In this article, we profile the top 25 online doctorate in special education programs.
Special education teachers and specialists work with students, schools, or organizations to meet the unique needs of those with learning, mental, emotional, and physical disabilities. With an online doctorate in special education, individuals may pursue careers as a special education teacher, early intervention specialist, special education advocate, or special education administrator. Also, with extensive research in the field, graduates of online doctorate in special education programs become qualified to teach at the college level to help prepare teachers and other educators in the field. Online doctorate in special education programs are available from some of the nation’s top-ranked and accredited colleges and universities.
Top 25 Online Doctorate in Special Education Methodology
We looked at approximately 45 colleges and universities listed by the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) College Navigator that offered online doctorate in special education, education, and closely related online programs. We narrowed our original pool of schools 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, and affordable graduate tuition and fees. We then listed our top 25 programs according to raw affordability.
Below is our list of the top 25 online doctorate in special education or closely related degree programs.
Best PhD Special Education Online Programs Reviewed
#25 – Johns Hopkins University
Online EdD in Education
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $55,816
Johns Hopkins University is one of the few highly ranked institutions to offer an online EdD in special education, or closely related degree program. The online EdD program offers three areas of specialization that students may choose from to further enhance and focus their studies. For those interested in special education, a specialization in mind, brain, and teaching is ideal. This specialization is designed for educators interested in cognition and learning. Applicants to the online doctoral special ed program are encouraged to submit their GRE scores as well as a completed application. U.S. News and World Report ranks Johns Hopkins #10 in best national universities. Also, the publication ranks Johns Hopkins #18 in best value schools.
#24 – University of Southern California
Online EdD in Special Education
Los Angeles, California
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $45,561
University of Southern California offers two online EdD in special education-related degree programs. EdD students may earn a doctorate in educational leadership or organizational change and leadership with a credential in special education. These degrees may be completed online with classes taught by USC’s esteemed professors. The doctorate consists of 43 or 60 units, depending on which pathway the student chooses. Admission requires an earned bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university, a superior scholastic record and 3.0 GPA, a record of leadership, and qualifying GMAT or GRE scores. U.S. News and World Report ranks USC #22 in best national universities and #37 in best value schools.
#23 – Drexel University
Online EdD – Special Education Leadership
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $34,995
Drexel University’s online doctorate in special education is an EdD online program that emphasizes leadership and management in schools and organizations. The EdD program can be completed in three to five years on a part-time basis, allowing students to work full-time while earning their degree. There is no residency requirement, and all courses and the dissertation process may be completed 100 percent online. Several concentration options are available, including the special education leadership pathway. The special ed leadership concentration prepares students with the unique knowledge and skills needed to successfully direct programs within special education. U.S. News and World Report ranks Drexel #102 in best national universities. Also, the online graduate education programs rank #17 out of more than 1,200 surveyed programs.
#22 – Lehigh University
Online EdD in Educational Leadership
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $27,130
One of the top online EdD in special education programs on our list is the online EdD in educational leadership at Lehigh University. This 60-credit program is designed for international educators in leadership positions. The program is designed to offer online classes during the fall and spring semesters, while requiring on-site learning during the summer semester in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Specialization electives in special education and special education leadership may be added to the EdD program. Courses include diversity and multicultural perspectives, education and inclusion of individuals with special needs in K-12, and leadership and management of special education programs. The school is ranked and accredited. In fact, U.S. News and World Report ranks Lehigh #53 in best national universities and #27 in best value schools.
#21 – Nova Southeastern University
Online PhD in Special Education
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $20,620
Nova Southeastern University offers an online doctorate in special education or EdD in special education. Both programs may be completed online and require strong academic undergraduate performance for admission. Applicants must submit official transcripts from all colleges or universities, a bachelor’s degree, and at least a 3.0 GPA. Test scores from the MAT or GRE are also required. Courses featuring special education topics include issues in special education administration, multicultural issues in special education, and special education law and policy. Nova Southeastern is ranked by major publications. In fact, U.S. News and World Report ranks the school #191 in best national universities. Also, the online graduate education programs rank #166 out of more than 1,200 surveyed programs.
#20 – St. John’s University
Online PhD in Literacy
Queens, New York
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $18,836
One closely related alternative to the online PhD in special education includes the online PhD in literacy from St. John’s University. The literacy PhD also offers a special education specialization that covers a wide range of topics and classes designed to prepare students for careers in leadership and training in special education. Courses include curriculum adaptation and modification planning for exceptional students, education of individuals with exceptionalities, and principles of applied behavior analysis. St. John’s is a ranked and accredited institution. In fact, U.S. News and World Report ranks the school #152 in best national universities. Also, the online graduate education programs, including the online PhD in literacy, ranks #61 out of more than 1,200 surveyed programs.
#19 – University of Illinois
Online EdD – Diversity and Equity
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $18,126
The University of Illinois offers a type of EdD program well-suited for those interested in a special education doctorate online. The EdD offers four concentrations, including diversity and equity, global studies in education, human resource development, and learning design and leadership. Courses are delivered online and taught by the same esteemed professors who instruct on campus. Applicants to the online program must hold an accredited undergraduate degree from an accredited university or college, have a minimum GPA of 3.0, and provide a personal statement. U.S. News and World Report ranks the institution #46 in best national universities.
#18 – Northcentral University
Online PhD in Special Education
San Diego, California
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $17,917
Northcentral University’s online PhD in special education provides doctoral candidates with the knowledge and skills to implement the six pillars of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA). There is a total of 20 courses, which take 20 months to complete. The online PhD requires 60 credit hours. Classes are delivered entirely online and taught by doctoral faculty. Also, to ensure students receive individual attention, students receive personalized mentoring from an assigned professor. U.S. News and World Report recognizes Northcentral among the top national universities. Also, several of the school’s online graduate programs have received rankings in the top 200, top 250, and top 300 measured programs.
#17 – Slippery Rock University
Online EdD in Special Education
Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $16,387
As an alternative to the online PhD in special education, Slippery Rock University offers an EdD in special education that requires less time to complete. The special education online doctoral degree is student-centered and convenient, blending online courses in both synchronous and asynchronous delivery. The cohort program is intended to be completed in three years by taking an average of two classes every term, including summer. Applicants must submit two letters of recommendation, official transcripts from bachelor’s and master’s programs, and meet satisfactory GPA requirements of 3.0 for undergraduate and 3.5 for graduate. U.S. News and World Report ranks Slippery Rock #90 in best regional universities in the North.
#16 – Regent University
Online PhD in Education – Special Education
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $16,179
Regent University’s special education doctorate online program is a seventy-five-credit hour degree that can be completed nearly entirely online. Four-day required residencies must be completed alongside online coursework, though courses are delivered entirely online. These courses include advanced study of best practices in special education, Christian worldview for educators, issues in education, research design and analysis, statistics interpretation, and strategic planning and program evaluation. Applicants must submit unofficial transcripts, GRE test scores, and complete an online application. U.S. News and World Report ranks Regent #201 in best national universities. Also, the online graduate education programs rank #61 out of more than 1,200 surveyed programs.
#15 – University of Toledo
Online PhD in Curriculum and Instruction – Special Education
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $15,427
University of Toledo’s special education doctorate online program emphasizes curriculum and instruction within the special education confines. The program is the only of its kind that has been approved by the Ohio Council of Graduate Schools. Doctoral candidates complete a total of seventy credits online in approximately four to five years by taking two courses each semester, including summer. To be admitted to the online doctoral program, prospective students must hold a master’s degree from an accredited four-year institution with a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0. U.S. News and World Report ranks University of Toledo among the top 300 best national universities. Also, the online graduate education programs rank #132 out of more than 1,200 surveyed programs.
#14 – University of Florida
Online EdD in Special Education
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $12,737
University of Florida’s online EdD in special education program is designed to develop expert practitioners to serve the special needs communities in Florida and outside areas. Admission to the program is selective. The school requires applicants meet the minimum GPA and test scores. Applicants must provide letters of recommendation, curriculum vitae, a statement of goals, and academic writing samples. Classes are delivered online and taught by doctoral professors with experience both academically and professionally. The institution is ranked and accredited. In fact, U.S. News and World Report ranks University of Florida #35 in best national universities and #91 in best value schools. Also, the online graduate education programs rank #1 out of more than 1,200 U.S. News and World Report surveyed programs.
#13 – University of Northern Colorado
Online PhD in Special Education
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $12,444
The online PhD in special education program at University of Northern Colorado meets the needs of working professionals. Students may earn their doctoral degree completely online through UNC’s extended campus program. Courses are offered in the fall and spring terms. Summer terms are reserved for electives, research tools courses, externship, and dissertation. Some of the online classes include advanced research methods, law of exceptionalities, preparing teachers of students with exceptionalities, research in exceptionalities, and theories of exceptionality. A total of 72-81 credits are required for the PhD in special education. U.S. News and World Report ranks UNC #230-#301 in best national universities. Also, the online graduate education programs rank #46 out of more than 1,200 surveyed programs.
#12 – Arizona State University
Online EdD in Leadership & Innovation
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $12,134
One of the most affordable and top-ranked special education doctorate online programs on our list is offered by Arizona State University. The EdD program requires 20 courses and a total of 90 credit hours. Coursework is delivered online and includes preparation and research in PK-12 change leadership, higher education change leadership, and systems and reimagined change leadership. While the focus is not on special education, electives are available to provide degree candidates with knowledge in exceptionality and leadership within the special education community. Admission requires a stellar undergraduate performance, letters of recommendation, and writing samples. There is no GRE requirement. ASU is accredited and ranked. In fact, U.S. News and World Report ranks the school #115 in best national universities.
#11 – Hampton University
Online PhD in Educational Management
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $11,916
Hampton University is one of the only schools on our list to offer education management and special education doctorate online programs. The uniquely designed PhD in educational management consists of 66 credits, including a specialization option in special education. Courses are delivered online and taught by Hampton’s esteemed academics. Classes run nine weeks in length, and the overall degree completion time is just 2.5 years. To apply to the program, successful candidates offer a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution with an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or better. Also, GRE scores below 150 will be considered for provisional admission after the submission of a writing sample. Other admission requirements include two letters of recommendation and a personal interview. U.S. News and World Report ranks Hampton #27 in best regional universities in the South.
#10 – Gwynedd Mercy University
Online EdD in Leadership – Special Education
Gwynedd Valley, Pennsylvania
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $11,286
Gwynedd Mercy University’s online EdD in special education program is designed for working professionals wanting to excel in supervisory roles within the education systems. Degree candidates take online courses, complete a practicum, and conduct research to satisfy 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, and 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.
#9 – Grand Canyon University
Online EdD in Organizational Leadership – Special Education
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $10,760
Grand Canyon University’s online doctorate in special education 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, and 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.
#8 – Indiana University
Online EdD in Literacy, Culture, and Language Education
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $10,564
The highly specialized literacy doctoral program at Indiana University might appeal to individuals thinking about pursuing special education doctorate online degrees. The program can be completed entirely online and emphasizes literacy, culture, and language education, making it 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, and theoretical issues in the study of language and literacies. Admission to the program 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.
#7 – Ball State University
Online EdD in Special Education
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $9,392
The online EdD in special education program at Ball State University is designed to prepare individuals to serve in a unique career 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, and teaching and learning in emotional and behavioral disorders. Degree candidates complete a 15-credit residency, a comprehensive examination, and dissertation prior to graduation. U.S. News and World Report ranks Ball State #171 in best national universities and #91 in top public schools.
#6 – Concordia University
Online EdD/PhD in Leadership – Special Education
River Forest, Illinois
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $9,180
One of the top online EdD in special education programs on our list is offered by Concordia University. The 61-credit hour EdD or 67-credit hour PhD is designed for candidates who wish to continue their special education as scholars, researchers, or educators in leadership roles. In addition to classes, a dissertation and comprehensive examination are required to satisfy degree components. Some of the online courses include current issues and trends in special education, international perspectives in special education, special education law and policy, and 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.
#5 – University of Southern Mississippi
Online PhD in Education – Special Education
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $8,624
University of Southern Mississippi’s online doctorate in special education requires a minimum of 54-69 hours (plus the dissertation) past the master’s degree. The PhD in education program places emphasis on teacher education, research, and community services. In an online format, 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 University of Southern Mississippi #230-#301 in best national universities.
#4 – Liberty University
Online EdD in Special Education
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $8,333
Several options are available at Liberty University for individuals seeking an online doctorate in special education. 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, and organization and design of gifted education programs. Admission requires applicants 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.
#3 – University of Colorado
Online EdD in Leadership and Educational Equity
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $8,017
Individuals looking for an accredited online doctorate in special education may be interested in University of Colorado’s online EdD programs. Two tracks are offered in the online EdD–leadership and educational equity focus, blending 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 as part of the program. Admission requires graduate work with a 3.2 GPA, five or more years of experience in an educational setting, and strong interest in educational practice. U.S. News and World Report ranks 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.
#2 – Texas Tech University
Online PhD in Special Education
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $8,015
Texas Tech University offers one of the top online PhD in special education programs on our list. Designed for professional educators, the online program prepares graduates in areas of 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, as well as 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.
#1 – University of the Cumberlands
Online EdD in Educational Leadership
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $5,970
While not a specialized online doctorate in special education, the online EdD in educational leadership does offer courses in program planning and teaching and learning within the confines of special ed and 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, and 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 University of the Cumberlands #230-#301 in best national universities. Also, the online graduate education programs rank #115 out of more than 1,200 surveyed programs.
Frequently Asked Questions
What can I do with an online doctorate in special education?
While special education teachers work directly with students who have a wide range of emotional, learning, mental, or physical disabilities, 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, and school administration.
All special education graduates offer passion and preparedness in advocating for individuals with exceptionalities. Special education doctoral candidates 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, and special education teachers or principals.
Jobs in education, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 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 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 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the overall employment of special education teachers is projected to grow eight percent through 2026, 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 seems to be the biggest factor impacting growth. Community colleges, four-year institutions, and school districts will see increasing enrollment numbers among their student populations. At the community college level, employment growth is likely to 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 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 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 online doctorate in special education programs 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 an online doctorate in special education 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 time spent earning a doctoral degree. Part-time programs offer flexibility while 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 online doctorate 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 two additional years, which can impact earnings.
Most of the online doctorate in special education 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 a part-time student one semester and a full-time student the next. Flexible enrollment benefits working and busy students and provides them with more freedom while earning their degree.
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