Best Online Bachelor’s Degrees in Special Education: Guide to Online Programs for 2021

in Research   Posted on July 19, 2021  Author: Imed Bouchrika,

Between 2019 and 2020, 7.3 million children, or 14% of all public school pupils, received special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Learning impairments were the most frequent kind of disability among students getting special education assistance (33%). And, with the increasing demand from special needs students, the need for special-ed teachers is growing as well (National Center for Education Statistics, 2021). For most students and professionals looking to have a fruitful career in this aspect of the education sector, an online bachelor’s degree in special education is the most viable choice.

Special education instructors are critical parts of the national educational system because they work with vulnerable kids who have learning difficulties or other cognitive and emotional impairments. Graduates of an online bachelor’s degree in special education are prepared to create learning tailored for these students, which may include adapting general education curricula to fit those with moderate disabilities or developing basic literacy and life skills for those with more severe challenges.

Aside from a bachelor’s program in special education, many institutions offer it as a specialization under education or psychology. As such, it is important to thoroughly research your options to ensure which program is suitable for your career plans. In this guide, the differences between traditional and online programs in special education will be discussed in detail. If you want to explore other degree programs in the industry, you can read this guide to choosing the right education degree as well.

online bachelor's degree in special education

Online Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education Table of Contents

  1. Can You Get a Degree Completely Online?
  2. Will Employers Take My Online Degree Seriously?
  3. Are Online Degrees Recognized All Over the World?
  4. Online vs. Traditional Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education
  5. How Much Does an Online Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education Cost?
  6. What are the Requirements of an Online Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education?
  7. Courses to Expect in Online Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education
  8. Things to Look for in an Online Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education

Can You Get a Degree Completely Online?

A teaching degree focusing on special education can be obtained online from one of several respected schools and institutions. Many online education degrees allow students to study asynchronously. Asynchronous classes do not have regular meeting times, allowing students to work full- or part-time while pursuing a degree. Additionally, many excellent online degrees grant an initial teaching license.

The online learning experience differs slightly among schools. It usually includes watching video lectures, participating in a discussion board, and working on small-group projects with peers. Students gain transferrable abilities that are useful to K-12 teachers and administrators.

With significant improvements in online education and curriculum each year, more students are opting for a remote setup for their studies. In 2016, up to 43.1% of undergraduate students were already taking online classes according to online education statistics. This underscores the interest and viability of online courses and study programs as they offer flexibility, accessibility, and better options for future special education teachers. Plus, with the pandemic changing the education sector, the demand for fully online degrees is already rapidly increasing.

undergraduate students taking online classes

Will Employers Take My Online Degree Seriously?

An online degree is equally important as a conventional degree. Studies suggest that most companies do not even distinguish between the two kinds of degrees. As such, it is outpacing traditional higher education in terms of annual growth at about 4%. And, with the pandemic highlighting the need for more flexible options, an increasing number of students are choosing online degrees over in-class programs.

However, it should be noted that the general perception of online degrees is still neutral to negative, according to research published in the Journal of Employment Counseling titled “Employer Perceptions of Online Versus Face-to-Face Degree Programs.” The study discovered that employers “indicated negative or neutral feelings toward online degrees than positive ones.” This is primarily evident for new hires (Roberto & Johnson, 2019). However, the research also underlined that the perception of online degrees during a promotion is not as critical. This may indirectly mean that employers value experience and skills. As such, those taking online special education degrees should invest in notable internship opportunities and other professional experiences in order to get ahead of the competition.

growth of students taking online degrees

Are Online Degrees Recognized All Over the World?

Because of how prevalent online learning has grown, many people’s perceptions of online degrees have shifted; there’s no longer a significant stigma connected to obtaining an education from the comfort of your own home. In reality, students who are constrained by location, chance, and time may have a degree in certain cases that they could not have otherwise achieved but may have had superior results.

This is supported by the research conducted by the U.S. Department of Education titled “Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning.” The authors reported that “students in online conditions performed modestly better, on average than those learning the same material through traditional face-to-face instruction.”

“The effectiveness of online learning approaches appears quite broad across different content and learner types,” the study added. It further highlights that online learning is effective for undergraduates, graduate students, and professionals, at least in preliminary studies (U.S. Department of Education, 2010).

In recent years, online degrees are becoming a viable option for students in different regions and economic statuses. While there is a slight decline in first-time enrollment in online bachelor degree programs, the number of enrollees in the U.S. is still above eight million.

Source: Education Data, 2021

However, it should be noted that you should conduct thorough research when choosing an online special education program. Much like traditional schools, the reputation of the institution and the quality of curriculum and instruction will affect the outcome of the degree. Additionally, certain countries or territories may not officially recognize degrees earned outside the region through remote programs.

Online vs. Traditional Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education

Special education instructors play a critical role in meeting the particular learning requirements of kids with special needs. They do work that is typically more rigorous and demanding than traditional schooling and adapt general education techniques for kids with moderate to mild disabilities.

Depending on the offering institution, special education is offered as a specialization under the conventional education degree program, a separate bachelor’s degree program, in conjunction with other disciplines, such as psychology, or a postgraduate degree.

Students taking up an online special education degree will learn how to establish positive educational settings for students with learning difficulties to enhance educational results. Some schools include internships so that students may experience the real-life skills necessary in handling special-ed classes. Moreover, many special education online degrees enable students to get specializations that fulfill licensing criteria.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, special education employment will rise by 3% through 2029, with 14,300 new teaching positions entering the market. This does not include those in non-teaching or support positions. Jobs in special education provide stability to recent graduates since the federal government is required by law to finance public schools in order to address the requirements of children with learning difficulties.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, 2021

Tuition Fee and Financial Aid

In college selection, the cost is often the determining factor. Online colleges are typically cheaper because the fees are lower, transportation expenditures are minimal, and no housing fees or rent will be paid. Young students can continue to live free of charge with their parents and they need not pay for meals or passes for activities.

Traditional universities, on the other hand, are usually more expensive than online universities. In some cases, traditional degrees may offer lower credit hour fees. But, with the addition of miscellaneous fees and other on-campus living expenses, students end up paying more.

Financial aid also needs to be taken into account. Online colleges offer a few institutional scholarships. Many will take external aids, but students will pay for the majority of their education out of their pockets without an institutional bursary based on merits and needs.

Class Schedule

Certain students favor online universities over regular universities because of their flexibility. Generally, students do not need to be in physical classrooms. In most cases, lessons may be held online and adjusted around their hectic schedules.

It is worth noting that certain online institutions conduct courses at specific hours through synchronous classes. Assistance is maintained and might even be included in the final grade. But this is the exception rather than the rule.

Due to its high flexibility in online programs, students can graduate faster or just take the classes they need to finish their degree. This is another reason why students with full-time jobs or families to care for favor online college. Occupied parents can attend lessons, perform homework and task examinations around the schedule of their kids. Those with full-time employment can learn during breaks or downtimes.

Most of the time, students taking special education programs are already working in the education sector in some form. Educators often take these programs as a form of specialization. In some cases,  administrators looking to focus on specific types of students also consider taking special education courses.

Businesses and companies can provide students taking online programs with tuition support. Typically, this is a form of professional skills enrichment where students apply what they’ve learned in coursework to their jobs. In traditional schools, this kind of flexibility is hardly encountered.

Curriculum and Delivery of Instruction

The curriculum of online and traditional universities are typically the same or, at least, comparable. The majority of degrees obtained through conventional institutions are also available online, and vice versa.

Institutions that concentrate primarily on online learning may be less rigorous than conventional colleges. Online classrooms must balance the knowledge they need to communicate with the capacity to reach students in a non-traditional manner. It can even be argued that some online schools provide even more content than in-person classes since the online model allows you to access as much knowledge as you need.

A school or institution offering both online and on-site education usually uses the same curriculum for classes irrespective of their mode. This is perfect for students who want to make sure they get the best training.

Learning Resources and Supplementary Materials

A conventional college campus includes a library, study center, counselors, and computer laboratories for students who want to get the most out of their studies. The physical setting enables students to seek assistance from peers and experts who are committed to assisting them. These resources usually are not offered by online institutions.

Online colleges complement education in a variety of ways. Most include message boards and social media groups for students to learn together. They may even enable students in the same place to meet face-to-face. Plus, many online colleges have their own digital libraries, which contain all of the resources available in a physical library and more. There are also those that have counselors and tutors available via text, email, and video chat.

Similarly, large universities often have satellite schools that conduct online special education programs. Occasionally, these regional institutions offer traditional learning resources to their online students. For instance, students can schedule sessions with counselors or tutors on an as-needed basis in a face-to-face setting. Academic activities that require personal appearance are also conducted in these satellite locations, such as internships, practical examinations, and laboratory work. These activities are often scheduled ahead of time with respect to students’ availability.

Is an online degree cheaper?

For a variety of reasons, colleges and universities that offer online degree programs are usually less expensive than traditional brick-and-mortar campuses. Many colleges that specialize only in providing online degrees have fewer expenditures to incur. They typically do not have to manage huge expanses of land, property, and structures. They do not have to pay thousands of support workers and personnel every month. As a result, online schools and universities may offer lower tuition prices than traditional brick-and-mortar colleges and universities.

Online degrees are frequently much less expensive than their on-campus equivalents since they do not require dormitories, food plans, or formal classrooms. In fact, the average total cost of an online degree is $50,000 less than that of a traditional degree (University of the Potomac, 2020). With online students having access to scholarships and financial assistance, the decreased cost burden is even more appealing.

Is an online degree as good as a regular degree?

A frequently overlooked truth is that graduates of online degree programs get the same degree as traditional students. A potential employer would hardly know the difference unless you revealed it during an interview. When considering your qualifications, employers are more likely to consider the institution’s reputation. They may be wary of a degree earned from for-profit diploma mills (and for a reason), but most are not wary of online degrees in general. Investigate your school’s ties with the local business sector to guarantee that future employers will take your degree seriously.

How Much Does an Online Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education Cost?

While online degree programs generally cost less than traditional bachelor’s degrees, tuition fees still vary between institutions and programs. An online bachelor’s degree in special education is typically similar across programs in traditional colleges. A typical teacher education program consists of 120 to 142 credits of study and can be completed within four years. However, online classes are subject to different cost structures so even if the number of required credits are the same, the tuition fee may vary.

A number of factors determine the cost of an online special education degree. Because many schools and universities charge more tuition for out-of-state students, state residency is a significant factor. Some public institutions, however, impose fixed tuition for online students regardless of residence.

Another important consideration is technology costs, which frequently apply to online students but not to their brick-and-mortar counterparts. Some of the costs of developing online courses are passed on to students in the form of technology fees, which may include access to course materials, tutoring services, and other resources. However, there are some costs that online students do not have to pay, such as those for access to campus health centers, parking lots, and recreational facilities.

The cost of an online special education degree generally ranges from $210 to $575 per credit. As such, total tuition should range between $25,000 and $82,000 for students in both public and private institutions (U.S. News, n.d.). The average cost of an online program is almost similar to the average cost of traditional college tuition fees in the U.S., which is around $28,000 (National Center for Education Statistics, 2021a).

Online programs may also present hidden costs. Students will have to shoulder the cost of equipment and other fees such as computer, electricity, and internet connection. However, they also save on fees associated with traditional coursework. For example, most online learning resources are in digital form, which is much cheaper than textbooks.

cost of online special education degree

Is an online Special Education degree worth it?

Due to a scarcity of competent professionals, there is a strong need for all types of teachers, with many states designating special education teachers as a specific need. The national shortage of teaching professionals means that many states have started to re-evaluate problems such as teacher pay, benefits, and certification qualifications. In general, a special education teacher has better job stability and a broader range of career possibilities than ever before.

In 2020, the annual median pay for special education teachers was around $61,400, which requires a bachelor’s degree (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021). This is expected to increase as special education professionals take on administrative roles or focus on specialization.

What are the Requirements of an Online Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education?

Most online degree programs in special education are quite similar to traditional bachelor’s degrees so entry requirements are also the same. These programs also share the same requirements in skills as a typical education degree. One key difference is the required technological equipment and familiarity.

Admission Requirements

Most bachelor’s degrees of online special education have comparable general criteria for admission. The minimum qualification is a secondary school diploma or equivalent, and many schools have a GPA requirement. Recent high school graduates may have to submit SAT or ACT results, but universities normally relieve older school students from these obligations. However, this is subject to the state or institution requirements.

Chart context menu
View in full screen
Print chart

Download PNG image
Download JPEG image
Download CSV
Download XLS
View data table

Top 10 Average ACT Score by State 2019

Top 10 Average ACT Score by State 2019
Massachusetts: 25.5


Top 10 Average ACT Score by State 2019
Connecticut: 25.5


Top 10 Average ACT Score by State 2019
New Hampshire: 25

New Hampshire

Top 10 Average ACT Score by State 2019
Rhode Island: 24.7

Rhode Island

Top 10 Average ACT Score by State 2019
New York: 24.5

New York

Top 10 Average ACT Score by State 2019
Michigan: 24.4


Top 10 Average ACT Score by State 2019
Illinois: 24.3


Top 10 Average ACT Score by State 2019
Maine: 24.3


Top 10 Average ACT Score by State 2019
New Jersey: 24.2

New Jersey

Top 10 Average ACT Score by State 2019
Vermont: 24.1


Source: American College Testing

Designed by

Most programs do not need students to have teaching experience. However, some may waive some credit requirements if they have classroom experience.

Individuals with an associate degree may be able to transfer credits to an online bachelor’s degree in special education as well. However, credit equivalencies and curriculum requirements vary greatly between schools. Students can typically transfer some credits from their associate program, especially if they are involved in a general topic, like liberal arts.

Other common admission requirements are:

  • Filled-out application form and fee
  • Resume outlining academic and/or professional experience and achievements
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Personal statement describing why you want to follow a career path in special education
  • High school diploma or equivalent

General Requirements

Persons with patience, strong work ethics, solid organization, and communication skills, as well as a strong willingness to interact with children with disabilities, might be good prospects for excellence as instructors of special education. While not a requirement, proven experience working with special needs children, such as internships, volunteer work, and others may be considered an advantage during admission.

What are the technological requirements of students for online learning?

Most online degree courses in special education do not require any specific equipment or software. Naturally, you will need a desktop computer or a laptop in order to access your classes and materials. Internet access is also necessary for fulfilling most of the course requirements, such as examinations, submissions, and even group work. You will also need a microphone and a webcam to communicate with your instructors and classmates for programs with synchronous classes.

Many online colleges use readily available software to conduct their classes, from videoconferencing applications to learning management systems. And, most institutions use online solutions, which means you do not need to install specific software to access your classes unless stated in the course.

Courses to Expect in Online Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education

Coursework will vary from program to program, but most will cover the following courses:

  • Classroom Management – This class usually incorporates an experience in classrooms. Students will study how to develop rules and procedures and create an effective and safe learning environment. At the end of the course, students develop their own teaching philosophy.
  • Counseling Techniques – This course teaches students how to utilize communication strategies and ideas used today in modern consultation with children and their families. The lessons focus on child counseling, including assessment procedure, diagnosis, and therapy. The course allows students to build counseling methods and improve their ability to think critically so that they may make independent evaluations.
  • Assessment in Special Education – A special education teacher has to evaluate the pupils according to his or her specific requirements in order to develop a suitable learning environment and education plan for individuals. This course introduces students to the procedures involved in fulfilling a student’s learning and behavioral requirements through reaction to intervention, positive behavior intervention and support, and a multi-tiered support system.
  • Ethical and Legal Topics in Special Education – Students in this subject learn about the ethical and legal frameworks that instructors must implement in their classrooms. Coursework focuses on the most important legal issues and how they affect special education. Students also learn the Council for Exceptional Children’s Code of Ethics and Standards for Professional Practice, which every special education teacher should follow.
  • Learning Disabilities – Students will study some of the most prevalent learning disabilities and their origins and effects. Students learn how to recognize and define various disabilities. They also study techniques for supporting and managing pupils with diverse impairments and educating students with these problems. Students will typically cover specific learning disabilities as it is the most common type of impairment among special-ed students (33%).
  • Special Education Technology – Students in this course will learn about cutting-edge technology in special education. Evaluating assistive technologies, integrating technology in the classroom, and investigating special education-specific software and apps are among the topics covered.
Chart context menu
View in full screen
Print chart

Download PNG image
Download JPEG image
Download CSV
Download XLS
View data table

Distribution of students under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

by disability type (2019-2020)

Distribution of students under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
Specific learning disability: 33%

Specific learning disability

Distribution of students under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
Speech or language impairment: 19%

Speech or language impairment

Distribution of students under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
Other health impairment: 15%

Other health impairment

Distribution of students under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
Autism: 11%


Distribution of students under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
Developmental delay: 7%

Developmental delay

Distribution of students under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
Intellectual disability: 6%

Intellectual disability

Distribution of students under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
Emotional disturbance: 5%

Emotional disturbance

Distribution of students under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
Multiple disabilities: 2%

Multiple disabilities

Distribution of students under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
Hearing impairment: 1%

Hearing impairment

Distribution of students under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
Orthopedic impairment: 1%

Orthopedic impairment


Source: National Center for Education Statistics, 2021

Designed by

Things to Look for in an Online Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education

Take the time to take a special education online degree. The costs, transfer rules, size, and length of each program vary. Ensure that your online program in special education matches your financial, education, and professional goals. Also, keep in mind that in-state institutions are typically the most cost-effective option. Consider the following to help you choose a school that is ideal for you:

Tuition Fee and Other Costs

The cost of education is frequently the most pressing consideration for students. Tuition, books, accommodation, and transportation are all required for traditional students; online students often pay less because they do not commute. Out-of-state students usually pay more than in-state students. The financial situation of a student also has an impact on the expense of attending college. Part-time students, for example, typically pay more intuition than full-time students. On average, online bachelor’s degree programs cost anywhere between $38,000 to $60,500 in most universities and colleges.

Source: U.S. News, 2021

Length of Program

It takes around four years to earn a bachelor’s degree. Factors such as part-time vs. full-time status, cohort learning vs. individually paced formats, accelerated programs, and credit transfers can all affect a student’s graduation timetable.

Transfer Policies

A college’s transfer regulations may impact students who obtained credits from another accredited college. Transfer credits are frequently accepted by institutions that have transfer agreements with other schools in the same region. Transfer agreements may also limit the out-of-state fees students must pay or give in-state tuition discounts to out-of-state students.

On-Campus Requirements

Online special education degrees generally do not need students visiting campus. However, some instructors may ask students to meet in person on occasion. Programs may also require students to conduct practicums or internships that must be completed on campus or in person at particular places.


Colleges are either regionally or nationally accredited. Regional accreditation is more prestigious than national accreditation for two- and four-year schools and universities. In addition, vocational and technical schools are often credited on a national level. The accrediting process validates the quality of education provided by institutions or programs. Schools are assessed for accreditation on a voluntary basis.

Choosing an online special education degree from a regionally accredited institution enables them to get federal financial help and transfer credits. Regionally accredited colleges may not accept transfer credits from nationally accredited institutions.

Programs can be accredited by the following bodies:

  • National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education
  • Teacher Education Accreditation Council
  • Council for Higher Educational Accreditation (CHEA)
  • Department of Education (ED)

Working Towards A Career in Special Education

A career in the special education sector is a rewarding and fulfilling endeavor. However, it requires considerable commitment, skill development, and patience. As such, it is important to plan out and research online bachelor’s degrees in special education as early as high school. Similarly, you can take advantage of college’s first year or so to explore courses in special education. This will provide you with better and more realistic expectations about your career path. In which case, you will need to take related general education courses throughout your freshman and sophomore years before you fully commit to a program. As such, start by reading our guide to general education for more information.



  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021). Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2019–2029. Bernan Press.
  2. National Center for Education Statistics. (2021a). Tuition costs of colleges and universities. Institute of Education Sciences.
  3. National Center for Education Statistics. (2021b, May). Students with disabilities. Institute of Education Sciences.
  4. Roberto, K. J., & Johnson, A. F. (2019). Employer Perceptions of Online Versus Face‐to‐Face Degree Programs. Journal of Employment Counseling, 56(4), 180–189.
  5. University of the Potomac. (2020, November 17). Online Classes vs. Traditional Classes – A Learning Comparison.
  6. U.S. Department of Education. (2010, September). Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies. U.S. Department of Education – Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development.
  7. U.S. News. (n.d.). Online Special Education Bachelor’s Degree. Retrieved July 9, 2021, from