PhD in Special Education: Degree Program Overview

Ph.D. programs in special education prepare graduates for leadership roles in special education. Some of these programs focus on university teaching, administration and research while others focus on development in specialization areas.

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Essential Information

Ph.D. programs in special education can typically be tailored to fit the student's goals and situation. These programs generally take 4-5 years beyond the bachelor's degree and include writing and defending a dissertation. Most schools will accept students with a bachelor's degree; the requirements for the master's and doctoral degrees are combined into one program.

Because of the many study options available for a Ph.D. program in special education, it's difficult to say what courses are required in a Ph.D. program, but core courses often include cognitive development, grant writing, research methods and current issues in special education.

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Ph.D. in Special Education

Coursework for Ph.D. in special education programs covers a broad range of courses because of all of the specialties available. Core courses for many of the programs might include:

  • Applications of inferential and descriptive statistics
  • Background of special education programs
  • Developing personnel in special education
  • Disabilities influence on learning
  • Practices and policies in special education - current issues
  • Research methods and philosophies for special education

Popular Career Options

Careers for graduates of Ph.D. programs generally fall into the three main focuses of special education programs. Careers may be found with school districts, universities, colleges, organizations that help the disabled and disabled adult services organizations.

Administrators in special education may direct the special education program for an entire school district. They oversee the quality of the services and aid teachers with the education process. Duties may include:

  • Setting goals and standards for special education programs
  • Motivating special education staff
  • Planning budgets and writing grants

Special education researchers usually work under the auspices of a university or the U.S. Department of Education. Some areas of research include:

  • Student learning and cognition
  • Learning and memory
  • Enhancing academic achievement through out-of-school programs

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that postsecondary education administrators earned median salaries of $88,580 as of 2015. Teaching future special education teachers is a special function of holders of a Ph.D. in Special Education. They may teach on any level from undergraduate through doctoral programs. University teachers are usually expected to also participate in research. According to the BLS, postsecondary education teachers earned a median of $72,470 as of 2015.

A special education Ph.D. is usually the best path to a career in special education. Students can often tailor these programs to focus on their preferred areas of specialization and career goals.

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