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

The School of Special Education accepts applications from doctoral applicants throughout the year. However, complete applications must be received by April 1 to be considered for admission beginning summer or fall semester. International applicants must submit all required materials by March 15. Applications are reviewed by the Doctoral Admissions and Review Committee, and every artifact submitted [see below] will be considered when making a decision.

The committee typically meets every three weeks during the academic year. Applications received during the summer term may not be reviewed until fall semester. Students are encouraged to begin their program of study during the summer term.

Doctoral applicants meet the Graduate School minimum criteria for admission if they have a GPA of at least 3.0 on a 4.0 scale on the most recently completed degree, scores of at least 140 on the quantitative and 146 on the verbal sections of the GRE-General Test with a combined score of at least 297 and an analytical writing score of at least 3.5. Please see general university requirements for admission for doctoral applicants.

The doctoral application is a two-step process: (a) completion of the admission application (http://www.unco.edu/grad/prospective/applying.html), submitted to the Graduate School; and (b) submission of the additional artifacts, listed below, to the School of Special Education, Doctoral Admissions and Review Committee, Campus Box 141, Greeley, CO 80639.
In addition to the minimum GPA and GRE requirements for the Graduate School admission, a strong doctoral application to the School of Special Education includes:

  1. A resume that highlights the applicant’s professional experience working with children or youth and excellent demonstration of leadership potential through presentations, publications, grants, or professional service;
  2. A written statement (3-5 page, 12 font, double spaced) that addresses the following:
    1. Your interest in a particular area of exceptionality (e.g., learning disabilities, autism, deaf or hard of hearing, transition, gifts and talents);
    2. A brief discussion of some of the trends in that area of your chosen exceptionality, and;
    3. Your future goals after you earn a doctorate in special education from the University of Northern Colorado. Your future goals should focus on teaching, research, and leadership in the field of exceptionalities.
  3. A published or professional writing sample that is thoughtful; communicates effectively; illustrates thorough understanding of academic scholarship that demonstrates strong and logical linkages among the question(s), the results/findings, and conclusions; is both technically and mechanically correct; and is completed in an exemplary manner.
  4. Three names, titles and contact information for references. It is recommended that at least one of these references be a former professor who can comment on the applicant’s ability to succeed at the doctoral level.

In addition, the applicant may be invited to participate in an in-person, telephone, or internet-conference interview. The interview will evaluate specific and positive demonstration of interpersonal skills, with clear indication of potential in all areas: effective practitioner, scholar, advocate, and educational leader.

International Applicants:

Admissions requirements for international applicants include the same requirements mentioned Admissions requirements for international applicants include the same requirements mentioned above. In addition, all applicants, including applicants who have successfully completed a master’s degree in the US, whose native language is not English, must meet a minimum TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) score of 80 on the internet based (iBT) test. Applicants may request the Educational Testing Service (ETS) to send an official TOEFL score report directly to the University of Northern Colorado. The institution code for the University of Northern Colorado is 4074.

Materials from international applicants will not be reviewed until the Doctoral Admissions and Review Committee receive official TOEFL scores.

If you have questions or concerns regarding the application process, please contact Dr. Silvia Correa-Torres at silvia.correa-torres@unco.edu or 970-351-1660.

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

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

View program requirements from Catalog.


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 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

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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.
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