Earn Special Education Degrees Online

Special education teachers are in great demand across the United States. Even as autism diagnoses are soaring, more and more students with special needs are being mainstreamed. This means that now more than ever, “regular” classroom teachers must meet the needs of a wide range of learners simultaneously.

Highly qualified special education teachers are almost guaranteed to find suitable employment, and teachers with just an online certificate in special needs education may have an edge over other candidates applying for mainstream teaching positions.

What is studied in special education?

Special education typically refers to students who tend to fall behind because of certain behavioral, cognitive, and/or physical challenges. However, special education also encompasses the teaching of highly gifted students. Bilingual and ESL education fits into this category too.

Special education teachers study the same curricula as mainstream elementary and secondary teachers. In addition, they learn to:

  • Assess students’ abilities in alternative ways
  • Design Individualized Education Programs (IEPs)
  • Differentiate instruction for different learning styles
  • Set performance goals for special needs students

Online training in special education also involves delving into landmark studies and ongoing research concerning behavior disorders, cultural differences, gifted learners, learning disabilities, and physical handicaps.

Some training programs offer concentrations in areas such as autism spectrum disorders, behavior disorders, hearing impairment, visual impairment, and severe intellectual disabilities.

What degrees are available in special education?

Special education degrees are awarded at every level from associate to Ph.D.

An associate’s degree in special education can be earned right after high school. Associate programs are offered by traditional junior colleges and through online study. Over the course of two years, they prepare students to be teaching assistants in special needs classrooms. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average pay for a teacher’s aide in the US is just over $20,000 per year. Special needs aides may earn a bit more.

To become a salaried teacher, one must at least earn a bachelor’s degree and complete a student teaching internship. A bachelor’s degree in special education can be earned mostly online, but the student teaching component will of course be fulfilled out in the community.

Many schools also require teachers to have master’s degrees. This requirement is especially applicable to special needs positions; federal guidelines stipulate that special needs teachers should be “highly qualified”. The salary for a special needs teacher may be higher than that of other teachers at the same grade level.

It’s also possible to earn a doctorate in special education. This is typically a Ph.D. or an Ed.D. Graduates train to teach and to conduct research in special education. They may find employment at an elementary school, a secondary school, or a university.

Teachers who wish to gain more expertise in special education without committing to a long training program might pursue a certificate. The generally require three to six courses and can be earned with a year. Graduate certificates are available in a wide range of topics such as bilingual learning, brain injury, special needs job training, and technology in the special needs classroom.

Which schools offer special education degrees?

Here is a sampling of regionally accredited special education degree programs that can be completed online.

  • Drexel University, which has long maintained a campus in Philadelphia, awards the master’s in special education degree online. Drexel’s program includes concentrations in autism, language and culture, and technology.
  • Fort Hays State University in Kansas has an online master’s program for those interested in special education and/or teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). Lectures can be attended in person, watched on television, or accessed online.
  • Grand Canyon University, a Christian school in Arizona, has an online Bachelor of Science in Elementary/Special Education dual degree program. After training online, students must complete a full-time, 16-week student teaching component.
  • The University of New England in Maine features an online Master of Science in Education program focused on including special needs students in mainstream K-12 classrooms.
  • Western Governors University, which is online only, offers bachelor’s and M.S. programs in special education (PK-12). These programs are designed for teachers of students with mild to moderate disabilities.