Top Ten Best Early Childhood Special Education Degree Programs

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Chalkboard with equation, eraser, and chalk (14MP camera)

Education professionals are amazing people for their dedication to the needs of students at any age and capacity, but it takes a very caring and dedicated person to seek out the field of early childhood special education. The educators in this specific field deal with children ranging in age from just a few weeks up to 8 years old, and due to the nature of their needs can having a lasting impact on the rest of their lives. With this in mind, anyone can see why choosing the right program in which to pursue your degree is more than just important, but necessary. This guide will serve to help you make that selection by taking you through some of these top programs in the nation.

Methodology

The schools listed below were ranked according to the following criteria:

50% Previously awarded program accolades and rankings,
50% Program innovation and rigor.

1. University of Kansas

Special Education Degrees

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The University of Kansas is a public research university and the largest university in the U.S. state of Kansas. University of Kansas branch campuses are located in the towns of Lawrence, Wichita, Overland Park, Salina, and Kansas City, Kansas, with the main campus located in Lawrence. Founded March 21, 1865, the university was opened in 1866, under a charter granted by the Kansas State Legislature in 1864. Tuition at the University of Kansas is 13 percent below the national average, according to the College Board, and the University remains a best buy school in the region. The University of Kansas is a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities, and has been since 1909. The university is consistently earning high rankings for its academic programs, mainly due to the fact that the school is committed to expanding innovative research and commercialization programs within its 13 different schools and colleges and its 370 degree programs.

The early childhood special education degree programs offered at the University of Kansas include a Early Childhood Unified (Birth-K) Master’s Degree program and a Special Education Doctorate program. These programs are unique because they are what the University of Kansas calls “unified” programs, meaning they teach the students enrolled in these programs how to teach and assist atypical learning students and typical learning students. Due to this curriculum technique, students that attend the University of Kansas graduate the programs as more well-rounded and experienced teachers than they would otherwise be if they had been enrolled in a standard early childhood special education degree program at another school. These programs offer an interdisciplinary approach that integrates developmentally appropriate early education and early childhood special education strategies into holistic and functional activities for young kids and their families in a natural learning environment. This unique and dynamic approach to teaching is why we have chosen the University of Kansas as our top pick best early childhood special education degree program.

Tuition: $25,414 in-state full-time per year, $41,252 out-of-state full-time per year
Learn more about the University of Kansas’ Early Childhood Special Education Degree Programs here.

2. Vanderbilt University

Special Education Degrees

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Vanderbilt University is a private research university located in Nashville, Tennessee, and was founded in 1873. Vanderbilt has four undergraduate and six graduate and professional schools, along with several research centers and institutes that are affiliated with the university. Despite the school’s urban surroundings, the campus itself is a national arboretum and features over 300 different species of trees and shrubs. Students from all 50 states and more than 90 countries attend Vanderbilt, with 66% of the total student body coming from outside the Southeast. And Vanderbilt lets undergraduates choose between 70 majors, or create their own, in its four undergraduate schools and colleges. In its most recent annual comparison of admissions selectivity, The Princeton Review gave Vanderbilt a rating of 99 out of 99 due to Vanderbilt’s highly selective admissions, accepting only 8.8% of it’s 28,700 Regular Decision applicants for the 2016 school year.

The early childhood special education degree programs offered through Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education and Human Development are a Special Education Master’s Degree (M.Ed.) and a Special Education Doctorate Degree (Ph.D.). Peabody has been ranked as the top graduate school of education in the nation during the 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 editions of the U.S. News & World Report graduate school rankings. Additionally, U.S. News & World Report ranked Vanderbilt first in the nation in the fields of special education, educational administration, and audiology. The Department of Special Education at Vanderbilt is closely associated with the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development, one of 12 national centers for research on intellectual disability and related aspects of human development. This unique relationship allows Vanderbilt students to benefit from the many available resources and programs. Additionally, the Department of Special Education offers its students the opportunity to work cooperatively with other academic programs at Peabody and other schools at Vanderbilt.

Tuition: $44,496 in-state full-time per year, $44,496 out-of-state full-time per year
Learn more about Vanderbilt University’s Early Childhood Special Education Degree Programs here.

3. University of Oregon

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The University of Oregon is a public flagship research university that was founded in 1876. The university has a Carnegie Classification of “highest research activity” and has 21 research centers and institutes. The University of Oregon was admitted to the Association of American Universities in 1969. The University of Oregon offers 316 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in a wide range of disciplines, across the eight schools or colleges that the university is organized into. The University is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, which is a recognized accreditor by the United States Department of Education. With over 2,000 academic faculty and over 100 years experience in producing excellence in its attending students, the University of Oregon provides individuals with a dynamic and well-rounded education.

The early childhood special education degree program options available at the University of Oregon are Special Education M.S., M.Ed., or M.A. degrees or a Special Education PhD degree. Each of these programs can be coupled with a specialization in early childhood development. Students enrolled in the Master’s program will need to take at least one course in each of the following areas: Foundations, Behavioral Support, Legal Issues, Curriculum and Instruction, Diversity Issues, Research and Field Studies. Students enrolled in the PhD program will focus one of five areas of expertise, with the areas being: Positive Behavior Support, Low-Incidence Disabilities, Early Intervention, Prevention & Academic Interventions or Secondary/Transition Services. U.S. News and World Report has ranked the University of Oregon’s Special Education programs as one of the top three programs in the country for the past 14 years, making the University of Oregon one of the best schools in the country for early childhood special education, giving attending students the skills and knowledge needed to make a positive impact in each of their communities.

Tuition: $16,032 in-state full-time per year $22,752 out-of-state full-time per year
Learn more about the University of Oregon’s Early Childhood Special Education Degree Programs here.

4. University of Texas — Austin

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The University of Texas at Austin is a public research university and it is the flagship institution of the University of Texas System. Founded in 1881, the institution has the fifth-largest single-campus enrollment in the nation. This university has been labeled one of the Public Ivy schools, which are publicly funded university that are considered to provide a quality of education which is comparable to those of the Ivy League. UT Austin was inducted into the American Association of Universities in 1929, becoming only the third university located in the American South to be elected. It is a major center for academic research, and the university houses seven different museums and seventeen libraries along with operating various auxiliary research facilities. The University of Texas at Austin offers more than 100 undergraduate and 170 graduate degrees across 19 different schools and colleges. With a student-to-faculty ratio of 17.5 to 1 and highly qualified faculty, the University of Texas at Austin offers its students a high-quality education.

The early childhood special education degree programs offered at the University of Texas at Austin are a Master’s with concentrations in Autism and Developmental Disabilities, Early Childhood Special Education, High Incidence Disabilities and Rehabilitation Counselor Education and a Doctoral with concentrations in Autism and Developmental Disabilities, Early Childhood Special Education, Learning Disabilities and Behavioral Disorders, Multicultural Special Education and Rehabilitation Counselor Education. The Department of Special Education offers a M.Ed. (requiring coursework only) and M.A. (requiring a thesis) in Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE). The training provided focuses on delivery of service, specifically focusing on children from birth to the age of eight and their families. In the ECSE master’s level concentration, students can expect dynamic and personalized training while benefiting from a wide range of clinical and research opportunities which are only available at a major Tier-1 research institute.

Tuition: $8,402 in-state full-time per year $16,338 out-of-state full-time per year
Learn more about the University of Texas – Austin’s Early Childhood Special Education Degree Programs here.

5. University of Florida

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The University of Florida is a public land-grant, sea-grant and space-grant research university located in Gainesville, Florida. It is a senior member of the State University System of Florida that can trace its historical origins all the way back to 1853, and which has operated continuously on its present Gainesville campus since 1906. The University of Florida is classified as a Research University with Very High Research by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University of Florida is the eighth largest single-campus university in the United States and is home to sixteen different academic colleges and schools and has more than 150 research centers and institutes. In 1985, the University of Florida was invited to become a member of the prominent Association of American Universities (AAU), an organization composed of sixty-two public and private research universities that provide academic excellence and are located within the United States and Canada. Florida is one of the seventeen public land-grant universities that belong to the AAU.

The early childhood special education degree programs offered at the University of Florida are an Integrated Bachelor’s/Master’s Proteach, Teach Well – Online Graduate Academy and a Ph.D. in Special Education. The Integrated Bachelor’s/Master’s Proteach program is a dynamic interdisciplinary teacher education program designed to prepare educators to work with all children from the earliest ages up to 3rd grade–including those with disabilities and from diverse backgrounds–and the program results in the student’s eligibility for the Preschool (from birth to age four) Certificate, Prekindergarten/Primary (from age 3 to 3rd grade) Certificate and the ESOL Endorsement and the Prekindergarten Disability Endorsement. The Teach Well – Online Graduate Academy program is a web-based degree program designed to prepare teachers to serve students with disabilities in inclusive settings. This program is fully online, and requires no on-campus meetings.

Tuition: $6,313 in-state full-time per year, $28,591 out-of-state full-time per year
Learn more about the University of Florida’s Early Childhood Special Education Degree Programs here.

6. University of Virginia

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The University of Virginia is a public-private flagship and research university and is known as a Public Ivy school. Founded in 1819 by Declaration of Independence author Thomas Jefferson, the University of Virginia is known for its historic foundations, student-run honor code and its various secret societies. The original governing Board of Visitors included Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe. Monroe was the sitting President of the United States at the time of its foundation. Former Presidents Jefferson and Madison were the University’s first two rectors and the Academical Village and original courses of study were both conceived and designed by Jefferson, giving the University of Virginia a very rich educational history. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated the University of Virginia as America’s first and only collegiate World Heritage Site in 1987. UVA is classified as a Research University with Very High Research by the Carnegie Foundation, and is considered Virginia’s flagship university by the College Board.

The early childhood special education degree programs offered at the University of Virginia are Ph.D. in Education—Early Childhood Special Education, Master of Teaching—Special Education – Elementary Education and Master of Teaching—Special Education – Early Childhood Development. These programs are offered through the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education. The Special Education programs offered at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education include the following areas of emphasis: Learning Disabilities (LD) and Emotional and Behavioral Disorders (EBD). At the master’s level of education, the purpose of these early childhood special education programs is to prepare educational professionals to provide high-quality and evidence-based services for individuals with disabilities. At the doctoral level, the purpose is to prepare professionals who are capable of contributing to the advancement of knowledge about disabilities and special education, to prepare future professionals and contribute to the commonwealth of the special education discipline.

Tuition: $14,856 in-state full-time per year, $24,288 out-of-state full-time per year
Learn more about the University of Virginia’s Early Childhood Special Education Degree Programs here.

7. University of Washington

Special Education Degree

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The University of Washington is a public flagship research university based in Seattle, Washington. Founded in 1861, Washington is one of the oldest universities on the West Coast and features one of the most highly regarded medical schools in the world. The university has three campuses: the primary and largest in the University District of Seattle and two others in Tacoma and Bothell. The UW occupies over 500 buildings, with over 20 million gross square footage of space, including the University of Washington Plaza. University of Washington is a member of the Association of American Universities and its research budget is among one of the highest in the United States. The University offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees through its 140 different departments, which are organized into various colleges and schools within UW’s system.

The early childhood special education degree programs offered at the University of Washington are: Applied Behavior Analysis M.Ed, Early Childhood Special Education M.Ed/Cert., High-Incidence Disabilities, Learning, & Emotional Behavioral Disabilities M.Ed/Cert., Low-Incidence Teacher Education M.Ed/Cert. and Special Education Doctoral Studies PhD. The Early Childhood Special Education Program (ECSE) is a two year program that offers both field and coursework for students that are interested in working with young children (from birth to age eight) that have special needs and with their families. This program was designed by the University of Washington to prepare teachers to be leaders in the field, school and within their communities. Field experiences are a core component of this program and, as such, students will work with a range of students and families in Birth to Three, Preschool, and Kindergarten placements under the mentorship of cooperating teachers. Graduates of this early childhood special needs program are prepared to work in a wide variety of early learning programs, early intervention programs and public schools and to work with a diverse group of students and families from various socioeconomic and personal backgrounds.

Tuition: $16,536 in-state full-time per year, $29,742 out-of-state full-time per year
Learn more about the University of Washington’s Early Childhood Special Education Degree Programs here.

8. University of Minnesota—Twin Cities

Special Education Degree

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The University of Minnesota Twin Cities is a public research university located in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. The Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses are approximately 3 miles apart. It is the oldest and largest campus within the University of Minnesota system and has the sixth-largest main campus student body in the United States. The university is organized into 19 colleges and schools, and it has sister campuses in Crookston, Duluth, Morris, and Rochester. UMN is categorized as an R1 Doctoral University with the highest research activity in the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. Established in 1851, the University of Minnesota has been spending over 150 years producing excellence in its students through the use of qualified and caring faculty and a high-quality education program.

The early childhood special education programs offered at the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities include: a Bachelor’s of Science in Special Education, a Special Education PhD and a customizable license. This license is known as an Academic and Behavioral Strategist (ABS) teaching license, and you can choose a core speciality to focus on with this license. These specialities are Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), Developmental Disabilities (DD) and Learning Disabilities (LD). The University of Minnesota also offers licensure in the following areas: Deaf/Hard of Hearing (DHH), Emotional/Behavioral Disorders (EBD)- Residency Based and Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE). These various licenses are used to allow students enrolled in a M.ED program at the school to specialize in various educational fields. With the ECSE licensure, professionals will be qualified to teach students from birth to the age of 21 with the use of the IDEAL method. The IDEAL method is to: Identify the problem, Define the problem, Explore alternative solutions, Apply solutions and Look at the effects of solutions. This method of teaching has been proven to be highly effective.

Tuition: $15,844 in-state full-time per year $24,508 out-of-state full-time per year
Learn more about the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities’s Early Childhood Special Education Degree Programs here.

9. University of Wisconsin—Madison

Special Education Degree

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The University of Wisconsin–Madison is a public research university that was founded when Wisconsin achieved its statehood in 1848. It was the first public university established in Wisconsin and it remains the oldest and largest public university in the state today, and is the official state university of Wisconsin. It became a land-grant institution in 1866. The main campus, at 933 acres in size, includes four National Historic Landmarks. UW–Madison is organized into 20 different schools and colleges and its comprehensive academic program offers 136 undergraduate majors, along with 148 master’s degree programs and 120 doctoral programs. UW–Madison operates under the principle of the “Wisconsin Idea,” a progressive belief articulated by UW–Madison’s president in 1904. This idea fosters public universities’ contributions to the state, to the government in the forms of serving in office, offering advice about current and proposed public policies, providing information and exercising technical skill, and to the citizens in the forms of doing research directed at solving problems that are important to the state and conducting outreach activities.

The early childhood special education degree programs offered at UW–Madison are available through the school’s Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education (RPSE) and they offer a Bachelor of Science in Special Education and in Rehabilitation Psychology, Master of Arts and Master of Science in Special Education and Doctor of Philosophy in Special Education. The core tenets of this department are the educational and rehabilitation needs of individuals with disabilities across their lifespan. Supplementary teacher preparation programs available during coursework in Special Education emphasize the learning needs of individuals with intellectual disabilities, behavioral/emotional disabilities and learning disabilities. With a strong emphasis on producing dynamic teachers that provide special needs students with a high-quality education, the programs at UW–Madison give students the skills and knowledge they will need to teach and assist students in age ranging from 6-21.

Tuition: $11,870 in-state full-time per year; $25,197 out-of-state full-time per year
Learn more about the University of Wisconsin – Madison’s Early Childhood Special Education Degree Programs here.

10. University of Illinois—Urbana-Champaign

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The University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign is a public research-intensive university. What’s known as a land-grant university, it is the flagship campus of the University of Illinois system. The University, which was founded 1867, is the state’s second oldest public university, after Illinois State University. The school is a member of the Association of American Universities and it is classified as an RU/VH Research University under the Carnegie Classification system which denotes very high research activities. The campus library system possesses the second-largest university library in the United States after Harvard University. The university comprises 17 schools that offer more than 150 programs of study. The university operates an extension that serves 2.7 million registrants per year around the state of Illinois and beyond in addition to the students that attend on its core campus.

The early childhood special education degree programs offered at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign give students the skills and knowledge needed to educate and assist students ranging in ages 5 to 21. These programs include Doctor of Philosophy in Special Education, Master’s of Science Infancy and Early Childhood Special Education and Master’s of Science Learning & Behavior Specialist. The University of Illinois regularly does extensive research in Early Childhood Development and Special Education, ensuring the programs it offers to students are as up-to-date as is possible and that they are highly dynamic. They achieve this through the many research centers and outreach units across the country, including the Early Childhood and Parenting Collaborative. The MS of Infancy and Early Childhood Special Education has three main core beliefs when it comes to teaching students enrolled in this program. These beliefs are: 1. families make a unique contribution to the family-professional partnership and they are an integral member of the team; 2. children are active participants in their own learning; and 3. children, families and professionals benefit from the diverse knowledge that team members share with each other.

Tuition: $12,060 in-state full-time per year, $26,058 out-of-state full-time per year
Learn more about the University of Illionis – Urbana – Champaign’s Early Childhood Special Education Degree Programs here.

We hope you found this list helpful in narrowing down which early childhood special education degree program you should enroll in.