Last Updated: May 2020
Some of the degree programs we feature will set you up for a lucrative career. If you’re interested in special education, though, you probably already know that’s not the most important reason to pursue the field. Instead, learning how to help children with special needs of all kinds flourish and grow can be one of the most personally rewarding jobs you can imagine. This is a career about relationships – and those relationships can start with one of our affordable online bachelor’s programs in special education. More than 80 percent of graduates with a bachelor’s degree in special education say their job makes the world a better place, putting the field among the most meaningful majors according to a survey by PayScale.com.
In an online special education bachelor’s degree program, students learn how to teach children and adolescents with disabilities. Upon completion of the program, graduates will understand the challenges that students with disabilities face and be able to use that knowledge to assess, instruct and create educational plans for their students. You’ll study topics including:
- Behavioral management and intervention
- Typical and atypical language development
- Intervention for students with intellectual disabilities
- Skill development strategies: severe disabilities
- Families of individuals with disabilities
Schools often have challenges recruiting and retaining special education teachers, the BLS notes, due to the rigorous mental and physical aspects of the work. Opportunities may be particularly good in rural areas, and in the South and West. While public school systems employ most special education teachers, opportunities also exist in other settings:
- Private schools
- Child care centers
- Residential facilities
- Private tutoring in students’ homes
What Are the Most Affordable Online Bachelor’s Degrees in Special Education?
Prospective students interested in pursuing an online special education bachelor’s degree should be aware that not all online programs prepare students to obtain a license to teach in public schools, and those that do typically require at least 10 weeks of full-time student teaching offline. If that’s a factor in your decision making, be sure to carefully check each program before you apply to see if it will lead to certification in the state where you live.
See our rankings methodology page.
Western Governors University
Cost per credit hour: $240
While Western Governors’ University has only been in existence for twenty years, it has already built an extensive portfolio of online degree programs. This nonprofit institution was founded in 1995 by state governors looking to change the way education could better the lives of their citizens. WGU is an all-online, competency-based university, which means their degrees are granted for what students learn rather than how much time they spend in school.
The extremely affordable BA in special education program available at Western Governors’ University leads to teacher certification for K-12 teachers working with students with mild to moderate disabilities. It may be right for you if you’re in a number of career situations, including:
- Individuals who need a bachelor’s degree and want to become a certified special education teacher
- Unlicensed teachers, substitute teachers, career changers, retired military personnel, school paraprofessionals, and others who feel the call to teach
- Individuals who have completed some college coursework or have applicable work experience
- Individuals who can typically spend 15 or more hours per week on their studies.
The degree requires the completion of online coursework, practice teaching in a supervised setting, and a professional teaching portfolio. If you’ve taken courses or received a degree from another college or university, you may be able to clear some of the course requirements through transfer credit. Western Governors’ University is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
University of Central Missouri
Cost per credit hour: $265
Located in Warrensburg, Missouri, the University of Central Missouri was founded in 1871 as one of Missouri’s first teacher preparation institutions, and its motto “Education For Service” continues to be embraced by faculty and graduates more than 140 years after its founding. The Special Education programs at UCM began in the late 1960’s, and the graduates of the program continue to be highly sought after for their, knowledge, skills, and professional expertise in working with individuals with special needs in a variety of settings and capacities. UCM Special Education Programs have continued to grow with the ongoing development of state-of-the-art facilities, library, course offerings, and online delivery of instruction.
Today, the University of Central Missouri offers an array of programs that will meet the needs of many students considering entering the special education profession. The undergraduate degree and certification programs allow the successful candidate to graduate in four years with a bachelors of science in education degree in the following areas:
- Early Childhood Special Education (Birth-Grade 3)
- Mild/Moderate Cross-Categorical Special Education (K-12), including the specialization areas of Intellectual Impairments, Learning Disabilities, Emotional Disturbance, and Other Health Impaired.
- Severe Developmental Disabilities (Birth-12)
A major in Elementary Education (grades 1-6) with a Special Education Minor in Cross-Categorical Special Education is also available, and can be easily completed in the four-year program of study. The University of Central Missouri is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
City University of Seattle
Cost per credit hour: $340
City University of Seattle’s Bachelor of Arts in Education degree provides a route for first time bachelor’s students to become certified teachers. You can complete the BA in education on its own or combine it with any of the following emphasis areas, some of which can be combined to create dual endorsements:
- Elementary Education
- Middle Level Mathematics
- Special Education
- English Language Learners (ELL)
- Early Childhood Education
City University’s bachelor of arts in education program does satisfy the requirements for a Washington State Residency Teaching Certificate, which means you’ll be qualified to work as a certified teacher in any public or private elementary school in Washington State. Admission to the program is contingent upon completion of lower division requirements and passing the Washington Educator Skills Test-Basic (WEST-B) and the National Evaluation Series Subtests I and II (NES 102/103).
For the special education major, you’ll take coursework that prepares you to work with students with a number of disabilities and challenges. Courses include the following:
- Exceptionality in Special Education
- Low-Incidence Disabilities
- Behavior Analysis and Management
- Student Assessment and Evaluation
- Fundamentals of the IEP Process
You’ll also complete internships and student teaching placements to prepare you for a career in the classroom. City University of Seattle is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
Cost per credit hour: $390
From its modest beginnings as Lynchburg Baptist College in 1971, Liberty University has grown its programs and expanded its reach to become the world’s largest Christian university and the fifth largest university of any kind in the United States. Much of that growth has come about due to its commitment to online education. And, among its many other online programs, Liberty offers a bachelor of science degree in special education, either with or without a fifth year of study leading to a master’s degree and certification.
Liberty’s program is specifically geared towards students who hope to teach in Christian or other private schools, and the bachelor’s degree is designed to build a foundation for those hoping to become a teacher candidate in a graduate education program. It provides 120 hours of coursework in the theories and methodology of Christian education, and can prepare you for jobs in Christian schools, churches, and in homeschooling children with special needs. For more hands-on teaching experience, you can also participate in an optional 90 hour practicum. Upon completion of the program, you will be eligible for a teaching certificate from the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI), and it will also prepare you for Liberty’s MAT licensure program in special education. Liberty University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Grand Canyon University
Cost per credit hour: $443
Arizona’s Grand Canyon University offers a dual degree program that leads to the bachelor of science in education degree with concentrations in both elementary and special education. The dual degree curriculum is directly aligned with national professional teaching standards, and it offers students the strategies they need to adapt teaching in the mainstream classroom to students with assorted needs. While core courses review pedagogy and classroom management, the special education focus aims to strengthen your understanding of assessing and adapting learning in the least restrictive environment for students with disabilities. Opportunities to apply your learning in real classrooms are available throughout your program and provide a well-rounded foundation to flourish into an outstanding educator. As always, bachelors in education programs leading to teacher certification may require practicum hours, state exams, student teaching and an institutional recommendation from GCU.
The curriculum in the dual degree program will give you the knowledge and skills you need for professional teaching in the 21st century, including:
- Lesson planning, development, assessment and methods to engage diverse learners
- Professional ethical principles, practice standards, laws and regulations that guide special educators
- First through eighth grade classroom management
- Serving students with mild to moderate disabilities
- Child and early adolescent growth and development
- Typical and atypical language development and associated disabilities and disorders
After gaining your initial teacher licensure, possible career options include elementary or special education teacher, middle school resource instructor and disability services consultant. With this bachelor’s degree in education, potential workplaces include private, charter and public schools. Grand Canyon University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Cost per credit hour: $445
Northcentral University offers an online bachelor of education (BEd) degree completion program that offers students a unique opportunity to complete and earn a bachelor of education degree and, possibly, simultaneous teacher certification for the state of Arizona. Featuring Northcentral University’s BEd 3+1 degree completion program, NCU makes it possible for you to start your degree at the community college level, and then complete it online at the university level.
NCU’s online bachelor’s in education degree completion program can help you get into the teaching profession and gain practical wisdom and experience from your mentoring professors. This BEd 3+1 online bachelor’s in education degree completion program is the only one of its kind certified by the Arizona Department of Education, and offers a concentration in special education along with two other fields. In the special education concentration, you’ll explore a wide spectrum of issues related to exceptional students, including the development and characteristics of learners and learning differences. You’ll learn instructional strategies to address the needs of individuals qualifying for services under the major areas of the exceptionality of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA). Finally, you’ll learn about student placement, service delivery requirements, discipline, appropriate educational decisions, family rights and privacy issues, and you’ll develop the skills to interact with special education administrators from local districts or universities. Northcentral University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
Stephen F. Austin State University
Cost per credit hour: $468
The program at Stephen F. Austin State University is a specialized one, intended for current paraprofessionals in Texas schools who intend to gain teacher certification. The bachelor of science in interdisciplinary studies (BSIS) with a concentration in special education and EC-12 special education teacher certification allows instructional aides in Texas public schools, along with other qualified individuals who have completed at least 45 hours at community colleges, to transfer to SFASU and complete their degree online. Paraprofessionals can earn a Texas teaching certificate while remaining in the schools and classrooms where they work, with the addition of one semester of full-time student teaching.
In the course of this program, you’ll study diverse topic in education including, but not limited to, the following:
- Literacy Development
- Functional Living Skills for Persons with Disabilities
- Educational Appraisal of Exceptional Children
- Academic Instruction for Persons with Disabilities
- Applied Behavior Analysis
- Consulting with Parents and Professionals
- Assistive Technology
You’ll also learn about the importance of diversity in the classroom and how to synthesize your own philosophy of teaching as a professional educator. Stephen F. Austin State University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
University of Southern Mississippi
Cost per credit hour: $689
The University of Southern Mississippi has been the state’s flagship institution for teacher training for more than 100 years. As part of that legacy, it offers an online bachelor of science degree in special education. This undergraduate program leads to licensure in mild/moderate disabilities (K-12) in the state of Mississippi, and requires preparation in mild/moderate disabilities as well as study in two additional areas of emphasis. The online version is especially designed for teaching assistants and other paraprofessionals in education who are ready to take the next step in their career, complete their degree, and become certified as a special education teacher. 122 hours are needed to graduate with a BS in Special Education (K-12 Licensure), and at least 50 percent of the hours applied to a degree at The University of Southern Mississippi must be earned from a senior college. While transfer credits will apply to this requirement, you’ll need to earn at least 21 of the last 30 hours of coursework and at least 12 hours in the major area of study from USM.
This program requires significant practical instruction, and all students, including online students, are required to attend practicum experiences either in the Hattiesburg or Gulf Coast area during their junior and senior years. However, if you are currently employed in a public school setting as a Special Education teacher’s assistant, you may request an exemption to this requirement. Your first section may be completed in the special education classroom where you work. The second section will be completed at your same school, but in an upper or lower grade depending on which grade you teach. The University of Southern Mississippi is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
East Carolina University
Cost per credit hour: $702
If you already have an associate’s degree or two years of college credit, you’re qualified to apply for East Carolina University’s online degree completion program to earn a bachelor of science degree in special education. The bachelor of science (BS) in special education leads to a combination of the North Carolina A-level special education-general curriculum and A-level reading licensure, or the A-level licensure in special education, adaptive curriculum. In its research, undergraduate, and graduate programs in special education, East Carolina University aims to prepare teachers who are knowledgeable, reflective, technologically proficient, and skilled in meeting the needs of a diverse student population. Each degree program emphasizes on service through faculty participation in the improvement of the public schools and assistance in the development and creation of educational policy for North Carolina, as well as support for scholarship and research/creative activity.
The bachelor’s program is designed to prepare and develop professionals in special education who are committed to the development of each student’s maximum individual potential through the acquisition of skills, values, and attitudes in the academic, social, communicative, vocational, and motor skills domains. The BS degree comprises two areas of special education that lead to initial teaching licensure in the general curriculum and the adapted curriculum. Students pursuing the special education-general curriculum license may also pursue the reading license. East Carolina University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Kansas State University Global
Cost per credit hour: $797
Offered as a degree completion track, the online bachelor’s in education is designed for community college students who don’t want to leave home to finish a bachelor’s degree. To be eligible, students must complete 55 appropriate general education credits at a community college. Completion of this online degree will lead to a Kansas K-6 teaching licensure. The online option will require distance supervision of field experiences in public schools convenient to each student.
Through Kansas State’s online program, you can study for a bachelor’s degree in elementary education with a concentration in special education. In this program, you’ll be prepared to:
- Teach elementary-aged children reading, language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, art, music and physical education
- Adjust teaching techniques to challenge every child in the class to learn
- Work with other educators to plan for the learning of children in the school
- Share with parents and others what students are learning and his or her commitment to teaching.
You also have the option of enrolling in the Quick Start program as an advanced undergraduate, if you want to get a head start on a master’s degree in special education along with with a Special Education endorsement for the State of Kansas. Kansas State University is regionally accredited by the accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.