Complete Guide to an Online Special Education Degree

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Quick Facts
Accreditation: CAA and CAEP
Degree Levels: Associate, Bachelor's, Master's, Doctoral, and Certificate
Avg Tuition: $22,401
Avg Salary: $60,702

Online special education programs are available at the associate, bachelor's, master's, doctoral, and certificate levels. Teachers who earn degrees or certifications in special education will work with students with physical or mental disabilities or other types of learning differences. Every state has different requirements for teacher licensing, so it is important for students to find out what those requirements are to make sure that their educational program is meeting state standards. In addition to our comprehensive list of accredited online special education degrees, we highlight the top online colleges offering these degrees based on affordability and academic strength.

Prospective students of online special education degrees should make sure that the school they are looking to attend is regionally and programmatically accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). Accreditation through this body ensures that the education students will receive has been held to standards that assure quality and supports continuous improvement to strengthen P-12 student learning.

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Comprehensive List of Accredited Online Schools - Special Education Degrees (245)

2017 Top Online Colleges Offering Special Education Degrees

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These 25 top online colleges for special education degrees combine affordability and academic excellence. All schools on this list have annual tuitions under $11,000 and average academic strength scores of 67%. Top ranked University of Missouri offers four master's degrees and one certificate program with annual tuition starting at $5,289. University of Missouri's academic strength score is an impressive 73%.

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Rank School Annual Tuition Academic Strength
#1 #1 University of Missouri Annual Tuition $5,289 Academic Strength 73%
#2 #2 Drury University Annual Tuition $5,382 Academic Strength 70%
#3 #3 University of Wyoming Annual Tuition $5,678 Academic Strength 69%
#4 #4 Morningside College Annual Tuition $4,560 Academic Strength 64%
#5 #5 Valdosta State University Annual Tuition $5,274 Academic Strength 64%
#6 #6 Roosevelt University Annual Tuition $6,320 Academic Strength 67%
#7 #7 Southeast Missouri State University Annual Tuition $5,525 Academic Strength 64%
#8 #8 Midwestern State University Annual Tuition $4,749 Academic Strength 61%
#9 #9 University of North Florida Annual Tuition $7,838 Academic Strength 71%
#10 #10 University of Arkansas Annual Tuition $7,918 Academic Strength 70%
#11 #11 Georgia Southern University Annual Tuition $7,380 Academic Strength 68%
#12 #12 Auburn University Annual Tuition $8,568 Academic Strength 72%
#13 #13 Concordia University-Chicago Annual Tuition $6,450 Academic Strength 64%
#14 #14 Kennesaw State University Annual Tuition $7,344 Academic Strength 67%
#15 #15 Delta State University Annual Tuition $5,250 Academic Strength 60%
#16 #16 Purdue University - Main Campus Annual Tuition $9,750 Academic Strength 74%
#17 #17 West Chester University of Pennsylvania Annual Tuition $8,381 Academic Strength 69%
#18 #18 University of San Diego Annual Tuition $10,650 Academic Strength 76%
#19 #19 Saint Joseph's University Annual Tuition $8,784 Academic Strength 69%
#20 #20 Armstrong State University Annual Tuition $6,800 Academic Strength 63%
#21 #21 Concordia University-Saint Paul Annual Tuition $6,804 Academic Strength 63%
#22 #22 Indiana Wesleyan University Online - Adult Education Annual Tuition $7,854 Academic Strength 66%
#23 #23 University of Kansas Annual Tuition $9,775 Academic Strength 72%
#24 #24 University of New England Annual Tuition $7,950 Academic Strength 66%
#25 #25 Lamar University Annual Tuition $6,600 Academic Strength 61%
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Online Special Education Degree Overview & Career Information

A bachelor's degree is the minimum amount of education required to become a special education teacher. Although associate degrees typically are not offered in this specific field of education, there are programs in related subjects, such as early childhood education, that can prepare individuals for future study at the undergraduate level, or for certain entry-level jobs. A student graduating from a special education teacher-preparation program with a bachelor's degree is eligible to be licensed, while individuals who have a bachelor's degree that is not intended for licensure preparation, or a degree in a field other than special education, may need to undergo additional training as outlined by their state. Master's degree programs come in a variety of formats. Some are geared toward individuals with no prior teaching experience who want to make a career change, while others are for licensed teachers who wish to add to their skill set so that they are better suited to teach students with special needs. Doctoral programs are available to those who want to work in research, top leadership roles or teaching at the university level. Graduate certificate programs are also an option for teachers who want to gain skills in the area of special education but who do not want to commit to a full master's degree program.

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Online Associate Degrees in Special Education

There are a few online associate degree programs specifically in the special education field, but it is more common to find programs at this level in a general discipline such as early childhood education. This type of degree can prepare individuals to work in certain entry-level jobs in the childcare field, such as working in a daycare or as a teacher's aide. It can also provide a starting point from which to move on to more advanced study at the bachelor's level. Classes that students might take while earning their associate degree cover subjects such as early childhood education, child development, linguistically and culturally diverse learners, advocating for children with special needs, and how to create an inclusive classroom. An online associate degree program can be found at community colleges and four-year schools offering online education. Students will spend approximately two years on their studies and will complete as many as 67 semester hours of work. In order to be admitted, an applicant will need to have a high school diploma or GED.

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Online Bachelor's Degrees in Special Education

A bachelor's degree is typically the minimum amount of education required to become a licensed special education teacher. This type of program can be found at colleges and universities and usually takes four years to complete. Example courses that students will take include Special Education Assessment, Literacy Facilitation for All Learners, Foundations of Teaching and Learning, and Lifespan Development. There is also a required student teaching component. Those who are looking to become a certified teacher following the completion of a bachelor's degree should check to make sure that the degree they enroll in meets their state's licensure requirements, and that the program itself is designed to lead to teacher certification. Not all bachelor's degree programs in special education are intended to lead to certification, as some are more geared toward individuals who are planning on pursuing graduate-level work.

In addition to working as a public school teacher, a bachelor's program in special education will prepare an individual to work as a paraprofessional or teacher's aide in the private school system, or as a tutor to children with special needs. In order to be admitted to a program, applicants will need to have a high school diploma or GED. Other common requirements include a personal statement and SAT or ACT test scores.

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Online Master's in Special Education

There are many universities that offer online master's programs in special education. There are programs available for those who have no prior teaching experience and who wish to become licensed special education teachers, as well as for teachers who work in another area and want to make a career change by moving into teaching children with special needs. Programs at this level take approximately two years to complete. As part of a master's degree curriculum, students will take classes in subjects such as adaptive instruction and assessment, instruction for special education students, social, legal, and ethical issues in special education, and applied behavior analysis. An internship or student teaching is also required, unless one is enrolled in a program that does not lead to licensure.

Upon completing a master's degree, graduates will be qualified to work as licensed special education teachers at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. They might also find employment as a special education consultant or in supervisory roles within a school setting. Admission requirements for a master's degree program will vary based on the institution, but most require that applicants have earned a bachelor's degree. Although it is beneficial to have an undergraduate degree in a related field, admission to a graduate degree program is not dependent on this factor. Other admission requirements may include a resume, personal statement, GRE test scores, and letters of recommendation. Some of the more competitive programs may require applicants to go through an interview process as well.

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Online Doctoral Degrees in Special Education

Professionals working in the field of special education who want to advance their education through earning a PhD or doctoral degree can find online options through several universities. A doctoral-level program is an appropriate choice for someone hoping to work in top leadership positions within the field, such as director of a special education program. It is also appropriate for those who want to develop and implement educational policies, as well as for those who want to conduct their own research or teach the next generation of educators at the university level.

A doctoral program in special education will be made up of traditional coursework as well as research and a dissertation. Classes that a student might take include History of Special Education, International Special Education, Special Education Administration, and Special Education Law and Ethics for Leaders. In order to be admitted to this level of program applicants will need to have a master's degree and teaching experience. Other typical requirements include a resume, one or more writing samples, and GRE test scores. The length of time it takes to complete a doctorate will vary depending on the program and how long a student spends on their dissertation. Some programs may take as many as seven years to complete.

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Online Certificates in Special Education

Online certificate programs in special education are available at the graduate level, which means that an applicant will need to have a bachelor's degree in order to be admitted. Another common admission's requirement is a teaching license, as this type of program is typically geared toward teachers who are already licensed and want to add to their skill set to better serve students with special needs. Students enrolled in a certificate program will take classes in areas such as teaching students with autism spectrum disorder, diagnostic assessment and progress monitoring, and current issues in special education. Many certificate programs will also require student teaching. A certificate in special education can usually be completed in about a year. Once the certificate has been earned, licensed teachers can continue on in their careers with a better understanding of how to teach students with special needs.

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Accreditation

One factor that individuals should keep in mind when deciding on an educational program is whether or not that program is regionally and programmatically accredited. When a school is regionally accredited, it means that an independent organization has evaluated that school as a whole and determined that it meets certain educational standards. Regional accreditation is important for because credits transfer more easily between regionally accredited institutions. Furthermore, federal financial aid is not available to students enrolled in non-accredited schools.

Programmatic accreditation is given out by independent organizations that specialize in evaluating programs in specific subjects. For example, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) was the main accrediting body for teaching programs for many years. As of July 2013, NCATE merged with the Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC) to form the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). Education programs that have received CAEP accreditation or that were accredited by TEAC or NCATE before the merger are marked as quality programs that prepare students for their future teaching careers. Aspiring special education teachers should look for a training program that has this type of accreditation because that will provide them with the assurance that they are learning the most up-to-date skills and that they are receiving a rigorous training that will turn them into quality educators.

Special Education Teacher Requirements

In order to become a licensed special education teacher, an individual will need to earn a bachelor's degree at minimum. However, the bachelor's degree does not have to be specifically in special education. Elementary education is another degree that is common for special education teachers to earn. They may then specialize or minor in special education. It is also possible to become a special education teacher with a bachelor's degree in an unrelated subject, though additional training will be required, and these specific requirements will depend on the state the individual intends to teach.

Beyond a bachelor's degree, the requirements needed to become a special education teacher will vary from state to state. Typically, there is some type of examination that aspiring teachers must pass. Some states may require teachers to go on earn a master's degree after they achieve their initial certification. Obtaining licensure also generally requires completing observed student teaching, which is a typical component of teacher training at all levels.

References

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