Online Special Education Degree Programs

Find the top online degrees that prepare you for a rewarding career in special education.

Last Updated: 05/11/2022

Top Online Special Education Degrees for 2022

Are you ready for a meaningful career where you make a difference in children’s and teen’s lives? Special education teachers address serious learning challenges that can impede a student’s ability to make progress both in and out of the classroom.

Our college ranking below showcases the best schools offering online special education degrees that can provide the training you need through convenient remote coursework. We scored programs based on important factors like affordable tuition rates, robust student support services, proper accreditation, and flexible course scheduling. Learn more about our top picks for 2022 and see which program fits your needs best.

About the ranking

Methodology for the STEPS Best Online Programs in 2022

Generate List of Eligible Schools and Programs

To be eligible for this ranking, schools were required to meet the following criteria based on government data provided by The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

  • Institutional accreditation from an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
  • At least one program in subject area offered partially or fully online.

Assign Impact of Data Points

After generating the list of eligible schools, the STEPS data team then assigned weights and ranked schools based on a mix of affordability, support services, and online program availability. Online program availability and overall affordability received the heaviest weightings.

Online Program Availability

  • Number of online programs in subject area reported by school to the U.S. Department of Education. When unable to verify this number, a star-based system was used to signify the number of programs relative to peers.

Affordability

  • Cost:
    Relative cost of attendance compared to peer schools on the list. Based on tuition and fees per academic year.
  • Students w/ Institutional Aid:
    Percentage of students who receive financial aid from the school itself.

Support Services

  • Academic Counseling:
    Existence of this service on campus or online.
  • Career Placement:
    Existence of this service on campus or online.

About Our Data

All STEPS rankings use the latest official data available from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Most recent data pull: July 2021

1
Ball State University

Muncie, Indiana

Total online programs: 9

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 14:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 59%
Online Students 12,174
2
Eastern Michigan University

Ypsilanti, Michigan

Total online programs: 9

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 15:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$
Institutional Financial Aid 88%
Online Students 4,540
3
Touro College

New York, New York

Total online programs: 9

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 11:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$$
Institutional Financial Aid 85%
Online Students 1,475
4
Illinois State University

Normal, Illinois

Total online programs: 7

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 19:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$
Institutional Financial Aid 78%
Online Students 4,534
5
East Carolina University

Greenville, North Carolina

Total online programs: 6

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 19:1
Tuition (In-State) $
Institutional Financial Aid 49%
Online Students 15,367
6
University of St Thomas

Saint Paul, Minnesota

Total online programs: 7

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 14:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$$$
Institutional Financial Aid 96%
Online Students 5,436
7
Western Michigan University

Kalamazoo, Michigan

Total online programs: 6

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 18:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$
Institutional Financial Aid 52%
Online Students 10,304

Total online programs: 6

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 19:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 71%
Online Students 4,184
9
University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Charlotte, North Carolina

Total online programs: 5

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 20:1
Tuition (In-State) $
Institutional Financial Aid 42%
Online Students 17,725
10
Arkansas State University

Jonesboro, Arkansas

Total online programs: 5

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 14:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 77%
Online Students 4,574
11
Adelphi University

Garden City, New York

Total online programs: 6

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 12:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$$$
Institutional Financial Aid 89%
Online Students 3,989
12
Saint Cloud State University

Saint Cloud, Minnesota

Total online programs: 6

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 19:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 45%
Online Students 3,623
13
University of Toledo

Toledo, Ohio

Total online programs: 5

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 21:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 92%
Online Students 5,871
14
Buena Vista University

Storm Lake, Iowa

Total online programs: 5

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 10:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$$$
Institutional Financial Aid 100%
Online Students 115
15
Clarion University of Pennsylvania

Clarion, Pennsylvania

Total online programs: 5

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 17:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 80%
Online Students 2,160

Total online programs: 4

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 19:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 56%
Online Students 17,053
17
Boise State University

Boise, Idaho

Total online programs: 4

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 18:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 52%
Online Students 11,071
18

Total online programs: 4

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 12:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 88%
Online Students 2,542
19

Total online programs: 5

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 14:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$$$
Institutional Financial Aid 100%
Online Students 22
20

Total online programs: 4

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 11:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 93%
Online Students 973
21
Northern Arizona University

Flagstaff, Arizona

Total online programs: 4

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 22:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$
Institutional Financial Aid 90%
Online Students 10,557
22

Total online programs: 4

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 16:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 59%
Online Students 8,715

Total online programs: 4

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 21:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$
Institutional Financial Aid 88%
Online Students 11,123
24
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Lincoln, Nebraska

Total online programs: 3

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 16:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 83%
Online Students 13,949
25
Eastern Kentucky University

Richmond, Kentucky

Total online programs: 4

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 15:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 77%
Online Students 4,199
26
Temple University

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Total online programs: 3

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 13:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$$
Institutional Financial Aid 78%
Online Students 16,231
27
Fordham University

Bronx, New York

Total online programs: 5

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 13:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$$$
Institutional Financial Aid 91%
Online Students 6,559
28
Georgia State University

Atlanta, Georgia

Total online programs: 5

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 27:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 22%
Online Students 10,707
29
Purdue University-Main Campus

West Lafayette, Indiana

Total online programs: 2

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 13:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 40%
Online Students 26,603
30

Total online programs: 5

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 22:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 27%
Online Students 5,383
31
University of Lynchburg

Lynchburg, Virginia

Total online programs: 4

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 10:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$$$
Institutional Financial Aid 100%
Online Students 1,545
32
Texas Tech University

Lubbock, Texas

Total online programs: 3

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 19:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 67%
Online Students 16,489
33
University of Arizona

Tucson, Arizona

Total online programs: 2

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 15:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$
Institutional Financial Aid 89%
Online Students 17,100
34
Appalachian State University

Boone, North Carolina

Total online programs: 3

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 16:1
Tuition (In-State) $
Institutional Financial Aid 36%
Online Students 14,997
35
California University of Pennsylvania

California, Pennsylvania

Total online programs: 4

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 19:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 82%
Online Students 1,960
36
Idaho State University

Pocatello, Idaho

Total online programs: 3

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 13:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 70%
Online Students 4,221
37
George Washington University

Washington, District of Columbia

Total online programs: 5

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 13:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$$$
Institutional Financial Aid 71%
Online Students 304
38
Indiana University-Bloomington

Bloomington, Indiana

Total online programs: 2

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 16:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 61%
Online Students 20,400
39
University of Kentucky

Lexington, Kentucky

Total online programs: 2

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 16:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$
Institutional Financial Aid 76%
Online Students 17,813
40

Total online programs: 3

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 18:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$
Institutional Financial Aid 66%
Online Students 12,527
41
Minot State University

Minot, North Dakota

Total online programs: 3

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 11:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 79%
Online Students 1,204
42
SUNY College at Plattsburgh

Plattsburgh, New York

Total online programs: 3

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 15:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 84%
Online Students 3,316
43

Total online programs: 3

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 20:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 73%
Online Students 9,677
44
University of Mary

Bismarck, North Dakota

Total online programs: 3

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 11:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$$
Institutional Financial Aid 100%
Online Students 501
45
University of North Dakota

Grand Forks, North Dakota

Total online programs: 3

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 17:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 84%
Online Students 6,130

Total online programs: 4

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 18:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 33%
Online Students 4,481
47
Fontbonne University

Saint Louis, Missouri

Total online programs: 3

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 10:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$$$
Institutional Financial Aid 98%
Online Students 605
48
Old Dominion University

Norfolk, Virginia

Total online programs: 3

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 18:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 69%
Online Students 7,981
49
Western Kentucky University

Bowling Green, Kentucky

Total online programs: 3

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 19:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$
Institutional Financial Aid 72%
Online Students 10,337
50
Liberty University

Lynchburg, Virginia

Total online programs: 3

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 17:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$
Institutional Financial Aid 78%
Online Students 6,746
51
Georgia Southern University

Statesboro, Georgia

Total online programs: 3

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 22:1
Tuition (In-State) $
Institutional Financial Aid 22%
Online Students 16,693
52
University of Kansas

Lawrence, Kansas

Total online programs: 2

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 17:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$
Institutional Financial Aid 68%
Online Students 16,307
53
Mississippi College

Clinton, Mississippi

Total online programs: 3

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 15:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$$
Institutional Financial Aid 100%
Online Students 962
54
Washington State University

Pullman, Washington

Total online programs: 3

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 16:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$
Institutional Financial Aid 78%
Online Students 4,287

Total online programs: 2

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 20:1
Tuition (In-State) $
Institutional Financial Aid 86%
Online Students 13,365
56
Carlow University

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Total online programs: 3

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 10:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$$$
Institutional Financial Aid 100%
Online Students 832

Understanding Online Special Education Degrees

Online degree programs in special education offer scheduling flexibility for the working student. Full-time online students can complete their degrees and certificates more quickly than their campus-based counterparts. Online courses can include the use of streaming lectures, email, chat, telephone, bulletin boards, and multi-media communications. At the same time, many programs require students to complete internships in the classroom or at district offices. Often internships are arranged in locations convenient to online students, at schools or where they currently work in the classroom. Let’s examine the types of online special education degrees and the skills you’ll develop for the classroom. We’ll also include information on credentialing and state licensing.

Online Certificates in Special Education

There are two types of online certificates in special education: entry-level certificates and graduate certificates. Entry-level certifications can be a cost-effective way to accelerate your entry into the profession. Depending on the online program, these certificates can be completed a year. In addition to online coursework, students are usually required to complete an on-site supervised internship. Graduate certifications are appropriate for special education teachers who want to add an area of expertise to their credentials or to advance in their profession. These certificates typically require an 18-21 credit course of study. Didactic classes can be completed entirely online.

Online Associate Degrees in Special Education

Online associate degree programs in special education provide the first step on the pathway to certification and licensure. These 60-hour programs offer students an opportunity to learn about the field and to determine whether the career really interests them. Students also save time and money as they complete their general education requirements for transfer to bachelor degree programs. Associate graduates are prepared to take jobs as teacher assistants. You may be able to continue your service as an assistant while moving on to a flexible, online bachelor degree program. Core skills learned in an Associate Degree in Special Education program include:

  • Teaching skills to work with special education students, the faculty, and parents.
  • The basic understanding of developmental disorders, behavioral disorders, learning disabilities, emotional disorders, and physical limitations.
  • Familiarity with classroom management techniques and the special education curriculum.

Online Bachelor Degrees in Special Education

The next step forward is to complete a bachelor degree to become certified and licensed. Students must take 120 units to earn a Bachelor Degree in Special Education. Half of the credits are comprised of general education coursework, which can be completed at and transferred from a community college. Online bachelor degrees are offered as hybrid programs combining wholly online classes with on-site classroom experiences. The curriculum may include courses in psychology (behavior management), cultural studies, research-based student assessment, interventions, literacy, child development, assistive technology, and the creation of Individualized Education Programs (IEP). The degree program builds essential core skills including:

  • A fundamental understanding and application of assessment procedures
  • The ability to create and measure the effectiveness of IEP programs
  • The methodology to measure assistive technology as it applies across the range of disorders and disabilities

Online Master’s Degrees in Special Education

There are two types of Master’s Degree in Special Education programs to choose from. You can earn a M.Ed. to take on advanced roles in special education teaching and leadership, or an M.S. degree for students interested in conducting research in the field. Both degrees can be completed entirely online or as a hybrid program with on-site classroom components. Typically, you’ll need to complete approximately 45 credits, including a field experience. Coursework can focus on advanced studies in educational psychology, behavioral and classroom management, assisted technology applications in diagnosis and instruction, special education law, the impact on family members, and graduate research theory and techniques. Expect to develop some of these core skills:

  • Expertise in curriculum design and assessment.
  • Personalized teaching strategies and emotional support of children with high-incident disabilities.
  • Techniques for building collaborative programs with the school, the district, with student families and the greater community.

Online Doctorates in Special Education

Doctorates in special education represent the pinnacle of academic achievement in the field. There are doctorates for professionals who want to undertake research at the university level (PhD) and for individuals planning to advance into leadership or senior roles in education policy, instructional leadership, or deepen their knowledge and qualifications in an area of specialization (EdD). Doctoral degree programs take up to six years, depending on the university. Credit hours range from 40 to a total of 70. Accelerated or self-paced online degrees can be completed in as little as three years. You may be required to complete and defend a dissertation focused on your independent research. To apply to these programs, students must have a minimum of two years’ experience in the field and hold a master’s degree. Depending on the type of doctorate (PhD, EdD), you can expect to demonstrate these core skills:

  • Education leadership and staff mentoring at the school or district level.
  • Conducting evidence-based, scholarly research for advancing the profession.
  • Overseeing the creation of policies and to address budgeting issues, including grant writing.

Concentrations in Online Special Education Degrees

Special education teachers seeking advancement can return to an online university to earn a graduate degree. One of the best ways to prepare for career progression is to complete a specialization as part of your master’s degree. Concentrations build upon your knowledge and experience, and you’ll gain advanced expertise in a niche serving one or more student populations. The targeted subject matter is focused and intensive. Graduate students can choose a specialization that targets their educator goals or to prepare for education careers on the rise within a school district. Let’s review some of today’s top concentrations in special education:

Assistive Technologies

Assistive technology has been developed to augment the special educator’s toolkit. For example, assistive technologies may address the use of walkers or new-generation wheelchairs. In addition, assistive computer hardware and software focuses on ease of access and the integration of learning skills such as reading comprehension. The goal is to facilitate physical mobility and enhance learning through multimedia.

Autism Spectrum Disorders

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is typified by lack of attention, difficulty communicating with others, hyperactivity, and an attachment to routine. It can be diagnosed as early as age two. The special education teacher addressing ASD can establish routines, integrate social activities, and keep concepts simple and clear.

Behavior Analysis

Graduate students can specialize in behavior analysis to understand and address students who respond negatively to interactions or disrupt classes. Behavior analysis may be used effectively with students demonstrating ASD. Special educator skills include performing interventions to stop reactions as they occur. Or you may employ tactics to demonstrate “replacement behaviors” that offer students positive behavioral choices.

Deaf Education

Students who are hard of hearing often have difficulty completing classroom assignments or understanding teachers’ directions. They are typically challenged in oral communications. Teachers can employ a number of tools to address this complicated issue. They can assign a sign language interpreter to the class or facilitate visual learning through assistive technology (such as text-to-audio software to deliver oral reports and assignments).

English Interpreting

School interpreters help deaf or hearing-impaired students, as well as their parents who may also have hearing disabilities. In this specialization, you’ll need complete a bachelor’s degree along with formal coursework in interpreting. Some interpreters are fluent in two or three languages. Continuing education can further develop your skills and qualify you for senior positions. A Master’s Degree in Interpretation combines practical experience, teaching/interpreting strategies, and communications theory.

High-incidence Disabilities

Students requiring assistance with high-incidence disabilities may exhibit emotional and cognitive disorders and learning disorders. Some of these include LD, ADHD, and autism spectrum disorders. You’ll need a master’s degree concentrating on studies in student assessments, research methodologies, and individual planning for each student. Typical coursework in this specialization includes task-setting, building effective listening skills, and the establishment of structured social interactions.

Multisensory Reading Instruction

Research has found that students may learn more effectively when your teaching appeals to a range of senses, incorporating sound, touch, movement, and sight. Graduate studies in this specialization often include training in The Wilson Reading System (WRS) to address reading issues. The WRS Level 1 Certification is an in-demand specialty.

Special Education Law

Prevent discrimination against your students. State and Federal laws protect the rights of children with disabilities and learning disorders. In this specialization, graduate students learn the application of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and its provisions for student evaluations and interventions. They also study Section 504 of the Rehabilitations Act requiring equal access to all students needing disability assistance.

Special Education Leadership

Are you a licensed teacher aspiring to lead special education at your school or district level? Your classroom experience as a special educator has prepared you to evaluate and augment special education programs. The specialized curriculum in an online Master’s Degree in Special Education Leadership includes coursework in law, finance, instructional/managerial strategies, and assistive technology. Programs culminate in special education practicums and seminars.