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15 Best Grad Schools with Online Doctorate in Special Education

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Updated: February 14, 2024, Reading time: 21 minutes

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The online doctorate in special education degree is a terminal academic degree that focuses on the principles, practices, and theories of special education.

Considered the highest level of education and expertise in the field of special education, the post-graduate degree can either be a practice-based Doctor of Education (EdD) or a research-centric Doctor of Philosophy (PhD).

In either case, a doctorate in special education online programs prepares professionals for leadership roles as researchers, scholars, and educators with a passion for addressing the unique needs of individuals with disabilities. 


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Overview

The best online doctorate in special education programs are offered by accredited institutions in a flexible learning format that allows working professionals to earn the terminal degree while maintaining a good work-life balance.

Students learn innovative teaching strategies, such as positive classroom interventions, toward the advancement of the principles and practices in the field of special education. 

For this reason, doctorate in special education online programs feature a comprehensive curriculum that covers research methodology, special education law and policy, and leadership in special education, among others.

Students engage in challenging didactic coursework, perform independent research activities, and complete a doctoral dissertation that promotes special education, including its practice and body of knowledge. 

Both current and aspiring special education professionals are welcome at online doctorates in special education programs. Such classroom diversity reflects the diversity in the workplace, too, and encourages a dynamic exchange of ideas.

Their comparative affordability, accessibility, and convenience are also among the reasons for the enduring popularity of online doctorates in special education programs. 

Methodology

Each of the 15 best online Doctorate in Special Education programs featured here was selected based on our methodology and the following criteria: 

Check out our Methodology section for more information! 

Best Online Doctorate in Special Education Programs

When you’re choosing the best doctoral program with a Special Education concentration, you must first consider your personal circumstances and professional goals. The total cost of attendance and financial aid, curriculum coverage and academic rigor, and flexibility and convenience of schedules are foremost factors for consideration, too. 

University of Florida

University of Florida - College of Education

Doctorate of Education in Special Education

Students in the online doctorate in the special education program are advocates for individuals with special needs in education and prepare for leadership roles in the public and private sectors.

Learners are encouraged to apply their learnings as soon as possible toward the improvements of educational and social outcomes for individuals with disabilities, both in and out of classroom settings. 

The Special Education program features a 60-credit curriculum beyond the master’s degree. Coursework covers topics in Special Education and research methodology, as well as specialization courses. Students must complete the 20-credit dissertation work, too. 

The areas of specialization in the Doctorate in Special Education program are dyslexia, speech-language pathology, early childhood, disability in society, and teacher leadership and learning. Part-time students can earn the degree in about four years. The program attracts established professionals in special education, and admission is on a highly selective basis. 


University of Alabama

University of Alabama - Online

Doctor of Education in Special Education and Multiple Abilities

The online EdD in Special Education and Multiple Abilities program emphasizes the holistic approach to providing teaching and learning services for individuals with disabilities and their families. Students assert the whole-of-person approach resulted in their ability to see special education in a new light and, thus, think of novel approaches. 

Working professionals agree that the doctorate in special education program provides maximum flexibility, thanks partly to a choice between full-time and part-time enrollment. The average time-to-degree is three years, with all students required to complete 72 credit hours, including the 12-credit dissertation research courses. 

The cohort-based online doctorate in special education program features synchronous and asynchronous classes. The online courses include: 

Students in the Doctorate in Special Education program also choose from four tracks, each consisting of four courses. The choices are in autism, collaborative special education, gifted education, and leadership in special education tracks. Applicants will only be considered if they have at least three years of teaching experience. 


University of Northern Colorado

University of Northern Colorado - Extended Campus

Doctor of Philosophy in Special Education

Students in the online Ph.D. in Special Education program must be passionate about lifelong learning and motivated to pursue their interests. Every student works with their academic advisor and committee in creating an individualized program of study that emphasizes theory and pedagogy, public policy and advocacy, and evidence-based practice underlined by research. 

In addition to the research tools courses, the doctorate in special education program features online coursework in: 

The 77-credit Doctorate in Special Education prepares students for leadership positions in academia, government agencies, and businesses. Students can complete the academic requirements of the online doctoral program, which include a comprehensive examination and an approved dissertation, in 3 to 5 years. 


University of Toledo

University of Toledo

Doctor of Philosophy in Curriculum and Instruction with Concentration in Special Education

The online Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction with Special Education concentration program welcomes working professionals who want the flexibility of enrolling either on a full-time or part-time basis. While advanced research skills development is emphasized, students are also encouraged to apply their research findings in real-world applications.

Students can apply their knowledge and skills as they acquire them in their own practice. 

The doctorate in special education program can be completed in 4-5 years. Students tackle courses like: 

Aside from qualitative research work, students must also complete a workplace-based internship to earn a Doctorate in Special Education degree. 


Texas Tech University

Texas Tech University

Doctor of Philosophy in Special Education

Students of the online Ph.D. in Special Education program at Texas Tech prepare for successful careers in teacher education, research methodology, and program development and evaluation. Their skill sets enable them to make impactful contributions to special education even before earning a doctorate! 

With a curriculum shaped by the Code of Ethics of the Council for Exceptional Children, professionals who hold a doctorate in special education degree are known for their leadership skills, cultural sensitivity, and ethical practice. Students develop these skills through intensive coursework that covers every aspect of special education, from its history to its contemporary issues. 

The 90-credit online doctorate in special education program features courses in: 

Students can earn the online doctorate degree in a shorter period by transferring up to 30 credits but must complete an internship. 


Ball State University

Ball State University

Doctor of Philosophy in Special Education

Students pursuing the Ph.D. in Special Education degree at Ball State are encouraged to put their degree to good use and in diverse ways. Aside from the usual scholarship, education,and administration career paths, students may want to consider entrepreneurship (e.g., operating a school for children with special education needs). 

The doctorate in special education program combines on-campus and online classes (i.e., about 90% are done online). Students must complete 91 credits beyond the master’s degree, and academic requirements include dissertation credits.

There’s a 15-credit residency requirement where students will work with peers and professors, develop specialized skills, and concentrate on their research. 

Concentrations in the online Doctorate in Special Education program are in: 

The online doctorate program emphasizes the importance of training programs in bridging the gap between theory and application. 


Illinois State University

Illinois State University

Doctorate of Education in Special Education

Students in the EdD in Special Education program thrive due to their individualized program of study – their academic advisors work with them to create a personalized plan based on their professional experience, educational background, and career goals. Graduates are capable of pursuing careers as part of university faculty, researchers in government agencies, and educational leaders. 

The selective doctorate in special education program features a 66-semester hour curriculum, including core courses, specialized and elective coursework, and dissertation work. Featured courses include: 

The culminating requirement of the online doctorate program is an approved dissertation. Students choose their own dissertation topic, such as curriculum development or educational leadership issues. 


University of Pittsburgh

University of Pittsburgh - School of Education

Doctor of Education in Special Education

Pitt’s EdD in Special Education program can be completed in three years of part-time enrollment, thus making it an excellent choice for working professionals.

Students must devote a week-long onboarding experience in addition to four Saturday classes during the summer term. In addition to the online courses, students must also complete an internship that will prepare graduates for real-world challenges. 

The online doctorate program features an 84-credit curriculum, and students can transfer up to 24 credits of doctoral-level coursework. The curriculum emphasizes an interdisciplinary approach and the value of practical experiences in the advancement of special education.

There’s also an emphasis on the best practices in educational management, pre-service and in-service education, and leadership in the doctorate in special education program. 

Pitt also offers a Ph.D. in Special Education program with concentrations in Education of Students with Mental and Physical Disabilities, Early Intervention, and Blindness/Vision Impairments/Orientation and Mobility. This is a 4-year, full-time program with a 90-credit curriculum and a fall start date. 


Regent University

Regent University

Doctor of Philosophy in Education with a Special Education Concentration

Regent’s PhD in Education program is notable for being an outstanding training ground for special education teachers and administrators with innovative ideas. The research-centric curriculum consists of 67 credits that students must complete to earn the respected doctorate in special education degree. 

Featured courses in the online doctorate program are: 

Students must complete an approved dissertation to earn the online Doctorate in Special Education degree. The dissertation must demonstrate the candidate’s technical competence and add to the current body of knowledge in special education. 


Grand Canyon University

Grand Canyon University

Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership with Special Education Concentration

The online EdD in Organizational Leadership with a Special Education emphasis trains students for leadership positions in the K-12 sector. Students assert that their passion for advocating for improved special education programs becomes stronger during their studies. 

Note that it’s a qualitative doctorate in special education degree, meaning there’s a stronger emphasis on qualitative research methods. Students apply these research methods toward the study of the theories, principles, and practices of special education and their improvement. 

Special Education doctoral students must complete a 60-credit curriculum with courses like: 

Students in the Special Education concentration develop core competencies that enable them to implement best practices in their profession. The special education program also offers in-person networking opportunities through two residencies. 


Liberty University

Liberty University

Doctor of Philosophy in Special Education

Students in Liberty’s top-notch Ph.D. in Special Education Program develop their knowledge and skills of advanced research methods in special education issues. Their above-par skills set upon graduation enable them to become excellent educators in both general and special education at all levels.

The online doctorate in special education has a 60-credit curriculum with courses in: 

Current and aspiring Education professionals looking for affordable education will find the online doctorate in special education program right up their alley. Graduates can then work in public and private institutions with little student debt, allowing them to serve as Liberty intended – as Champions for Christ. 


Nova Southeastern University

Nova Southeastern University - Abraham S. Fischler College of Education and School of Criminal Justice

Doctor of Education in Special Education

NSU’s EdD in Special Education program is popular among current practitioners in special education as well as mental healthcare and human services professionals. Such popularity stems from its comprehensive and inclusive approach toward education for individuals with disabilities. 

Applicants to the Doctorate in Special Education program must possess a passion for gaining advanced expertise in the field. Special education students must complete at least 55 credits to earn the doctorate degree. Courses in the online doctorate program include:  

Students in the online Doctorate in Special Education must complete one of two capstone options – and both are intended to prepare students for effective educational leadership. Graduates become university professors, special education teachers, and researchers, and more. 


Slippery Rock University

Slippery Rock University

Doctor of Education in Special Education

With leadership positions in their sights, students of SRU’s EdD in Special Education program can make significant contributions toward special education programs in private and public schools, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations. The doctorate in special education program is, indeed, intended to address the shortage of special education professionals in the country! 

This is a partly online Doctorate in Special Education program – online courses are in the regular semesters, and in-person teachings are done in the summer. Doctoral students learn as a cohort and take two classes every semester to earn the degree in three years. 

Applicants may want to include a copy of their teaching license to boost their admission chances. Other admission requirements are a personal essay, a writing sample based on essay prompts, and two letters of recommendation in addition to either a bachelor’s or master’s degree with at least a 3.5 GPA. 


National University

National University

Doctor of Education in Special Education

NU’s online EdD in Special Education program adopts a practice-centric, project-based approach toward professional preparation. Students find issues in special education and seek practical solutions through applied research. 

The Doctorate in Special Education program features a 46-credit curriculum that covers foundation competency, specialization, and research method coursework. Featured courses include: 

Students in the online doctorate program must complete the comprehensive exam before being accepted into candidacy status. The online doctorate in special education degree can be earned in 33 months.  The special education graduates possess the ability to recommend effective and efficient, legal and ethical, and theory-informed special education programs. 


Walden University

Walden University

Doctor of Education in Special Education

Walden’s EdD in Special Education features a curriculum based on CEC’s Advanced Preparation Standards. Students focus their studies on a wide range of issues in special education, from educational leadership to ethical practice. 

Special education students complete 79 credits to complete the online doctorate program. Courses include: 

There’s also an emphasis on professional growth while earning a doctorate in special education degree. 

From Start to Finish: The Learning Experiences in Online Doctorate in Special Education Programs

The beauty of online doctorates in special education programs lies in their diversity, accessibility, and flexibility, particularly for working professionals. Here are general characteristics that prospective students must know before taking the plunge.

 Decide If You’re a Suitable Candidate 

Prospective students of online Doctorate in Special Education programs must be aware of the challenges associated with pursuing the advanced degree! You must consider the following factors when deciding whether the doctorate degree is worth pursuing or not in your case. 

Admission Requirements

Prospective students in online Doctorate in Special Education programs must be prepared for the selective admissions process and criteria that include: 

The best programs require students to possess excellent communication skills, thus the statement of purpose and writing samples. Their communication skills are put to the test in nearly every activity, too, from collaborative group projects and individual assignments to the defense of their dissertation.

Typical Time-to-completion 

Full-time doctoral students may be able to earn the online Doctorate in Special Education degree in 4-5 years, but time-to-degree varies depending on other factors.  Be mindful of the maximum time-to-completion and allowed leaves of absence allowed by the program.

Options in Specialization or Concentration

Some online Doctorate in Special Education programs offer concentrations that allow doctoral students to customize their degrees based on their specific interests. Common concentrations are in: 

Curriculum and Courses 

The typical curriculum among online Doctorate in Special Education programs includes core courses, electives, and research core courses, as well as dissertation courses. Every online program has concentration courses, too, like the following. 

Special Education Policy and Law

The course examines the legal and policy frameworks for special education, such as the Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). 

Research Methods in Special Education

This is an overview of the research methods commonly used in Special Education research, and it covers both quantitative and qualitative research methods. 

Instructional Design and Adaptation

The course explores the principles and practices of instructional design for students with disabilities, including curriculum strategies and teaching methods. 

Behavior Management and Positive Behavior Supports

This is an in-depth look at behavior management among individuals with disabilities in special education settings. 

Leadership in Special Education

The course covers topics in leadership roles related to special education, such as policy development, program administration, and professional ethics and advocacy. 

Dissertation Requirements 

Students in Doctorate in Special Education online programs usually must first pass a comprehensive examination before admission into formal candidacy.

This is the part where students start work on their dissertation, which can either be practice-based or research-focused, depending on the academic requirement. Many programs also require doctoral students to complete a capstone course and project. 

Residency Requirements 

Many Doctorate in Special Education online programs also have in-person residency requirements that can be spent on-campus or on other sites. These are usually required for the following reasons: 

Online Learning Platform

Doctorate programs in special education online use various learning management systems and technologies to provide students with positive learning experiences. While these vary, the common ones used include: 

Tuition and Financial Aid 

The cost of a Doctorate in Special Education varies between colleges and universities, too, with public schools usually offering more affordable education than private schools. According to the US News and World Report, the per-credit costs range between $560 and $780, resulting in total tuition from $34,000 to $60,000 for the online doctorate. 

Federal financial aid is the first option for tuition reduction among doctoral students. Internal and external scholarships and grants, employer sponsorship and reimbursement plans, and private loans are also viable options. 

Wide Range of Career Paths

The best Doctorate in Special Education online programs prepare students for a wide range of exciting, challenging, and rewarding occupations! Here are a few potential paths that you can look forward to in the future. 

These are just a few examples of the possible career paths you can take. Regardless of your choice, you must continue pursuing personal and professional development opportunities because the field of special education is constantly changing. 

Online Doctorate in Special Education - fact

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main differences between an EdD and a PhD in Special Education? 

The EdD degree is an application-centric degree where students develop their practical knowledge and skills in addressing real-world issues, while the research-focused Ph.D. degree emphasizes the production of original research.

Professionals with an EdD degree are more likely to be in leadership and administration positions, while PhD holders are in research, policy and advocacy, and academia. EdD programs typically have shorter time-to-degree than PhD programs. 

What are the professional organizations that Special Education professionals can join? 

Prominent professional organizations include the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), the Division for Research (DR) of the Council for Exceptional Children, the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD), and the National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET). These organizations are excellent sources of professional development, research, and networking opportunities. 

What are the professional certifications available for Special Education professionals? 

Consider the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), Certified Special Education Teacher, Certified Autism Specialist (CAS), Assistive Technology Professional (ATP), and Board Certified Educational Therapist (BCET) certifications.  Continuing education through seminars, conferences, and workshops is a must, too.

Key Takeaways

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