Educating special needs children takes a set of skills that goes beyond what's learned in a standard elementary education degree. Bachelor's degree programs in special education are designed to impart valuable lessons about working with these exceptional students individually, in small groups and in a whole classroom setting.
The typical special education curriculum aims to provide a balanced understanding of both the history of the discipline and contemporary approaches to teaching for special needs. Students in these programs learn about language development, instructional planning, professional ethics in special education and more.
If you're thinking about adding special education to your career path but can't take the time necessary to complete a traditional college program, don't overlook the online degrees available for special education degree students. Online special education programs can often be easier on your schedule than campus-based programs, and many universities offer discounts on tuition for distance education programs.
Best Colleges for Special Education Degree Programs
We researched the top schools for special education by digging into data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), scoring the results with our multi-point methodology and ranking the top finishers. Click the button to see how we sorted the data for each school, and read on below to learn about the ten best colleges for special education degree programs.
The statistics suggest that our No. 1 school has a commitment to student success. No other school on our list set aside a larger portion of its annual budget for instructional improvements and academic support expenses, and flexibility measures like accessible online, weekend and evening courses are widely available.
Granite State College offers one of the fully online special education degrees on our list, delivered as part of a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in early childhood education. Coursework includes instruction on child development, special education law and effective use of classroom technology. Students who complete this program become eligible to sit for both early childhood and special education certifications from the New Hampshire Department of Education.
Named for Sinte Gleska, a Lakota tribal chief and statesman from the 19th century, this Mission, South Dakota, school ran away with the top spot in our affordability category. The average cost of tuition and fees paid by Sinte Gleska University students in 2015-16 was just $3,154, working out to around $2,200 less than the second-place school in that category.
The special education program here is also bundled with another degree, this time in elementary education. Students declare their intention for the program at the end of or after their sophomore year, once they've completed a list of prerequisites that includes child growth and development, educational psychology, adolescent psychology and Lakota language, history and culture.
Only two other schools on our list reserved as large a percentage of their annual budget to spend on instructional expenses like course development and classroom technology as this Minnesota institution. What's more, Saint Cloud State University ranked No. 2 for the total number of degrees awarded in 2015, giving its campus the comfortable feel of a medium-sized university.
St. Cloud State allows its students access to state-of-the-art tools and facilities, including the latest in adaptive technology and a discovery center where they can investigate new equipment, literature and methods. You can also get valuable hands-on experience working with special needs students through a partnership with St. Cloud school district.
As well as ranking No. 4 overall, Peru State College took the No. 4 spot on the affordability metric. Students at the Nebraska school paid less than $6,400 on average in 2015, approximately $700 lower than the mean cost of all schools that made our top ten.
Special education degrees at PSC are divided into three grade-level specializations — kindergarten through sixth grade, seventh through twelfth grade and a full K-12 endorsement. Although no fully online special education degrees are available at PSC, you may be able to take some of your general education core courses in the virtual classroom. More than 58 percent of students enrolled in 2015 took at least a portion of their program online.
A combination of smaller class sizes and more available time for faculty to work individually with students tends to increase student success, and the numbers show that the University of Maine at Farmington is bringing that concept to life. The 150-year-old school had a student-faculty ratio of 14:1 in 2015 and posted that year's No. 2 graduation rate among schools that made our top ten.
The B.S. in special education at UMF is the only degree of its kind in the state and features a wealth of opportunities to test and refine your skills in real-world classroom settings, thanks to close relationships with local schools and required student-teaching sections in the curriculum.
Indiana's Ball State University awarded more than 800 special education degrees in 2015 — the most of any school in our top ten — so you're likely to find at least a few kindred spirits among your classmates. It also ranked No. 4 for the proportion of its annual budget that went to support services like academic advising and reported the highest graduation rate of any of the schools on our list.
Special education students at BSU can choose between two undergraduate programs, one in early childhood special education and one dual major in elementary and special education. The bachelor's programs in education here have a strong classroom technology focus, so students are required to have personal laptops on which to work while they learn.
Just two schools in our top ten charged their students lower rates of tuition and fees than Chadron State College, which also took the No. 2 spot in our distance education category for the more than 72 percent of its student body that took at least some of their classes online in 2015. The Nebraska school also offers partially online degrees for special education students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
Endorsements for K-12 and birth to third grade learners are available separately at CSC, both of which focus their instruction on program planning and assessment for children with mild to moderate disabilities. Both endorsement plans contain student-teacher internship sections and core courses in educational psychology and classroom tech.
This Massachusetts school ranked No. 3 among our top ten schools for its graduation rate and placed a higher budgetary priority on academic counseling and other support expenses than all other institutions on our list but two. On-campus flexibility was a bright spot here, also, with certain classes available on weekends or in the evening for students with busy weekday schedules.
Available programs include a Bachelor of Science in Education (B.S.Ed.) degree plan in special education, two special education minors and a five-year dual licensure program that leads to a B.S.Ed. in elementary education and a Master of Education (M.Ed.) degree in special education. BSU was also one of the few schools on our list to offer a dedicated study track for aspiring teachers of severely disabled students.
The B.S.Ed. program in special education at Armstrong State University has two tiers of assessment requirements for students. First, you must apply for admission to the special education track after having successfully completed an initial Georgia Assessment for the Certification of Educators (GACE) exam and a list of lower-division education and math courses. Once you're ready to begin into your internship, you'll take a second GACE exam and submit a second application packet.
Students here paid the second-lowest average tuition and fees amount of any school on our list — just $5,730 for the year. ASU also had a healthy 28 percent enrollment in distance education courses and offers fully online master's degrees for special education students.
This small two-year school in Berlin, New Hampshire, earned a unique distinction among our top ten schools, and students who like one-on-one time with their professors should take note: the student-faculty ratio at White Mountains Community College was just 8:1 in 2015. To put that in perspective, U.S. News and World report calculates the national average student-faculty ratio as 16:1, fully double the number of students per faculty member at WMCC.
Special education students here earn an Associate of Arts (A.A.) degree in early childhood education with a special education study track. A standalone special education certificate is also available, as well as a certificate in autism education that can be completed entirely online.
Special Education Degree Programs and Common Career Paths
Some special education teachers may have advanced credentials like Master of Education (M.Ed.) or Educational Specialist (Ed.S.) degrees, but a large percentage of those working in public schools start out with a bachelor's degree. Here's some general info on undergraduate study plans and the careers where your skills can be most useful.
Career Outlook for Special Education Majors
Jobs for special education teachers are on the rise, and knowing just what you can expect from the job market might help you make the transition from student to teacher a little more easily. Check out these employment projection numbers from the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Financial Aid and Scholarships in Special Education
Students studying to enter high-need fields like special education often receive special consideration for the federal TEACH Grant, which provides up to about $3,700 per year to help future teachers pay for their schooling. Many other scholarships and grants also exist at the state or institutional level. Here's some info on special education scholarships and other financial aid options.
February 1 (Priority)
Renewable for two years
November 1 (fall); May 1 (spring)
Reapplication is required for renewal.
To be included in these rankings, all schools must meet the following initial criteria for the specific subject being ranked.
- Offer an undergraduate degree (either associate or bachelor’s) in that subject.
- Have awarded at least one degree or certificate in that subject in the most recent year of IPEDS data available.
Based on those criteria, we ranked all 2-year and 4-year schools in IPEDS that reported data for all of the following points. Ratings are calculated on a 10-point scale, using the weights specified.
- In-state undergraduate tuition & fees, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Graduation rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Accessibility, based on admissions rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Institutional spending, based on two equally weighted factors, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Instructional and academic support expenses per full-time enrolled student
- Instructional and academic support spending as a percentage of all expenses
- Student-to-faculty ratio, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Flexibility, based on the following factors, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Percent of students enrolled fully or partly in distance education
- Whether the school offers programs that can be completed entirely in the evenings and on weekends
- Whether the school offers academic and career counseling
- Whether the school offers job placement services for students who complete their programs
- Whether the school offers any alternative tuition plans, such as a payment plan or guaranteed rate
- Size of program, based on how many of the degrees and certificates awarded in 2014-15 were in this particular subject, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Related subjects, based on the number of similar topics for programs in relevant CIP codes that are offered at any level, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2015-16, National Center for Education Statistics, accessed October 2017, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- Most Recent Cohorts (All Data Elements): 2016-17, College Scorecard, U.S. Department of Education, https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/data/
- School pages, accessed November 21-22, 2017: Special and Elementary Education, Bachelor of Science in Education, Degree Program Student Learning Outcomes, Northern Arizona University, https://catalog.nau.edu/learningoutcomes/details?plan=SPELMBSED&mobile=true; Special Education Major, Southern New Hampshire University, https://www.snhu.edu/campus-majors/undergraduate/ba-special-education; Early Intervention Specialist Certificate, University of Dayton, https://www.udayton.edu/education/learn/graduate/early-childhood-intervention-specialist-cert.php; Early Childhood Education (B.S.), Granite State College, https://www.granite.edu/degree-programs/bachelors-degrees/early-childhood-education/; Chief Sinte Gleska (Spotted Tail) & the Sicangu People, Sinte Gleska University, http://www.sintegleska.edu/sinte-gleska.html; Application for Admission to Teacher Education, K-8 Elementary Education/K-12 Special Education, Sinte Gleska University, http://www.sintegleska.edu/uploads/1/1/3/8/11384118/app_for_admin_-_k-8_k12.pdf; Special Education, St. Cloud State University, https://www.stcloudstate.edu/programs/special-education/default.aspx; Special Education Programs & Courses, Peru State College, http://www.peru.edu/sped/courses; Peru State Online, Peru State College, http://www.peru.edu/online/; Special Education, University of Maine at Farmington, http://www.umf.maine.edu/majors-academics/special-education/; Bachelor's Degrees, Special Education, Ball State University, http://cms.bsu.edu/academics/collegesanddepartments/teachers/departments/specialed/academics/bachdegree; Special Education, Chadron State College, http://catalog.csc.edu/undergraduate/programs/special-education/#endorsementstext; Online Learning, Chadron State College, https://www.csc.edu/online/; Department of Special Education, Bridgewater State University, https://www.bridgew.edu/academics/colleges-departments/department-special-education; Special Education, Teacher of Students with Severe Disabilities (All Levels), Bridgewater State University, http://catalog.bridgew.edu/preview_program.php?catoid=11&poid=3469&returnto=1065; BSED in Special Education, Armstrong State University, https://www.armstrong.edu/academic-departments/bsed-sped-program-overview; BSED in Special Education Curriculum, Armstrong State University, https://www.armstrong.edu/academic-departments/bsed-sped-curriculum; Online Programs, Armstrong State University, https://www.armstrong.edu/degree-programs/online-programs; Teacher Education/Early Childhood Education Degree, White Mountains Community College, http://www.wmcc.edu/academics/degree-programs/teacher-education-degree; Special Education Certificate, White Mountains Community College, http://www.wmcc.edu/academics/certificate-programs/special-education-certificate; Autism Education Certificate, White Mountains Community College, http://www.wmcc.edu/academics/certificate-programs/autism-education-certificate;
- 21 Liberal Arts Colleges With the Lowest Student-Faculty Ratios, U.S. News and World Report, Jordan Friedman, April 19, 2016, accessed November 21, 2017, https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/the-short-list-college/articles/2016-04-19/21-liberal-arts-colleges-with-the-lowest-student-faculty-ratios
- Special Education Teachers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed November 21, 2017, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/special-education-teachers.htm
- Professional organization pages, accessed November 21, 2017: Join NEA, National Education Association, https://ims.nea.org/JoinNea/; Membership Benefits, National Association of Special Education Teachers, http://www.naset.org/benefits.0.html; Benefits of Membership, American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, http://aaidd.org/about-aaidd/membership-join/benefits-of-membership;
- TEACH Grants, Federal Student Aid, U.S. Department of Education, accessed November 21, 2017, https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/types/grants-scholarships/teach
- Scholarship directory data is copyrighted material which is reproduced on this website by permission of Wintergreen Orchard House, a division of Carnegie Communications. Copyright © 2017-18 by Wintergreen Orchard House. All rights reserved.