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.
To learn more about what it takes to earn an online special education degree and the careers that await you after graduation, continue reading this guide.
Special Education Degree Program Ranking Guidelines:
We selected the degree programs based on the quality of program and range of courses provided, as well as school awards, rankings, and reputation.
The Best Online Bachelor's in Special Education Degree Programs
1. East Carolina University
Greenville, North Carolina
East Carolina University's online bachelor of science in special education equips students with the tools necessary to make a difference in the lives of K-12 students. Participants of this program enjoy hands-on learning opportunities, as full-time public school internships are required in students' final year. Internships mandate a physical presence at the school based in Eastern North Carolina.
The ECU program follows a cohort structure, allowing new students to benefit from educational partnerships with senior students. Senior students then have the opportunity to pass their wisdom and experience along to those following in their footsteps. Education levels and degree specialization determine a student's cohort assignment, with available concentrations including elementary, middle grades, and special education.
East Carolina University's special education degree places strong emphasis on reading, giving students the opportunity to obtain licensure to teach reading to special needs students in elementary and secondary education.
Graduates transition into successful and rewarding teaching careers. However, because ECU cannot confirm whether a specific program meets out-of-state licensure requirements, students from outside North Carolina must contact their state's Department of Education with inquiries regarding licensure transferability. East Carolina University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
2. Fort Hays State University
Based in Hays, Kansas, Fort Hays State University offers a flexible range of options to students pursuing special education degrees online. Students can choose between a bachelor of science in early childhood education (unified) or elementary education. Both degrees are eligible for a minor in special education, which involves delivering course material specific to gifted students and students with special needs. Behavioral strategies, classroom management, technology, and procedures are among the key topics covered by classes unique to the special education minor. A total of 21 credit hours must be accrued in special education courses to be eligible for the minor.
Both the early childhood education and elementary education majors offer internship and practicum opportunities. The early childhood education degree requires the completion of an internship and student teaching initiative, while the elementary education major necessitates physical placement in a diverse range of hands-on environments. Thus, while out-of-state and international students are welcome to apply to Fort Hays State University's online education programs, physical proximity to the university is essential to student success.
Transfer students can achieve advanced standing in both online education majors. Those who have earned 44 or fewer credit-hours may receive limited advanced standing, while incoming transfer students with more than 45 credit-hours or an associate degree in a related field can earn wider advanced standing. The early childhood education major requires 126 credit hours for graduation, while the elementary education program requires 127 credit hours. Fort Hays State University is regionally accredited by the The Higher Learning Commission (HLC), a commission of the North Central Association.
3. Liberty University
Liberty University is a private, not-for-profit university based in Lynchburg, Virginia. It is one of the top Christian online schools for special education, offering a bachelor of science in special education interdisciplinary studies available 100% online.
Students in Liberty University's online special education program thoroughly explore theoretical special education models and current best practices. Through coursework, students learn to apply these principles to special education settings, with a particular focus on teaching students with autism, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, and behavioral conditions.
Liberty University has a generous transfer credit policy, requiring students to complete a minimum of one quarter, or 30 credit hours, of their coursework at the college. The remaining three quarters, or 90 credit hours, can be transferred in from other postsecondary institutions to reach a total of 120 credit hours.
Students have the option of participating in a 300-hour practicum. Those who wish to do so must be local to the Lynchburg, Virginia area for the duration of the practicum placement.
Prospective students should note that graduating from Liberty University's online special education program does not automatically lead to licensure. Those who wish to apply to the program should inquire about licensure requirements through the Department of Education (or equivalent body) in the state they intend to teach. Liberty University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
4. University of Wisconsin - Stout
Based in Menomonie, Wisconsin, the University of Wisconsin-Stout is a polytechnic institute with a career-focused approach to postsecondary education. The school's bachelor of science in special education meets the needs of working adults who want to accelerate their professional growth through education while maintaining their current careers.
This online special education degree has a particularly comprehensive focus, as students learn advanced instructional strategies for children and adolescents of all ages, ranging from kindergarten to the age of 21. Candidates have the opportunity to concentrate on educational techniques for students in a particular age range or follow generalist paths.
The University of Wisconsin-Stout's special education program offers professional, cross-categorical licensure certifications in two categories: post-baccalaureate education certifications and autism spectrum disorder specializations. Students outside Wisconsin are advised to check with their Department of Education (or equivalent) to ensure that licenses earned at the University of Wisconsin-Stout will be recognized in their home state.
Other highlights of this program include field placement opportunities, personalized faculty advisement, and educational support systems. Those interested in participating in field placements should be local to the Menomonie area for the duration of the practicum.
The University of Wisconsin system offers a convenient, online-based transfer credit tool that prospective students can use to assess the transferability of their existing educational credentials. Tuition costs are relatively affordable, with the same rates applying to both in-state and out-of-state students. University of Wisconsin-Stout is regionally accredited by the The Higher Learning Commission (HLC), a commission of the North Central Association.
5. University of Southern Mississippi
With physical campuses in Hattiesburg and Long Beach, the University of Southern Mississippi is one of the leading research universities in the American South. “Southern Miss” offers an online bachelor of science in special education program with an excellent reputation among professional educators.
Students who complete a special education degree online at Southern Miss position themselves for success in a variety of career paths. Examples include classroom-based special education instruction, inclusive teaching in classroom environments with a combination of regular and special needs students, school-to-life transition specializations, and teaching students with multiple special needs or disabilities.
Coursework in the Southern Miss special education program has two main stages. First, students in their freshman and sophomore years take pre-professional courses to familiarize them with the foundational principles of special education, while introducing a broader range of general curriculum topics. Then, students in their final three semesters enter an intensive, highly specialized study track that allows them to concentrate on specific special education topics, such as language and literacy, mathematics, and life skills development. Students can pursue in-depth learning opportunities to develop their classroom management abilities and intervention skills for challenging behaviors.
Each of the final three semesters includes a planned practicum requirement, in which students gain valuable hands-on experience in educational settings. Thus, applicants should be prepared to be in the vicinity of Hattiesburg or Long Beach during these semesters. University of Southern Mississippi is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
6. Western Governors University
Salt Lake City, Utah
Salt Lake City-based Western Governors University is a fully online postsecondary institution. Regarded as one of the nation's leading online schools for special education, Western Governors University offers a unique value proposition with its bachelor of arts in special education (K-12) program.
The Western Governors University baccalaureate special education program follows a cross-categorical design. It is specifically formulated to meet the needs of prospective special education teachers who want to work with mild to moderate behavioral and/or learning disabilities.
While all core coursework in the program is available online, Western Governors University requires candidates to complete practical experience components, including demonstrated teaching requirements. Experienced clinical supervisors oversee these components, with the assistance and participation of experienced professional special educators.
Students in the program enjoy exceptional specialization opportunities, including classroom management and student motivation, psychology for educators, reading methods and interventions, performing arts, physical education, and mathematics and numeracy.
The program prepares students to meet special education licensure requirements in all 50 states, with dual K-12 special education and K-8 elementary education licensure prerequisites. Tuition is charged on a per-term basis at affordable rates, and almost three-quarters of students graduate from the program between 18 months and four years. Western Governors University is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU).
7. Dakota State University
Madison, South Dakota
Dakota State University maintains one of the nation's leading online special education degrees with its bachelor of science in education: elementary education/special education. The program prioritizes the educational needs of all students, positioning graduates to excel in classroom settings that combine regular and special needs learners. Graduates enter rewarding careers, including elementary school, special education, Title I, and K-12 technology teaching.
Technology is a special area of focus at Dakota State University, and students in the school's online elementary/special education program receive thorough introduction to a complete range of next-generation instructional tools. All graduates from the program automatically receive a K-12 educational technology endorsement, reflecting the school's commitment to preparing teachers to take full advantage of new and emerging pedagogical and instructional technologies. This endorsement makes graduates eligible to teach computer science to students at the elementary, middle school, and secondary levels, which greatly enhances their post-graduation career prospects. A growing number of public and private schools across the United States make computer science and technology classes mandatory for students at these levels.
Prospective applicants should note that, while core courses can be completed fully online, the Dakota State University program has intensive year-long residency requirements. Students in this capstone project benefit from placements in public schools, where they apply their learning to practical classroom settings under the supervision of experienced educators. Thus, it is essential for candidates to be local to the Madison, South Dakota area during this phase of the program. Dakota State University is regionally accredited by the The Higher Learning Commission (HLC), a commission of the North Central Association.
8. University of Alaska Southeast
The bachelor of arts in special education program at the University of Alaska Southeast is an excellent opportunity for Alaska-based candidates. Students who complete this special education degree online can meet the needs of a diverse range of students, including Alaskan indigenous peoples, non-indigenous Alaskans, and students living in rural communities and remote areas.
Its special focus on the unique needs of Alaskan students makes the University of Alaska Southeast program a valuable career-building educational pathway for candidates committed to working in America's “Last Frontier”. Because the program's design includes mandatory practice teaching requirements, it is currently only available to those living in or are willing to relocate to Alaska.
Students have the option of completing their coursework at the university's Juneau campus or by using the school's advanced e-learning platform, which leverages online and audio conferencing technologies.
Applicants must pass a background check in addition to meeting the University of Alaska Southeast's general admission requirements. Before proceeding to teaching and practicum placements, candidates need a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.75, while earning at least a C in all first- to third-year courses. Students must also submit a student teaching application and complete a second background check, earn Praxis Core/CASE examination scores that meet government requirements for teacher pre-certification, and submit a letter of recommendation from a qualified individual who is not an education professor.
Upon completing program coursework, students must achieve satisfactory scores on the Praxis II exam, which clears candidates for licensure certifications. University of Alaska Southeast is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU).
9. Fontbonne University
Saint Louis, Missouri
Fontbonne University's bachelor of science in special education program combines the value of a general liberal arts education with career-focused special education learning opportunities across the K-12 spectrum. As one of the Midwest's leading online schools for special education, Fontbonne University prepares students to meet certification and licensure requirements for K-12 students with mild to moderate learning disabilities. Candidates have the option to pursue supplemental certifications in elementary-level teaching for students in grades one through six.
The program holds an excellent reputation across Missouri, where Fontbonne University calls home. Fontbonne produces more cross-categorical K-12 special education graduates than any other postsecondary institution in the state.
Another valuable aspect of the Fontbonne University program structure is that it provides student teaching opportunities throughout all years of the program. These practicum placements take place in schools throughout St. Louis and in school districts across Missouri. Applicants should be based in Missouri or willing to relocate to Missouri for the duration of their study period.
Fontbonne University boasts a 96% success rate of graduates finding employment. Students have unique access to free career services and education career guides, which can help them find post-graduation professional opportunities that align with their specific skills and interests. Fontbonne University is regionally accredited by the The Higher Learning Commission (HLC), a commission of the North Central Association.
The Advantages of a Special Education Education
With an online special education degree, graduates find rewarding work teaching children with learning disabilities. Usually, they find employment as special education teachers, early intervention specialists, education audiologists, and speech and language pathologists.
Most states require special education teachers to hold at least a bachelor's degree. Those with an associate degree in special education can work as teachers' aides and childcare workers while those with a master's degree may secure higher-paying jobs and more responsibility in the field. A graduate-level curriculum may also fulfill state requirements for licensure. Learn more about online master's special education degrees.
Special Education Degree Salary Information
Special Education Teacher:
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 Pathologist:
The majority of 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 Specialist:
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
Salary by Experience for Special Education Careers
|Job Title||Entry Level
|Special Education Teacher||$40,000||$42,000||$47,000||$52,000|
|Speech and Language Pathologist||$69,000||$74,000||$81,000||$88,000|
|Early Intervention Specialist||$32,000||$35,000||$41,000||$43,000|
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. Also, employers tend to look more favorably on graduates with degrees from regionally 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.
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 Membership Associations
The National Association of Special Education Teachers
NASET serves to support special education teachers and provide them with a forum to voice their ideas and concerns. The organization offers numerous benefits for members, such as its Professional Development Program with courses, lectures, and resources for teachers. College students receive discounted membership.
Council For Exceptional Children
Founded in 1922, CEC offers a network for special education educators to promote advocacy and professional development. CEC offers online forums, a career center, and a mentoring program. Members receive access to articles, news and information, and discounts. College students receive a 20% discount off membership.
The National Education Association
Created in 1857, the NEA fights for the rights of teachers and students in public education and works to secure better pay and benefits for teachers. Administrators, students, and educators join the organization to benefit from the professional development training opportunities, savings, and loan programs.
The Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps
TASH, an international advocacy organization for people living with disabilities, works to create inclusive education and employment opportunities for people living with developmental disabilities. TASH holds an annual conference and regional conferences to help connect advocates, policymakers, family members, and professionals. All members receive access to TASH's professional network and training webinars.
The National Center for Learning Disabilities
NCLD works to improve the lives of children with learning issues. The organization offers numerous programs, including one to help educators in special education implement response to intervention approaches. Educators, researchers, and students can also access reports and studies on the NCLD website.