30 Best Online Special Education Degrees [2024 Bachelor’s Guide]

By Dr. Carol Benton
Updated on December 26, 2023
Ready to start your journey?
Explore the top 30 online special education degree bachelor's for 2023. Discover programs, careers, and salary prospects in the rewarding field of education.

An online special education degree may open doors to rewarding careers. If you have a knack for understanding and helping others, you may be well-suited for a career as a special educator.

Online Special Education Degree

Some students face obstacles due to learning disabilities or mental, emotional, or physical challenges.

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Special educators may assess these students’ needs and provide accommodations to help them succeed as learners.

Online Special Education Degrees

Special Education teacher teaching children with special needs

A Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science in Special Education is the entry-level degree for a professional career as a special educator. You may qualify to teach grades K-12 or specialized adult education programs.

In addition to coursework, degree programs that prepare students for teaching in public schools usually require field experience and internships in public schools. Completion of an internship may make you eligible for licensure or certification to teach in the public schools in your state.

A bachelor’s degree in special education is an education degree with special education as the chosen track or area of concentration. So, these bachelor’s degree programs feature many of the same classes as other degree programs in education.

Like other bachelors programs, earning an online degree in this field requires taking core courses to create a broad educational foundation. Core units include courses in math, English, social sciences, and physical sciences.

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Courses specific to this degree program aim to help you develop the skills and expertise to become a special educator. They focus on building knowledge and skills to teach students with learning challenges and disabilities. Special education courses cover topics such as instructional planning and assessment, social justice for educators, and ethical and legal issues.

Some courses investigate effective teaching methods for teaching math and language skills to students with special needs. You may also cover strategies for behavior management and maintenance of safe learning environments for special education students.

Special Education Careers & Salaries

Special Education Careers & Salaries

Special education teachers are needed in preschools and at all levels in K-12 education. You might also work in residential facilities for people with mental, physical, or emotional disabilities.

The average annual salary for training and development specialists at residential intellectual and developmental disability facilities is $44,890. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, graduates with bachelor’s degrees in this field might pursue the following careers.

Careers Annual Median Salary
Training and Development Specialist $62,700
High School Special Education Teacher $62,320
Middle School Special Education Teacher $61,820
Preschool Special Education Teacher $61,400
Kindergarten and Elementary Special Education Teacher $60,620
Career and Technical Education Teacher $59,140
Adult Literacy and High School Equivalency Diploma Teacher $55,350
Preschool and Childcare Center Director $49,160
Recreational Therapist $47,710
Tutor $40,590

In addition to teaching, special educators often take on extensive administrative responsibilities for managing students’ individualized education plans (IEPs). They are responsible for tracking data related to students’ diagnostic and achievement tests.

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Teachers in this specialty must also collaborate and communicate with other teachers, administrators, and parents. Other career paths you can take as a special educator include tutoring and homeschool consulting. You may teach adults in sheltered workshops, prisons, or adult learning programs. You may even work for nonprofit agencies that serve as advocates for populations with special needs.

Choosing an Online Special Education Degree

Many colleges and universities offer programs to complete your degree in special education online program. While you’re shopping around for the school that’s right for you, you may want to keep these considerations in mind:

  • Accreditation status: Regional accreditation is the gold academic standard for an institution. A degree that is accredited by an organization such as NCATE or CAEP is respected and recognized by employers and other institutions.
  • Cost: Tuition costs and related fees may vary from school to school. Opportunities for financial assistance, scholarships, grants, and work-study programs may also vary.
  • Online track record: You may consider if a school has a successful track record for delivering instruction online. This may also include tech support for online coursework.
  • Online platform accessibility: It can be helpful for learning platforms to be easy to navigate. You may also want to ensure that a platform has easy access to communication with faculty and peers.
  • Course types: Some online courses are conducted live at set times while others are made up of prerecorded materials that can be completed at any time. Your preference may depend on your schedule as well as your personal learning style.

You might also investigate the success of the school’s alumni who work in the field of education. This may include the program’s graduation rates as well as the rate of employment for alumni in the field of education. Program reviews may also be available from students and alumni.

Bachelor’s in Special Education Curriculum & Courses

Tutor teaching a child with special needs

After completing courses in the core curriculum, you may progress into the specialized courses for your major. Here are examples of a few upper level courses that you might take:

  • Instructional Planning and Assessment: You’ll learn to plan effective instruction and to assess student learning outcomes.
  • Survey of Special Education: This course explores the definitions and characteristics of mild to moderate disabilities as well as the educational approaches to help special education students and their families.
  • Social Justice for Educators: This course examines the foundations and dimensions of social justice in education to help you become a culturally competent educator.
  • Ethical and Legal Issues in Special Education: This course is a survey of the laws and ethical practices by which special educators must abide.
  • Teaching Math to Exceptional Students: You’ll learn research-based methodologies for teaching math to students with mild to moderate disabilities.
  • Collaboration and Communication in Special Education: This course is a survey of models for effective collaboration with parents, other teachers, administrators, and community members on behalf of special education students.
  • Assessment and Eligibility in Special Education: You’ll learn to analyze data from diagnostic and assessment tools to determine a student’s eligibility to receive special education services.
  • Language Development for Disabilities and Disorders: This course explores the use of technology and other tools to modify language instruction for students who require accommodations.
  • Creating and Managing Learning Environments: You’ll investigate best practices for creating safe and inclusive classrooms, including strategies for behavior management and behavior interventions.
  • Student Teaching (Internship): Student teaching often entails full-time teaching in a special education setting (approximately 8 weeks to 16 weeks).

Every online degree in this field will feature its own individual differences. The basic structure, though, of accredited degree programs is similar. This uniformity is built in so that students can fulfill requirements to become licensed or certified teachers in public schools.

Admissions Requirements

special ed degrees online

Once you’ve selected your top degree programs, you’ll be ready to begin the admissions process. The following is a general list of requirements for many bachelors degree programs:

  • High school diploma or equivalency (GED)
  • Minimum GPA of 2.0 or above, depending on the school
  • SAT or ACT test scores, if required
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Written essay

Some colleges and universities have eliminated the requirement for minimum standardized test scores (SAT and ACT). Even if your high school GPA or test scores are low, you may still be eligible for admission. In some cases, colleges will admit students on a provisional basis.

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For provisionally admitted students, colleges often provide remedial classes to elevate students’ academic skills to a level where they can be successful in college-level courses. Once you get into graduate programs like an online masters in special education or online doctorate in special education, the requirements will increase and be more strict.


Online Special Education Degree Accreditation

In order for your degree to be widely respected and accepted, it should be accredited by a national organization that specifically accredits degree programs in the field of education.

Two well-known organizations are the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). It can also be helpful for your college or university to hold regional accreditation from one of the seven organizations recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

Financial Aid and Scholarships

Online Special Education Degree Financial Aid

You may qualify to receive financial assistance to help with the cost of college tuition and related fees. To see if you qualify for need-based aid, you may start by completing and submitting your FAFSA form on the Federal Student Aid website.

Another type of financial aid is scholarships, which may be merit-based or need-based. They are often offered from federal agencies, state agencies, community organizations, alumni associations, churches, and employers. You may see if you are eligible for grants as well.

You might qualify for a Pell Grant, a TEACH Grant, or other financial aid options that are specifically available for future teachers. If you’re active military, a military veteran, or a family member of military, you may qualify for federal assistance.

What Can You Do with a Special Education Bachelor’s Degree?

training and development specialist meeting company employees

The majority of teachers who hold a bachelor’s degree in special education work in grades K-12 in public or private schools. You may work in other settings as well, though.

Residential facilities for people with mental, emotional, and physical disabilities and disorders also employ special education graduates as training and development specialists. Prisons and specialized adult education programs need special educators as well.

You may pursue a job as an advocate or consultant who represents the population of people with special needs. With your degree, you might launch a career as a homeschool consultant or tutor for students with special needs. You may even become a director of a camp or of a childcare center that serves children with exceptionalities.

How Much Does a Bachelor’s in Special Education Cost?

Bachelor’s in Special Education student studying on her laptop

The cost of tuition and fees varies for each college or university. In-state tuition for residents can sometimes be less expensive than out-of-state tuition for non-residents.

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Most bachelor’s degrees in special education require about 120 to 130 credit hours for completion. A typical full-time course load for a semester is 12 to 15 credit hours. A survey of university websites reveals a range of tuition costs from as low as $166.41 per credit hour for in-state residents to as high as $1,424.83 per credit hour for out-of-state residents.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Special Education Degree

Special Education Degree student studying online at home

The time it takes for you to complete a special education bachelor’s degree online may depend on your schedule and your ability to enroll full-time or part-time.

If you go to school full-time and attend a university that offers traditional 16 week semesters, you may complete your program in about 4 years. Some colleges offer online programs that run on 8 week semesters. With full-time enrollment year-round, you may complete your degree in less time.

If you are balancing work or family responsibilities while completing your degree, you may decide to enroll on a part-time basis. This route may take you longer to complete the program.

Is a Special Education Degree Worth It?

Special Education teacher teaching a child with special needs

Yes, a bachelor’s degree in special education is worth it for many students. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is projecting 5% job growth in education, training, and library occupations over the next 10 years.

Common special education careers in this field include teacher of special education in preschool or grades K-12, adult literacy teacher, camp director, preschool and childcare director, and training and development specialist in a residential facility. As a teacher of special education, you may have a chance to make a positive difference in the lives of your students.

Universities Offering Online Bachelor’s in Special Education Degree Programs

Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited and offer degree programs online or in a hybrid format.

Ball State University

Ball State University campus

Ball State University offers several different options related to special education at the bachelors, masters, and doctoral levels. There are seven different degree options at the bachelors level alone. Of these seven, the applied behavior analysis bachelors degree is the only one that can be earned via an online program.

Ball State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Central Methodist University

Central Methodist University campus

Students interested in special education at Central Methodist University can enroll in the Bachelor of Special Education program and select the Mild Moderate Disabilities K-12 concentration. It’s a 124 credit program that includes courses such as foundations of education, psychology of the exceptional child, special education processes and counseling.

Central Methodist University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

City University of Seattle

City University of Seattle campus

City University of Seattle offers a 180 credit Bachelor of Arts in Education program, in which students can potentially earn five different endorsements. Two of these include endorsements in special education and English language learners. It’s a comprehensive program that leads to licensure in Washington state. Financial aid is available for students who qualify.

The City University of Seattle is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

Colorado Christian University

Colorado Christian University campus

Both licensure and non-licensure tracks are available in Colorado Christian University’s Bachelor of Arts in Special Education program. Students on the licensure track can potentially earn scholarships via the TEACH Grant, which financially assists students in high-need licensure programs. The licensure track doesn’t grant licensure to students in certain states.

Colorado Christian University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.

Dakota State University

Dakota State University campus

The Bachelor of Special Education in Elementary Education and Special Education degree program at Dakota State University prepares students with the knowledge, skills, tools, and confidence needed to become both elementary classroom and special education teachers. The program teaches students to meet the diverse needs of elementary-aged children, no matter their particular challenges.

Dakota State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Drexel University

Drexel University campus

Drexel University offers an online program for a BS in Special Education. The program includes in-person practicum experiences and is designed to prepare students for certification in the state of Pennsylvania. The curriculum consists of courses such as Early Literacy I and II, Inclusive Practices, and High Incident Disabilities. Drexel’s academic calendar includes four 10 week quarters each year.

Drexel University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

East Carolina University

East Carolina University campus

East Carolina University has a program, the Partnership Teach program, that’s been put in place with various community colleges in North Carolina. It allows students to save money by taking as many classes as possible at the community colleges before transferring to ECU. Special education is one of the available concentrations.

East Carolina University is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Fontbonne University

Fontbonne University campus

The Paraprofessional Pathways to Teaching program at Fontbonne University is taught in conjunction with the school’s Bachelor of Science in Special Education program. The program is perfect for students who are currently working as teacher’s aides or for paraprofessionals who want to become teachers because the program allows students to continue working while earning their degrees.

Fontbonne University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Fort Hays State University

Fort Hays State University campus

Students at Fort Hays State University can’t major in special education, but they can enroll in the elementary education program and select the special education minor. This degree leads to teacher licensure, and the minor teaches program participants to better serve all the students with whom they’ll work.

FHSU is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Grand Canyon University

Grand Canyon University campus

Students in Grand Canyon University’s Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and Special Education program can earn their teaching certifications to become elementary education teachers. They can also gain specialized knowledge in working with students with disabilities. Required courses include survey of special education, Christian worldview, and social justice for educators.

Grand Canyon University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Liberty University

Liberty University campus

Students in Liberty University’s Bachelor of Education in Special Education program can take all required courses online. Student teaching and observations are required to be completed on-site, but these can be conducted in a school in each student’s area. The program usually takes less than 4 years to complete. Liberty also offers an online EdD in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis on special education.

Liberty University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Mayville State University

Mayville State University campus

Mayville State University allows its students to double major in order to earn a Bachelors in Special Education as well as one in either Early Childhood Education, Elementary Education, or Secondary Education. The degrees can lead to teaching licensure in North Dakota, but many other states also accept the degrees.

Mayville State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Notre Dame College

Notre Dame College campus

Graduates of Notre Dame College’s Bachelor of Arts in Education program should be fully prepared to sit for the Ohio Assessments for Educators exam to earn their teaching certificates. They can also choose the Mild Moderate Intervention Specialist K-12 concentration if their goal is to work as special education teachers.

Notre Dame College is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.

Old Dominion University

Old Dominion University campus

Old Dominion University’s special education bachelors program helps students learn to teach a special education general curriculum in grades K-12. At least 30 of the required credits have to be earned at Old Dominion University, and students will also participate in extensive candidate internships and guided field work.

Old Dominion University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Pacific Oaks College

Pacific Oaks College campus

Pacific Oaks College offers its students an online bachelors program that features early childhood education, elementary education, and special education courses in the curriculum. Courses in this program include social, political, and economic foundations of education, educating the student with special needs, and creating inclusive learning environments for all children.

Pacific Oaks College is accredited by the WASC Senior Colleges and Universities Commission.

Post University

Post University campus

The Bachelor of Science in Child Studies program at Post University is a multidisciplinary degree that teaches students about developmentally appropriate pedagogy as well as child development. The program pulls courses and lessons from behavioral sciences, the humanities, education, and the social sciences. This program does not lead to teaching licensure.

Post University is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.

Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College

Saint Mary of the Woods College campus

Students interested in special education at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College can enroll in the Bachelor of Science in Education K-6 program and select the Mild Intervention concentration. It’s a dual licensure program that prepares students to become K-6 teachers while also preparing them to intervene on behalf of children with special needs.

Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

St Petersburg College

St Petersburg College campus

St. Petersburg College students hoping to become special education teachers can earn their Bachelors in Exceptional Student Education. The program is both flexible and affordable. It also features small class sizes and a comprehensive curriculum that should prepare students for every aspect of special education and gifted student instruction.

SPC is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Stephen F. Austin State University

Stephen F Austin State University campus

Stephen F. Austin State University offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees in special education. The goal of the undergraduate program is to turn students into caring, empathetic, effective, and knowledgeable educators. Intense focus is placed on interdisciplinary collaboration, critical thinking skills, ethical principles, continuous professional development, and evidence-based practice.

Stephen F. Austin State University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

University of Alaska – Southeast

University of Alaska Southeast campus

The Bachelor of Arts in Special Education program at University of Alaska – Southeast leads to teaching certification with an additional special education endorsement. Students are taught to work specifically with children who have disabilities, but they’re also taught to work with children in the most remote and rural Alaskan communities.

The University of Alaska – Southeast is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

University of Cincinnati

University of Cincinnati campus

Students enrolled in the Bachelor of Science in Special Education program at University of Cincinnati can select from one of two specializations: Language Arts and Math or Language Arts and Natural Science. The curriculum includes courses such as individuals with exceptionalities, educational psychology, special education law, and promoting positive behaviors.

The University of Cincinnati is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

University of Georgia

University of Georgia campus

University of Georgia’s special education bachelors program is a 2 year program for students hoping to become special education instructors. It’s a cohort-model program, so new students begin each fall. The college also offers an optional Double Dawgs Pathway that allows students to earn an accelerated masters degree online as well.

The University of Georgia is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

University of Massachusetts – Amherst

University of Massachusetts Amherst campus

University of Massachusetts – Amherst doesn’t have a pre-designed online special education bachelors program. It does allow students to take an online Bachelors in Interdisciplinary Studies program and customize their curriculum to earn special education degrees. It’s a non-licensure program, but it does teach students to work effectively with exceptional children.

The University of Massachusetts Amherst is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.

University of South Carolina

University of South Carolina campus

University of South Carolina’s Bachelor of Arts in Special Education program is a high-quality program that teaches students to work with children with intellectual, learning, and emotional disabilities and mild to moderate behavioral disorders. The program can lead to licensure and prepares students for jobs in education or social work.

The University of South Carolina is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

University of Southern Mississippi

University of Southern Mississippi campus

The teacher education program at University of Southern Mississippi is a NCATE accredited program with a heavy special education component. The program features an intense, comprehensive curriculum, and students must complete 840 hours of field-based instruction. Financial aid is available to eligible students, and there are also over 70 foundation-based scholarships.

The University of Southern Mississippi is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

University of Washington

University of Washington campus

University of Washington’s College of Education is considered to be one of the best schools of education in the country by U.S. News & World Report. Its Bachelor of Arts in Early Care and Education is an innovative program that combines educational theory with hands-on, real-world practice. The school’s program is comprehensive, affordable, and flexible.

The University of Washington is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

University of West Alabama

University of West Alabama campus

Students at University of West Alabama can earn their special education bachelors degrees with a concentration in collaborative teaching K-6 or 6-12. The majority of the program can be completed online, but students must attend on-campus seminars occasionally. Internships and field experience must also be done in an Alabama-approved school.

The University of West Alabama is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

University of West Florida

University of West Florida campus

The Bachelor of Arts in Exceptional Student Education program at University of West Florida will help prepare students to become educators of children with exceptionalities. The program is approved by the Florida Department of Education, and upon its completion students will receive certifications in exceptional student education and elementary education.

The University of West Florida is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

University of Wisconsin – Stout

University of Wisconsin Stout campus

University of Wisconsin – Stout’s Bachelor of Science in Special Education program prepares students to teach children and adults, ages 5 through 21, who have behavioral disorders or emotional, cognitive, or learning disabilities. Upon completion of the program, students will earn cross-categorical licenses and can receive autism or post-baccalaureate certificates.

The University of Wisconsin-Stout is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Western Governors University

Western Governors University campus

Students in Western Governors University’s Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education and Special Education program will receive dual teaching licensures upon completion of the program. They’ll be able to teach in regular elementary classrooms or special education programs. Most students finish the program in a little less than 4 years.

Western Governors University is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

Getting Your Bachelors in Special Education Online

Getting Your Bachelors in Special Education Online

A bachelor’s in special education may be a good fit for you if you have a heart for helping people who face special challenges.

If your goal is to become a special educator, you may want to begin researching accredited colleges or universities to find the special education degree program that is best for you. While it often takes time, effort, and determination to complete a degree program, your hard work may lead you to a rewarding career as a special educator.

Ready to start your journey?
Carol is a retired college professor in the field of music education. She holds a Doctor of Musical Arts from Shenandoah University, a Master of Music in piano performance and a Bachelor of Music Education from Virginia Commonwealth University. Carol has many years of experience as a teacher and academic advisor for undergraduates.