PhD in Special Education: Online and Campus-Based Programs

In a Ph.D. program in special education, you will study issues related to behavior, disabilities, education and psychology. Find out more about these programs and the curricula. Get info about online learning options for doctoral students and check the job options for graduates with a Ph.D. in Special Education. Schools offering Emotional & Behavioral Disorders degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

How Does a Special Education Doctoral Degree Program Work?

Special education refers not only to helping teach people with physical disabilities, but also those with mental or learning disabilities. Doctoral level degree programs in special education typically award either a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) and can help you when pursuing leadership positions in the disabilities education field.

These degree programs are generally research-intensive and explore current issues in the field, as well identifying new ones. Depending on the school, you may be encouraged to produce scholarly publications prior to completion of your degree program.

Program Overview Programs are typically research intensive, exploring current issues in the field of special education, prerequisites include master's degree in a related field and field experience
Common Topics Higher education teaching; special areas of education, such as autism and behavioral disorders; theories of special education
Online Availability Programs are typically on-campus, but some courses and a few programs may be offered through distance learning
Career Options Special education director for a non-profit, university professor, consultant or policies associate, vocational coach
Median Salary (2018)$59,780* (for special education teacher)
Job Outlook (2016-26)8%* (for all special education teachers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What is the Curriculum Like?

Your curriculum in a special education doctoral program will focus a great deal on teaching in a higher education setting, research and administrative roles in the field. In addition to special education, the areas of education that this degree may focus on include deaf education, early childhood development, autism and behavior disorders. In order to be considered for admission, most programs require you to have already obtained a related master's degree and appropriate field experience.

Your instruction through a Ph.D. or Ed.D. program can culminate in a research dissertation that you will defend before a committee. Typical skills you learn in these advanced programs include information analysis, knowledge generation and teaching. Along with the different theories and perspectives of special education, you will engage in such course topics as:

  • Disability types
  • Learning styles
  • Learning technologies
  • Federal policies
  • Personnel preparation
  • Research methods
  • Instructional design
  • Performance expansion

Is This Degree Program Available Online?

Ph.D. programs that are fully online are rare, but several on-campus programs offer distance courses within the curriculum. Some comparable online doctoral degree programs include the Ed.D. with a concentration in special education and the Ph.D. in Educational Studies with a concentration in special education. These programs generally have the same entrance requirements, as well as a similar curriculum.

What Can of Jobs Can I Find?

As a graduate of the doctoral degree program, you may consider a variety of leadership positions in special education. Examples of such positions include university professor, special education director at a non-profit organization, vocational coach for students with disabilities, special education consultant or policies associate. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for special education teachers, including those with a doctoral degree, is expected to increase by 8% from 2016 to 2026 (

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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