Best Online Bachelor’s in Special Education Programs
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Special Education Degrees in 2022
Teachers devoted to making a difference in the lives of children can find fulfilling careers with an online special education degree. Due to increases in student enrollment across the country and earlier detection of learning disabilities in children, schools need qualified special education teachers.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects jobs in special education to grow by 8% through 2026, with 33,300 more jobs coming to the market. Jobs in special education offer security for new graduates since the federal government must, by law, fund public schools to meet the needs of students with learning disabilities. Special education teachers work with students who have physical, mental, and emotional learning challenges.
Students earning a special education bachelor's degree online learn how to create positive learning environments to improve educational outcomes for students with learning disabilities. Some programs provide internships opportunities so students can gain classroom experience before they graduate, and many online special education degrees allow students to earn a specialization to meet licensure requirements.
The Best Online Bachelor's in Special Education Programs
Online Bachelor's in Special Education Programs Ranking Guidelines
We ranked these degree programs based on quality, curricula, school awards, rankings, and reputation.
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Featured Online Bachelor's in Special Education Programs
Choosing an Online Special Education Degree Program
Take your time when picking out an online degree in special education. Every program differs in cost, transfer policies, size, and duration. Make sure the online special education degree program you pick fits your financial, education, and career goals. And remember: in-state colleges usually provide the most cost-efficient choice. To ensure you pick a school that suits your best interests, consider the following factors:
- Program Cost: The cost of college often presents the biggest concern for students. Traditional students must pay tuition, books, housing, and transportation; online students usually pay less since they do not commute. In-state students also typically pay less than out-of-state students. A student's status also affects the cost of college. For example, part-time students usually pay more for tuition than full-time students.
- Transfer Policies: A college's transfer policies can impact students who earned credits from another accredited college. Often schools that have transfer agreements with other schools in the same region will generously accept transfer credits. Transfer agreements also cap the amount of out-of-state fees students incur or provide out-of-state students with in-state tuition discounts.
- School Size and Type: The size of a college may impact a student's education. Generally, public colleges feature larger classrooms and campuses than private schools, which may mean less one-on-one attention. That said, larger public schools tend to provide more extracurricular programs, financial aid, and social opportunities for students. Finally, private schools tend to cost more than public schools.
- Program Length: Every bachelor's degree takes roughly four years to complete. A student's graduation timeline may vary for several reasons, including, part-time vs. full-time status, cohort learning vs. individually paced formats, accelerated programs, and credit transfers.
- On-Campus Requirements: Online special education degrees typically do not require students to step foot on campus. But some may require students to meet in-person on occasion. Programs also sometimes require students to complete practicums or internships, which they must complete on campus or in-person at specific locations.
Accreditation for Online Special Education Degrees
Colleges hold either regional or national accreditation. Two-year and four-year colleges and universities typically receive regional accreditation, which is more prestigious than national accreditation. And vocational and technical schools generally receive national accreditation. The accreditation process serves to validate the quality of education offered at colleges or in programs. Schools undergo the accreditation assessment process on a voluntary basis.
Choosing an online special education degree from a college that holds regional accreditation allows them to receive federal financial aid and transfer credits. Regionally accredited colleges may not accept transfer credits from nationally accredited colleges.
Programs also receive accreditation. Online special education degree programs may receive accreditation from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education or the Teacher Education Accreditation Council. The Department of Education (ED) and Council for Higher Educational Accreditation (CHEA) oversee accrediting agencies that grant accreditation to schools and programs. To find a list of accredited schools or accreditors, visit ED's website or CHEA's website.
Special Education Concentrations
Online schools for special education typically offer specialties, such as early childhood, autism, gifted and talented, applied behavior analysis, and visual impairment. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 68 U.S. children have been identified as being on the autism spectrum; many students in special education programs select the autism concentration to learn to teach this population effectively. Some programs prepare students to teach special needs children up to fourth grade; others produce graduates equipped to teach high school students.
This concentration prepares students to work with individuals who live with sensory impairment, including the visually or hearing impaired. The curriculum teaches students about nontraditional learning structures. It also explores ethical responsibilities of teaching sensory impaired students.
Careers This Concentration Prepares For:
Earning a concentration in sensory impairment prepares graduates to work as teachers, supporting students with visual impairments.
Autism Spectrum Disorders
Classes offered in an autism spectrum disorder concentration teach students about innovative teaching approaches, therapies, and techniques. Students enrolled in this specialty take classes on functional analysis and ethics, and social skills development and autism.
Careers This Concentration Prepares For:
Students who want to work as autism behavioral specialists or special education teachers helping individuals on the spectrum can benefit from earning this concentration.
Early Childhood Studies
A concentration in early childhood studies prepares online special education degree students for a career in teaching young children with special needs. The curriculum focuses on multicultural issues, children's literature, and psychosocial disorders of childhood.
Careers This Concentration Prepares For:
Students who want to pursue a special education career working with children in elementary or preschool can benefit from this concentration in early childhood studies.
Special education teachers use assistive technology such as reading software, text-to-speech technology, sip-and-puff systems, and assistive listening systems. This specialization gives students earning online special education degrees the skills to operate various software and technologies.
Careers This Concentration Prepares For:
This concentration helps prepare students to work as special education teachers in today's classrooms, which feature various assistive technology systems.
Classes in a gifted education concentration consider lesson plans and learning environments that challenge and foster positive learning outcomes for gifted students.
Careers This Concentration Prepares For:
Individuals who want to work with atypical gifted learners can learn different strategies and techniques from taking this concentration.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Degree in Special Education?
How long it takes to earn an online special education degree depends on a student's personal situation. The typical bachelor's degree program takes four years to complete and consists of roughly 120 credits.
Several factors can help students finish their degree quicker while other circumstances may delay a student's graduation. First, students who take classes on a part-time schedule almost always complete their degree later than those enrolled full time. Also keep in mind that the price of tuition increases for students attending on a part-time basis. Second, many online special education degrees run on shortened terms, which allow students to finish in fewer than three years. Finally, programs sometimes offer concentrations in autism, assistive technology, and sensory impairment; those who specialize must take additional classes, which could prolong their time in college.
Courses in an Online Bachelor's in Special Education Program
Earning a special education degree online prepares future educators to help children learn and succeed. Core courses provide skills necessary to mentor and guide children with disabilities. Courses common to most bachelor's in special education programs include foundations of assessment and instructional strategies. Students explore teaching practices for children with learning, mental, emotional, and physical disabilities.
Most students pursuing an online degree in special education complete a practicum, usually student teaching. A practicum provides hands-on teaching experience and an opportunity to observe students. The number of required practicum hours vary by state and program.
- Counseling Techniques: This class teaches students how to work with children and their families using communication techniques and philosophies currently used in modern counseling. Lessons focus on counseling methods for children, including the evaluation process, diagnosis, and treatment. Coursework lets students develop counseling strategies and hone their critical thinking skills so they can form independent assessments.
- Professional, Ethical, and Legal Practices for Special Education: Students enrolled in this class learn about ethical and legal frameworks that teachers must put in place in every classroom. Coursework covers the salient legal cases and how they impact special education. Students also learn the Code of Ethics and the Standards for Professional Practice from the Council for Exceptional Children, which should guide every special education teacher.
- Assessment in Special Education: A special education teacher must assess students to determine the appropriate learning environment and education plan for each student according to their special needs. This class introduces students to the processes of meeting a student's learning and behavioral needs through response to intervention, positive behavior intervention and support, and a multi-tiered system of supports.
- Classroom Management, Engagement, and Motivation: This class typically involves in-classroom experience. Students enrolled in this class learn how to create an effective and safe learning environment by implementing rules and procedures. Students form their own teaching philosophy at the end of the course.
- Survey to Special Education: This course gives students an overview of the field of special education. They learn about the laws and regulations that govern special education as well as terms used by teachers. Students leave this class with an understanding of the educational patterns displayed by students with mild-to-moderate learning disabilities and teaching approaches to use in the classroom.
Special Education Degree Salary Information
Special education teachers primarily work in elementary schools to adapt lesson plans to suit the needs of students with learning disabilities. They also work in high schools, middle schools, and preschools, teaching students in small groups or one-on-one.
Speech and language pathologists work in educational settings to help children and adults with speech, swallowing, and language difficulties. Their duties include creating treatment plans to help students to improve their oral and written skills.
Early intervention specialists work in schools and for government agencies to create treatment plans for children with developmental delays. They work alongside parents and caregivers to address and document student progress. They also set up goals and recommend ongoing activities for children.
Educational consultants typically design career and educational paths for students to follow after high school. They also develop training curricula and teach groups of individuals. Many educational consultants work on a contract basis. Employers typically require at least a bachelor's degree.
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