Online EdD Programs in Special Education

Updated: February 1, 2023

Special education is an incredibly diverse field, encompassing the instruction of students with a wide range of unique needs or disabilities. To lead in these settings, professionals need both a deep understanding of the particular challenges that come with teaching special needs students, as well as a broad skill set in organizational leadership and program management. There are currently 17 schools that offer online Doctor of Education (EdD) programs with a concentration in Special Education.

Online EdD programs in Special Education prepare education professionals to lead in the development of frameworks and specialized services that support students with learning disabilities. EdD programs inform education leaders of the history and structure of special education, and train students to work with key stakeholders such as school faculty, principals, parents, and students to identify unmet learning needs and remove barriers to educational attainment.

This page contains online EdD programs that offer a specific specialization in special education, including both programs focused in leadership and ones based in curriculum and instruction.

Curriculum for Online EdD Programs in Special Education

EdD programs require the completion of 40-70 academic credits, depending on the concentration. Students can complete their course of study within three to five years for full-time or part-time enrollment, respectively. All EdD programs typically have a set of core classes that cover fundamental topics in education leadership and administration, such as education systems, curriculum development and assessment, learning theories, and principles of instruction. Examples of core courses may include:

  • Organizational Leadership in Education: How institutions of education at the primary, secondary, and post-secondary levels develop curricula, extracurricular programs, and support structures that serve their students. The different departments within an institution of learning, and how the members of these organizations collaborate to achieve certain learning outcomes for students.
  • Essential Theories of Education: How humans learn at different stages of development, and how to create learning environments that support different student learning needs. The different types of learning, including reading comprehension, writing, computational, kinesthetic, and socio-behavioral.
  • Education Policy: The structure and history of the American education system, and the central policies that dictate the standards, content, and delivery of education at all grade levels, from primary school to higher education. Current political debates that surround issues such as inequalities in education accessibility and attainment, diversity issues in education, and privacy in schools.

After completing courses that give them a foundation in the history and structure of education and the methods and theories of teaching different student groups, students progress to their concentration courses that train them specifically in serving students with special needs. Examples of specialization courses for these types of programs include but are not limited to:

  • Foundations of Special Education: The history and structure of special education services across different levels of education. Essential concepts in special education, including identifying and meeting the needs of students with learning disabilities, gifted and talented students, and English language learners through observation, assessments, programs, services, and advocacy. How to handle campus discrimination and ensure a safe and productive learning environment for all students.
  • Important Issues in Special Education: Important issues and emerging developments in the field of special education, such as the government’s role in special education programming in schools, education assessments and attainment benchmarks, and how to promote equality in student achievement and accessibility. A discussion of the primary laws that govern the assessment and support of children with special needs. Social, legal, and ethical issues in special education, and how they impact policies on special education services.
  • Programming and Instruction for Special Education: How to develop and implement student programs and services that support students with special needs. How to apply learning theories and teaching principles to practical interventions for students with different learning challenges.
  • Research in Special Education: The latest findings in the research of learning disabilities, education accessibility, gifted and talented students, programming to support children with special needs, and the efficacy of different teaching and intervention strategies. Evidence-based practices in special education.

Some EdD programs also allow students to take elective courses that are not part of the core curriculum, and are also not specialization courses, but which enhance students’ preparation for their future roles in education leadership. These elective courses may be part of a different EdD concentration, or may be from a different department at the school at which students are enrolled. Examples of these courses may include:

  • Creating and Influencing Policy: The processes by which policy is created, evaluated, and modified. The avenues through which different stakeholders can influence policy through lobbying and advocacy. How education leaders can influence policy-making processes at the institutional, local, state, and national levels.
  • Human Resources Management: Human resources principles, methods, and theories, including how to manage teams of people within an organizational structure and facilitate effective communication, teamwork, and progress on initiatives. How to support employees’ professional development and motivation.

In addition to differences in curricula, online EdD programs also vary in terms of structure and dissertation requirements. For more information, see our Structure of Online EdD Programs and Dissertations and Research Requirements for EdD Programs pages.

Career Paths for Graduates of EdD Programs in Special Education

Graduates of EdD programs in Special Education have the training to work with students with special needs in a variety of settings in both the public and private sectors, including primary and secondary schools, speech and language learning centers, education advocacy organizations, and government agencies. Examples of roles in special education leadership include but are not limited to:

  • Leaders of Special Education Centers: Learning centers for students with special needs provide guided learning activities for students with cognitive or behavioral disorders. Individuals with an EdD in Special Education can serve as teachers as well as administrators at these centers. Their responsibilities may include planning and implementing special education curricula, hiring and supervising staff, discussing student needs with parents and caregivers, and evaluating student learning outcomes in order to improve programming and services.
  • School Principals: All institutions of primary and secondary education need to have programming and services that meet the educational needs of students with different learning challenges. School principals preside over the operations of the schools under their supervision, and are responsible for the development of services that support special education populations. Principals are also responsible for ensuring that students have a safe and supportive learning environment free of bullying and discrimination.
  • Special Education Instructors: EdD graduates who specialize in special education may also work at schools at the primary or secondary levels, where they support students who are struggling with learning and behavioral challenges, and work with parents to help children address their barriers to educational attainment. They also collaborate with school staff to develop educational programs for students with special needs as well as the general student body.
  • Directors of Education Accessibility: Directors of education accessibility work at institutions of higher education to ensure that school facilities, programs, and services sufficiently meet the needs of students with disabilities and align with government mandates such as those outlined in the American Disabilities Act. They also handle requests from students for accommodations or additional support during exams and other academic activities.

Online Ed.D. Programs in Special Education

The following schools are sorted by state for easy reference; however, most online EdD programs accept students from other states as well. For out-of-state programs, students should confirm with an admissions advisor that the program accepts students from their state of residence before applying.



Grand Canyon University

Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
Department: College of Doctoral Studies


National University

(La Jolla)
Accreditation: WSCUC, NCATE


Nova Southeastern University

(Fort Lauderdale)
Accreditation: SACSCOC, CAEP
Department: Abraham S. Fischler College of Education

University of Florida

Accreditation: SACSCOC, CAEP
Department: College of Education


University of West Georgia

Accreditation: SACSCOC, NCATE

Valdosta State University

Accreditation: SACSCOC, CAEP
Department: James L. and Dorothy H. Dewar College of Education & Human Services


Concordia University - Chicago

(River Forest)
Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission, CAEP
Department: College of Graduate Studies


Morehead State University

Accreditation: SACSCOC, CAEP
Department: College of Education


Bethel University

(St. Paul)
Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission, TEAC

The College of St. Scholastica

Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
Department: Stender School of Leadership, Business and Professional Studies

Winona State University

Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission, NCATE
Department: College of Education

North Dakota

University of North Dakota

(Grand Forks)
Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission, NCATE
Department: College of Education and Human Development

South Carolina

Southern Wesleyan University

Accreditation: SACSCOC, NCATE


Liberty University

Accreditation: SACSCOC, NCATE

Regent University

(Virginia Beach)
Accreditation: SACSCOC, TEAC
Department: School of Education