number of Programs Offered Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
56
Accredited
School Type
4-year

WGU is an exclusively online nonprofit university founded in 1995 by 19 U.S. governors. The university has students in all 50 states and also serves active military members in overseas bases. WGU offers a Bachelor of Arts in special education (K-12) degree program that is recognized by the Council for Exceptional Children. Students enrolled in the program focus on the following areas:

  • Teacher education foundations and diversity
  • Instructional planning and presentation
  • Preclinical experience
  • Special education

In-class teaching is part of the degree path, as is development of a professional portfolio. Students are expected to complete between 12 and 13 units per term, and grades are assigned on a pass/fail basis (pass being equivalent to a B grade). All students in the special education field must complete the Praxis Subject Assessment Special Education: Core Knowledge and Mild to Moderate Applications exam as a graduation requirement, the university reports.

Accreditation:

  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education

Location:

4001 S. 700 E. Ste. 7
Salt Lake City, UT 84107
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7

Dakota State University

Tuition/Year Tuition per year refers to the average in-state tuition for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
$4,170
Number of Programs Offered Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
25
Accredited
School Type
4-year

Dakota State University has grown exponentially since it was founded in 1881 as a frontier school for the Dakota Territory; total enrollment in fall of 2015 was 3,145 students. The Bachelor of Science degree in special education takes 10 total semesters to complete for most students, the final two semesters being a yearlong teacher residency program. Oftentimes online classes are taught at the same time as on-campus classes for increased student collaboration. Dakota State University prides itself on being a technologically advanced university, and students who complete the special education degree are expected to have advanced technological teaching skills. Because of this, all special education graduates receive a K-12 educational technology endorsement from DSU. The university makes our list at No. 7 with its encouraging tuition and admission rankings, as well as the high number of education degrees pursued at the university.

Accreditation:

  • Higher Learning Comission
  • Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation

Location:

820 N. Washington Ave.
Madison, SD 57042
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8

Notre Dame College

Tuition/Year Tuition per year refers to the average in-state tuition for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
$27,520
Number of Programs Offered Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
15
Accredited
School Type
4-year

Notre Dame College is a co-educational four-year Catholic University with an enrollment of 2,100 students in fall of 2015. Notre Dame College’s Bachelor of Arts program in special education is designed to help teachers learn how to educate students with moderate to mild disabilities in grades K-12. Degree requirements include completing 61 credit hours of general and special education; passing the Principles of Learning and Teaching Test with a score of at least 168; and the Praxis II Special Education Core Knowledge and Applications test. Since students enrolled in the Mild to Moderate Intervention Specialist program at NDC relate their practice to the Ohio Standards for Teaching Profession, their education is focused on teaching and learning, conditions for learning, and professional work. Notre Dame College was a shoo-in for this list, seeing as it awarded the highest percentage of special education degrees out of all thirty schools ranked.

Accreditation:

  • Association of Catholic Colleges & Universities (ACCU)
  • Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U)
  • The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education

Location:

4545 College Rd.
South Euclid, OH 44121
Go to School Website 
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9

Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College

Tuition/Year Tuition per year refers to the average in-state tuition for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
$28,302
Number of Programs Offered Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
35
Accredited
School Type
4-year

SMCW is a coeducational Catholic school five miles northwest of Terra Haute. It was an all-girls school from its founding in 1840 until 2005, when men were first admitted. Students at Saint Mary-of-the-Wood College who wish to be licensed for elementary school special education must choose a concentration and a major consisting of general and professional education and student teaching. There are three concentrations available for online students: Special education, kindergarten through grade 6, and preschool through grade 3. Each concentration requires 120 credit hours to complete to earn a Bachelor of Science in education degree. Teacher candidates are eligible to take 100- and 200-level courses and must complete 40 credit hours to be formally admitted into SMCW’s Teacher Education Program. The college is noteworthy for its favorable graduation rates and for awarding the second-highest percentage of education degrees to graduating students.

Accreditation:

  • Higher Learning Commission
  • National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education

Location:

1 St. Mary of the Woods Coll.
Saint Mary of the Woods, Indiana 47876-1009
Go to School Website 
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10

Grand Canyon University

Tuition/Year Tuition per year refers to the average in-state tuition for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
$16,451
Number of Programs Offered Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
83
Accredited
School Type
4-year

Rounding out our top 10 is Grand Canyon University, a public Christian university headquartered in Phoenix. GCU offers a dual online education degree: Bachelor of Science in elementary education and special education. Core courses are designed to prepare students for normal classroom management, while the special education focus prepares them to assess and adapt the least-restrictive ways to work with students with special learning needs. Graduates of the program are expected to have a firm grasp of the following:

  • Early childhood and adolescent growth and development
  • Classroom management principles for first through eighth grades
  • Ethical principles, standards, regulations and laws that govern special education instructors

Students who complete the degree path may also have to complete additional requirements for state licensure in their home state. Online courses usually run for eight weeks, but seven courses in the curriculum run for seven weeks. GCU’s dual education degree program requires 120 total credit hours.

Accreditation:

  • Higher Learning Commission
  • Arizona State Board of Education
  • Arizona Department of Education

Location:

3300 W. Camelback Rd.
Phoenix, AZ 85017
Go to School Website 
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Special Education Career Outlook

Working in special education can be a challenging yet rewarding career path. Here are some of the most common career paths for the subject.

Special Education Teachers, Preschool
Average Salary Average salary refers to the 2016 mean salary for all U.S. workers in this job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
$56,990
Projected Job Openings Projected job openings refers to the estimated number of job openings from 2014-2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
7,100
Projected Job Growth Projected job growth refers to the estimated rate of increase in the number of jobs in this profession from 2014-2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
9
Entry-level Education This refers to the typical entry-level education needed to obtain a position in a particular job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016
Bachelor's degree

Special education preschool teachers not only teach basic subjects such as reading, math and science, but detect physical, cognitive or emotional disabilities that might prevent a child from learning in a typical way. The job requires tailoring activities for these students' abilities and working closely with them to ensure they learn as much as possible. Special education preschool teachers also assess students for what they have learned and how well they may be able to learn more. This assessment can help to form educational plans as a child grows through the grades and requires more assistance to learn more intricate subjects.

Though most preschool teachers can begin work with an associate degree, those who intend to work in special education must hold a minimum of a bachelor's degree. In some states, a master's degree is necessary.

Special Education Teachers, Kindergarten and Elementary School
Average Salary Average salary refers to the 2016 mean salary for all U.S. workers in this job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
$60,090
Projected Job Openings Projected job openings refers to the estimated number of job openings from 2014-2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
49,800
Projected Job Growth Projected job growth refers to the estimated rate of increase in the number of jobs in this profession from 2014-2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
6.3
Entry-level Education This refers to the typical entry-level education needed to obtain a position in a particular job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016
Bachelor's degree

As students grow, kindergarten and elementary school special education teachers can ensure they learn at a pace suitable for them. Teachers might specialize in certain areas, such as working with students who have hearing, vision or physical impairments. Some might work with those who have mild learning disabilities, while others could work with those who have profound mental impairments. Special education teachers will develop Individualized Educational Programs (IEPs) for each student, work closely with school administration and parents, and adapt lessons to suit each student's needs.

Special education teachers must have a bachelor's degree, at minimum. Those who work in public schools must also be licensed to teach. It is not unusual for a state to require a master's degree for special education teacher careers.

Special Education Teachers, Middle School
Average Salary Average salary refers to the 2016 mean salary for all U.S. workers in this job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
$61,910
Projected Job Openings Projected job openings refers to the estimated number of job openings from 2014-2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
23,000
Projected Job Growth Projected job growth refers to the estimated rate of increase in the number of jobs in this profession from 2014-2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
5.9
Entry-level Education This refers to the typical entry-level education needed to obtain a position in a particular job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016
Bachelor's degree

Middle school teachers typically teach grades six through eight, preparing students for the more rigorous education they will face in high school. Special education teachers at the middle school level work closely with students for whom usual classroom learning is difficult. They build upon what the student achieved during the elementary school years and adjust educational plans to reflect a student's skills. At the middle school level, special education teachers often focus on imparting life skills; with some practice, these skills could help some students eventually live independently when they were not initially able to do so.

As with special education teachers at other levels, a bachelor's degree is required, though some states expect a special education teacher to earn a master's degree. Those who work in public schools must be licensed to teach.

Special Education Teachers, Secondary School
Average Salary Average salary refers to the 2016 mean salary for all U.S. workers in this job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
$64,020
Projected Job Openings Projected job openings refers to the estimated number of job openings from 2014-2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
33,100
Projected Job Growth Projected job growth refers to the estimated rate of increase in the number of jobs in this profession from 2014-2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
5.9
Entry-level Education This refers to the typical entry-level education needed to obtain a position in a particular job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016
Bachelor's degree

Secondary school students are being taught the skills and knowledge necessary to enter college or the workforce after graduation. Special education teachers work with students who need extra help in reaching that goal. In some cases, by teaching life skills such as managing money or time, these students may be able to live independently in the future.

At the high school level, special education teachers will meet with parents, guidance counselors, other teachers and the student to tailor educational plans. Their day-to-day work depends greatly upon their specialty and the type of school they work in: one teacher might work with students who have mild learning disabilities; another might help a student enter the mainstream classroom; and yet another could provide in-depth assistance to students with profound disabilities.

High school teachers must have a bachelor's degree, at minimum. Many schools prefer those with a master's degree. A teacher must be licensed to teach; he or she might also be required to have certification in their particular subject.

Interpreters and Translators
Average Salary Average salary refers to the 2016 mean salary for all U.S. workers in this job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
$51,260
Projected Job Openings Projected job openings refers to the estimated number of job openings from 2014-2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
27,200
Projected Job Growth Projected job growth refers to the estimated rate of increase in the number of jobs in this profession from 2014-2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
28.7
Entry-level Education This refers to the typical entry-level education needed to obtain a position in a particular job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016
Bachelor's degree

A degree in special education can lead to work as an interpreter or a translator. Interpreters convert information from one spoken language into another in real time, so that two or more individuals who are separated by a language barrier will be able to communicate. Translators fulfill a similar role with written language.

Interpreter and translator careers require the ability to convert concepts from one language to another, preserving the style and tone of the original message. Interpreters must be able to perform these duties on the spot, while listening to the dialogue they are interpreting. Translators can take time to consider their translation, but must then be able to compile technical terms and information into glossaries, databases and the like.

Translators typically work from home or an office, but interpreters can find a place in schools, government facilities, hospitals and more. Though many employers look for those with a bachelor's degree, the most important requirement is the ability to speak, read and write fluently in at least two languages.

Sources and Methodologies

Methodology

To be included in these rankings, all colleges had to meet the following criteria for the specific subject being ranked:

  1. Offer an undergraduate degree (either associate or bachelor's) in that subject online
  2. Have awarded at least one degree or certificate in that subject in 2014-15

Once we had our list of schools for each subject, we ranked them on five criteria:

  1. In-state tuition, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
  2. Graduation rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014
  3. Accessibility, based on the admissions rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014
  4. Program prominence, based on how many of the degrees and certificates awarded in 2014-15 were in this particular subject, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
  5. Related subjects, based on the number of similar topics for programs in relevant CIP codes that are offered at any level, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015

Sources:

  1. The 13 Conditions Covered Under IDEA, National Center for Learning Disabilities, https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/special-services/special-education-basics/conditions-covered-under-idea
  2. Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education with Special Education Minor, Fort Hays State University, accessed March 2017, http://www.fhsu.edu/virtualcollege/degrees/Bachelors/elementary-education-with-special-education-minor/
  3. Special Education Major, Fontbonne University, accessed March 2017, https://www.fontbonne.edu/academics/departments/educationspecial-education-department/special-education-major-paraprofessional-pathwayssm/
  4. Exceptional Student Education, The University of West Florida, accessed March 2017, http://catalog.uwf.edu/undergraduate/exceptionalstudenteducation/
  5. Undergraduate Degrees, The University of West Florida, accessed March 2017, http://uwf.edu/online/what-we-offer/undergraduate-degrees/
  6. Online Programs, Eastern Gateway Community College, accessed March 2017, http://www.egcc.edu/current-students/online-programs
  7. Teacher Education, Eastern Gateway Community College, accessed March 2017, http://www.egcc.edu/future-students/academic-programs/teacher-education-aa
  8. Speech-Language Pathology Assistant program, Chemeketa, Community College, accessed March 2017, http://online.chemeketa.edu/degrees/slpa/
  9. WGU student population map, Western Governors University, accessed March 2017, http://www.wgu.edu/about_WGU/students_alumni
  10. Bachelor of Arts, Special Education, Western Governors University, accessed March 2017, http://www.wgu.edu/education/teacher_certification_special_education_bachelor_degree
  11. Elementary Education/Special Education BSE, Dakota State University, accessed March 2017, http://dsu.edu/academics/degrees-and-programs/elementary-education-special-education-bse
  12. Moderate to Mild Intervention Specialist, Notre Dame College, accessed March 2017, http://www.notredamecollege.edu/academics/academic-divisions/education/licensure-areas/mild-moderate-intervention-specialist
  13. Quick Facts, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, accessed March 2017, http://www.smwc.edu/about/quick-facts/
  14. Education Degree Online, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, accessed March 2017, http://www.smwc.edu/online-degree/academics/education/#fragment-1435
  15. Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and Special Education-Initial Teacher Licensure, Grand Canyon University, accessed March 2017, https://www.gcu.edu/degree-programs/bachelor-science-elementary-education-special-education
  16. Grand Canyon University Accreditation, accessed March 2017, https://www.gcu.edu/academics/academic-policies.php
  17. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/special-education-teachers.htm
  18. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/preschool-teachers.htm
  19. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/kindergarten-and-elementary-school-teachers.htm
  20. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/middle-school-teachers.htm
  21. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/high-school-teachers.htm
  22. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/media-and-communication/interpreters-and-translators.htm
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Sources and Methodologies