This page highlights the most popular online schools offering special education degrees. Teachers who earn degrees or certifications in special education will work with students with physical or mental disabilities or other types of learning differences. Every state has different requirements for teacher licensing, so it is important for students to find out what those requirements are to make sure that their educational program is meeting state standards. We also highlight the best online colleges offering master's degrees in special education, ranked based on tuition rates and alumni salaries provided by PayScale.
Prospective students of online special education degrees should make sure that the school they are looking to attend is regionally and programmatically accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). Accreditation through this body ensures that the education students will receive has been held to standards that assure quality and supports continuous improvement to strengthen P-12 student learning.
207 Programs, 2 Bachelor's in Special Education (view all)
207 Programs, 2 Bachelor's in Special Education
Bachelor of Science in Special Education - Option in Adap...
Bachelor of Science in Special Education (Degree Completion)
One factor that individuals should keep in mind when deciding on an educational program is whether or not that program is regionally and programmatically accredited. When a school is regionally accredited, it means that an independent organization has evaluated that school as a whole and determined that it meets certain educational standards. Regional accreditation is important because credits transfer more easily between regionally accredited institutions. Furthermore, federal financial aid is not available to students enrolled in non-accredited schools.
Programmatic accreditation is given out by independent organizations that specialize in evaluating programs in specific subjects. For example, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) was the main accrediting body for teaching programs until it merged with the Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC) to form the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). Education programs that have received CAEP accreditation are considered by the accrediting body to be quality programs that prepare students for their future teaching careers. Aspiring special education teachers should look for a training program that has this type of accreditation because that will provide them with the assurance that they are learning the most up-to-date skills and that they are receiving a rigorous training that will turn them into quality educators.
Special Education Teacher Requirements
In order to become a licensed special education teacher, an individual will need to earn a bachelor's degree at minimum. However, the bachelor's degree does not have to be specifically in special education. Elementary education is another degree that is common for special education teachers to earn. They may then specialize or minor in special education. It is also possible to become a special education teacher with a bachelor's degree in an unrelated subject, though additional training will be required, and these specific requirements will depend on the state in which the individual intends to teach.
Beyond a bachelor's degree, the requirements needed to become a special education teacher will vary from state to state. Typically, there is some type of examination that aspiring teachers must pass. Some states may require teachers to go on to earn a master's degree after they achieve their initial certification. Obtaining licensure also generally requires completing observed student teaching, which is a typical component of teacher training at all levels.
Overview of Special Education Degrees
Earning a bachelor's degree in special education means studying the way children and young adults with disabilities function in an education environment. You'll not only learn about the various mental, physical, and emotional disabilities that some children face, but you'll also explore the most effective ways of managing their growth and development. Most students who pursue an online bachelor's degree in special education will go on to obtain a teacher's license, while others will continue their education with a master's degree in special education.
Once accepted into the program, you'll complete around 120 credits in four years, including relevant core classes and an in-person teaching component.
Applicants need a 2.75 to 3.0 GPA as well as a high school diploma in order to apply for a special ed program. Some students pursue an associate degree in a related field, such as early childhood education, before applying for a bachelor's, although it's not generally required. Once accepted into the program, you'll complete around 120 credits in four years including relevant core classes and an in-person teaching component.
Can You Get an Online Degree in Special Education?
Special education degrees are widely available online and are viable ways to reach your career goals as a special ed teacher.
Accreditation refers to the process of verifying the quality of your school's education by a national or institutional organization.
The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) is the main accreditation organization for teaching programs nationwide. All of OnlineU's recommended programs come from accredited schools. It's also smart to ensure your program of choice meets all the criteria for your teacher's license or at least that it's designed as a track toward a teaching license.
How Long Does a Bachelor's in Special Education Take?
As briefly mentioned above, education degrees online take approximately four years to complete on a full-time schedule. They usually require 120 credit hours spread out over two semesters each year. Some programs may offer summer semesters, which allow you to accelerate your studies and complete the degree in a shorter span of time. The benefit of an online degree is that you can often take courses on your own time, allowing you to simultaneously maintain a job and family responsibilities.
The curriculum for a special education teacher degree consists of core classes covering various special needs, along with teaching methods and practices. You'll learn behavior management that focuses on effective engagement techniques for your future students as well as the different tools and technologies utilized in this unique classroom setting.
Let's take a closer look at some of the core courses you can expect to encounter in an online bachelor's degree in special education:
Learning and Motivation
This class explores the different ways that special education students develop and how encouragement can lead to a more effective learning experience. You'll also look at the individual differences between students and the culture they're involved in.
Educational Technology for Teaching and Learning
This course looks at the different ways technology can improve a learning environment, including the use of assisted devices. You'll not only look at effective hardware and software technologies in the classroom but also investigate the ethical use of those technologies for children with special needs.
The Inclusive Classroom
The inclusive classroom refers to the strategies for teaching and developing children in a special education environment. You'll explore the ample research and relevant case studies to develop a plan for inclusive learning.
Here, faculty introduce students to the theories that support the development of children and adolescents. You'll look at both the proven classroom practices and the well-researched teaching principles that guide linguistic, cognitive, and social development in adolescents.
Educational Policies and Laws
This is an interactive course that looks at the history of teaching through policies and laws. You'll be tasked with understanding the social, historical, and cultural issues that have contributed to the American education and school systems.
Concentrations in Special Education
Special education online degree concentrations allow you to narrow your scope of understanding in a specific area. They include specializations for a particular type of special need or even the degree of severity as a whole. There are also concentrations which focus on the laws and policies surrounding special education or the devices and practices used within the classroom itself.
Consider the following special education concentrations that may be available at your chosen online school:
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is among the most common developmental disabilities in the world. Therefore, autism concentrations are commonly found in special education programs for future teachers who want to educate, encourage, and oversee the progress of these individuals. You'll learn how to properly manage their daily curriculum and social activities while developing an understanding of the disorder itself.
Assistive technology refers to the devices and tools used by individuals with both physical and cognitive disabilities. They're very important for basic functionality in their daily lives, especially in an educational environment. This concentration looks at everything from interactive reading software to the latest wheelchair technology.
High-Incidence and Severe Disabilities
There are varying levels of disabilities that children face. Some require a much stronger support system than others. With a concentration in high-incidence and severe disabilities, you'll look closely at classroom training and behavioral techniques that help mitigate the naturally high stress levels for these individuals.
Visual impairment concentrations teach you the techniques for managing and developing children with varying levels of vision loss. You'll learn assistance techniques to help them navigate a classroom environment while developing accessible curriculums for their specific impairment.
What Can I Do With a Bachelor's in Special Education?
If you're pursuing special education degree programs you're likely interested in a career as a special education teacher. The majority of students in these programs go on to work in varying grade levels, from kindergarten up to high school. While this is the primary position most graduates seek, there are other roles that utilize similar skill sets and can still be centered around special needs children.
When looking at the job opportunities below, it's important to note that the only job listed that requires a bachelor's degree is the "Special Education Teachers" role — which most students are shooting for. For the rest of the positions, employers mostly require a bachelor's degree, but it's also possible to get your foot in the door without one. Let's take a look at these possible career outcomes:
Special Education Teachers
Annual Median Salary: $61,820
Job Growth: 4%
Special education teachers work directly in classrooms with special needs students. They manage their course curriculum, social activities, and cater to their specific disabilities — whether they are cognitive, physical, or emotional. Every level of grade school requires special ed teachers, from preschool to high school.
Adult Basic Education Instructors
Annual Median Salary: $59,720
Job Growth: -1%
Adult basic education instructors educate older individuals who are no longer enrolled in school. Their responsibilities can include preparing adults for a high school equivalency exam or teaching English to non-native speakers. Not unlike special needs teachers, adult education instructors tailor their curriculum to meet the specific needs of their students.
Social Service and Community Managers
Annual Median Salary: $74,000
Job Growth: 15%+
Social service and community managers are tasked with developing and implementing outreach programs in local communities. They oversee policies and program activities while maintaining a positive influence in their neighborhoods. In many cases, special ed graduates go on to work for disability organizations and special needs outreach programs.
Annual Median Salary: $36,470
Job Growth: 15%
Tutors are there to support individuals seeking formal education. Tutors can obtain roles assisting special needs adults or children in their pursuit of education. Their responsibilities will include preparing study materials, applying motivational techniques, and helping them work through difficult problems.
Are Sped Teachers in Demand?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), all special needs teachers will see average, steady job growth through the decade. Specifically, the BLS expects the role to grow by 4% into 2031. This falls close to the expected growth of all occupations across the United States. Meanwhile, preschool special ed teachers are projected to grow at the fastest rate amongst all grade levels at 8%.
As of 2021, there were 476,300 special ed teachers employed in the United States. That number is expected to reach 496,900 by 2031.
What Are the Qualifications To Be a Special Education Teacher?
In order to become a special ed teacher, you'll need at least a bachelor's degree in special education. You'll also need to obtain a teacher's license in the state you plan to work in. To make things easier, it's best to pursue a degree program that contains a track for a teacher's license. This way you'll meet all the necessary requirements to apply for your license.
These programs will require you to complete a student-teaching practicum — another necessity for licensure. You may also meet the necessary qualifications by earning your bachelor's degree in similar subjects, such as elementary education or early childhood education.
What’s the Difference Between Certification and Licensure for Special Education?
Teaching certifications and licenses are generally regarded as interchangeable terms. Special education graduates must earn their teacher's license in order to become a certified teacher. The most important step is to check with your individual state in order to see how they designate these terms in regards to working as a special education teacher. Each state has different methods for determining an individual's qualifications for licensure.
Special education graduates must earn their teacher's license in order to become a certified teacher.
Another important clarification is that education degree graduates can earn an online special education certification, which provides them with specialized training in special ed. This comes in addition to their education degree, which may not have contained a sped concentration.
What State Is Best for Special Education?
The BLS shows that California is the state with the highest employment of special education teachers in the country. As of May 2021, there were 8,730 sped teachers working in the Golden State. They also had the highest wages when compared to the other 49 states. During the same month in 2021, California sped teachers earned $73,570 annually. The next highest states were Florida ($68,860) and Texas ($60,290).
Is a Special Education Degree Right For Me?
Earning a degree in special education requires a great deal of patience and flexibility. You'll need to understand several complex and nuanced disorders while developing learning programs that fit your future students' unique needs. Thriving professionals in the world of sped tend to be advocates for students with disabilities and dedicated to ending ableist points of view from society at large. This helps them maintain their resilience during difficult moments with severely disabled students. If you're truly dedicated to helping those with special needs, you can find a fulfilling career as a special needs educator.
There are many things to consider before pursuing a teaching program or education degree — especially when it comes to the unique nature of special ed. This includes your individual determination to assist with the daily struggles of special needs children.
If you're confident in this aspect of your future career, there's some data to think about as well. For example, preschool-level sped teachers are in higher demand than other grade levels, making it one of the more viable career paths for graduates. Also, special education teachers earn $61,820 a year, the same relative salary for high school and elementary school teachers. Their jobs, however, are considered more challenging due to the inherent complications that come from teaching children with disabilities.
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