If you’re interested in enriching the lives of individuals with disabilities, an associate degree is an excellent starting point. This program can prepare you to work alongside licensed teachers in public school classrooms assisting students with developmental, psychological, behavioral, or physical needs.
Online education has become increasingly popular over the years because it offers students more flexibility and freedom. It is beneficial for students who are also working professionals, live far from campus or have prior engagements during traditional lecture times. Not only that, but an online associate degree in special education is a great way for students to gain the knowledge and skills needed to transfer to a 4-year university to pursue a bachelor’s degree in special education. Because a bachelor’s degree is the minimum educational requirement needed to pursue a teaching license, it remains one of the most common educational paths after the completion of an associate degree.
Associate degrees in special education typically take 2 years to complete, as compared to 4 years needed for a bachelor’s degree. You can enter the workforce after the program, usually as a teaching assistant or instructional aide. Alternatively, you could transfer your credits and continue with a bachelor’s degree to become a teacher. These roles generally require state certification and a first-aid certificate. Knowledge of a second language, especially sign language, can be useful too.
Requirements for associate degrees in special education usually include:
- High school transcripts or General Educational Development (GED) scores
- Standard Aptitude Test (SAT) or American College Test (ACT) scores
The best associate programs will equip you with the necessary knowledge to share information with young people and give you a clear understanding of educational settings. Below you can find essential information, such as coursework and internship opportunities, to help you decide which school best suits you. Read on to discover the top programs in special education, what you can learn, program costs, and teaching approaches.
Georgia State UniversityGeorgia State University Atlanta, Georgia
Perimeter College at GSU delivers programs on the education pathway, including an associate of science in special education. The program consists of general education requirements, special education required courses, and one elective. Students are recommended to take the American sign language course if they plan to pursue a bachelor’s degree in deaf education. The program is available online and as a hybrid option. You can also attend classes at several campus locations, including Clarkston, Decatur, and Newton.
The program has multiple start dates. Coursework includes exploring learning and teaching, introduction to language, and exploring socio-cultural perspectives on diversity in educational contexts. GSU makes it easy to transition between an associate pathway at Perimeter College to the Atlanta campus for a bachelor’s degree in special education.
Program name Associate of Science Special Education Pathway Name of department Perimeter College Accreditation Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) Location Atlanta, Georgia Cost Tuition in-state: $95 per credit hour
Tuition out of state: $359.67 per credit hour
Online tuition: $95 per credit hour
Course location Online, hybrid, and on-campus Course Length 60 credit hours
College of Southern NevadaCollege of Southern Nevada Las Vegas, Nevada
CSN delivers an associate of arts in special education. The program is evenly split between general education requirements and the core courses. You’ll also complete several electives that could help you specialize in early childhood, elementary, or secondary education. The program is taught online and is asynchronous, so you can access materials at a time that suits your schedule.
The program includes an emphasis on values and diversity. Coursework modules consist of preparing teachers to use technology, principles of education psychology, and valuing cultural diversity. The college has designed its associate degrees so that students can transfer their credits to other institutions in the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE).
Program name Associate of Arts Special Education Accreditation Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) Location Las Vegas, Nevada Cost Tuition in-state: $109.75 per credit hour
Tuition out of state: $3,843 per semester
Course location Online Course Length 60 credit hours
Lehigh Carbon Community CollegeLehigh Carbon Community College Schnecksville, Pennsylvania
Lehigh Carbon Community College offers several associate degrees in education. You can choose from:
● An associate of arts in special education
● An associate of applied science in paraprofessional/special education
The associate of science degree includes a practicum and is particularly aimed at those wanting to start working after graduating. However, both programs can be shaped to transfer credits to a 4-year program. LCCC provides academic guidance to help students tailor their electives.
Besides the standard requirements, students will need to take an LCCC skills test before starting these programs. Both programs are available online and include field experiences and observations. Coursework includes educational psychology, instructional strategies for children with exceptionalities, assistive technology for children with exceptionalities, and introduction to special education.
Program name Associate of Arts Special Education
Associate of applied science paraprofessional/special education
Accreditation Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) Location Schnecksville, Pennsylvania Cost Tuition in-state (district): $2,400 per semester
Tuition in-state: $4,215 per semester
Tuition out of state: $6,030 per semester
Course location Online and on-campus Course Length 60 credit hours
Northampton Community CollegeNorthampton Community College Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
Northampton Community College delivers a special education program that awards graduates with an associate of arts once completed. The program is designed for students that wish to continue their studies and transfer to a 4-year program. The college has over 100 transfer agreements with institutions and a dedicated student services department to assist you with planning your program to transfer.
It’s taught in person at the campus in Bethlehem, and a hybrid option with some online courses is also available. Coursework includes behavior support, introduction to psychology, assessment in special education, and instructional strategies for inclusive environments. The program features a minimum of 50 hours of fieldwork. Background clearances are required to take part in the fieldwork experiences.
Program name Associate of Arts Special Education Accreditation Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) Location Bethlehem, Pennsylvania Cost Tuition Northampton County: $2,355 per 12-18 credits
Tuition Monroe County: $3,780 per 12-18 credits
Tuition in-state: $5,040 per 12-18 credits
Tuition out of state: $7,440 per 12-18 credits
Course location Hybrid and on-campus Course Length 62 credit hours
Tyler Junior CollegeTyler Junior College Tyler, Texas
At Tyler Junior College, you can earn an associate of arts in teaching in special education. The program is designed to lead to initial Texas teacher certification after transferring to a 4-year degree. The college has a University Transfer Center which maintains relationships with top institutions and has special agreements with 3 Texas universities.
The program is divided between the core curriculum and the major courses related to teaching and special education. Coursework includes introduction to the teaching profession, introduction to special populations, mathematics for teachers, and United States history. It also comprises fieldwork experiences. The program is taught fully online.
Program name Associate of Arts in Teaching Special Education Accreditation Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) Location Tyler, Texas Cost Tuition in-state (district): $211 per credit hour
Tuition in-state (out of district): $271 per credit hour
Tuition out of state: $295 per credit hour
Course location Online Course Length 60 credit hours
Portland Community CollegePortland Community College Portland, Oregon
The paraeducator program at Portland Community College awards students with an associate of applied science when completed. The program provides experiences in elementary and secondary schools. You’ll have the option to specialize in English language learners or special education. This degree is available online or can be taken as a hybrid option with some in-person classes at the Cascade campus.
The program is aimed at equipping students with behavior management and group and individual instruction skills, which can be used in the workplace immediately. Some students continue their education to become a teacher, in which case they’re encouraged to complete the associate of arts Oregon transfer degree with education electives. Coursework covers digital and visual communication fundamentals, introduction to developmental disabilities, and a supervised practicum.
Program name Associate of Applied Science Paraeducator Accreditation Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) Location Portland, Oregon Cost Tuition in-state (resident OR, WA, CA, ID, and NV): $123 per credit hour
Tuition out of state: $258 per credit hour
Course location Online Course Length 90 credit hours
Dallas CollegeDallas College Dallas, Texas
Dallas College offers an associate of arts in teaching that is intended for transfer to a 4-year degree program allowing students to pursue initial Texas teacher certification. It’s taught in person at the El Centro, Eastfield, and Richland campuses. The program is available as a hybrid degree or entirely online. The college provides counselors to help students plan their programs for transfer.
The degree has general education modules, core courses, and electives as part of the required credits. Students can choose the generalist route or opt for special education. Coursework includes introduction to the teaching profession, introduction to special populations, mathematics for teachers, and lifespan, growth, and development.
Program name Associate of Arts in Teaching Generalist / Special Education Accreditation Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) Location Dallas, Texas Cost Tuition Dallas County: $79 per credit hour
Tuition out of county: $135 per credit hour
Tuition out of state/international: $200 per credit hour
Course location Online, hybrid, and on-campus Course Length 90 credit hours
Before you start your associate degree, you’ll need to consider how you’ll meet the tuition, fees, and other study costs. Your school or college might provide options for financial assistance. It’s also worth looking into federal aid or a loan by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to determine your eligibility.
Another area to consider is funding from institutions that offer scholarships, grants, and awards. You could consider a support-for-service program, such as the TEACH Grant. Alternatively, you could apply for the Janice S. Jones Critical Need Teacher Scholarship from the American Association for Employment in Education (AAEE). It awards $1,000 annually to students enrolled in a teaching program in the critical shortage area of special education.
An associate degree in special education is just the start of your career. You could enter the workforce immediately or continue studying to become a teacher or a learning disability specialist. For those that want a position immediately after graduating, these are some potential roles: