Best Online Bachelor’s in Special Education Programs 2021

by TBS Staff
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Teachers devoted to making a difference in the lives of children can find fulfilling careers with an online special education degree.

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

University of Georgia true View School Profile $$$ Athens, GA 86% 35% 12% University of Georgia is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

Founded in 1785, UGA offers an online bachelor of science in special education. The two-year program helps Georgia residents earn their teaching certification in just two years.

Required courses include characteristics of high-incidence disabilities, instruction of individuals with mild disabilities, and contemporary issues in special education. Students complete three practicums across four grade bands.

Applicants must possess at least 60 transferrable credits, a minimum GPA of 2.8, and a passing GACE score to qualify for admission. This program accepts Georgia residents only.

The University of West Florida true View School Profile $ Pensacola, FL 44% 64% 63% University of West Florida is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). The program is accredited through the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).

Founded in 1963, UWF offers an online bachelor of arts in exceptional student education. Students earn licensure in the state of Florida or must check reciprocity with their home states.

Students complete 60 general education credits first before taking education courses such as methods in inclusion and collaboration and curriculum for teaching students with exceptionalities and severe disabilities. Learners complete two field experiences totaling 100 hours.

Applicants need a cumulative GPA of 2.5, and they need to pass the Florida teacher certification general knowledge portion to qualify for admission. Students must also submit SAT or ACT scores.

University of Wisconsin-Stout true View School Profile $$ Menomonie, WI 58% 59% 48% University of Wisconsin-Stout is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). The program is accredited through the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).

Serving almost 10,000 students, UW-Stout offers an online bachelor of science in special education as a degree completion program. Students receive licensure in Wisconsin and other states with reciprocity.

Required special education core coursework includes introduction to special education, assessment for individual education and transition plans, and introduction to communication disorders. Students complete field experiences in an approved location near them.

Applicants must possess at least 60 transfer credits and a minimum GPA of 2.75 to qualify for admission. The department requires standardized testing, such as SAT or ACT scores and at least 60 transfer credits.

East Carolina University true View School Profile $$ Greenville, NC 65% 55% 45% East Carolina University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

Serving nearly 29,000 students, ECU offers an online bachelor of science in special education as a degree completion program. Students can choose from the general curriculum or adapted curriculum.

Students in the general curriculum track take required special education courses and may also obtain reading and elementary education licensure. Adapted curriculum students prepare to work with children with more significant cognitive disabilities.

Applicants need an associate degree or equivalent transfer credits and a minimum 2.0 GPA to apply. Applicants must gain admission to Partnership Teach for access to the program.

East Carolina University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College true View School Profile Saint Mary of the Woods, IN 57% 70% 37% Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

A private school founded in 1840, St. Mary's offers an online bachelor of science in preschool through grade three education with a focus on mild intervention. Students receive dual licensure in education and intervention.

Required courses include understanding mild disabilities, education in a global society, and language arts in the classroom. Students participate in clinical experiences as well as a teacher training experience in the classroom.

Applicants need a high school diploma, and they need to pass a background check to qualify for admission. The school does not require standardized tests.

Western Governors University View School Profile Salt Lake City, UT 29% 55% 100% Western Governors University is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior Colleges and University Commission (WSCUC). The program is accredited through the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) and the Association for Advancing Quality in Educator Preparation (AAQEP).

Founded in 1997, WGU offers an online bachelor of arts in elementary education and special education. Students receive licensure in K-8 general education and K-12 special education.

Required courses include selections from elementary education methods and professional core requirements. Special education courses include assessment in special education, collaborating with partners for student success, and behaviors support strategies for K-12 learners with mild to moderate exceptionalities.

Applicants need a high school diploma to qualify for admission and must pass state-specific general skills tests before student teaching.

Chaminade University of Honolulu View School Profile Honolulu, HI 59% 39% 52% Chaminade University of Honolulu is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior Colleges and University Commission (WSCUC). The program is accredited through the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).

A private Marianist university founded in 1955, Chaminade offers an online bachelor of science in special education specifically for transfer students from Hawaii's Leeward Community College. Students can obtain licensure from the state of Hawaii and states with reciprocity.

Required special education courses include mild and moderate disabilities, SPED math, and an interdisciplinary course. Students first complete 90 general education and elective credits before gaining admission to the program. A student teaching field experience rounds out requirements.

Applicants need to submit at least one official transcript to qualify for admission. The department does not require SAT or ACT scores, but applicants need 90 transfer credits from Leeward.

Central Methodist University-College of Graduate and Extended Studies View School Profile Fayette, MO 26% 55% Central Methodist University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

A small, private liberal arts college founded in 1854, CMU offers an online bachelor of science in education with a concentration in special education with mild to moderate disabilities. Students receive licensure for K-12 special education in Missouri and other states with reciprocity.

Required special education courses include special education processes, counseling in special education, and literacy instruction for special needs students. Learners also take general and professional education courses and complete a student teaching experience.

Applicants need a college preparatory high school diploma with a minimum GPA of 2.5 and a minimum ACT score of 21 (1050 SAT) to qualify for admission.

St. Andrews University View School Profile Laurinburg, NC 32% 72% 23% St. Andrews University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

A private Presbyterian university, St. Andrews offers an online bachelor of arts in special education. Students complete professional studies as well as concentration-related courses.

Required courses include learners with mild disabilities, educational psychology, and assessment methods and IEP planning. A professional residency in an approved location provides students with hands-on experience. Learners can also opt into add-on licensure for gifted education.

Applicants need either 15 transferable credits of college work or SAT or ACT scores (not both) to qualify for admission. Transfer students need a minimum GPA of 2.0.

Chadron State College View School Profile $$ Chadron, NE 43% 49% 75% Chadron State College is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

Founded in 1911, CSC offers an online bachelor of science in education with a focus on special education. Students learn using synchronous video conferencing.

Students take professional education courses and concentration-specific courses. Notable special education courses include assessing individuals with mild and moderate disabilities, language and learning disorders, and interpersonal communication skills for special educators. A student teaching experience provides hands-on experience.

Applicants need a high school diploma or GED equivalent and SAT or ACT scores to qualify for admission.

Prescott College View School Profile Prescott, AZ 39% 65% 65% Prescott College is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

A private liberal arts college founded in 1966, Prescott offers a teacher preparation bachelor's degree in special education. The program accepts students with a current bachelor's degree seeking licensure.

Required courses include foundations of education, collaborative instructional strategies for students with mild to moderate learning disabilities, and foundations in mild to moderate special education. A teaching practicum rounds out the program requirements.

Applicants residing out of state should check their state's reciprocity. Students need a bachelor's degree from an accredited university to qualify for admission.

Liberty University View School Profile Lynchburg, VA 50% 60% 90% Liberty University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). The program is accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) through the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).

A private Christian university, Liberty offers an online bachelor of education in special education. Students take two courses per eight-week session and can transfer in up to 75% of the credits required to complete the degree.

Notable special education courses include special education law and characteristics, behavior management, inclusive planning for diverse learners, and assessment and transition for diverse learners. Students also complete student teaching to satisfy degree requirements. The program delivers all textbooks for free in electronic formats.

Applicants need a minimum GPA of 2.0 GPA to qualify for admission. Students do not need to submit standardized test scores.

Western New Mexico University View School Profile $$ Silver City, NM 26% 43% 71% Western New Mexico University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

Founded in 1893, WNMU offers an online bachelor of science in special education. Students complete courses online with required practicums conducted in person.

The program requires both professional and special education courses. Required courses include an introduction to exceptional children, student growth and development, and technology and integration in the classroom. A student teaching internship provides valuable experience in a classroom.

Students need a high school diploma to qualify for admission. Students do not need to submit standardized test scores but may need to take placement exams.

University of West Alabama View School Profile $$ Livingston, AL 31% 69% 72% University of West Alabama is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). The program is accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) through the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).

Founded in 1835, UWA offers an online bachelor of science in special education for Alabama residents. Students complete coursework to receive collaborative licensure in special education.

Required special education courses include an introduction to special education, inclusive practices for students with low incidence disabilities, and transition planning. A student teaching practicum at an approved location in Alabama provides hands-on experience.

Applicants need to hold current employment as an instructional aid or paraprofessional and must complete 45-60 semester credits to apply to the education department. The department requires students to possess a minimum GPA of 2.75 and a passing score on the Praxis exam.

Colorado Christian University View School Profile Lakewood, CO 52% 51% 58% Colorado Christian University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

A private Christian university, CCU offers an online bachelor of arts in special education. Students complete coursework online, taking one course per five-week block. Students may also choose a non-licensure track.

The degree requires special education courses such as language development and reading disabilities, intervention for emotional and behavioral needs, and diagnostic assessment and evaluation of students with mild to moderate needs. At the end of the program, students complete a 640-hour teaching practicum.

Applicants must possess a high school diploma to qualify for admission. Students do not need to submit standardized test scores.

Best Online Programs

Online Bachelor's in Special Education Programs Ranking Guidelines

We ranked these degree programs based on quality, curricula, school awards, rankings, and reputation.

Our Methodology

Here at TheBestSchools.org, we take the trust and welfare of our readers very seriously. When making our school and program rankings, our top priority is ensuring that our readers get accurate, unbiased information that can help them make informed decisions about online education. That's why we've developed a rigorous ranking methodology that keeps the needs of our readers front and center.

Our proprietary, multi-criteria ranking algorithm analyzes key data indicators — as collected by the federal government — for each school or program. What data we use depends on the focus of each specific ranking, but in all cases, our ranking methodology is impartial: Schools cannot buy better rankings at TBS.

While specific criteria under consideration can vary by ranking, there are a few data points that we value most highly. They are affordability, academic quality, and online enrollment. Below, we break down our algorithm to help you understand what you're getting when you use one of our rankings.

  • Academics
  • Affordability
  • Online Enrollment

Data Sources

The data used in TBS rankings comes primarily from the federal government, and much of it is provided by the schools themselves. We aggregate and analyze this data to build our rankings.

The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) is our primary source. Its data comes from annual surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Every college, university, or technical school with access to federal financial aid must participate in these surveys, which include questions about enrollment, graduation rates, finances, and faculty qualifications. This is publicly available data, which you can access yourself through the College Navigator.

Additionally, because we value a personal touch and the professional experience of our staff and Academic Advisory Board, we vet all results and adjust rankings as necessary based on our collected knowledge of schools and degree programs. Depending on the ranking, we may obtain additional input from AcademicInfluence.com, subject matter experts, prior TBS ranking lists, or other sources we deem relevant to a particular ranking.

Breakdown of Our Rankings Methodology

About Our Ranking Factors

Here at TBS, we value what you value: quality education, affordability, and the accessibility of online education. These factors guide all of our program rankings.

Each of these factors are further broken down into weighted subfactors. For example, retention rates are weighted more heavily than availability of program options because they are a better indicator of student success.

We chose the following factors for our rankings because of their influence on learning experiences and graduate outcomes. However, students should always balance our rankings against their personal priorities. For instance, a learner who needs a fully online program may prioritize online flexibility more than our rankings do. Our rankings are designed to help you make a decision — not to make a decision for you.

Academics - 75%
Affordability - 15%
Online Enrollment - 10%

In all our school rankings and recommendations, we work for objectivity and balance. We carefully research and compile each ranking list, and as stated in our advertising disclosure, we do NOT permit financial incentives to influence rankings. Our articles never promote or disregard a school for financial gain.

If you have questions about our ranking methodology, please feel free to connect with our staff through contact page.

We thank you for your readership and trust.

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.

Sensory Impairment

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.

Assistive Technology

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.

Gifted Education

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

true Special Education Teacher $40,000 $42,000 $47,000 $52,000

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.

true Speech and Language Pathologists $69,000 $74,000 $81,000 $88,000

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.

true Early Intervention Specialist $32,000 $35,000 $41,000 $43,000

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.

true Educational Consultant $50,000 $56,000 $62,000 $69,000

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.

Source: PayScale

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