Online Special Education Degree Programs

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What is an Online Special Education Degree?

Are you interested in broadening your horizons as an educator? If so, then an online special education degree could be a good fit for you. This program will prepare you to teach students with diverse needs. You will study how to work with students who have mental, physical, or emotional differences. This will mean that you will learn to design or adapt your lessons to be more suitable for your students. You may learn how to instruct the children in your class with differences. Some of these differences could include autism spectrum disorders. Also, you will discover how you can manage any behavioral challenges you face in the classroom.

What is the goal of your online special education program? Most importantly, your program will focus on how you can make education accessible for your students. Are you wondering if you are a good fit for this field? Here is one question you can ask: do you want to help students who learn in unique ways?


Types of Online Special Education Degrees

B.S. in Elementary Education & Special Education

This degree is designed for you if you are a pursing a career as a licensed teacher. It nay offer you the basics in elementary and special education. Your course work will cover how you can help diverse students learn. This means you will learn to work with their learning and behavioral challenges. You will learn to manage your classroom.

Course Examples:

  • Mathematics for Educators
  • Social Justice for Educators
  • Assessment and Eligibility in Special Education

M.A. in Teaching: Special Education

If you are a current teacher, or you are pursuing a career change, then this program is designed for you. What will you cover? You will learn theories and methods used in special education. You could also learn about current trends.

Course Examples:

  • Principles of Behavior Management
  • Reading and Language Acquisition
  • Collaborating for Successful Inclusive Classrooms

Ph.D. in Special Education

In this program, you may cover both the policies and practices in the special education classroom. You should study everything from federal mandates to classroom management for you as a teacher. Also, you will delve into targeted research.

Course Examples:

  • Law in Special Education
  • Characteristics of Students with Intellectual Disabilities
  • Assessment in Special Education

Online Special Education Degree Levels

In many states, if you want to be a special education teacher, you will need to earn a B.S. in Special Education. In some cases, your state will require you to earn an advanced degree. Either way, you can expect your program to help you to explore the ways you can help students with learning differences. What will you cover? Firstly, you will take a look at both the theory and practice of educating special populations. You will learn the history. Secondly, you will prepare to meet certain goals in the classroom and beyond with your students.

B.S. in Special Education Programs

So, do you think a special education degree is a good fit for you? If you pursue a B.S. in Special Education, you will gain knowledge of the fundamentals of teaching. As such, you can expect to study theory and techniques. Your course work will be centered on how you can teach learners who have mild to moderate challenges. You may learn about students with sensory disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, anxiety, and more.

In many programs, you may start with general teaching courses. You can expect these to cover topics like how you can teach literacy to students. You will also learn how you can succeed at managing behavior in the classroom. Importantly, you may cover tools for assessment. This type of program may also have the option to pursue your concentration or minor in special education.

You will likely have to student teach. Student teaching is a key part of earning your B.S. in Special Education and can be a great experience for you. This is especially true if you are hoping to pursue teaching licensure. In general, you will need to complete 3 to 14 credits of student teaching. This is the case for you even if you earn your degree online. This field work will help you apply your theory to your practice. It is invaluable for you. And, it will also enable you to develop your own classroom techniques.

M.A. in Special Education Programs

In some states, if you wish to become a special education teacher, you will need to earn an M.A. in Special Ed. In other cases, however, could be a current educator, and pivot to a special education role. This is another way you could pursue a graduate degree in this field.

At the M.A. level, you can gain mastery in the field. You can build on your prior teaching knowledge while you explore advanced practices. Often, you can focus on specific grade levels you prefer, such as K through 8, or 7 through 12. You may even be able to pick a concentration. What could you focus on? You could choose from topics such as Applied Behavior Analysis, Multi Sensory Reading Instruction, or Special Education Leadership, for example.

Most programs, you will find, will require student teaching. Or, the programs may ask you to complete other field experience. You should know this is especially important for you if you are seeking teaching licensure.

Special Education Ph.D. Programs

At the doctoral level, you may delve deeper into certain topics. You could focus, for example, on special education law, policy, administration, and more. You could also study trends and movements within the field. Are you thinking years down the road? These programs may be ideal for you if you wish to pursue a leadership or college teaching role later.

In a Ph.D. program you can expect to do a lot of research. This is a big part of your work in earning a doctorate degree. As a candidate, you must complete an original dissertation in your scholarly focus area. You could focus on areas such as:

  • Early Childhood
  • Severe Disabilities
  • Education of Students with Visual Impairments
  • Special Education Policy and Systems Studies

Online Special Education Degree: Courses You’ll Study

Introduction to Learner Diversity: This course will teach you how to work with students who exhibit a wide range of academic, physical, and social abilities or skills.

Psychology for Educators: Learn how to improve your teaching methods and fulfill your role more effectively. This is done by introducing psychology tools.

Classroom Management, Engagement, and Motivation: This type of course teaches you to establish and maintain an effective classroom management system. This system should reinforces positive behavior in children, build self awareness and promote self control.

Language Development and Reading Disabilities: This course will teach you to understand and deal with reading difficulties. You will employ effective instructional strategies to help students with diagnosed learning disabilities demonstrate academic progress.

Intervention for Emotional / Behavioral Needs: Learn about how social and emotional skills, mental health, and learning are connected. This course should focus on how schools can provide support.

Math and Science Methods:  In this course, you will learn about evidence based practices you can employ to math and science teaching to students with learning differences.

How Long Does It Take to Earn a Special Education degree?

If you are considering earning a B.S. in Special Education, it may take you about four years, on average. The program usually calls for you to earn at least 120 credits.

If you are pursuing an M.A. in Special Education, you can usually expect to take one to two years as a full time student. If you earn a Ph.D. degree, you can expect to take three to five years.


Online Special Education Degree Example Lengths

SchoolDegree Level# of Credits RequiredMin Months to Complete
Grand Canyon UniversityB.S.12054 months
Liberty UniversityM.A.3618 months
Northcentral UniversityM.A.3218 months

How Much Does a Special Education Degree Cost?

According to DataUSA, the average cost of attending a public, four year school was $7,476 per year. The cost of attending private and for profit schools was higher: $34,030 per year. Compare tuition for these schools with special education programs:

SchoolDegree Level# of Credits RequiredCost Per CreditTotal Tuition Cost
Grand Canyon UniversityB.A.120$440$17,800
Colorado Christian UniversityB.A.120$469$37,432
Regent UniversityM.A.43$550$19,680

Top Schools that Offer Special Education Degrees

DataUSA, you will find, currently names 972 institutions that have general special education and teaching programs. From those schools, you can see that 30,550 degrees were awarded to students in 2022 (the most recent data). Most of these degrees were at the M.A. level.

School2022 Degrees awarded2023/24 Tuition (out of state unless *)
Grand Canyon University1,850$17,450
Ball State University1,841$28,766
Touro University712$21,810*
Western Governors University924$8,300
Liberty University453$21,222
CUNY Hunter College261$15,332
George Mason University385$39,397
National University364$13,320*
Arkansas State University Main Campus157$13,826
Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania213$14,615

Pursuing Special Education Teaching Licensure

If you are considering a special education degree program, one thing you must understand, are the licensure requirements in your state. This is important for you to know as far as choosing the right program for you. You should note that public schools always need teachers to have a license (often called certification). If you want to teach in a private school, you may encounter different rules.

While you can expect differences in every state, the general special education certification rules are as follows:

  • A B.S. degree with a minimum GPA.
  • Complete a teacher preparation program and supervised student teaching
  • Pass your teaching certification test and a subject knowledge test

In some states, as a prospective teacher, you can earn certification in general special education. What does this mean for you? Simply, that you can work with students who have diverse needs. In other states, you will need to have licenses for specific types of special education. You could, for example, focus on autism spectrum disorders or behavior disorders.

Earning Special Education Licensure During a Career Change

So, is a career in Special Ed right for you? Sometimes, as a prospective educator, you may decide later in life that you want to teach special education. In that case, you will find that all states offer alternative paths to getting your certification. If you have already earned a Bachelor’s degree, then this could be a route for you.

In some cases, you could earn a Master’s degree as you prepare to pursue your certification. In other cases, you may have to pursue a teacher preparation program that provides a supervised experience for you.

What Jobs Can You Get with an Online Special Education Degree?

If you look at the most recent data, you will see that over 5.11 million general special education graduates are currently in the workforce. If you choose this path, you will be happy to know that the need for special education teachers is expected to grow 0% by 2032. Why is this, you may wonder? One reason is because children with learning differences are more often identified now. As a teacher, you will be a key asset to give them support earlier than previously.

You will find that women are the most common special education degree holders. In fact, you can see that 87.7% of graduates are female. The average age of a degree holder in the workforce is 46.2 years old.

Top Salaries by State for Special Education Teachers

You can see the following data for special education teachers of secondary students. Salaries may vary for teachers of other grade levels.

StateEmploymentAnnual Mean Wage
New York15,620$89,170


If you pursue Special Education, where do you stand in the education system? Special Education is a large umbrella in education. As such, after attending special education teaching courses online, you may choose from many different options you can focus on career wise. You can research which options may be available to you by using statistics compiled by the BLS.


As a special education teacher, you will assess student skills and produce lesson plans that will benefit them the most. You may be charged with teaching an entire class. However, you could also just work with a particular individual. By using specially designed lesson plans, you can judge the progress of your students on a regular basis.

According to 2023 BLS data:

Median Salary: $65,910 per year

Job growth through 2032: 0% (Little or no change)

Entry Level education: B.A.


If you are a Kindergarten or elementary school teacher, you are often the first educators students come into contact with. You will be in charge of  teaching students the basics across a broad area of topics. Some of the topics you could cover include reading, writing, math and others.

According to 2023 BLS data:

Median Salary: $63,670 per year

Job growth through 2032: 1% (Little or no change)

Entry Level education: Bachelor’s degree /  B.S. in Elementary Ed


As a childcare worker, you will ensure that children are safe and well taken care of while their parents and other family members are away. As a childcare worker, you will track a child’s progress. You will also make sure they receive an adequate amount of nap time and play time.

According to 2023 BLS data:

Median Salary: $30,370 per year

Job growth through 2032:-2% (Decline)

Entry Level education: HS diploma

© Education Connection 2024. All Rights Reserved.


Sources for school statistics is the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.

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