Online Colleges for Special Education

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Article Sources

Methodology

Using the National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), we generated a list of colleges and universities that met the following four criteria for the specific subject being ranked:

  • Offer a degree or certificate program in that subject, either in an online or hybrid format
  • Have at least 1% of students attending some form of distance education
  • Have awarded at least one degree or certificate in that subject in 2016-17
  • Have reported data for all 11 ranking variables listed below

We ranked 1,813 colleges and universities in the United States on 11 criteria, using 2016-17 data from IPEDS:

  1. Program prominence, based on how many of the degrees and certificates awarded via distance education in 2016-2017 were in this particular subject
  2. Related subjects, based on the number of similar topics for programs in relevant CIP codes that are offered via distance education at any level
  3. Ratio of students participating fully or partially in DE to Total Enrollment
  4. Average in-state tuition for undergraduates
  5. Graduation rate
  6. Retention rate
  7. The availability of any tuition plans (Payment, Prepaid, Guaranteed, Other)
  8. Services (Academic/Career, Placement for Completers)
  9. Credit offerings (Dual, Life, AP, Military)
  10. Percent of undergraduate students awarded federal, state, local, institutional or other sources of grant aid
  11. Average amount of federal, state, local, institutional, or other sources of grant aid awarded to undergraduate students

All schools were scored on a 10-point scale for each of the points listed above. Individual data point scores were then multiplied by their respective weights, and the scores were added together, for a maximum possible score of 10 points.

NOTE: Schools' tuition amounts are based on 2016-17 undergraduate and graduate data reported to the National Center for Education Statistics. The actual cost of tuition may vary.

Methodology Sources

  • Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/

Sources :

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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. 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 in 2018-19

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This ranking of the 10 best online colleges for special education is designed to help students select the best school for their educational goals and expectations. We used a wide range of data to create our list, primarily facts provided by the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), which is part of the National Center for Education Statistics. More information about the methodology we used to create this list is available at the bottom of the page. 

1

Concordia University-Saint Paul

Tuition & Fees/Year Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
$21,250
Distance Education Participation Distance Education Participation refers to the percentage of students taking either some or all of the courses via distance education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
67%
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.
50
School Type
4-year

Founded in 1893, Concordia University-Saint Paul is a Christian liberal arts college based in Minnesota with an emphasis on academic, spiritual and interpersonal growth for its student body. The university boasts multiple online degree programs, among them an online master's degree program in special education.

This 30-credit hour program is designed for professionals who already possess a teaching license, but want to learn more about the Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD) field. Students who do not want to complete the full online master's degree program can opt to complete only the coursework for the SLD licensure instead. This process requires six fewer credit hours than the full program does.

2

Carlow University

Tuition & Fees/Year Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
$27,764
Distance Education Participation Distance Education Participation refers to the percentage of students taking either some or all of the courses via distance education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
53%
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.
11
School Type
4-year

A private Catholic university in Pittsburgh that was founded in 1929 by the Sisters of Mercy, who came to Pennsylvania from Carlow, Ireland. The picturesque Carlow University has multiple program options for students who desire to educate the next generation, including an online Master of Education in special education degree program. This program has tracks for grades PK-8 and 7-12, giving students a choice of which grade level to aim for, and three start dates each year. Applicants must already be certified teachers in another content area to be accepted.

Additionally, Carlow University offers a 12-credit autism spectrum disorders endorsement certificate program that can also be completed online. The program has a special "blended" class structure, which allows students to decide whether to take a class on-campus or online… on a day-to-day basis!

Accreditation:

  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education
 
3

Liberty University

Tuition & Fees/Year Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
$21,292
Distance Education Participation Distance Education Participation refers to the percentage of students taking either some or all of the courses via distance education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
89%
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.
92
School Type
4-year

Liberty University's motto, "Knowledge Aflame," shines a light on the institution's Baptist roots and outlook on education. Distance learners who are looking to learn about special education can consider the programs at this spiritual school, which start at the undergraduate level with an online Bachelor of Science program in special education interdisciplinary studies. Students should expect to explore the philosophical, legal and sociological principles of special education in the course of this 120-credit hour degree program.

Graduate students may instead wish to enroll in Liberty's Master of Education in curriculum and instruction, and select special education as their specialization. A graduate certificate program in autism education is also available. Both programs can be completed 100 percent online, with eight-week courses and multiple start dates throughout the year.

Accreditation:

  • National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE)
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
 
4

Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus

Tuition & Fees/Year Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
$17,900
Distance Education Participation Distance Education Participation refers to the percentage of students taking either some or all of the courses via distance education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
33%
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.
80
School Type
4-year

Through its World Campus, Pennsylvania State University extends online learning and degree programs to students across the globe, helping them pursue a plethora of diverse subjects. Distance learners interested in special education can pursue the university's online Master of Education in special education, which allows students to choose from one of three emphases: academic and behavioral supports, applied behavior analysis, and autism.

Alternately, students can pursue the university's online postbaccalaureate certificate program in educating individuals with autism. This program is designed to help working professionals learn how to create effective instruction for students on the autism spectrum. Classes are facilitated by the Blackboard learning management system and are 12 to 15 weeks in length.

Accreditation:

  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education
 
5

Minnesota State University-Mankato

Tuition & Fees/Year Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
$7,858
Distance Education Participation Distance Education Participation refers to the percentage of students taking either some or all of the courses via distance education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
35%
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.
28
School Type
4-year

When it was founded in 1868, this institution had only 27 students. In the century and a half since then, Minnesota State University-Mankato has cultivated a student body that includes students from across the U.S., in no small part thanks to their emphasis on online courses and programs. Several of those online programs are available in the field of special education, such as:

  • Master of Science in special education with a choice of three different emphases:
    • Developmental disabilities
    • Emotional and behavioral disturbances
    • Learning disabilities
  • Master's in autism spectrum disorders
  • Master's in early childhood special education
  • Graduate certificate in autism spectrum disorders (can be taken as a licensure or non-licensure path)
  • Graduate certificate in early childhood special education
6

Concordia University-Chicago

Tuition & Fees/Year Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
$30,630
Distance Education Participation Distance Education Participation refers to the percentage of students taking either some or all of the courses via distance education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
60%
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.
36
School Type
4-year

The nonprofit Concordia University offers a Lutheran-based liberal arts education to its students, be they on-campus or online. Concordia students looking for online special education degree programs have several options to choose from at the graduate level, such as:

  • Master of Arts in special education at the LBS1 licensure level (30 credit hours)
  • Master of Arts in early childhood special education (30 credit hours)
  • Master of Arts in special education leadership (30 credit hours)
  • Doctor of Education (EdD) in special education (61 credit hours)
  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in special education (67 credit hours)
  • Special education endorsement program at the LBS1 licensure level (18 credit hours)

The master's degree programs require students to have a teacher's license before starting. However, students in Illinois can earn the state's endorsement for completing one of those 30-credit hour programs.

7

Drexel University

Tuition & Fees/Year Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
$51,030
Distance Education Participation Distance Education Participation refers to the percentage of students taking either some or all of the courses via distance education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
39%
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.
54
School Type
4-year

Drexel University, founded in 1871 by a philanthropist named Anthony Drexel, offers a wide selection of online special education degree programs for students interested in the field.

  • Master of Science in special education, with six concentration options (applied behavior analysis, autism spectrum disorders, collaborative special education law and process, multisensory reading instruction level 1, special education leadership, or customized study)
  • Dual MS in special education and applied behavioral analysis

There are also multiple related online certificate programs that can be pursued at Drexel:

  • Certificate in collaborative special education law and process
  • Post-bachelor's certificate in special education leadership
  • Graduate certificate in autism spectrum disorders
  • Special education certification program

Accreditation:

  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education
 
8

Regis University

Tuition & Fees/Year Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
$34,450
Distance Education Participation Distance Education Participation refers to the percentage of students taking either some or all of the courses via distance education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
65%
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.
77
School Type
4-year

If you're looking for online programs in special education, then Regis University -- a private Roman Catholic school located in Colorado -- might be a wise choice to fulfill your needs. The university's Master of Education in special education degree program is explicitly designed for students who have earned a bachelor's degree in another field and want to pursue teaching licensing for a career in special education. Research, reflection and behavioral interventions are part of the course curriculum.

Teaching professionals who are already licensed and looking to transition into a career in special education may be better suited to Regis University's special education endorsement programs. There is a special education endorsement that can be added onto the M.Ed. program, and a special education-generalist endorsement that is more suited to stand alone.

Accreditation:

  • Higher Learning Commission
 
9

University of South Florida-Main Campus

Tuition & Fees/Year Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
$6,410
Distance Education Participation Distance Education Participation refers to the percentage of students taking either some or all of the courses via distance education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
51%
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.
24
School Type
4-year

The University of South Florida has had a globe on its official seal since 1959, as a reminder of the global impact of education. It is appropriate, then, that the university has extended its educational options to students on a global scale through the use of online education, which allows students around the world to pursue academic programs in subjects such as special education.

Through the Canvas learning management system, students have the opportunity to complete an online Master of Arts in autism spectrum disorder and severe intellectual disabilities, or a Master of Arts in special education with the choice of a concentration in exceptional student education, behavioral disabilities, learning disabilities or intellectual disabilities.

Accreditation:

  • Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
 
10

University of Florida

Tuition & Fees/Year Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
$6,381
Distance Education Participation Distance Education Participation refers to the percentage of students taking either some or all of the courses via distance education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
59%
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.
61
School Type
4-year

A Master of Education degree program in special education is offered through the University of Florida's "Teach Well" program, an initiative to educate teachers on how to serve students with disabilities in inclusive setting. This program is 36 credit hours in length: 12 credit hours in the core area, and 24 credit hours in a chosen track. The tracks are offered in pertinent areas such as autism, disabilities, early childhood and dyslexia.

Furthermore, there are two certificate programs at UFL that are available for students looking to deepen their knowledge of special education. One is a graduate certificate in dyslexia -- which consists of four courses and a practicum -- and the other is a graduate certificate in disabilities in society -- which is four courses in length, ending with completion of a capstone project.

Accreditation:

  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
 

Degree Overview: Special Education

Special education teachers need to understand the unique challenges associated with working with students that have developmental problems, which is the purpose of online colleges for special education. For more information about the curriculum that may be found in these programs, and the skills graduates might develop in the course of such programs, continue reading this page.

Online Special Education Courses

The curriculum of special education programs depends on the specific school that aspiring teachers attend, as well as the degree level they choose. The following are some examples of the coursework students may find when they pursue online special education degrees.

  • Those who enroll in online bachelor's degree programs in special education are introduced to the work duties of professionals in the field. The curriculum for these programs may include classes in special education assessments, early childhood development, technology in the classroom and classroom management. Students in these programs also have opportunities for hands-on classroom experience that allow them to apply what they learned in their courses to real-world situations.
  • Special education master's degree programs are designed for current educators who want to learn how to work with special needs students or prospective teachers who want to acquire advanced skills and knowledge. Coursework on this level may include subjects such as legal and ethical issues in special education, instructional design, research methods and psychoeducational assessment practices.
  • Doctoral programs for special education are usually completed by those who want to become college professors, researchers or school administrators. Generally these programs allow students to specialize in the area most relevant to their interests and career goals; some examples of such areas might be instructional design, early childhood education, severe disabilities or special education policy.

Career-Related Skills to Develop

To be a successful teacher, students must develop a number of diverse skills that can be obtained when they attend online colleges for special education. Below are some examples of important skills these professionals should have.

  • Assessment: Special education teachers need to determine what kinds of interventions students need to address their physical, mental and emotional challenges. In the long term, strong assessment skills allow teachers to tailor their lessons and make adjustments as needed; in the more immediate term, the ability to quickly assess a situation and decide how to handle it can make the difference between a productive school day and a complete disaster.
  • Resourcefulness: Working with special needs students requires that educators find different ways of presenting information in order to accommodate all kinds of learning styles and challenges. These teachers must think outside of the box to find ways of adapting their lessons to each of their students' needs.
  • Patience: All teachers must have patience, but special needs educators especially need the ability to keep cool under pressure and show understanding to their students. These teachers may need to explain information multiple times or answer more questions in the classroom, so they must know how to keep pace with their students rather than the other way around.
  • Verbal communication: In addition to effectively communicating with students, special education teachers must also be able to speak to parents, colleagues and school administrators about the progress of students in their classroom.

Special Education Specializations

Whether or not a prospective special education teacher needs a license depends on where they want to teach. While those who teach at private schools do not need a license, public school special education teachers are required to undergo their state's licensing process. The expectations for licensing vary from one state to the next, but generally professionals should earn at least a bachelor's degree, complete the certification exam and a background check, and maintain a minimum grade point average in their teaching program. In addition, special education teachers may be expected to participate in continuing education courses annually to keep their licenses current.

Special education teachers can also earn a voluntary credential through the National Association of Special Education Teachers. In order to obtain the Board Certification in Special Education, professionals must complete a master's degree and earn a passing score on the organization's credentialing exam.

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
$58,390
Projected Job Openings Projected job openings refers to the estimated number of job openings from 2016-2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
2,500
Projected Job Growth Projected job growth refers to the estimated rate of increase in the number of jobs in this profession from 2016-2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
11.2
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
$61,960
Projected Job Openings Projected job openings refers to the estimated number of job openings from 2016-2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
15,000
Projected Job Growth Projected job growth refers to the estimated rate of increase in the number of jobs in this profession from 2016-2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
7.4
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
$63,250
Projected Job Openings Projected job openings refers to the estimated number of job openings from 2016-2026, 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 2016-2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
7.1
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
$64,590
Projected Job Openings Projected job openings refers to the estimated number of job openings from 2016-2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
10,500
Projected Job Growth Projected job growth refers to the estimated rate of increase in the number of jobs in this profession from 2016-2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
7.4
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
$51,790
Projected Job Openings Projected job openings refers to the estimated number of job openings from 2016-2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
7,700
Projected Job Growth Projected job growth refers to the estimated rate of increase in the number of jobs in this profession from 2016-2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
16.7
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.

 
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