The Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program at the USC Rossier School of Education is designed for aspiring K-12 teachers looking to gain the skills and knowledge needed to become great teachers and help all students succeed. In addition to earning a master's degree in a core content area, candidates have the opportunity to further specialize in special education with an Education Specialist Credential in Mild/Moderate Disabilities or gifted education with a Certificate in Gifted Education.

Capella offers a 100% online MS in Special Education Teaching. This program prepares you to instruct children with learning disabilities across diverse populations and apply these skills in real-life situations. Request information about Capella.

Purdue University's online MSEd in Special Education offers separate tracks for initial teacher licensure, and for licensed teachers looking to add advanced endorsements. Request information to learn more.

The online MSEd in Special Education from Saint Joseph's University online MSEd in Special Education from Saint Joseph's University offers concentrations in ASD, Hearing Impairment and the Wilson Reading System®. Request information to learn more.

Top 10 Online PhD in Special Education Programs

An online Ph.D. in Special Education or online Ed.D. in Special Education will prepare you for one of two career streams: work in a college or university or in a research agency or organization. Programs typically include coursework, a research apprenticeship or dissertation, and practical experiences which help graduates prepare research that will be used to contribute to the knowledge base in special education. You can work toward your degree online, which gives you the flexibility to complete your coursework from anywhere.

We created this list of the top 15 online Ph.D. in Special Education programs. We received our initial list of graduate programs in special education from College Navigator and narrowed down our list to include only those programs offering a Ph.D. or Ed.D. in Special Education. We also included programs that offered special education as a concentration area. Schools selected to be included in our list offer most their coursework online (allowing students to continue living in their current city), have a positive online reputation, are regionally accredited, and have faculty with special education experience. Programs are ranked first by accreditation status, with preference given to schools with NCATE or TEAC accreditation), then by number and length of residency. In keeping with the intention of the article, preference was given to schools that did not require a residency.


Ranking Ph.D. Special Education Online Programs

#15 – Gwynned-Mercy College – Gwynedd Valley, Pennsylvania

Online Accelerated Executive Doctorate of Education with a concentration in Special Education

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Students who have completed a doctoral program but have not yet completed a dissertation may be interested in the Online Accelerated Executive Doctorate of Education with a concentration in Special Education from Gwynedd-Mercy College. This 18-month program matches each student to an advisor who conducts regular dissertation advisement sessions. Most coursework can be completed online, however there are three short residencies required. A practicum experience may also be required as part of the program. Graduates of the program have gone on to become leaders in school districts, colleges, educational policy organizations, and government agencies.

#14 – City University of Seattle – Seattle, Washington

Doctor of Education in Leadership-Specialized Study Concentration

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City University of Seattle features a flexible Ed.D. program that can be tailored to meet the needs of special education professionals. The program can be completed in just two and half years, and boasts high satisfaction ratings from those surveyed. The online Doctor of Education program has a liberal transfer credit policy which benefits students with extensive work or professional experience. Three residencies are required as part of the program. Each of the residencies focuses on a piece of the dissertation process.

#13 – Grand Canyon University – Phoenix, Arizona

Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership with an Emphasis in Special Education

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Grand Canyon University offers an online Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership with an emphasis in Special Education. This 60-credit hour program features an in-depth, research based approach. Students are familiarized with the dissertation process right from the beginning and complete two dissertation themed residencies. Courses cover topics areas such as human development, leadership practices, global history and politics of education, and governance structures in special education. Graduates have gone on to become special education consultants, curriculum developers, policymakers, and school administrators.

#12 – Drexel University – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Ed.D. in Educational Leadership and Management concentration in Special Education Leadership

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Drexel University features an entirely online Ed.D. in Educational Leadership and Management with a concentration in Special Education. Students develop the skills needed to lead complex organizations including schools, service agencies, and government offices. This accelerated degree program is offered part-time to allow students to continue working throughout the duration of the program. Students can complete the program in three years. Drexel University offers students personalized academic and career advisement.

#11 – Slippery Rock University – Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania

Doctor in Special Education

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Accreditation: NCATE
Slippery Rock University features a Doctor in Special Education that prepares students for leadership positions in the field. Students take both synchronous and asynchronous courses during the fall, winter, and spring semesters. During the summer, there are weekend face-to-face meetings to allow students to engage with faculty. The program follows a cohort model and can be completed in three years of study. Faculty are experienced in the field and work to prepare students to be successful in high demand areas.

#10 – Regent University – Virginia Beach, Virginia

Online Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)-Special Education

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Accreditation: TEAC
Regent University features an online Ed.D. in Special Education with a focus on education research, practice, and policy. Students learn how to interpret data, develop research-based interventions, and understand the history behind best practices. While most courses can be completed online, there is a required four-day summer residency each July. The residency allows students to get together to interact with faculty and gain professional experience. Graduates of the program have become successful in areas related to education research, education policy, education advocacy, and central office executive leadership.

#9 – University of Northern Colorado – Greeley, Colorado

Special Education, PhD

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Accreditation: NCATE
The University of Northern Colorado in Greeley features an online Ph.D. in Special Education. This NCATE accredited program prepares students for leadership positions in both public and private schools, as well as colleges, government organizations, and businesses. The program provides flexibility for students to focus on areas of interest such as autism, behavior disorders, special education research, or university teaching. UNC is home to three different special education training centers which give doctoral students the opportunity to be advocates for change in the field. This 72-81 credit hour program takes between three and five years to complete through a mixture of online and in person courses, allowing special education professionals to continue working while pursuing their doctoral degree.

#8 – Capella University – Minneapolis, Minnesota

Online Ph.D. in Special Education Leadership

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Accreditation: NCATE
Capella University features an online Ph.D. in Special Education Leadership. While most coursework can be completed online, there are three four-day residencies required to engage with faculty and work on dissertation requirements. Students typically complete one or two courses at a time, with each course lasting 10 weeks. This 92-credit hour program offers a liberal transfer credit policy by allowing up to 16 credit hours to be transferred in. With various start times throughout the year, students can begin the program when it is most convenient.

#7 – Liberty University – Lynchburg, Virginia

Ed. D. Curriculum & Instruction: Special Education

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Accreditation: NCATE
Liberty University features Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction with a focus on Special Education. This 60-credit hour program features three on-campus intensives to allow students to engage with faculty and staff and build relationships with peers. A six-credit hour dissertation is also required as part of the program and requires an on-campus dissertation defense. As part of the program, students learn to use a variety of technology resources to enhance classroom instruction. Graduates are prepared to work in a variety of positions including researcher, school administrator, and university professor.

#6 – Walden University – Minneapolis, Minnesota

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) with a specialization in Special Education

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Accreditation: NCATE
Walden University offers an online Ed.D. with a specialization in Special Education that can be completed in two years of study. This 76-quarter hour program includes one three-day, face-to-face residency to allow students to meet with faculty members, share experiences with peers, and work directly with support staff. Students complete two courses every 11 weeks once they have completed the Foundation course. Coursework focuses on real-world case scenarios that are meant to challenge current attitudes and beliefs. A capstone project focused on impacting positive social change is required at the completion of the program.

#5 – University of Colorado – Denver, Colorado

Doctor of Education, Leadership for Educational Equity (Ed.D.) with a concentration in Early Childhood Special Education/Early Childhood Education

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Accreditation: NCATE
The Doctor of Education, Leadership for Educational Equity program at the University of Colorado features an innovative concentration in Early Childhood Special Education. The program is ideal for practitioners who want to support young children by improving outcomes. Students will be prepared to work in administrative roles within school districts and organizations and provide leadership and guidance. The program features both a three-year and a five-year track. The three-year track follows a cohort model, with students taking two courses each semester. The five-year track is a more flexible option for working professionals. Students take courses year round and move in and out of different cohorts.

#4 – Nova Southeastern University – Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) with a specialization in Special Education

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Accreditation: NCATE
Nova Southeastern University offers an Ed.D. with a specialization in Special Education designed for professionals who want to pursue a career as a professor, administrator, or service provider. Students work with a full-time faculty member to create their own individualized program of study that meets their personal and professional goals. While coursework can be completed online, students are required to attend a Summer Institute on campus. The online program allows students to continue in their current employment without needing to relocate to complete their Ed.D. Concentrations are also available in Autism and Applied Behavior Analysis.

#3– West Virginia University – Morgantown, West Virginia

Special Education Doctoral Degree Ed.D. Online

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Accreditation: NCATE
The online Special Education Doctoral Degree program from West Virginia University prepares students for an exciting career working as special education faculty members at the college level. The program follows a cohort model, with courses beginning in the fall semester. Coursework can be completed entirely online. Students engage with faculty and peers through interactive, live sessions. Online students pay the same low in-state tuition rate regardless of their location. Admission to the program is selective and students need to have at least two years of public school teaching experience working with individuals with exceptionalities.

#2 – Concordia University – Chicago, Illinois

Special Education Leadership, Ed.D./Ph.D.

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Accreditation: NCATE
Concordia University in Chicago features a Special Education Leadership Ph.D. or Ed.D. The Special Education Leadership PhD program is a 67-credit hour research track program that features coursework in research design, quantitative research, survey design, statistics, and qualitative research. The 61-credit hour Special Education Leadership Ed.D. program is a practitioner track program with courses dedicated to special education leadership and advocacy. Courses are offered 100% online, with no on campus residency required. Students complete a comprehensive examination and dissertation to demonstrate the knowledge and skills attained from the program.

#1 – Northcentral University – Prescott Valley, Arizona

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) with a specialization in Special Education

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Accreditation: TEAC
Northcentral University offers a Doctor of Education degree with a specialization in Special Education with no required on-campus residency. An innovative 1:1 teaching method is used to help students achieve their personal and professional goals. Faculty are experienced in the field and all faculty have earned their doctorate degree. Coursework covers court and legal cases related to special education, federal mandates, case studies, and application of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act. Graduates of the program are prepared to work in school administration or in a college disability office helping special education students.

Career Opportunities

Graduates can look forward to career opportunities as faculty members, directors of special education, health services managers, state or federal grant coordinators or school psychologist supervisors.

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