special ed assoc

Best Online Associate's in Special Education Top Online Degree Programs

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Most people that go into the field of special education are led by a personal motivation to do something powerful with their lives. This is a career path designed to impact the lives of so many people, many of which have been dismissed or overlooked. This career path is as demanding as it is rewarding. In many cases, it offers a great deal of job security. Educators that facilitate special education classrooms every day are trained to employ relevant and well researched skills. Such training is geared towards classroom interventions for the most vulnerable learners. If this career path speaks to you, and you don’t know where to get started, you’ve come to the right place. Many times, prospective special education teachers get their feet wet with an associate’s degree. Getting an online special education degree is a great place to start. An associate’s degree in particular is not only an affordable option that will get you in the door, so to speak, but it will also set you up for a successful career. Many associates degree holders in the field of special education begin their careers as teacher’s assistants. Many then go on to achieve a bachelors while maintaining their classroom positions. 

The Occupational Outlook by the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that this career will grow 3-8% by 2026. A flexible online associates degree program in special education from a reputable community college might be just the ticket for entering this rewarding and lucrative career path. What do you think? We have done some of the work for you by coming up with a metric that synthesizes three factors to create an accurate best ofranking. All of the programs are ranked according to:

  • Cost
  • Reputation 
  • Alumni Success

This might just be the perfect time, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, to enter a new field with a virtual academic program. Best of luck to you, my friend. 


Dallas County Community College

Dallas County Community College offers a fully online Associate of Arts in Teaching program that is geared towards grades 4-8, EC-12 Special Education. This program is designed to be incredibly flexible as it is delivered in the online format. The course of study is made up of lower division classes that are easily transferable to a bachelor’s degree program that gears students towards a teaching certification in the state of Texas. The entire program is made up of 60 credit hours, which must be passed with a 2.5 GPA or above. The EC-12 component means students will be trained to be able to work in special education classrooms for children ages early childhood through grade 12. Graduates of the program are eligible to achieve an occupational license, which will require a criminal background check for completion.

Degree Type: Associate of Arts in Teaching: 4-8, EC-12 Special Education

Credit Hours: 60

Georgia State University offers an Associates of Science Special Education Pathway degree programwith classes that can all be completed online for the major. There may be some on campus requirements for this particular course of study, so it might not be the best fit for someone who lives in another community. The entire program consists of 60 credit hours, 42 of which are the core curriculum; 18 credit hours are considered the pathway courses. These introductory classes are geared to give students the foundations of all aspects of teaching. The special education pathway will guide students towards the best classroom practices for working with young people with a variety of learning differences and special needs. This is an excellent launch pad for engagement with this complex field and will provide a lot of infrastructure for an eventual transfer to a bachelor’s degree program in this realm.

Degree Type: AS in Education – Special Education

Credit Hours: 60


Northland Community & Technical College

Northland Community & Technical College offers an Associates in Applied Science degree program in Early Childhood and Paraprofessional education. This online degree in special education is designed to work with future educators who are interested in teaching students ages birth through adolescence. Some of the topics embedded in the coursework include creating learning communities that are safe, effective and developmentally appropriate. Students will not only learn how to work with their pupils, but also their communities and families. The classes synthesized in this program meet the requirements for the Minnesota Department of Human Services. This enables graduates to be prepared to work as assistant teachers in childcare and preschool settings that are licensed, as well as family care programs, and also public school early childhood education programs. An internship is a required component of this academic path that can be completed in a myriad of settings.

Degree Type: AAS Early Childhood & Paraprofessional

Credit Hours: 60


Minnesota State Community College

Minnesota State Community College offers an Associates of Applied Science in Early Childhood and Paraprofessional Education program. This can be considered an online degree in special education, as students will learn how to work with many populations including young people with special needs. The classes delivered primarily address working with students ages birth through 8. The coursework offers guidance around classroom management, behavioral support, development for youth with special needs, and curriculum building for a range of contexts. Other topics include: nutrition, emotional and physical safety in the classroom, planning and care for students with special needs, professional behavior practices that meet the proper code of conduct. Internships and observation opportunities are offered through the Detroit campus. This program has an articulation agreement with Southwest Minnesota State University that enables an easy transfer into their birth through third grade teaching licensure program.

Degree Type: AAS Early Childhood and Paraprofessional Education

Credit Hours: 60


Portland Community College

Portland Community College offers an Associates in Applied Science program in Paraeducation in Special Education. This is an online degree in special education that offers a variety of applicable skills including group and individual instruction methods, intercultural and interpersonal communication with both students and adults, and personal growth. Most people who engage in this program are interested in investing in a teaching career that specifically works with students with special needs. Many of the classes offered will easily fit into the necessary requirements for a teaching licensure. The field experience required in the program is paramount to the success of the students and their personal trajectories. Diversity education is a key component to the fabric of the curriculum. This program is easily transferable to a variety of bachelors programs in the state. Also, the education classes can be applied to the 90 credit hour associates in general studies degree program.

Degree Type: AAS in Paraeducator – Special Education

Credit Hours: 60

South Texas College offers an Associates in Arts program in Child Developmentwith a special education concentration. This is an online special education degree with a large scope that can be applied to a diverse population of young people. This program will allow students to learn best practices associated with educating children ages birth to preschool. Students will learn well researched tools to engage young people with a variety of special needs. This program was designed to be easily transferable to four year bachelor’s degree pathways. Graduates of this program have been able to find employment as directors and teachers at early childhood care centers, preschools, nursery schools, and family child care homes. The entire course of study includes 60 credit hours that can be completed in four semesters.

Degree Type: General AA plus special concentration — Child Development/Early Childhood Associate of Applied Science

Credit Hours: 60


Northampton Community College

Northampton Community College offers an online special education degree program- paraeducator. This is an associates degree pathway that is expressly geared towards ensuring that special education providers have the skills to effectively work in diverse classrooms with students who have special needs. The virtual campus is run off of the Blackboard learning management system. They offer extensive virtual resources including access to counseling, career services, disability services, and an extensive library. They suggest that prospective students take their quiz to ensure that online learning is a good fit for their needs, acknowledging that self pacing and motivation is a necessary skill set to be effective in this learning modality. As a result of strict state-by-state licensing ramifications, they ask that students outside of Pennsylvania review their state’s requirements prior to applying for the program.

Degree Type: Special Education Paraeducator

Credit Hours: 60


Panola College

Panola College offers an Associates of Arts in Teaching programspecifically in Special Education. This is an online special education degree program that is designed to offer flexibility and top-notch classroom skills. One of the exciting aspects about this particular program is that it is in collaboration with many four-year institutions in the state of Texas, making it easy to transfer upon completion. Coursework will go towards an ultimate teaching licensure. Students can choose which grade level and age for which they would prefer to teach, including early childhood-age 6, grades 4-8, 6-12, and any age special education. Complex advising is available to help prospective students build a curriculum that suits their career and academic goals.

Degree Type: AAT in Special Education

Credit Hours: 60


Lehigh Carbon Community College

Lehigh Carbon Community College offers an Associates in Applied Science degree program in Paraprofessional/ Special Education. This special ed associate is delivered entirely online to offer the flexibility that many students need to be successful. Students will learn how to plug into complex issues that may arise in classrooms that engage students with diverse learning styles and special needs. Some of the skills offered in the program include the identification of human development patterns and the path of learning throughout a lifespan. Also, touched upon in the coursework are the biological influences as well as the family and cultural relationships to development. Students will also invest in collaborative practices that can be applied to colleagues and building relationships in service of child advocacy. A practicum is included in the curriculum and will offer students necessary hands on classroom skills.

Degree Type: AAS Paraprofessional/Special Education

Credit Hours: 60-61


Elms College

Elms College offers an online special education degree that is specifically for speech and language pathology. Students will study virtually to prepare to be speech pathology assistants in a variety of classrooms, especially special education. The coursework will teach students the skills to support young people to improve their abilities to learn, communicate, read, and write among other skills applicable to the classroom and beyond. The program can be completed in 20 or 21 months and is taught by faculty at Elms College. This is known for being an affordable option. Though the course of study is entirely online, students will engage in a practicum that utilizes their skills in a classroom setting. The coursework will prepare students to engage in a related career no matter where they live. This is easily transferable to a bachelor’s degree program in this unique and rewarding field.

Degree Type: Speech Language Pathology Assistant

Credit Hours: 64 


Genesee Community College

Genesee Community College offers a Teachers Assistant Associates in Applied Science Degree Program, with a concentration in Developmental Disabilities. This is an online special education degree program that trains students to be paraprofessionals. Students will learn to work effectively with small groups of students, with individuals, work in a resource space or a classroom, a computer lab or technology center. Genesee is known for providing a solid science and liberal arts foundation to all of their students, including those in the developmental disabilities concentration. Each program participant will be assigned a field assignment within the community. The first 18 credit hours completed can be applied to the college requirements for two state certificates including New York State Level II or III Teaching Assistant and New York State Pre Professional Teaching Certificate. This degree path makes it easy for students to seamlessly transfer to a four year degree program in the SUNY system.

Degree Type: AAS Teacher’s Assistant — concentration in Developmental Disabilities

Credit Hours: 60


Georgia Northwestern Technical College

Georgia Northwestern Technical College offers an Early Childcare and Education Associate of Applied Science degree program. This course of study can be accomplished entirely online. All students will choose a specialization which will include one of the following: exceptionalities, infant and toddler, paraprofessional, program administration, or school age and youth care. Working with students with special needs will be addressed in all specializations, however, exceptionalities is the focus most akin to best practices in classroom environments that support students with different learning needs and development. There is a lab course that will bring students into classrooms in their home community. A criminal background check will be required prior to enrolling in this course. The classes that focus on occupational curriculum make up 48 credit hours and include such classes as child growth and development, health, safety, and nutrition, social issues and family involvement.

Degree Type: General Associate’s plus specialization: exceptionalities

Credit Hours: 72


Dakota College at Bottineau

Dakota College at Bottineau offers an Associate of Applied Science degree programin Paraprofessional Education. This is considered an online degree in special education as it gives students options for a specialization age group, and every option offers coursework in exceptional children and developmental disabilities. Some of the skills that are emphasized include understanding the needs of students with developmental differences, working in diverse community settings, and classroom management. The preschool program specifically emphasizes the growth and development of young people, families, and working within diverse settings. The childcare option focuses on bringing in a business emphasis as well as management. Prospective students are encouraged to contact their in-house advisor to ensure that the program is right for them and learn how to get the most out of it. This degree path is easily transferable to a four-year degree program.

Degree Type: Associate of Applied Science-Paraprofessional Education

Credit Hours: 60


Gateway Community & Technical College

Gateway Community & Technical College offers a very handmade tailorable Associates of Science Teacher Education programwith a variety of concentrations. This can become an online degree in special education as students can utilize elective offerings to create the perfect program that prepares them to work with children who have special needs. Within this degree path, students can choose to work with students who are in grades Pre-K or K-12. The course of study can be completed in two years if students maintain full time status. General education classes will be taken parallel to major coursework, making it easy to matriculate to a four-year bachelor’s degree program upon graduation. A class in cultural studies and demonstrated digital literacy skills are required in every pathway. A GPA of 2.0 or above is required for graduation.

Degree Type: Associates of Science Teacher Education

Credit Hours: 60


Western Texas College

Western Texas College offers an Associates of Applied Science program in Teaching. This is an online special education degree in the sense that it dives into the discipline with an integrated approach. Once students complete the first 15 credit hours of the program, they will have a degree plan filed with the counseling office, making it easy to receive support around future transfer options. The coursework is specifically designed for students who are interested in eventually transferring to a four-year degree program. Students will learn how to apply critical teaching skills to classrooms full of students with learning differences and special needs. They will also receive a foundation in classroom management and issues that pertain to child development. Each student will be required to take a minimum of one course in arts and humanities, natural sciences and mathematics, and social and behavioral sciences.

Degree Type: AAS Teaching

Credit Hours: 61


Spoon River College

Spoon River College offers an Associates in Arts and Associates in Science Program in Elementary and Special Education. This online special education degree was designed to give students a transferrable pathway to a four year post-secondary program in the field. They suggest that prospective students work with an advisor to find the exact curriculum that will match their career and academic goals. Some of the classes include: working with students with disabilities in school, parent and community involvement, diversity in school and society, educational psychology, human development, and introduction to art. This program is part of what is called the Education and Training Career Cluster, which is a support opportunity for transferring and career paths. Online students also have access to many student life opportunities including counseling and disability services.

Degree Type: AA/AS Degree – Concentration in Elementary & Special Education

Credit Hours: 64

Albany State University offers an Associates in Science in Teacher Education with an emphasis on special education. This can be taken as an online degree in special education, as they offer a distance learning option. This pathway includes access to complex advising, which they support prospective students to access even prior to enrollment to ensure they plan the right path for themselves. Students will learn be prepared to matriculate into a program that meets the standards set by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission. This degree program is designed to be an easy transfer option to a four-year bachelors program in the field. Some of the classes include: exploring socio-cultural perspective, invest critical and contemporary issues, stress management, and of course classes related to classroom management, and working with children who have developmental differences and special needs. There are opportunities to access financial aid and other resources like career counseling.

Degree Type: AS in Teacher Education – Special Education

Credit Hours: 64-73

Tyler Junior College offers an Associates in Arts in Teaching in Elementary Education with an emphasis on General Special Education. This online degree in special education was designed to prepare students for a meaningful career working with young people who have learning differences and special needs. It is a two-year degree designed to be an easy transfer program to a four-year institution of higher learning. It is expressly on a trajectory to lead students to an ultimate teaching certificate in the state of Texas. There are some unique classes that are particular to the state of Texas including Texas Government and Texas History. Other relevant classes include Introduction to Special Populations and Introduction to the Teaching Profession. Students can choose the population age of the students for which they want to work including early childhood to age 6, early childhood to 12th grade special education.

Degree Type: AAT in Elementary Education – General Special Education

Credit Hours: 60

College of Southern Nevada offers an Associates of Arts degree program in Special Education. This particular course of study can be achieved entirely online. They offer a focus on working with diverse populations in parallel to appropriate pedagogical practices. Students will learn how to best utilize technology in special education learning environments. They will also learn skills that relate to education psychology and beneficial classroom techniques. Their core requirements include: Introduction to special education, valuing cultural diversity, and principles of educational psychology. This pathway is expressly for students who are interested in ultimately achieving a bachelor’s degree in the field and going on to become a certified special education teacher or classroom paraprofessional. The transfer process is made easy, as College of Southern Nevada has relationships with four year schools with relevant four-year degree offerings.

Degree Type: Special Education, AA

Credit Hours: 60

Granite State College offers an Associates of Arts in Communication Sciences and Disorders. This is an online special education degree that will enable students to walk away with a firm understanding of language and speech disorders. This course of study meets the guidelines of the American Speech, Language and Hearing Association. Though this is an online degree program, it is only an option for students who live in the following states: Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. Some of the highlights of the program include: understanding the role of a speech language assistant, articulation of phonological disorders, introduction to audiology and aural rehabilitation. There is also a practicum requirement that gives students the skills to be prepared to apply these skills to a variety of classroom environments. Granite State offers the opportunity to get life experience credit including from time served in the military.

Degree Type: AS in Communication Sciences and Disorders

Credit Hours: 60

Haskell Indian Nations University offers an Associates of Arts- ParaProfessional Education degree program that can be accomplished with online coursework. It also feeds into a Bachelor’s of Science in Elementary Education degree, if students want to continue on this path. This program offers extensive learning opportunities for students to engage in coursework related to working in special education classrooms. This program is particularly interested in training Native leaders in education that can work within and outside of their own communities. Critical thinking is a driving force for the entire course of study, and is infused in all of the pertinent classes. This program delves into teaching methodology from many angles including leadership building, classroom management, working with students and their families who have different needs. A GPA of 2.8 or above is required for achieving the associates degree and moving on to the bachelor’s path.

Degree Type: AS Degree or BS

Credit Hours: 60

Rasmussen College offers an associates degree program in early childhood education with a focus on children with special needs. This online degree in special education can be achieved as a special ed associates degree, or students can continue on to achieve a bachelor’s degree in the same program. One of the perks of this particular offering is that Rasmussen offers what is called Flex Choicecredit, which entails offering credit for life experience and what you already know. Every program that they offer includes a myriad of skills related to not just the classroom, but also employment and professionality across the board. Students can finish their associates in as little as 18 months and qualify to work as paraprofessionals in special education classrooms, as well as other settings that support early childhood education. This can include preschools and head start programming.

Degree Type: Associate’s in Early Childhood Education – Children with Special Needs

Credit Hours: 60

Eastern Kentucky University offers an associate’s degree program in General Studies with self-designed specializations. They make it easy for students to transform this academic path into a program that centralizes special education and teaching in classrooms full of young people with special needs and learning differences. The entire course of study is 60 hours in length with the option of transferring in up to 49 credit hours from another program. A comprehensive set of classes is offered to enable students to enter the workforce in a myriad of entry level career paths. This can tie seamlessly in paraprofessional training and working in classrooms as teachers aids and support staff. The entirely online format makes it easy to have the flexibility to gain work experience in parallel to the program. All of the classes are organized in 8 week terms.

Degree Type: General Studies Associate’s Degree – self design

Credit Hours: 60


Surry Community College

Surry Community College offers an associates of science of elementary education or special education. This online program is excellent for students who are sure they want to transfer to a bachelor’s degree program, as they have an embedded transfer track in partnership with the University of North Carolina Greensboro. This course of study thoroughly prepares students to work effectively with diverse populations including within classrooms that serve students with special needs and learning differences. Some of the topics of the program include growth and development, nutrition, creative activities, and they require a culminating capstone practice opportunity. Language and motor skill assessment and practice are also engaged in the curriculum. This is one of eight completely online degree programs that Surry offers. Surry is considered the 7th best community college in the state of North Carolina.

Degree Type: AS Elementary Ed or Special Ed – UNCG Transfer Track

Credit Hours: 72

Northwest Nazarene University offers a fully online associates of arts degree in elementary education. This program has comprehensive elective offerings that will prepare students to seamlessly transfer into a special education bachelor’s degree program upon completion. This program is known for its flexibility and offers new start dates every eight weeks. This pathway is also perfect for students who are interested in becoming paraprofessionals in elementary or secondary school settings and working with diverse populations of students, including within special education classrooms. Northwest Nazarene has an accelerated bachelor of arts program in education where graduates can seamlessly matriculate. This meets the requirements for the Idaho Teachers Certification. Students in the bachelors can earn their certificate in as little as 16 months’ time. 99 percent of the students that attend this program receive some form of financial aid.

Degree Type: Associates of Arts in Elementary Education- electives that relate to special education

Credit Hours: 60

How Much Can I Make with an Associate’s in Special Education?

A special education teacher salary has a pretty wide range, depending on many factors. This can include where you live, and the degree type you have. The average salary for a special education classroom teacher is near $50,000. Professionals with associates degrees in special education can hold many positions in the field of education, including paraprofessional roles in the classroom. They can act as classroom assistants to primary special education teachers, and work with diverse students from all age groups. Special education training comes in many shapes and sizes and can be applied to early childhood education, elementary education, and secondary school programs as well. Salaries do increase with years of experience as well as more education. With an associate’s degree is special education, your salary potential is in the high 30 thousands. This is not bad for an associate’s degree, right? The nice thing about this field is there is always room for growth and opportunities for additional education and skill building. This, subsequently, includes salary potential.

Can I Get a Special Education Degree Online for Free?

Though education is becoming more and more accessible, free degree programs are still hard to come by. Maybe with time, and subsequent changes to education as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, this too will change. There are, however, an increasing amount of free online classes all the time. Many of these are delivered on what are called MOOCs. The acronym MOOC is short for Massive Open Online Courses. Therefore, if you are looking for special education online classes free, you might want to turn to the myriad of free course sites on the internet. There are so many to choose from and course topics in education, including special education, are readily available. They generally do not lead to degrees or certifications, but can make you more marketable when they appear on your resume or in cover letters. Some classes are very specific to different aspects of working with a special education population. For example, the MOOC called Coursera offers a free program called Disability Inclusion in Education: Building Systems of Support.

Can I Get a Special Education Certification Online?

The answer is yes. There are many online certification programs that are expressly created for working teachers who already hold a degree. You can also find an online special education certification designed for working professionals in the field of education. Some of these certifications are achieved in tandem with other academic online programs, and others can be completed on their own to support increased employment marketability or offer a deepened skillset. Therefore, online special education teacher certification programs come in many shapes and sizes and can broaden the experience of someone already working in the classroom. Many people that are drawn to an online special education certification program include those who are working in traditional classrooms already. They are generally interested in having more skills that can relate to students with special needs and learning differences.


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Ready to start your journey?

Ready to start your journey?