Top 10 Doctorate in Special Education Online Degree Programs for 2024

Author: Brenda Rufener
Reviewed by: Melissa Anderson
Reading level: Grade 10
Reading time: 11 minutes, 14 seconds
Original Publication Date: May 2019
Updates: 5

This article profiles the top 10 online doctorate in special education programs.

Special education teachers and specialists work with:

Featured Programs

  • students
  • schools
  • organizations

They work to meet the unique needs of those with:

  • learning
  • mental
  • emotional
  • physical disabilities

With an online doctorate in special education, individuals may pursue careers as a:

  • special education teacher
  • early intervention specialist
  • special education advocate
  • special education administrator

Top 10 Online Doctorate in Special Education Methodology

First, we looked at 45 colleges and universities listed by the NCES College Navigator. These schools have online PhDs in special education and closely related programs. Then, the initial pool of schools was narrowed by applying the following criteria:

  • Accreditation from regional or national governing bodies
  • School or program rankings from at least one major publication like U.S. News and World Report
  • Affordable graduate tuition and fees

Finally, we listed our top 10 programs according to raw affordability.

Below is our list of the top 10 PhD in special education online, or closely related degree programs.

Best PhD Special Education Online Programs Reviewed

#10 – Gwynedd Mercy University

Gwynedd Valley, Pennsylvania

Online EdD in Leadership – Special Education

Website
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $15,642

Gwynedd Mercy University offers an online EdD in special education program. It is designed for working professionals seeking supervisory roles within the education systems. Degree candidates will:

  • Take online courses
  • Complete a practicum
  • Complete the dissertation requirements to earn the EdD in leadership with a special education concentration

Some of the required courses include:

  • Administration and Supervision of Special Education programs
  • Cross-Cultural Perspectives and Educational Leadership
  • School Law and Policy in Special Education

Gwynedd Mercy is ranked and accredited. In fact, U.S. News and World Report ranks the school #142-#187 in best regional universities in the North.

Pros:

  • Available in accelerated format
  • Flexible programming

Con:

  • Some issues with communication with graduate faculty have been reported

#9 – Grand Canyon University

Phoenix, Arizona

Online EdD in Organizational Leadership – Special Education

Website
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $11,638

Grand Canyon University have an online doctorate in special education. The program provides training and research to help students become leaders in this unique field of education. A total of 60 credits satisfy degree requirements. Courses are delivered online and taught by GCU professors. These classes include:

  • Analysis of Existing Research
  • Ethical Dilemmas and Stewardship
  • Foundations of Special Education
  • Progressions in Leadership Thought
  • Special Education Law

Doctoral residencies are also required for the degree. U.S. News and World Report ranks GCU among the top national universities. In fact, the most recent publication ranks the school #230-#301 in best national universities. Also, several graduate programs have received top rankings and recognition.

Pros:

  • Flexibility of online programming
  • Affordability

Cons:

  • Internships and practicums can be a challenge to schedule
  • Some student resources are underfunded

#8 – Indiana University

Bloomington, Indiana

Online EdD in Literacy, Culture, and Language Education

Website
In-State Graduate Tuition/Fees: $11,468
Out-of-State Graduate Tuition/Fees: $33,367

Indiana University offers a highly specialized literacy doctoral program. This unique program might appeal to those considering an online PhD in special education. The program can be completed online, emphasizing literacy, culture, and language education. It is ideal for reading and language specialists working with exceptionalities. A series of core courses are required, including:

  • Issues in Literacy and Language Education – Early Inquiry Experience
  • Research Seminar on Literacy
  • Theoretical Issues in the Study of Language and Literacies

Admission requires a minimum of an earned bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. U.S. News and World Report rank Indiana University #89 in best national universities and #120 in best value schools.

Pros:

  • Acceptance rate is much higher than the national average
  • Endowment increases have been reported

Cons:

  • Student debt upon graduation is higher than national average
  • High student-to-faculty ratio

#7 – Ball State University

Muncie, Indiana

Online EdD in Special Education

Website
In-State Graduate Tuition/Fees: $11,642
Out-of-State Tuition/Fees: $28,340

The online EdD in special education program at Ball State University is another unique offering. It is designed to prepare individuals to serve in leading educational and behavioral professions. The program consists of a series of core special education courses with an option to emphasize studies in one or more areas of focus. Specialized focus areas include:

  • Applied Behavior Analysis and Autism
  • Low or High Incidence Teaching and Learning
  • Teaching and Learning in Emotional and Behavioral Disorders

Degree candidates complete a 15-credit residency, a comprehensive examination, and a dissertation before graduation. U.S. News and World Report ranks Ball State #171 in best national universities and #91 in top public schools.

Pros:

  • Student debt upon graduation is lower than the national average
  • A wide variety of academic programming

Cons:

  • TAs teach a high number of classes
  • High student-to-faculty ratio

#6 – Concordia University

River Forest, Illinois

Online EdD/PhD in Leadership – Special Education

Website
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $9,705

One of the top online EdD in special education programs on our list is offered by Concordia University. It’s for those who want to be scholars, researchers, or educators in leadership in special education. In addition to classes, a dissertation and comprehensive examination are required. Some of the online courses include:

  • Current Issues and Trends in Special Education
  • International Perspectives in Special Education
  • Special Education Law and Policy
  • Supervision of Programs for Children with Disabilities

U.S. News and World Report rank Concordia #72 in best regional universities in the Midwest and #44 in best value schools. Also, the online graduate education programs rank #132 out of more than 1,200 surveyed programs.

Pros:

  • Great community engagement
  • A variety of internship opportunities

Cons:

  • Limited research opportunities
  • Limited job prospects compared to larger universities

#5 – University of Southern Mississippi

Hattiesburg, Mississippi

Online PhD in Education – Special Education

Website
In-State Graduate Tuition/Fees: $9,450
Out-of-State Graduate Tuition/Fees: $11,450

The University of Southern Mississippi has a doctoral in special education online program. It requires a minimum of 54-69 hours (plus the dissertation) past the master’s degree. The PhD in education program emphasizes teacher education, research, and community services. Students gain knowledge and skills specific to education and special education. Once classes are complete and research is well underway, students nearing the end of the program take a comprehensive examination. The exam is usually taken during or after the last semester of coursework. Admission to the program requires, at a minimum, an earned bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. U.S. News and World Report ranks the University of Southern Mississippi #230-#301 in best national universities.

Pros:

  • High academic and professional standards
  • Great research facilities

Con:

  • Some administration issues have been reported

#4 – Liberty University

Lynchburg, Virginia

Online EdD in Special Education

Website

Graduate Tuition/Fees: $8,405

Several options are available at Liberty University for individuals seeking an PhD in special education program online. The school offers online EdD programs in several areas of education. Specifically, in special education, an online EdD is offered in curriculum and instruction. This doctoral degree leads to an EdD in curriculum and instruction with an emphasis in special ed. Courses are delivered online and include:

  • Advanced Learning Theory and Research
  • Behavior Management
  • Educational Assessments for Special Needs
  • Organization and Design of Gifted Education Programs

Admission for doctoral students requires applicants to hold a regionally or nationally accredited master’s degree with a 3.0 GPA. Liberty is a private institution that upholds Christian ideals. The school ranks #230-#301 in best national universities by U.S. News and World Report.

Pros:

  • A tuition freeze
  • High retention rate

Cons:

  • A low four-year graduation rate
  • Administrative scandals have been reported

#3 – University of Colorado

Denver, Colorado

Online EdD in Leadership and Educational Equity

Website
In-State Graduate Tuition/Fees: $8,548
Out-of-State Graduate Tuition/Fees: $24,820

Those looking for an accredited PhD in special education may be interested in the University of Colorado’s online EdD programs. Two tracks are offered in the online EdD:

  • Leadership
  • Educational Equity

They blend both online and face-to-face classes. Students may elect the three-year or five-year program. Also, several concentration areas, including early childhood special education, are offered. Admission requires:

  • Graduate work with a 3.2 GPA
  • Five or more years of experience in an educational setting
  • Strong interest in educational practice

U.S. News and World Report ranks the University of Colorado #205 in best national universities and #112 in top public schools. Also, the online graduate programs rank #126 out of more than 1,200 programs surveyed by U.S. News.

Pros:

  • Great research opportunities
  • Diverse student population

Cons:

  • Intense and demanding academics
  • Funding cuts to some student/campus resources have been reported

#2 – Texas Tech University

Lubbock, Texas

Online PhD in Special Education

Website
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $8,015

Texas Tech University offers one of the top online Ph.D. programs in special education on our list. It is designed for professional educators. The program prepares students in leadership, evaluation, and program development. Most courses are offered at a distance, but minimal face-to-face meetings may be required. The program requires 90 credits of which thirty may be transferred. Admission to the program requires a complete application. The application calls for college transcripts showcasing stellar academic performance and official GRE scores. Scores must be no more than five years old at the time of application. Texas Tech is accredited and ranked. In fact, U.S. News and World Report ranks the school #187 in best national universities and #100 in top public institutions. Also, the online graduate education programs rank #89 out of more than 1,200 surveyed programs.

Pros:

  • Excellent student support services
  • Average student debt upon graduation is lower than national average

Cons:

  • TAs teach a large amount of classes
  • High student-to-faculty ratio

#1 – University of the Cumberlands

Williamsburg, Kentucky

Online EdD in Educational Leadership

Website
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $4,582

The option from the University of the Cumberlands is not a specialized PhD in the special education program. The online EdD in educational leadership does offer courses in:

  • Program Planning and Teaching
  • Learning within the confines of special ed
  • Gifted Learning

What is appealing about this degree is the online option for individuals interested in special education or leadership roles within education. Courses are delivered online and include:

  • Higher Education in America
  • Leadership in Historical Context
  • Program Planning and Assessment

Admission requires a master’s degree from an accredited college or university with a GPA of 3.5 or better. In the event the cumulative GPA is above 3.75, the GRE requirement may be waived. U.S. News and World Report ranks the University of the Cumberlands #230-#301 among the best national universities. Also, the online graduate education programs rank #115 out of more than 1,200 surveyed programs.

Pros:

  • A wide range of graduate program offerings
  • Nationally high ranked graduate school in 2023

Cons:

  • High student-to-faculty ratio
  • Student retention rate is lower than national average

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Frequently Asked Questions

What can I do with an online doctorate in special education?

Special education teachers work directly with students with various emotional, learning, mental, or physical disabilities. However, careers for individuals with an online doctorate in special education vary. With an online doctorate in special education, individuals are prepared for:

  • Research
  • Academic Appointments
  • Policy Making
  • School Administration

All special education graduates offer passion and preparedness in advocating for those with exceptionalities. Special education doctoral students should be patient, caring, and creative on the job, as well as personally. These qualifications, along with adequate schooling, prepare you for careers in special education.

Some of the common professions for individuals with online doctorate in special education degrees include:

  • Instructional Specialists
  • Professors
  • Provosts and Academic Deans
  • Public Policy Researchers
  • Special Education Teachers
  • Principals

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, educational jobs are expected to increase over the next several years. Job opportunities in specific specialties, such as gifted learning or autism, may be better than others. This is due to certain school districts and states allocating resources to heighten awareness. As federal laws change, the hiring of specialists may be impacted. Funding issues and employment layoffs due to budget cuts will impact special education jobs in school districts, but academia will likely not be impacted.

What is the job outlook for individuals with an online doctorate in special education?

The BLS reports the overall employment of special education teachers is projected to grow eight percent through 2026. That’s about as fast as the eight percent average for all occupations. However, postsecondary teachers will see a much faster than average growth rate. In fact, BLS reports the overall employment of postsecondary teachers will grow 15 percent over the next seven years. This percentage is almost double the growth rate for special education teachers.

Enrollment is the biggest factor impacting growth. Community colleges, four-year institutions, and school districts will see increasing enrollment numbers in their student populations. At the community college level, employment growth will likely be in part-time positions and adjunct instructor jobs, while school districts will hire full-time teachers.

Within school districts, teacher replacement impacts hiring. As teachers retire, new teachers must replace those leaving the occupation. Also, particularly in special education, teaching students with disabilities can be stressful. Some teachers choose to leave the classroom and return to school for advanced training. These teachers may not return to the classroom but choose to pursue careers in policy or administration.

The overall job outlook for individuals with adequate training is favorable. Individuals with unique training and an online doctorate in special education will have the best chances for stable employment.

How much money will I make with an online doctorate in special education?

According to PayScale, a global compensation research organization, the average pay for special education teachers is $48,027. The highest earners (top ten percent) receive pay in excess of $70,000 annually. Most individuals with a doctorate in special education do not work as school teachers, but hold careers as educational consultants, policy advocates, or professors.

Salaries vary by professions. Educational consultants earn $61,094 on average with the top 10 percent earning $103,000 per year. Postsecondary professors earn $86,577 on average with the highest earners bringing in $156,000 annually. Of course, discipline and institution impact professor earnings. According to PayScale, the average earnings of an assistant professor of education is $63,862. Associate professors earn $73,511, and professors earn $86,192 on average.

Administrators and directors in special education earn competitive salaries. Most work in school districts as administrators or for local and government agencies. The average director of special education salary, according to PayScale, is $73,846.

Pay by experience for director of special education occupations has a positive trend. This means the more experience a director of special education has, the more money they will likely earn. For example, PayScale reports the entry-level director with less than five years of experience earns $63,000 annually while a director with five to ten years of experience earns $67,000 annually. Employers often value education as experience. This means the more education you have, the higher your earning potential.

What are the admission requirements for online doctorate in special education programs from top-ranked schools?

Online doctorate in special education program admission requirements vary by institution. The highly selective programs on our list require that doctoral students have more than an undergraduate degree and completed application. In fact, top-tier institutions ask for competitive undergraduate GPAs of 3.0 or better, qualifying GRE or GMAT test scores, and two to three letters of recommendation from individuals attesting to the applicant’s research potential.

At a minimum, the schools on our list require that doctoral students earned bachelor’s in education and, in some cases, earned master’s degrees from regionally or nationally accredited colleges or universities. GPA requirements vary, but most programs ask for undergraduate GPAs of 3.0 or better. When master’s degrees are required for admission, GPAs should also reflect stellar performance. Most programs asking for an earned master’s from an accredited institution require a 3.5 GPA.

GRE scores are not the norm across admission’s boards. Programs, especially those with top rankings, will ask for competitive GRE scores. Graduate exams should be taken within the last five years. In fact, most programs will not accept GRE scores taken outside this timeframe.

Additional requirements for PhD in special education programs online include letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose or goals, and writing samples. Most applications may be completed online. Applications do require a fee. These fees vary slightly by school.

How long does it take to earn a doctorate in special education online?

Time to completion for a PhD in special education program online varies by schools and programs. According to our research, many of the doctoral programs take three to five years to earn an online PhD in special education. However, certain factors impact completion time.

The first factor impacting completion time is enrollment. Full-time and part-time enrollment will either shorten or lengthen the time spent earning a doctoral degree. While part-time programs offer flexibility, the program will take additional time. On the other hand, full-time programs allow students to earn their degree in record time. Working professionals may find benefits of part-time programs helpful when balancing family with career obligations. However, there is value in finishing your PhD in special education quickly. A three-year program means that in three years, your earning potential will rise. In a five-year program, students will be in school for two additional years, which can impact earnings.

Most of the PhD in special education online programs on our list offer both part-time and full-time enrollment options. Some programs even offer students flexible enrollment each semester. This means degree candidates may enroll as part-time students one semester and full-time students the next. In addition, flexible enrollment benefits working and busy students and provide them with more freedom while earning their degree.

CVO Staff

Additional Resources:

This concludes our list of the top 10 online doctorates in special education programs.