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Special Education PHD Online Degree Programs

If you’ve been thinking about enrolling in an online phd program and you have a background in education, instruction, or educational technology, then you might want to research phd programs in special education.

Why Get A Special Education PhD?

Special Education, as defined under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is, “Specially designed instruction, at no cost to parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability.”

By getting a phd in special education you’re putting yourself in a leadership position to help individual and large groups of children with special needs get the high quality education they deserve.

There are 13 types of exceptionalities and disabilities that are listed under the IDEA Act.  Children with these challenges would be the ones you’d be helping with a special education doctoral degree:

  • Autism
  • Deaf or Blindness
  • Developmental Delays
  • Emotional Disturbance
  • Hearing Impairments
  • Mental Retardation
  • Multiple Disabilities
  • Orthopedic Impairments
  • Other Health Impairments
  • Specific Learning Disabilities
  • Speech and Language Impairments
  • Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Visual Impairments

Some states might also include exceptionally gifted and talented children in this list as well.

The field of special education can be a highly rewarding one.  You have the ability to work one-on-one with children, helping them achieve specific goals and cheering them on when they succeed, or you can work to create change and push legislation for this diverse and unique group of people.

If you’re interested in getting your special education doctorate degree and you want to be in a position to work one-on-one with children, then it’s important to point out that you’ll need endless patience in this field.  While other children are achieving goals like graduating kindergarten, learning to read, or making the honor roll, you might spend weeks, if not months, teaching a special ed child to learn the difference between “yes” and “no”.

There’s no doubt that this field gives you the ability to make an enormous, positive impact on the lives of the children you come across, but it’s important to closely weigh how passionate you are about special education.  If you’re merely ambivalent, you’ll probably burn out quickly.

A Special Education Doctoral Degree: What You’ll Learn

PhD programs in special education vary widely in the courses and concentrations they offer.

Most schools will want you to pick a specialty.  A few options might include:

  • Early Childhood Program – this specialty would allow you to work with very young children, and the developmental delays they’re experiencing. 
  • High Incidence Program – this focus would concentrate on older children and young adults with behavioral problems, or mild to moderate mental retardation.
  • Severe Disabilities Program – this concentration would focus on children and young adults with severe intellectual disabilities.

As far as what courses you might take to get your special education phd, you might see:

  • Education and the Law
  • Teacher Supervision and Evaluation
  • Elementary School Administration
  • Evaluating the Effectiveness of the Educational Process

Careers With A Special Education Doctorate Degree

Most students who get a special education phd pursue careers in three general areas: special education administration, university professorship with an emphasis on teaching, university employment specializing in research.

Some graduates really want to work in a classroom setting, or in one-on-one sessions, and are employed by elementary and secondary schools.  If you decide to go this route, and you haven’t worked in the classroom setting prior to getting your phd in special education, then you should know that all 50 states require licensure.

Special education phd graduates have also gone on to hold positions in some of these areas:

  • Superintendent of Schools
  • Principal
  • Director of Curriculum and Instruction
  • Chief Learning Officer (CLO)
  • Early Childhood Education Coordinator
  • Director of Special Education

Thanks to aggressive legislation that addresses disabilities, the field of special education (both teachers and administrators) is expected to grow by 15% over the next few years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.   Additionally, this field is expected to see even more openings as older teachers begin to retire.  As far as earnings go, the BLS reports that special education teachers earned, on average, $31,000 to $73,000 annually.

Once you have your special education doctoral degree, however, you’ll be in a much better position to earn more than this, especially if you decide to teach at the university level or pursue a career in administration.  If you think you’d like to go the latter route, then pursuing courses or concentrations in leadership would serve you well.

Other Options

If you’re interested in looking at some other, closely related degrees, you might want to check out these options: