A career in special education is one of the most challenging and rewarding specializations in education, but where to start? To get a feel for the job, many prospective special education teachers begin with a lower-level position, such as a teacher’s assistant in a special ed classroom. Specialized training comes in the form of earning an associate’s degree, as well as certifications to help increase special education teacher salary potential and job opportunities. By taking advantage of these opportunities, it’s possible to begin a career in special education.
The Bureau of Labor and Statistics reports that by 2026, K-12 education is expected to experience an 8% growth. However, when you look at the growth for special education teachers, the employment growth is expected to increase by 11% by 2026. As inclusive special education programs grow, more experienced, well-trained teachers are needed. What that means is, in addition to seeing positive special education teacher salary potential, you’ll also see consistent work opportunities.
Ranking the Best Online Special Education Degree Programs
Prospective special education teachers looking for a convenient way to get into the classroom fast can turn to an online degree in special education from an accredited, reputable community college, college, or university. That’s where the Value Colleges ranking comes in. VC editors searched out online associate’s degree programs that can be completed online, ranking them according to their affordability, alumni salary, and student reviews. Data was drawn from College Scorecard, IPEDS, and Niche, showing prospective online special education degree students where they will find the best balance of cost, reputation, and return on investment.
, college, or university. That’s where the Value Colleges ranking comes in. VC editors searched out online associate’s degree programs that can be completed online, ranking them according to their affordability, alumni salary, and student reviews. Data was drawn from College Scorecard, IPEDS, and Niche, showing prospective online special education degree students where they will find the best balance of cost, reputation, and return on investment.
1. Georgia State University
Georgia State University offers an AS in Education with a focus in Special Education. This program can be completed over the Internet. The associates program at GSU stands out because of its classes on educating diverse populations. GSU’s student body is majority people of color, and this is reflected in the curriculum of the school’s various programs. Prospective teachers who are interested in serving disabled students of color may want want to consider getting their online degree in special education from GSU over other online special education degree programs.
GSU is known for offering a large amount of financial aid to its students. There are quite a few different scholarships and grants available to students of all backgrounds. As GSU has a large number of black students, there are many sources of financial aid for this student population. GSU funds more research than most universities in the United States, and this shows in the research-based curriculum of the special education program.
Degree: AS in Education – Special Education
2. Portland Community College
Portland Community College has a unique AAS in Paraeducator program with a Special Education emphasis. This program is different from others on this list because it focuses on practical experience. This is conveyed through the Associate of Applied Sciences designation, which is often used by degree programs that emphasize field work. Students who want to get plenty of experience through their online special education degree should consider getting an online degree in special education from PCC.
Portland Community College is known for its community involvement in its region of Oregon. Students can utilize this community involvement to gain internships and volunteer experience through their degree programs. This experience may help them land a good job when they finish their education. PCC’s undergraduate education program also offers an emphasis in ESL teaching.
Degree: AAS in Paraeducator – Special Education
3. Hagerstown Community College
Hagerstown Community College has an online AAT in Elementary Education with a focus in General Special Education. This program is a little different than most because it is first and foremost an elementary education program. That means that students in this program study methods of educating grade school kids, including special needs students. Prospective teachers who want to teach younger students with special needs should consider enrolling in this program.
HCC is known for offering extremely affordable tuition to students in the institution’s home state of Maryland. Many students start their educations at community colleges simply to save money. HCC is an excellent choice for Maryland residents who want quality education on a very tight budget. HCC’s associates in special education program requires that students complete 45 hours of practical experience to receive their degrees.
Degree: AAT in Elementary Education – General Special Education
4. Elms College
Elms College offers a unique online special education associate’s program that prepares students to be a Speech Language Pathology Assistant. There are very few programs that offer this unique specialization. There are even fewer in this field that can be completed online, as the Elms College program can. Students who are looking for an online special education degree in speech pathology can find the online degree in special education that they’re looking for at Elms College.
Elms College is a small, Catholic liberal arts college. This sets it apart from the majority of schools on this list that are community colleges. Students can complete an associates degree at Elms, then go onto complete a bachelors degree without having to transfer. This is one reason why students in education and other fields may want to consider Elms over the community colleges on this list. Elms College is known for educating Irish-American and Polish-American students, many of whom go onto become teachers in their communities.
Degree: Speech Language Pathology Assistant
5. Lehigh Carbon Community College
Lehigh Carbon Community College offers an online AAS Paraprofessional/Special Education program. This program is distinguished from similar programs in that it is a terminal degree program. Many associates degree programs in this field are targeted at students who are planning to obtain a bachelors degree or even a graduate degree. The program at LCCC, on the other hand, is aimed at students who want to go into the workforce immediately after their associates degree program as teacher assistants.
LCCC is known for its focus on training students for the workforce through a hands-on approach with plenty of practical experience. Instead of LCCC’s programs being research-based, they are experience-based. LCCC shares this approach with many other community colleges. LCCC has relationships with area schools that will help graduates make connections and find employment after they finish their programs.
Degree: AAS Paraprofessional/Special Education
6. Northampton Community College
Northampton Community College offers an online Special Education Paraeducator associates degree. This degree is unique because it focuses on training teaching assistants to integrate students with disabilities into a normally-abled classroom. Prospective teachers who believe that students with disabilities shouldn’t be separated from their peers may want to consider getting their online special education degree from Northampton instead of pursuing an online degree in special education elsewhere.
Northampton is one of the largest community colleges in Pennsylvania, and is well-known and respected in the state. Students from Pennsylvania may want to give Northampton special consideration when they’re figuring out where to do their associates degree. Of course, Pennsylvania students also benefit from lower tuition rates. Northampton also offers a specialized diploma in special education that can be completed in only two semesters.
Degree: Special Education Paraeducator
7. Panola College
Panola College offers an Internet-based AAT in Special Education that isn’t quite like other online programs in this field. For example, this program is for students who plan to transfer to a four-year institution to earn their bachelors degrees. Many of the other programs on this list are intended to be terminal programs, with students entering the workforce immediately after completing the program. Students who want to get a bachelors degree in education can start with an online special education degree at Panola instead of a terminal online degree in special education at another college.
Panola is known for serving veterans and active military members. Many students at Panola are from the nearby Barksdale Air Force Base. Many more service members take online classes at Panola. The special education associates program at Panola can also be used to obtain a position as a teacher’s assistant.
Degree: AAT in Special Education
8. Tyler Junior College
Tyler Junior College has a popular online AAT in Elementary Education with a focus in General Special Education. This program, and one or two others on this list, specifically prepare educators to work with younger students who have disabilities. This student population poses special challenges, so attending a specialized program is a good idea for prospective teachers who want to go into this field. If they want to get an online special education degree, the online degree in special education at TJC is a good choice.
TJC is known for encouraging its students to get involved in the local community. Many students do this through volunteer work. In addition to helping those in need, students can gain valuable experience and connections through volunteering. TJC is known for its continuing education programs, which enroll over 20,000 students in classes on diverse subjects, from education to the arts.
Degree: AAT in Elementary Education – General Special Education
9. Albany State University
Albany State University has an AS in Teacher Education with an emphasis in Special Education that can be completed over the Internet. This program is unique in that it focuses on serving people of color, especially African Americans. Albany State has connections with many local schools that are majority black, so students looking to get an online special education degree to serve this population may want to consider Albany State over another online degree in special education.
Albany State is a historically black university. This means that while people of all races are admitted, the majority of the student body is black. Black prospective teachers looking for like-minded individuals may be able to find what they’re searching for at Albany State. Albany State is a four-year institution, so graduates of the associates program can continue their education with a bachelors degree without transferring.
Degree: AS in Teacher Education – Special Education
10. Granite State College
Granite State College offers a unique AS in Communication Sciences and Disorders that can be taken by online students. This program is unique because it focuses specifically on communicatory disabilities. Students who want to go into this niche after getting their online special education degree may want to go to GSC instead of pursuing a degree elsewhere.
GSC is a public institution offering associate, bachelors and masters degrees. It is known for its low tuition costs, especially relative to other colleges in New Hampshire. GSC also offers many types of financial aid to further assist students in affording their educations. GSC has been recognized for having some of the lowest tuition rates for any four-year college in the whole of New England.
Degree: AS in Communication Sciences and Disorders
How Much Can I Make with an Associate’s in Special Education?
Working as a special education teacher is a rewarding career choice. Some work year-round and others work a traditional 10-month school year. Earning associates in special education means you have an opportunity to work with students from preschool to high school. These students have emotional, learning, mental, or physical disabilities. According to Payscale, the average median pay for those who earn their associates degree is $38,000 annually. That means a special education teacher salary is $14 per hour for those with their associate’s degree.
Even though working with children who have special needs is a demanding profession, the compensation is higher in comparison to others who enter into this career. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, as of 2017, those who worked as preschool special education teachers earned a median annual salary of $53,640. In comparison to the median salary for preschool teachers that the Bureau of Labor and Statistics reports of $28,790, that’s a significant difference. The main reason is that those who are working with children who have special needs require specialized training.
Can I Get a Special Education Degree Online for Free?
While it isn’t possible to earn your special education degree online for free, you can find free courses. There are many advantages to earning special education certifications online. Not only are you expanding your teaching credentials, but you’re also making yourself more valuable as a careerist.
These special education online courses free allow you to enrich your teaching experiences, as well as your knowledge base. There’s no such thing as having too much information regarding meeting educational requirements. It’s possible to find an assortment of courses on websites including Coursera.com, ClassCentral.com, and Alison.com.
- Coursera: When you search for the term “special education,” you’re presented with a list of free courses. Click on the one you’re interested in, and it will list its description and the start date.
- ClassCentral: This website has a freelance online course entitled, “Supporting Special Educational Needs in Every Classroom.” Its subtitle reads, “School Education Gateway – Teacher Academy Independent.” It’s a self-paced course that takes four weeks to complete. Under most circumstances, students spend two to three hours per week completing course work. There’s a certificate available upon completion.
- Alison: Like Coursera, all you have to do is perform a search to see what’s available for free courses on this website. Hovering over the course offering will reveal its title, description, and rating. Each course is categorized by topic, as well as certificate or diploma. Certificate courses take approximately two or three hours to complete. Diploma courses take between eight and ten hours to finish.
These are just some of the examples where you can find free online special education certification courses. There may also be options available through where you’re working. Inquire with your manager, supervisor, principal, or superintendent. Let them know about your desire to advance, learn more, and become a valuable asset to your team. They’ll either invest in your education or point you toward resources where you can work on this independently.
Can I Get a Special Education Certification Online?
If you’ve already earned your degree and are working as a teacher, there are many opportunities to earn an online special education certification. They’re also available for entry-level teaching assistants. You can find online special education teacher certification programs available through colleges, as well as universities. Many of these certifications allow you to earn certifications in specialties. For example, you could earn an online special education certification in disabilities or behavior management.
For those who would like to find online special education teacher certification programs to add to their graduate degree, that’s an excellent way for adding qualifications. There are a wide variety of colleges and universities offering this online certification program, including SUNY Plattsburgh.
You can also earn your special education certification online by visiting American Board. Becoming a special education teacher is as simple as enrolling in either their standard or premium certification course. Because this website has open enrollment, it’s possible for students to train at their own pace. The enrollment sections list what students must do to fulfill state requirements. Upon completion, students will receive certification to teach special education in elementary school environments.
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