Online Degrees In Special Education

“If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.” — Ignacio Estrada

As knowledge expands about the mental and emotional deficiencies that affect learning and social skills in children, and adults, the field of special education continues to evolve. The latest figures from the U.S. Department of Education show that 372,896 infants and toddlers birth through age two, 759,801 children ages three through five, and 6,048,882 students ages six through 21 were served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), receiving early intervention, special education and other related services in public schools across the nation. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that special education teachers face a lower threat of employment layoffs due to state or federal budget cuts as laws require financial support in every state to remain steady.

The College Board maintains that special education teachers should preferably be assertive individuals with lots of patience. The BLS adds resourcefulness to the list of skills as special education teachers need to be able to adapt to the learning needs of their students.

Online special education degree programs can help you develop these skills, learn to build Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for each student and more, while still allowing you to adhere to work, family or other commitments. Read on to learn how to get an online degree in special education and what you can do with it.

49 of 50 states report a shortage in special education instructors.

Individuals with a degree in special education can help students with severe disabilities find success in regular classrooms. Some duties of a special education teacher include:

  • Assessing student skills and determining their educational needs
  • Developing and managing IEPs for each student under their care
  • Planning activities for individual students and helping them carry out the set tasks
  • Supervising and mentoring teacher assistants working with students with disabilities
  • Discussing students’ progress and educational milestones with other teachers, parents, counselors and other authorities

The role of a special education teacher can also extend to learning outside the classroom as they help students develop skills necessary to lead an independent life such as managing money, time and interacting with other people.

The BLS estimates that the demand for special education teachers may rise as disabilities are being identified earlier and children are enrolled in to special education programs. A word of caution, however, is that employment growth may depend on increases in funding.

The following table uses data from the BLS to outline the occupations associated with a special education degree along with their average wages, employment outlook and job openings for 2016 to 2026.

Career
Employment
Median Salary
Projected Job Growth
Special Education Teachers, Preschool22,340$67,0607.7%
Special Education Teachers, All Other35,600$65,3507.5%
Special Education Teachers, Kindergarten and Elementary School193,830$64,4202.8%

Source: 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2018-28 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

What jobs can I get with a special education degree?

There is increasing focus on providing early intervention to students as symptoms of any kind of disability begins to manifest.

Online special education degrees range from associate degrees to doctorates.

Associate degrees may allow you to test the waters and obtain entry-level jobs assisting special education teachers.

The BLS reports that special education teachers in both private and public schools need to have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree.

Graduates of master’s degrees may qualify for roles in nonprofit organizations, as special education consultants, tutors, or mentors to teachers.

With a doctoral degree, graduates might conduct research and publish papers on exceptional learners and ways to overhaul programs so they are more successful.

What can I expect to learn in an online associate degree program?

Online special education degree programs at the associate level can help you learn the basic skills needed to work with children with different abilities across different types of classrooms.

Typical duration: Up to two years of full-time study

General prerequisites: High school diploma or GED

Typical coursework: Foundational curriculum may cover educational psychology, language development, and strategies for educating exceptional learners. Potential coursework includes:

  • Behavior management and guidance practices
  • Displays and graphics for educators
  • Introduction to teaching the learning disabled student
  • Introduction to the special education paraeducator
  • Overview of exceptional learners

You may have to complete a practicum as a part of your online special education degree program.

Possible electives: Child, family and community; education for all students

What kind of jobs can I get after earning an associate degree in special education?

Graduates of associate degree programs in special education online may choose to transfer their credits to a four-year college or university and pursue a bachelor’s degree. They may also be able to find jobs aiding teachers in classrooms with children with diverse needs. Potential job titles include:

  • Teachers assistant
  • Paraeducator

What can I expect to learn in an online bachelor’s degree program?

An online bachelor’s degree in special education can help prepare you to communicate with and properly evaluate the needs of students with a variety of disabilities. You may learn how to assess the knowledge and skills of the children you may be teaching in order to create IEPs based on each student’s specific needs.

Typical duration: Up to four years of full-time study

General prerequisites: High school diploma or GED

Typical coursework: Studies often include the principles of special education, such as classroom management, effective teaching practices, and assessment procedures. Core curricula may include topics like:

  • Assessment in special education
  • Assistive and learning technologies
  • Intervention for students with intellectual disabilities
  • Learning and behavior problems
  • Professional, ethical, and legal practices for special education

You may have to complete a practicum as a part of your online special education degree program.

Possible electives: Differentiating instruction; characteristics of individuals with mild disabilities; cross-cultural perspectives in developmental disabilities

What kind of jobs can I get after earning a bachelor’s in special education?

A bachelor’s degree in special education is the minimum educational qualification needed to practice as a special education teacher in the United States. Apart from working in a school, bachelor’s degree holders may be employed in residential facilities, hospitals or may even travel to students’ homes to help them learn. Potential job titles include:

  • Tutor
  • Homeschool teacher
  • Paraprofessional
  • Private school teacher

What can I expect to learn in an online master’s degree program?

An online master’s degree in special education can help individuals learn new practices and methods that assist special-needs students. Master’s programs in special education build on the foundations laid during a bachelor’s degree and help graduates learn the theories and best practices to help special-needs learners.

Typical duration: Up to two years of full-time study

General prerequisites: Bachelor’s degree in special education or a related field

Typical coursework: Master’s studies can help provide a deeper understanding of the factors that may contribute to learning and behavioral disabilities, as well as strategies to integrate special needs students into mainstream classes. Some examples of courses may include:

  • Advanced assistive technology
  • Diagnostic assessment and progress monitoring
  • Emotional and behavioral support of individuals with disabilities
  • Students with high incidence disabilities
  • Teaching students with autism spectrum disorder

Depending on your online master’s degree in special education, you may have to complete a master’s thesis based on individual research or complete a practicum.

Possible electives: Medical and physical management of individuals with multiple disabilities; perspectives on gifted education and talent development; cognitive processes: research-based brain studies for the educator

What kind of jobs can I get after earning a master’s in special education?

A master’s degree in special education may allow you to work in supervisory positions allowing you to mentor new teachers or enter the field of education administration. Potential job titles include:

  • Career and transition teacher
  • Inclusion teacher
  • Resource teacher
  • School principal
  • Special education teacher

What can I expect to learn in an online Graduate degree program?

Online graduate certificates in special education may suit individuals who are already in the field of education but wish to work with children with special needs. Educators can learn to give diverse students the care and attention they need in order to help them utilize their learning capabilities successfully. They may also learn to assess students’ individual needs and develop learning activities and adapt curricula to suit them.

Typical duration: Up to one year of full-time study

General prerequisites: Bachelor’s degree in education or a related field

Typical coursework: Curricula include instructional strategies, assessment methodologies and behavioral management approaches. Some topics you may study include:

  • Adapting instruction using evidence-based strategies
  • Exploring leadership, collaboration, and consultation
  • Special education: honoring due process
  • Supporting effective evaluation and assessment practices
Technology has the potential to provide a bridge for special education students and instructors, allowing educators to customize materials for unique needs and drive personalized instruction.

What can I expect to learn in an online doctoral degree program?

Colleges typically offer the degree as either a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) or as a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.).

  • The Ed.D. is for individuals who want to primarily be practitioners, using the skills they learn to educate.
  • The Ph.D. is for those interested in conducting research and publishing papers, adding to the academic knowledge of special education

An online doctorate in special education can help prepare you to work in the research and implementation of positive and necessary measures like the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which led to many breakthroughs in the understanding of exceptional learners and how best to educate them.

Typical duration: Three to seven years of full-time study

General prerequisites: Master’s degree in education or a related field

Typical coursework: Coursework in online special education doctorate programs varies by school, and the curriculum often depends on a student’s specific focus and learning objectives. The chosen doctoral type generally dictates the types of classes students can encounter. Some topics you may study include:

  • Current issues and trends in special education
  • Historical and theoretical foundations of disability in education
  • International perspectives in special education
  • Principles of applied behavior analysis
  • Supervision of programs for children with disabilities

Dissertation: The capstone to a doctorate in special education is a dissertation. The dissertation may be the collection and analysis of originally researched data, or it may be comprised of new interpretations of existing research and empirical studies. A panel of faculty members chosen by the potential graduate and the department chair reviews the information and conclusions formed through the research and the student answers any and every question posed by the panel.

What kind of jobs can I get after earning a doctorate in special education?

Potential careers vary depending on the particular degree and focus of choice. Graduates may better qualify for positions in education and teaching, administration, or consultation for public and private entities who work toward furthering awareness of and developing programs for exceptional learners. K-12 educators who earn their doctoral degree can become mentors, helping to guide new teachers. Those interested in bringing about positive change for special education in institutions of higher learning may be interested in careers in postsecondary education administration. Potential job roles include:

  • Dean
  • Education administrator
  • Instructional coordinator
  • Provost
  • Special education consultant

Accreditation

Accreditation is a voluntary process many schools undergo to demonstrate that the education they provide meets or exceeds the professional standards required today. Attending an accredited school can be an important prerequisite for receiving federal financial aid, receiving scholarships or transferring credits from one program to another. While there are no specific programmatic accrediting bodies for special education teacher education programs in particular, main accrediting body for online special education degree programs is the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).

Specializations in Special Education

In addition to the type of degree that may be earned, some schools break down their degree programs to include specializations in particular areas, so that you can choose to focus on an area of your interest. Some examples of specializations include:

  • Applied behavior analysis concentration
  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • Disability and diversity in education and society
  • Early childhood
  • Evidence-based practices: supporting students with intensive interventions needs in tiered systems
  • Instructional design, technology and innovation

Licensure and Certifications in Special Education

Public schools mandate that teachers earn a teaching credential in order to teach within the state. Private schools are not required to follow these regulations, but teachers holding a credential may improve their employability. According to the BLS, states require public school teachers to be licensed in the grade level they teach. This license is often referred to as a certification. As each state has individual requirements, it can be a good idea to check with your state’s education board for its requirements. Graduates of online master’s degree programs in special education may be able to obtain professional development certifications from the American Academy of Special Education Professionals.

The need for teachers across the country means there are quite a few scholarships, grants and loan forgiveness programs available for eligible individuals. Some scholarships for aspiring special education teachers include:

Other resources for those aspiring to work in the field of Special Education

Employment Statistics

Special Education Teachers, Kindergarten and Elementary School

Industries with the highest concentration of employment
  • Elementary and Secondary Schools
  • Educational Support Services
  • Other Residential Care Facilities
  • Residential Intellectual and Developmental Disability, Mental Health, and Substance Abuse Facilities
  • Child Day Care Services
States with the highest level of employment
  • New York
  • California
  • Texas
  • New Jersey
  • Illinois
Top-paying metropolitan areas
  • New Belford, MA
  • Fresno, CA
  • Leominster-Gardner, MA
  • Danbury, CT
  • Kingston, NY

Special Education Teacher, All Others

Industries with the highest concentration of employment
  • Educational Support Services
  • Elementary and Secondary Schools
  • Other Schools and Instruction
  • Other Residential Care Facilities
  • Grantmaking and Giving Services
States with the highest level of employment
  • Florida
  • California
  • New Jersey
  • Virginia
  • Michigan
Top-paying metropolitan areas
  • Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA
  • New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA
  • Fresno, CA
  • Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI
  • Salem, OR

Source: 2016 Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

Sources:

  • B.S. in Special Education Interdisciplinary Studies, Liberty University, https://www.liberty.edu/online/education/bachelors/special-education/, accessed June 2019
  • Bachelor of Arts, Special Education and Elementary Education, Western Governor’s University, https://www.wgu.edu/online-teaching-degrees/special-education-bachelors-program/, accessed June 2019
  • Bachelor of Science in Special Education, University of Georgia, https://online.uga.edu/online-offerings/undergraduate/special-education, accessed June 2019
  • Doctor Of Education In Organizational Leadership With An Emphasis In Special Education, Grand Canyon University, https://www.gcu.edu/degree-programs/edd-special-education, accessed June 2019
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  • Ph.D. Program Specializations, Kentucky University, https://specialedu.ku.edu/academics/special-education/phd/program-specializations, accessed June 2019
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