Associate degree in special education

HomeTeaching and educationAssociate degree in special education

An associate degree in special education is suitable for prospective teachers who wish to assist students with exceptional needs and neurodivergent students. Graduates of this degree give assistance to licensed teachers by helping students understand what is being covered in class.

It is important to note that the associate degree in special education does not qualify someone to formally teach in a special education position full-time. Obtaining an associate degree will enable you to work as a teacher’s aide or assistant only. In order to formally teach special education, you will need a bachelor’s degree, with special education being the major or a minor of the bachelor’s. Then you will need to get licensed by the state in order to teach at a recognized school.

This degree qualifies you to be a teacher’s aide, teacher’s assistant, or a paraeducator. These are all similar jobs; a person working in any of these positions will assist the teacher perhaps by tutoring children individually or in small groups, helping students to use computers, or helping to change problematic behavioral patterns.

An associate degree is the fastest and most inexpensive degree to obtain in special education. It is offered at many community colleges and may be ideal for people who want a form of higher education but can’t dedicate a full schedule to studying. After completion of the 2-year associate degree, there is the opportunity to study further and obtain a bachelor’s degree.

There are few fields of study more impactful and important to young minds than special education teachers. If you wish to change young lives through education, then an associate degree in special education is a great place to begin.

About the degree

puzzle Requirements

  • minimum GPA 2.0
  • high school diploma or GED
  • academic letters of recommendation

An associate degree is often the start of the higher education journey. Work experience isn’t required to apply for this degree, but a resume filled with extracurricular activity and professional opportunities is always beneficial. An application to an associate degree in special education programs requires the completion of a CPR course and a background check.

An associate degree in special education is highly transferable, often considered equal to the first 2 years of a bachelor’s degree in special education. Most colleges accept an associate degree into their 4-year bachelor’s degree and will place students in an accelerated learning course to complete the bachelor’s degree. Some colleges however may require some credit hours to be retaken to meet their specific program standards, and it is always best to check with the institution to see how many credits can be transferred.

Degree flexibility

Community colleges offer this degree in both an online and in-person course format. An associate degree in special education is completed in 60 to 90 credit hours. Part-time options and asynchronous learning options may be available depending on the institution.

As mentioned earlier, units completed during an associate degree in special education are normally transferable to other education degrees, such as a bachelor of special education. However, you can generally only transfer any credits gained to other education courses, although some social work courses may accept credits from an associate degree in special education.

alt"currency-dollar-1" Cost of degree and financial aid

The cost of a 2-year degree varies depending on your choice of a private or public institution. The average price for public community colleges ranges from $4,000 to $9,000 annually. Private 2-year colleges average $13,000. Prices will vary but cost less for those looking in-state for their education.

Financial aid can help offset the price of any degree level through scholarships, grants, fellowships, and more. The most common source for assistance is Federal Student Aid, which hosts general financial aid information for students and a federal aid form (FAFSA). For more information, check your local institution for the in-house scholarships they offer.


Coursework for your associate degree in special education typically incorporates core subjects like English and maths, supplemented with specialized child development courses and methodology for child learning development. This can include:

Behavior management and guidance

This course explores the everyday behavioral struggles of special education students and guides teachers on recognizing, rationalizing, and de-escalating situations caused by tantrums and meltdowns.

Early childhood practicum

This is an introductory course on teaching children from birth to pre-kindergarten and is one of the most important classes. It covers the basics of lesson plan creation, core learning milestones, classroom management, and more. The tools learned in this class will guide you through all higher degrees.

English composition

This introductory course helps students master language skills to create lesson plans and age-appropriate coursework. It will keep students familiar with the primary language and grammar lessons taught to young ages so they can assist children in speaking, reading, and writing.

American sign language

This is the preferred second language of special education platforms. It helps teachers converse with non-verbal students of all ages.

Introduction to drugs and behavior

Special education teachers work with various populations, some of whom rely on medication to moderate their behavior and aggressive symptoms. This course covers some well-known medicines for mental and physical disorders and their common side effects. It also provides teachers with the tools needed to assist and mitigate side effects and strengthen behavior management skills.


In the special education profession, there are numerous areas of specialization to pursue, such as education for deaf students and for the visually impaired, early childhood development, education psychology, behavioral analysis, and autistic spectrum disorder education.

Most specializations require the completion of a master’s degree in special education. However, various smaller certifications can still be attained by graduates of the associate degree through external programs or extra classes.


Several accreditation boards exist for teaching degrees, with the main accreditation agencies in the U.S. the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, Teacher Education Accreditation Council, and American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

Career paths

Entry level positions for associate degree holders in this field are steady, with 50,000 jobs expected to open in the next 10 years, which is the national standard level of job growth (4%). Positions as daycare teachers and nannies are also popular options wherever there is a limitation of local entry-level jobs.

Daycare and nannying positions tend to offer flexible work hours and allow students to work while earning their degrees. Most students will work in a job they earned using their associate degree while studying for their bachelor’s. The most popular settings for these positions are private households, daycare facilities, and private care institutions. Background checks and drug tests are often required before entering any teaching position, part-time or otherwise, and can take several weeks to process.

Daycare teachers watch over children in the hours before or after school and are responsible for caring for their mental and physical needs. A special education associate degree gives a daycare teacher greater insight into dealing with children with special needs. As a national average, a daycare teacher earns $11.17 per hour.

Professional nannies work directly from a child’s home and oversee their daily needs. Nannies are often in charge of cooking, cleaning, and transporting children to and from their activities. Professional nannies are expected to have CPR certification and basic first aid training before applying. The average hourly pay nationwide for nannies is $15.30 per hour.

Continuing education

Special education is available in all degree formats up to a doctoral degree, with each advancement earning higher salaries, better positions, and more job security.

There is a growing need for schools to offer specially designed education and tutoring to students who are encountering learning obstacles. The more informed and prepared a special education teacher is regarding the best approaches, up-to-date research, and proven methods, the more effective they can be. Continuing training in special education beyond the associate degree provides greater awareness for curating and implementing special learning instruction.

A bachelor’s degree in special education or higher is recommended for pursuing an official teaching position in the field, and coursework for an associate degree is a great way to apply your knowledge and credits to an undergraduate degee.

Should I get his degree?

The yearning to explore or develop methods of instruction for different kinds of learners could set you solidly on a path that is enormously rewarding as well as potentially very helpful to future generations. If you have a passion to be a guide for those who are vulnerable or in need of some extra learning help, this field of study opens an avenue for you to begin giving assistance where it is much needed.

There are many pathways that can unfold from special education. It can be a stepping stone for entry into speech pathology, art or music therapy, further teaching, instructional coordination, and more. Due to this, if you are not sure exactly where you want to end up, special education study can be an excellent beginning and present many desirable next steps.

National Association of Special Education Teachers

The National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET) supports any level of teacher or assistant working or studying in the field of special education. It is a membership organization pooling together the vast expertise of special education teachers past, present and future to meet the most important demands of special needs educators.

The Council for Exceptional Children

The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) is an international organization whose purpose is to improve the learning outcomes of young people with learning difficulties and special needs. It is a highly regarded source of information, resources, and professional development for all teachers and assistants of special education.

National Center for Learning Disabilities

National Center for Learning Difficulties (NCLD) is a non-profit organization focused on advocating for equal rights and opportunities for students who experience learning and attention difficulties. The organization endeavours to make meaningful change to students’ chances for success in school and beyond.

The U.S. Department of Education

The USDOE is the primary hub for all things education but serves as a specialty resource for teachers. It links to outside sources to help fund classrooms and offers free resources for program planning and student learning.

Teacher Vision

Teacher Vision is a specialty site for teachers who are educating students with different learning abilities and needs. They offer free curriculum and classroom strategies to create a safe and welcoming educational environment for students who struggle. It’s free, educational, with helpful tips and resources for inclusive classroom enhancements.