Top 10 Online PhD Programs in Special Education 2017

Our list of the Top 10 Online Doctoral Programs in Special Education is a broad ranking which takes into account accreditation, general reputation, and cost. With the increased presence and acceptance of online Ph.D. programs throughout the U.S., prestigious institutions and many state schools are now offering online degrees with more frequency. The doctoral degree in Special Education is very limited across the country. Generally, Special Education is an emphasis housed with PhD and EdD programs that have an overarching theme such as Leadership. This list provides a list based on reputation that we hope will help guide decisions in picking a top tier school. All schools on the list are accredited at the time of this list’s posting.

In constructing the list, a number of sites were used for research including U.S. News and World Report, The National Center for Education Statistics, and The Guide to Online Schools.

1. Drexel University

Drexel University is a private institution that was founded in 1891. Drexel was the first campus to go fully wireless and have technological integration be a major part of the university. Drexel also is a cooperative university, collaborating with Philadelphia to make it a “living laboratory” for students and emphasizing cross-disciplinary research. All of these things work in favor of the online student because the university has long mastered the use of technology in connection with education and encourages all students to work across academic disciplines.

Drexel University offers an online Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Education Leadership and Management with a concentration in Special Education Leadership. The program is three years, part-time, and is organized into groups of cohorts in order to create collegiality and cooperation between students. The academic year is organized in quarters consisting of 10 weeks each.

Tuition for the program in Educational Leadership is $1192 per credit hour. The entirety of the program can be up to 61.5 credits making the program approximately $73,308 for tuition. While one can take all their credits online, there is also an option to take an online/on-campus hybrid format. Admissions requirements are a BA from a regionally accredited institution, Master’s degree in Education or another applicable field. Three years of work experience that are connected to the student’s career goals.

U.S. News and World Report ranks Drexel University at 96 among national universities. Further, U.S. News and World Report have ranked Drexel University at 62 for best colleges for military veterans, 65 for best value, and 53 for best online graduate education programs. Drexel University is accredited by the Middle States commission on Higher Education.West Virginia University

West Virginia University

West Virginia University, located in Morgantown, West Virginia, is a public land-grant institution that was founded in 1867. The small college town is located at the Pennsylvania border, giving students access to the cities of Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Washington D.C. West Virginia University is a R1 institution. It has reached the highest-level research ranking as described by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.

West Virginia University offers a Special Education Doctoral Degree (Ed.D.) in a fully online program. The program is meant for experienced special education teachers who wish to become a part of the academic community that can influence and shape special education policy and practice in the field. While the classes are offered online, they are done so with live online, interactive sessions.

Courses start in mid-August and each group of students that comes into the program is placed into a cohort. There are no out-of-state tuition hikes for the program and each student pays $533 per credit hour. The estimated tuition per semester is $4,797 including fees. The student population of WVU is almost equal between males and females and has historically included 24 Rhodes Scholars, 22 Truman Scholars, and 42 Goldwater Scholars.

U.S. News and World Report ranks West Virginia University at 183 nationally, 99 among state schools in the United States, and 89 for online graduate degrees in education. The program meets the requirements and standards of the Council of Exceptional Children. West Virginia University’s Professional Education Preparation Unit is accredited by the National council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. West Virginia University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

University of Colorado, Denver

University of Colorado, Denver is located in the mile-high city and offers an online Doctor of Education (EdD) with a concentration in Early Childhood Special Education. University of Colorado, Denver is a public institution that was founded in 1912. The online Doctor of Education degree is leadership focused, training educators to help improve outcomes for children with disabilities in their early years in school. The degree prepares students to be effective administrators and leaders within school districts.

There are two different cohort tracks for the program. One lasts three years and the other lasts five years for completion of the doctorate. The degree is designed to take three years but the five-year track is set up so that people can balance work and other life issues while going through the program. In the three-year program, cohorts are locked and integration into another cohort is more difficult. In the five-year program, cohorts are fluid and far more flexible. The courses are also made to be flexible in terms of how the student wants them delivered. Students can take courses during the weekday or weekend in hybrid (online and face-to-face), face-to-face, and online formats. There are also summer intensive courses available to students.

U.S. News and World Report ranks University of Colorado, Denver at 197 nationally, 106 among the top public schools in the United States, and 36 among the top online schools in education. There is a flat tuition for online work in the Doctoral of Education program no matter if you are an in-state or out-of-state student. Tuition costs $448 per credit hour. University of Colorado, Denver is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Nova Southeastern University

Nova Southeastern University is a private institution that was founded in 1964. It is located in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Nova Southeastern wishes to provide an education housed in flexibility and diversity. Nova Southeastern University offers a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) with a concentration in Special Education. Because of its flexibility, the program is meant for educators, administrators, parents, and mental health specialists who want to improve the quality of life for individuals with special needs. Further, the special education concentration fosters attention toward logical, critical, and reflective thinking in order to bring one’s expertise to issues of teacher collaboration, law, assessment, administration, and multicultural issues.

Tuition is $1,240 per credit hour with a 54-credit minimum to complete the program. This means that the program will be approximately $66,960 for tuition for the entire degree. The program should take about three years to complete. The program has numerous classes in the area of special education but especially has an array of classes on autism and behavior analysis. The Behavior Analyst Certification Board has approved the course sequence for the Doctor of Education program for students to either take the Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst or Board Certified Behavior Analyst Examination. There is one Summer Institute that each student must attend. Summer Institute is a week-long conference designed for the Doctor of Education students.

U.S. News and World Report ranks Nova Southeastern University at 214 nationally and 95 among online graduate education programs nationally. Nova Southeastern University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. The education program is accredited by the national Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.

University of Northern Colorado

University of Northern Colorado was established in 1889 and has been offering distance education since 1902. offers a Ph.D. in Special Education which has active, self-regulated learning as a central philosophy. Students work in collaboration with a committee of scholars and an advisor who will help arrange and individualized plan of instruction which includes theory, research methods, pedagogy, evidence-based practice, collaboration, and public policy and advocacy. Special Education courses are clearly required in this specific program. Further, graduates will demonstrate skill in supervision, technology, grant writing, and individualized instruction.

The faculty at the extension programs of the University of Northern Colorado are the same that teach on-campus courses for the university. Students are prepared for leadership positions that emphasize cultural diversity. Further, Special Education doctoral graduates are trained to advocate for exceptional students in the context of public and private schools, colleges, universities, agencies, businesses, and government institutions. These wide-ranging emphases give students at Northern Colorado the opportunity to tailor their program for their career goals.

The degree is 77 credit hours in a semester system. Tuition is $615 per credit hour making the tuition for the program around $47,355. Student fees are included in the tuition total however certain courses may include a fee specific to that course. The program takes between three and five years including the dissertation.

U.S. News and World Report ranks University of Northern Colorado online graduate education programs at 136 nationally. The University of Northern Colorado is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania

Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania

Since 1961, Slippery Rock University has been preparing special educators for leadership roles in public school administration, human services agencies, and teacher preparation programs in postsecondary institutions. SRU’s distinctive 60-credit online doctor of education in special education emphasizes special education foundations and strategies, research skills, content learning, and leadership. In this cohort-based doctoral program, students progress through courses as a group. The program admits a new cohort every two years in the spring semester.

Candidates typically complete two courses each semester, leading to their degree within three years. SRU’s blended format includes fully online courses, delivered both asynchronously and synchronously in the fall, winter, and spring terms, and on-campus classes held on weekends during the summer session. Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree in special education, elementary education, early childhood education, or a secondary content-specific discipline such as English, social science, natural science, or a related field. Candidates accepted into the program may transfer up to 12 credits of master’s level courses toward the degree.

Gwynedd Mercy University

Gwynedd Mercy University is a private university which was founded in 1948. The institution is sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy which consists of members of a religious institute of Catholic women founded in 1831. The mission of the university centers on Roman Catholic values and the direction of service proclaimed by the Sisters of Mercy tradition. Gwynedd Mercy University offers an online doctoral program in Educational Leadership. The online doctoral program is an accelerated executive doctorate in Educational Leadership with the added ability to gain an emphasis in Special Education with a supervisory certification.

The Doctorate of Education in Educational Leadership is a 54-credit hour program which is designed to be completed in less than three years. The program attempts to train leaders to be successful in U.S. and international schools, school districts, college and universities, policy organizations, and government and non-profit organizations. Courses are offered online one at a time within five to seven-week blocks. There are three residencies required for the program. Two of the residencies take place on Gwynedd Valley campus while the other is an international experience.

You are paired with a doctoral advisor early in your degree program and will take dissertation courses every semester you are working toward your degree. Your coursework is determined by your field of interest, in this case, Special Education. Students go on to become superintendent of schools, members of state boards of education, college deans or administrators, or education policy analysts. Tuition is $875 per credit hour making the tuition for the program $47,250.

U.S. News and World Report ranks Gwynedd Mercy University at 137 in regional universities in the north. Gwynedd Mercy University is accredited by the Middle State Commission on Higher Education.

8. Regent University

Regent University is a fully accredited Christian university located in Virginia Beach, Virginia. It was established in 1978 and is non-denominational. The campus is unique in that it offers students the opportunities to take classes in person, online, or in hybrid formats, even as undergraduates. Regent University offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Special Education. It is primarily an online program but does have some face-to-face requirements. The degree is primarily meant to add research skills to a students’ current vocation. Critical thinking, writing, research, and learning from a Christian worldview are all central to the program at Regent.

The online Doctor of Philosophy in Special Education provides skills for students in order to prepare them for expertise in special education research with an emphasis on data interpretation, conclusions, and ramification; practice with an emphasis on empirical research interventions; and policy which emphasizes the practice of codifying research and practice for implementation. All these skills are meant to prepare professionals who can better serve children, youth, and adults with special needs.

Students who have already earned an Ed.S. or equivalent may enter the Ph.D. program with advanced standing after a review of their post-master’s transcripts. Tuition is $870 per credit hour and is 75 credit hours long at a minimum. The program, at the very least, will cost $65,250 for tuition by its completion. Students can begin their program in cohorts that begin in the fall, spring, or summer.

U.S. News and World Report ranks Regent Universities graduate education programs at 46 nationally. Regent University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. The School of Education is accredited by the Virginia Department of Education, and the Teacher Education Accreditation Council.

9. Grand Canyon University

Grand Canyon University was founded in 1949 and is based in Phoenix, Arizona. It is a private, for-profit university and it is a nondenominational Christian institution and encourages students to approach their education through a spiritual lens. Historically, the university has Southern Baptist roots. Grand Canyon University has both online and campus-based degrees. The College of Education is one of eight colleges on the campus of Grand Canyon University.

Grand Canyon University offers a Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership with an Emphasis in Special Education and attempts to train leaders who will ensure that students, no matter their capabilities, will receive a fair and appropriate education. Upon entry to the program, students can transfer up to 9 credit hours from prior graduate level work.

During their time in the program, students study the history and theories of special education and a myriad of interventions and methods for different environments. Further, students concentrate on issues surrounding politics and ethics in regard to special education. Also, leadership practices are studied to help guide professions both with internal as well as external frameworks. When looking at current and emerging trends, the program emphasizes special education in the context of law and legal compliance.

The program is 60 credit hours at $595 per credit hour. Tuition for the program is around $35,700 at completion. With fees, the program ends up costing $40,850. The program takes around 39 months. Grand Canyon University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. The education department at Grand Canyon is accredited by the Arizona State Board of Education and the Arizona Department of Education.

10. Walden University

Walden University has operated for more than 40 years and aims to help working professionals achieve their own personal academic goals. Walden boasts a student population of around 51,000 from all 50 states and 114 countries including graduate and undergraduate programs. Students can access courses and get online support 24 hours a day. Walden’s library is also fully digitized for research convenience.

Walden University offers a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) with nine specializations available including Special Education. The program is designed specifically for educators, leaders, and administrators who are working and wish to advance in the area of P-12, early childhood, or in higher education. Students are not locked into cohorts and can work at their own pace. Students have one required face-to-face residency during the program either after the end of the second year or the third term depending on when in the year one starts the program.

Tuition is $590 per quarter hour with a minimum of 76 quarter hours to complete the degree with the Special Education concentration. During these credit hours, students in the Special Education concentration work toward understanding real-world case-studies that involve collaboration with colleagues to enact effective problem solving. The curriculum is based on the Council for Exceptional Children Advanced Role Content Standards, focusing on leadership, policy, assessment, collaboration, and ethics in practice.

Walden University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association. The Richard W. Riley College of Education and Leadership has been granted accreditation by the national Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.