Special Education, Doctoral

Ph.D. Program in Special Education

The doctoral program in special education is designed to prepare leaders who understand that special educators should "anticipate rather than remediate," who provide for all students the best programs that can be derived from our current knowledge base, and who thus "raise education beyond the common level of mediocrity".* We seek students who are idealists, realists, and scholars; who understand that leadership is neither seized nor bestowed; and who want to have direct impact on the lives of infants, children, and youth with disabilities.
The faculty in special education subscribes to a model of stewardship in doctoral preparation and accordingly passes on to its students the ability to:

  • Create change;
  • Collaborate with colleagues in P-12 and higher education;
  • Honor diversity in all its forms;
  • Identify and implement evidence-based practice;
  • Design and carry out research in special education;
  • Contribute to the development of special education law and policy;
  • Demonstrate skill in the arts of
    • Pedagogy;
    • Supervision;
    • Technology;
    • Scholarship;
    • Grant writing;
    • Individualization of instruction; and
  • Participate actively in the national discourse.

Admission Requirements

Please see general University requirements for admission. The School of Special Education requires the submission of:

  1. a resume;
  2. a written statement of academic and professional goals; and
  3. a published or professional writing sample.

In addition, the applicant must receive a positive recommendation from faculty in the School of Special Education following an in-person, telephone, or internet-conference interview.

Length of Program

The doctoral program can be completed in 3-5 years, depending on enrollment status (full- or part-time) and professional goals.

Course Structure and Delivery

View program requirements from Catalog.

Students outside Mckee HallThe doctoral program is composed of required courses in special education and research methods, electives, research tools, and requires the completion of a dissertation.


Doctoral Learners are guided through their program by their advisor (who usually serves as Research Chair for the dissertation) and a committee of faculty from special education and other disciplines. The Doctoral Comprehensive Performance Assessment Matrix is a capstone experience that demonstrates synthesis of the doctoral learner's knowledge of and experience with doctoral program themes of Students in classroom theory, pedagogy, research methodology, evidence-based practice, public policy and advocacy, and collaboration. At least one of these matrix activities serves as the Doctoral Written Comprehensive Examination, and the entire matrix is presented to the committee as part of the Oral Comprehensive Examination. The doctoral dissertation is defended by the Doctoral Learner in a committee meeting open to the campus community.

*Gilhool, T.K. (1989). The right to an effective education: From Brown to PL 94-142 and beyond. In D. Lipsky & A. Gartner (Eds.), Beyond separate education: Quality education for all (pp. 243-253). Baltimore. Brookes.


News and highlights

  • View Deadlines
  • View Forms
  • Registrar Information
  • *View Dissertation deadlines
  • The doctoral program in special education was converted from an Ed.D. degree to a Ph.D. degree in 2008, after two years of planning and discussion. The first students enrolled in Summer of 2008.
  • Doctoral Learners can access further information about the doctoral program, as well as discussion boards, forms, and publications, on Blackboard. After you sign in, look under “My Courses” for Special Education Doctoral Program.
  • The best time to begin your doctoral program in special education is during the summer.
  • Western Regional Graduate Program: Residents of Alaska, Arizona, Hawai’i, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wyoming, who pursue a doctoral degree emphasizing the low-incidence disability areas of blindness, deafness, or significant support needs are eligible for in-state tuition under the Western Regional Graduate Program. Documentation of residency status must be provided to the Graduate School at the time of admission.
Female student reading Bear statue at the UC