Special education classrooms demand highly trained teachers with the pedagogical know-how to develop and implement IEPs that maximize children’s academic potential. Since the inception of the Individuals with Disablities Education Act (IDEA), the United States provides adapted curriculum to suit the exceptional learning needs of approximately 6.5 million students with disabilities. Whether in inclusive or self-contained K-12 classrooms, special education teachers are positive role models who advocate for the fair treatment of physical, mental, learning, and sensory difficulties. The BLS estimates that America’s 491,100 special educators earn a median pay of $56,800. Above-average job growth through 2024 will also increase hiring in special education by 6 percent. Qualifying for these positions requires becoming state certified after a high-quality teacher preparation program.
To help potential and current special education professionals, we’ve created the following article to distinguish the 12 Best Special Education Degree Programs for 2023. We began by consulting with the U.S. News and World Report’s teaching school rankings. The publication’s methodology involved weighing student selectivity, faculty resources, research activity, and peer assessment scores. Next, we double checked that each university was regionally and professionally accredited by the NCATE, TEAC, or CAEP for excellence. Preference was given to schools with multiple degree levels in special education. We then used the NCES College Navigator tool to record each college’s average net price with financial aid. Other factors we deemed important were retention, job placement, PRAXIS exam pass rates, class size, and experiential training.
Here are our selections for the 12 Best Special Education Degree Programs for 2023:
1. University of Kansas
Noted for the Beach Center on Disability, the University of Kansas is a flagship public, co-ed RU/VH institution established in 1865 that’s educating over 28,000 Jayhawks from 1,100 urban acres in downtown Lawrence. Ranked America’s 45th “Top Public University” on Niche, the University of Kansas is recognized for the #1 Best Special Education Department by the U.S. News and World Report. The NCATE-accredited School of Education offers a Unified Early Childhood B.S., High-Incidence Disabilities M.S.Ed., Low-Incidence Disabilities M.S.Ed., Secondary Special Education & Transition M.S.Ed., and Autism Spectrum Disorders M.S.Ed. There’s also a Special & Inclusive Education Leadership Graduate Certificate. Teachers practice their skills through on-campus initiatives like the Juniper Gardens Children’s Project and field practicum in Douglas County school districts.
Average Net Price: $18,485
2. Vanderbilt University
Endowed for $4.13 billion, Vanderbilt University is a private, nonsectarian 568 Group member with “very high research activity” and over 12,600 Commodores engaging on its 330-acre urban campus in Tennessee’s capital. Placed #4 for “Great Financial Aid” on The Princeton Review, Vanderbilt is acclaimed for the second Best Special Education Programs by the U.S. News. Holding NCATE accreditation, the Peabody College of Education and Human Development offers a B.S., M.Ed., or Ph.D. in Special Education to master innovative practices with disabled youth. Each major graduates with at least 500 hours of classroom experience in Nashville and the Cumberland Valley. Students also serve young children with developmentally disabilities in the on-campus Susan Gray School.
Average Net Price: $22,937
3. University of Oregon
Following the motto “Mind moves the mass,” the University of Oregon educates over 23,600 Ducks as a flagship public, research hub endowed for $753 million with 295 urban acres in Eugene along the Willamette River’s shoreline. Deemed the West’s 40th Best University on Forbes, Oregon claims the #3 spot for Best Special Needs Education by the U.S. News. The CAEP-accredited College of Education has respect for their M.Ed. in Special Education (K-12), M.Ed. in Early Intervention, and Ph.D. in Special Education. There’s a SPED Undergraduate Minor and ESOL Endorsement for undergrads too. Oregon students benefit from gaining experience in the HEDCO Clinic and 17 research units, such as the Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities.
Average Net Price: $15,128
4. University of Texas – Austin
Belonging to the AAU, the University of Texas-Austin is a flagship public, space-grant RU/VH institution teaching over 50,900 Longhorns from 434 urban acres near the nation’s sixth tallest state capitol. Named the fifth “Best Big College in America” on Niche, UT-Austin houses the fourth top special education programs according to the USNWR. Within the NCATE-accredited College of Education, undergraduates can pursue the All-Level Special Education (K-12) Certification. Advanced specialist training is available with M.Ed. and Ed.D. concentrations for Autism & Developmental Disabilities, Early Childhood Special Education, High-Incidence Disabilities, or Learning Disabilities & Behavioral Disorders. UT-Austin also conducts cutting-edge research in the Texas Center for Disability Studies and Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk.
Average Net Price: $17,366
5. University of Florida
Enrolling over 52,500 Gators, the University of Florida is a preeminent public, land-grant RU/VH institution contributing $8.76 to the “Sunshine State’s” economy from a massive 2,000-acre suburban campus outside Gainesville in Alachua County. Noted for the #17 “Best Alumni Network” on The Princeton Review, UF maintains the fifth best special education department according to the U.S. News. Meeting CAEP standards, the College of Education offers a five-year Bachelor’s/Master’s ProTeach program for Dual Early Childhood or Elementary and Special Education. The Teach Well Online Academy confers a 36-credit M.Ed. in Autism, Disabilities in Society, and Dyslexia or Ph.D. in Special Education. Florida is highly regarded for its P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School.
Average Net Price: $14,610
6. University of Virginia
Established by Thomas Jefferson in 1819, the University of Virginia occupies 1,682 urban acres of a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Charlottesville to educate over 22,300 Cavaliers as a flagship public, co-educational RU/VH research institution. Tied for the fifth best special needs education by the U.S. News, UVA claimed #14 in The Princeton Review’s “Colleges That Pay You Back.” The Curry School of Education is TEAC-accredited to provide a Master of Teaching (MT) in Special Education with endorsement in Gifted Education, English as a Second Language, Elementary Education, or Secondary Education. There’s a five-year B/MT for undergraduates with a Communication Sciences Disorders major. Aspiring teachers also gain experience with the America Reads program and Children’s Learning Clinic.
Average Net Price: $14,539
7. University of Washington
Applauded for its DO-IT Scholars Program, the University of Washington is a flagship public, co-educational RU/VH institution endowed for $3.07 billion to inclusively teach over 45,200 Huskies from a main 703-acre urban campus in Seattle at Mount Rainier’s foothills. Graded A+ for America’s 32nd “Best College Location” on Niche, UW is ranked seventh nationally for special education programs by the U.S. News. The College of Education offers a cohort-based Special Education Preparation Program for B.A./B.S. students. For post-baccalaureate study, consider the M.Ed. in Applied Behavior Analysis, M.Ed. in High-Incidence Disabilities, M.Ed. in Low-Incidence Disabilities, or M.Ed. in Early Childhood Special Education. UW student teachers total more than 383,000 practice hours in 300+ Washington State schools.
Average Net Price: $9,744
8. University of Minnesota – Twin Cities
Within the Big Ten Academic Alliance (BTAA), the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities is a public, land-grant research powerhouse located on 2,730 urban acres in the Falcon Heights neighborhood of Saint Paul to enlighten over 48,200 Golden Gophers. Ranked the 21st “Top Public University in America” on Niche, UM is distinguished for the eighth best special needs education by the U.S. News. The NCATE-accredited College of Education and Human Development attracts diverse students from 58 countries. Degree options include the Special Education B.S., Special Education M.Ed., and English as a Second Language M.A. There’s also a Certificate in Disability Policy & Services. More than $51 million in grant funding supports initiatives like the ITR for Children’s Mental Health.
Average Net Price: $15,371
9. University of Wisconsin – Madison
Deemed a “Public Ivy,” sea-grant RU/VH institution with a $2.46 billion endowment, the University of Wisconsin-Madison educates over 43,300 Badgers from a 936-acre urban campus on the Madison isthmus between Lakes Mendota and Monona. Placed #13 for “Best College Library” on The Princeton Review, UW-Madison is distinguished for the ninth top special education department by the U.S. News. Holding NCATE accreditation, the School of Education’s iconic red doors welcome undergrads into the B.S.Ed. in Special Education. It’s also possible to obtain a M.S. and Ph.D. in Special Education with an optional TESOL Endorsement. UW-Madison helps empower schools with Culturally Responsive Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (CRPBIS). Future teachers also benefit from institutional partnerships in Australia, Brazil, and Singapore.
Average Net Price: $16,060
10. University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign
Known for innovating the first PLATO computer-assisted instruction system in 1960, the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign is a public, space-grant RU/VH AAU member serving over 44,000 Fighting Illini from 4,552 urban acres in the twin cities. Crowned America’s #7 Best Value on Forbes, UIUC is recognized for the 10th best special needs education by the U.S. News. The CAEP-accredited College of Education offers a B.S. in Learning and Education Studies concentrated in Special Education. Graduates could sharpen their skills with the M.S. in Learning & Behavior Specialist, M.S. in Infancy & Early Childhood Special Education, or Ph.D. in Special Education programs. Students benefit from studying the Pyramid Model Consortium, participating in the Goldstick Family Lecture Series, and joining Kappa Delta Pi.
Average Net Price: $16,841
11. Ohio State University
Having produced academia icons like Nancy L. Zimpher and Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr., Ohio State University is a prestigious public, land-grant RU/VH institution with over 101,200 total Buckeyes studying across 16,132 acres in Columbus, Lima, Mansfield, Marion, and Wooster. Noted as America’s 14th “Best Big College” on Niche, OSU is recognized for the 11th best special education degrees by the U.S. News. The NCATE-accredited College of Education and Human Ecology offers a B.S.Ed. in Special Education with optional Pre-Kindergarten Special Needs Endorsement. Licensed teachers could attain the M.A. in Education Studies for Special Education or Ph.D. in Special Education also. Programs have intensive clinical requirement with partnering schools, including Columbus City Schools and Southwestern City School District.
Average Net Price: $18,502
12. University of San Diego
Chartered in 1949 by Reverend Charles F. Buddy, D.D., the University of San Diego is a private, nonprofit Catholic institution endowed for $450 million that’s enlightening over 7,400 Toreros from 108 urban acres overlooking California’s Mission Bay. Distinguished for the #12 “Most Beautiful Campus” on The Princeton Review, USD houses America’s 12th best special needs education according to the U.S. News. The School of Leadership and Education Sciences has several NCATE-accredited programs, including the Preliminary Education Specialist Credential for Mild to Moderate Disabilities. Graduate cohorts pursue the M.A.T. in Special Education, M.Ed. in Inclusive Learning with Special Education and Universal Design Specialization, and M.Ed. in TESOL Education. San Diego also manages the state-of-the-art Manchester Family Child Development Center.
Average Net Price: $35,950
All schools shown here have been contacted and informed of their inclusion on this list. Schools that do not wish to be featured are immediately removed. School names are the registered trademarks of their original owners. The use of any trade name or trademark does not imply any association with the school.