Top 10 Online Doctorates in Special Education

A career in special education can be a rewarding option. Maybe you want to make a difference in students’ lives, or perhaps you want to become a leader in the field and establish policies and programs to improve the special education field. An Ed.D. or Ph.D. can give you the training and knowledge you need to succeed.

The Top 10 Online Doctorates in Special Education prepares you for the challenges of leading or working as a special education teacher, from understanding behavior management techniques to the use of procedural safeguards to protect the rights of both children with disabilities and their families. The following Top 10 Online Doctorates in Special Education can help you to take the next step in your career. 


Pursuing an Online Doctorate in Special Education can be a wise investment. With a doctoral degree, you can work as a special education teacher who works directly with children, a special education professor who prepares students to become teachers, and as a special education administrator who helps parents and teachers to develop independent education plans for students. You may explore careers in schools, clinically-based programs, and in both public and private facilities. According to PayScale, the average annual salary for someone with a Doctorate in Special Education is $75,000. While this is a financially promising career, many people involved in special education chose their career path because of a desire to help others. 

The Top 10 Online Doctorates in Special Education is designed with working professionals in mind. Many of these programs combine online learning with on-campus intensives, though some are offered entirely online with no residency requirement. Some of these programs also incorporate night or weekend classes, giving you the flexibility you need to continue to work full-time while earning your degree. When choosing the program that’s right for you, consider any specializations that you might like to hold; most programs offer specializations or concentrations, but you’ll want to choose a school that allows you to focus on the particular area that interests you. Expect to spend between three and five years earning your degree. Most of these degrees culminate in the development of a dissertation or other significant research project. 


While you’re on your way to earning your Ph.D. or Doctorate within your field, the editors at Online PhD Programs are already practicing doctors of their craft: ranking the best online Ph.D. programs. To be featured on our annual rankings online doctorates must satisfy four coinciding requirements: accreditation, research and scholarship doctorate certification, NSF recognition, and institutional association with peer-reviewed academia. 

Each degree is then ranked using information provided – primarily – through the National Center for Education Statistics and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook. The data collected is scored through a series of weighted categories to represent seven crucial aspects of what makes an online doctorate valuable to future students. Online program quality and presence are joined by industry salaries, student reviews, degree exclusivity, costs, and completion rates to determine the best online doctorates available. For a comprehensive breakdown of how we categorize and source data, please visit ourmethodology page. 


Liberty University’s Doctor of Education in Curriculum and Instruction – Special Education degree program is a 60-credit-hour program that can be completed in three years. This program prepares students to have a special education teaching career in elementary, middle school, or high school educational settings. Program graduates are also prepared to become administrators of special needs programs. This degree is offered entirely online, though students may attend optional intensives. Program applicants will have to pass an education background check for some courses, and it’s important to realize that some states may have additional licensure requirements. Throughout this program, students will complete courses such as Educational Assessment for Special Needs, Behavior Management, Organization and Design of Gifted Education Programs, and more. 

Located in Lynchburg, Virginia, Liberty University is an accredited evangelical liberal arts institution that is home to over 100,000 students. The university consists of 16 schools and colleges and offers more than 550 programs of study, with over 250 of these programs being available online. Liberty’s 100% online programs are designed to be flexible while also allowing students to progress through their education, following eight-week course formats quickly. Students also have access to many different support systems, including the Career Center, the Writing Services and Online Writing Center, and the Liberty University Online Library. 

Format: Online


Regent University’s Ed.D. in Special Education is offered online with on-campus four-day residencies that offer students the opportunity to engage with their peers and faculty face-to-face. This degree is intended for special education teachers who plan to hold leadership positions in research, practice, and policy. This 66-credit-hour program is presented from a Christian worldview, and students progress through eight-week course sessions. Students attend residencies during the summer and can expect to take courses such as Educational Statistics, Issues in Education, Bioethics in Special Education, and Fad Interventions in Special Education. Program graduates will be prepared for careers in education research, education advocacy and consulting; central office executive leadership, and more. 

Regent University is located in Virginia Beach, Virginia and was founded in 1978. Today, 11,000 students study on the university’s 70-acre campus where they choose from associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in over 135 program areas. Regent University offers an 18:1 student-to-faculty ratio and programs are available both on-campus and online. In 2019, the U.S. News & World Report recognized Regent University as one of the top national universities and ranked Regent University as fourth in its 2019 Best Online Graduate Programs in Virginia ranking. Over 850 alumni from Regent University’s School of Education have been honored as Teachers of the Year. 

Format: Online


Concordia University Chicago offers an Ed.D./Ph.D., Leadership: Special Education Specialization program. This doctoral program is intended for students who wish to pursue careers as educators and scholars, and who plan to hold special education leadership roles in public or private institutions. The EdD program is a 61-credit-hour program, while the Ph.D. program requires students to complete 67 credit hours. In addition, students must pass a comprehensive examination and write a dissertation. The program is offered both on-campus and online, and courses include topics such as Research-Based Decision Making, Special Education Law and Policy, and Current Issues and Trends in Special Education. 

Originally a college for teachers, today Concordia-Chicago is a private, liberal arts-based institution of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. CUC offers an 11:1 student-to-faculty ratio and educates about 4,300 graduate students each year. CUC’s online courses give students the flexibility to log in and learn at times that are convenient for them, and students from 37 states and 26 countries are enrolled in these online courses. The U.S. News & World Report included CUC in its 2018 Best Regional University – Midwest and 2017 Best Value Schools – Regional Universities Midwest ranking. The U.S. News & World Report also ranked CUC at No. 88 for its 2018 Best Online Graduate Education Programs ranking. 

Format: Online


Drexel University’s Online Doctorate in Educational Leadership and Management (EdD) program can be completed entirely online with no residency requirement. Students can choose from nine concentration areas, including Special Education Leadership, Educational Policy, and Athletic Administration. Drexel follows a quarter system that allows for four terms each calendar year, and students can complete the degree in three or five years on a part-time basis. Program graduates have held positions in public and private schools, post-secondary institutions, government agencies, foundations, corporations, and more. The program is also offered as a hybrid program in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania or Washington, D.C. 

Located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Drexel University is one of the 15 largest private universities in the country. This global research university was founded in 1891 and offers comprehensive online learning opportunities through Drexel Online, one of the oldest providers of online degrees. Over 24,000 students, including more than 8,600 graduate and professional students, are enrolled at Drexel, and more than 4,600 students pursue their degrees online. Drexel consists of 15 different colleges and schools offering more than 200 different degree programs. Drexel Online, which began in 1996, provides students with plenty of support, including 24/7 tech support, access to the Drexel Writing Center, access to the W.W. Hagerty Library, and use of the Steinbright Career Center. 

Format: Online


Slippery Rock University offers a Doctor in Special Education degree program that combines online courses with summer residency requirements. Students attend both asynchronous and synchronous online courses during fall, winter, and spring semesters, then attend summer residencies. If students take an average of two classes each term, they can complete the program in three years. Students can apply up to 12 mater’s credits toward this 60-credit-hour degree program and have the option to join new cohorts that begin every other spring semester. Program graduates are prepared to hold positions in public schools, agencies, and non-profits. During the program, students must maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA. 

Founded in 1889, Slippery Rock University is located in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania. The university provides undergraduate and post-graduate programs to over 8,500 students. Students can participate in over 150 clubs and organizations and have access to vibrant local cultures. SRU also offers international study abroad opportunities that allow students to further their education within safe, supportive environments. SRU’s online students have access to the same tools that on-campus students are provided and also receive instruction from experienced professors. Online students receive student support services, technical assistance, and career education. 

Format: Online


Ball State University’s EdD in Special Education degree program is offered in a blended format of online and on-campus courses. The degree prepares students to become leaders in their profession through administration, scholarship, and entrepreneurship. Students can choose one or more of six focus areas, including Applied Behavior Analysis and Autism, General Special Education, Teaching and Learning – High Incidence, and more. The program consists of 90 graduate credits, and students can usually apply up to 30 master’s degree credits toward this degree. During this program, students also complete ten dissertation credits. Graduate assistantships can help students to fund their education, and students work 20 hours per week, may assist with classroom teaching, and help conduct research. 

Ball State University was founded in 1918 and now enrolls over 20,000 students across its seven academic colleges. Students from all 50 states and 68 countries attend Ball State University, and students enjoy an impressive 93% career placement. In 2019, the U.S. News & World Report recognized Ball State University as one of the top 100 public universities in America, and The Princeton Review has named the university as one of the best universities in the Midwest for 14 consecutive years. Insight Into Diversity also awarded Ball State University with the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award in 2016, 2017, and 2018 in recognition of the university’s initiatives focusing on diversity and inclusion. 

Format: Online


At Nova Southeastern University, busy professionals can access the coursework for the Doctor of Education with a concentration in Special Education program online. This online coursework allows for a distance education option so that students can complete the degree without long commutes or work disruption. This program prepares students for careers as professors, administrators, and disability service providers. To earn their degrees, students must maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA and must complete an applied dissertation. The program is ideal for practicing teachers, administrators, mental and healthcare providers, and more, as well as for individuals who have a master’s degree and who wish to increase their knowledge of special education. 

NSU holds a noble research classification from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and is one of just 50 universities in the country also to hold Carnegie’s Community Engagement Classification. NSU has eight campuses throughout Florida, as well as a campus in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The university offers 150 undergraduate and graduate degree programs across its 18 different colleges, schools, and centers specializing in fields like education, early childhood education, psychology, and more. NSU also offers a variety of non-traditional learning opportunities, ensuring that education is accessible to working professionals. 

Format: Online


West Virginia University offers its Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) program with a Major in Special Education entirely online with no on-campus residency requirements, making it ideal for distance education students and busy working professionals. This program requires a minimum of 72 credits beyond the undergraduate degree and is not currently available to international students. Students access online courses through the WVU eCampus on the Blackboard learning management system. This program is designed to prepare educators to provide leadership in the special education and disability fields; program graduates will be prepared to influence public policy and act as stewards of the education profession. 

WVU was founded in 1867 and had campuses in Beckley, Keyser, and Morgantown. Nearly 30,000 students are enrolled at WVU and students at the Morgantown campus represent 118 nations and all 50 states. At WVU, students receive a quality education from highly qualified faculty; 82% of full-time faculty hold a terminal or highest degree in their field, and 66% of classes on WVU’s Morgantown campus are taught by full-time faculty. In 2017, the Military Times ranked WVU at No. 26t for its Best for Vets rankings, including WVU on the list for the fifth consecutive year. The U.S. News & World Report included many of WVU’s programs in its 2019 rankings of America’s Best Graduate Schools, including Clinical Psychology, English, Social Work, and more. 

Format: Online


The University of Colorado Denver offers a Leadership for Educational Equity (EdD) program in a blended delivery model. With courses delivered in weekday, weekend, hybrid, online, and summer intensive formats, students enjoy scheduling flexibility. The program can be completed in a three-year or five-year track. In the three-year cohort model, students complete two courses every semester, including summer semesters. Students may alternatively follow the five-year track, which gives them more flexibility and time to complete their degree while also meeting work and family obligations. Students take courses year-round in an open cohort model, allowing them to move through the program in more fluid groups. This degree program is available with various concentrations, including an Early Childhood Special Education/Early Childhood Education concentration. 

CU Denver consists of two campuses: The downtown Denver campus and the CU Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora. Each year, 19,000 students receive their education at the two campuses, where they can choose from over 140 programs across 13 schools and colleges. CU Denver offers bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral, and first professional degrees. This university also receives more than $400 in sponsored research funding each year. With 40% of the student body being students of color, CU Denver is the most diverse research university in the state. Additionally, seven percent of students are international students. Over 127,000 alumni call CU Denver home, and 64% of alumni live in Colorado. 

Format: Online


Grand Canyon University’s Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership with an Emphasis in Special Education prepares students to become leaders in the field of special education. Students can access evening and online courses, giving them the flexibility they need to work full-time while earning their degrees. Students are introduced to the dissertation process in the very first course of this 60-credit-hour program. Eight-week-long courses allow students to progress toward earning their degrees quickly, and students can transfer up to nine doctoral credits. Students who opt to study online will be taught by full-time faculty and adjunct instructors with strong backgrounds in their fields. The online courses begin frequently and create an environment that stimulates discussion. 

Located in Phoenix, Arizona, GCU is a private Christian university that was founded in 1949 as a Baptist university. Today, GCU welcomes students from all backgrounds and has undergone significant expansion since 2009. The university recently finished construction on a state-of-the-art engineering building for students focusing on STEM majors, as well as an on-campus apartment building, the Jerry Colangelo Museum, and the 6,000-seat GCU stadium. Students at GCU can participate in 21 NCAA Division I teams as well as other athletic programs including dance, intramural sports, and cheerleading. GCU consists of nine different schools and colleges, including the College of Education, College of Theology, and College of Doctoral Studies. 

Format: Online