Special education is increasingly a big priority in our schools. The need for highly qualified teachers proficient in the field of special education is on the rise. Due to the number of college programs available to aspiring special education teachers, the selection process can be incredibly confusing and even daunting for someone just looking for the program which is right fit for them. Whether you’re looking for a prestigious research university or some real-world, hands-on experience to apply immediately in the classroom, there is a school on this list that will meet your needs.
Featured Undergraduate Programs
- BS in Special Education from Liberty University
- B.S. in Elementary Education / Special Education (Dual Major) from GCU
- B.A. in Special Education from Western Governors University
To try to simplify the selection process, we created the Top 10 Special Education Degree Programs list to help students select the undergraduate program which will help them meet their personal, professional, and educational goals. Since students interested in special education have diverse educational backgrounds, we’ve created a list not limited to specific undergraduate or graduate degrees. We did, however, only include schools and programs which were best in terms of affordability, reputation, accreditation, rank, and most importantly, quality of not only education but also instruction.
1. Vanderbilt University (Peabody College)
Peabody College at Vanderbilt University has offered the top special education program in the country for several years in a row. Their main focus is on producing exceptional research; in fact, a full 20% of the literature on special education is produced by Vanderbilt faculty, students, and alumni. The bachelor’s program allows emphasis in mild and moderate disabilities, multiple and severe disabilities, or visual impairment. In addition, they offer a Behavior Analysis Certification program alongside the degree program, which offers several additional programs and eighteen months of internship work to achieve the Behavioral Analyst certificate. The school is accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and costs $42,118 per year for all students.
2. University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign)
Ranked #46 out of national universities, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is consistently listed in the top ten special education programs in the country. The program is heavily field-based, so it involves a lot of hands-on experience with students ranging from kindergarten to 21 years of age with disabilities including learning disabilities, social and emotional disorders, cognitive disabilities, physical impairments, autism, and traumatic brain injury. It strongly advocates parental involvement and inclusion of children with disabilities in mixed groups with typical peers. The school is accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools and costs $14,428 for in-state students and $28.570 for out-of-state.
3. Ohio State University
Ranked #56 among national universities, Ohio State University offers three different undergraduate specializations in addition to three licensure-only special education degree programs. Students can focus on early childhood special education, mild-to-moderate disabilities, or moderate-to-intensive disabilities. There are also non-degree programs which allow licensing in each of those specializations as well as an endorsement in pre-kindergarten special needs for those who already have a degree in education. The school is accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and the Council for Exceptional Children. Tuition and fees are $10,037 for in-state students and $25,445 for out-of-state students.For more about Ohio State University’s Special Education Degree Programs, go here
4. California State University
California State University has a number of campuses, but the best special education program is found at Northridge, which is ranked #68 among regional universities in the west. Their Integrated Teacher Education Program offers a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies along with the special education credential. Their main draw is their three nationally-recognized model classroom sites which provide field work for students using the most up-to-date methods in preschool, elementary, and middle school settings. Additional concentrations in the field of special education are available at Northridge, including specializations in autism spectrum disorder and emotional disturbance. Additionally, CSU’s program offers focuses on early childhood special education, mild-to-moderate disabilities, mild-to-severe disabilities, and deaf/hard-of-hearing education. All special education programs are accredited through the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. At $5,076 for in-state students and $21,312 for out-of-state, it is one of the top “bargains” on this list which maximizes your educational experience while minimizing tuition costs.
5. Hunter College (CUNY)
Hunter College, a branch of CUNY, is #38 among regional universities in the north. It offers a broad range of specialties, including learning disabilities, behavioral disorders, severe/multiple disabilities (including deaf-blindness), early childhood special education, and education for the blind and visually impaired. The courses are divided into core courses that can be applied across a range of educational settings and more specialized courses that prepare students in-depth for working with specific disabilities. It is accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and recognized by the Council for Exceptional Children. Tuition and fees come to $5,529 in-state and $14,199 out-of-state.
6. University of Maryland – College Park
The University of Maryland at College Park is ranked #58 among national universities and has the #11 special education program. The program has a focus on special education for all ages and prepares students to teach an age range from infants to young adults. In addition to other programs, they feature a five-year undergraduate program that combines their Bachelor of Science and a Master of Education degrees. This is an extremely intensive program that provides specialized training in language and motor development, social and educational needs, assessment procedures, curriculum development, classroom management, effective communication with families and communities, and laws concerning children and youth with disabilities. It is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education and costs $8,908 for in-state students and $27,287 for out-of-state
7. Michigan State University
Michigan State University’s School of Special Education is ranked #72 among national universities and focuses heavily on integrating special needs children into mainstream classrooms. The main focus of the program is on building connections between educational theory and practice in inclusive classroom programs, although there is also hands-on work in self-contained special needs classrooms. The special education program at Michigan State is combined with their elementary education program, so a degree in special education also brings certification as a regular K-5 teacher in addition to the K-12 certification in Learning Disabilities. Individually chosen endorsements in more specialized subject areas are also available. MSU is accredited by the Teacher Education Accreditation Council and costs $12,204 for in-state students and $31,148 out-of-state.
8. Graceland University
Graceland University is ranked #88 out of regional universities in the Midwest. They offer endorsements in mild and moderate special education, as well as focuses in either K-8 education or 5-12. The chief focus of the program is on collaboration. There is a strong emphasis on working with peers to solve classroom problems. In addition, students shadow master teachers in order to learn effective real-world classroom techniques. The program is accredited by the Iowa Department of Education and the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education. It costs $22,680 per year.
9. University of Hartford
Ranked #79 among regional universities in the north, the University of Hartford offers a professional preparation program with a focus on the in-depth understanding of disabilities as well as knowledge of developmental, academic, and social needs. There is an emphasis on building skills in a variety of settings, so student teaching placements are done both with general education classrooms and children with disabilities. It is accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. Tuition and fees total $32,172 per year.
10. Metropolitan State University of Denver
MSU-Denver is classified as a Tier 2 western regional university, which means that it has no public ranking. It is unique because its entire educational program is focused entirely on special education, with that being the only full four-year degree offered. It offers concentrations in early childhood, elementary, linguistically diverse, or secondary special education. Much of the program is hands-on, and due to the urban location, most teaching experiences take place in a culturally diverse population. It is accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, and costs $4834 for in-state students and $15,690 for out-of-state.