What is a Special education degree and what can you do with it?

Are you ready to embark on a rewarding and meaningful career in special education? If so, California University of Pennsylvania has just the bachelor’s degree program for you. Whether your long-term goal is to be a special education teacher in an elementary school, in a middle school, or in another engaging position working with individuals with disabilities, our bachelor’s degree program prepares you be a successful, valuable professional. And if you’re looking to continue your studies and advance your career after earning your bachelor’s degree, California University of Pennsylvania also offers an exciting array of online graduate degree concentrations in special education so you can continue to learn and grow in your field of expertise.

School Positions in Special Education

Most special education majors who earn degrees from Cal U go on to become special education teachers. The national teacher shortage has created an almost unprecedented demand for skilled candidates with a teaching degree, and special education has been identified as an area of major need in Pennsylvania and in many other states.  

In the past, degree holders sometimes took positions as aides or specialists, assisting another teacher in a special education classroom. But in the current education climate, Cal U program graduates with a bachelor’s degree in special education often are able to find teaching positions quickly. While special education programs and school systems at large offer many opportunities for promotion, most senior positions require a master’s degree, which is one of the many benefits of continuing your education after your bachelor’s degree.

But the classroom is not the only place where a special education degree has value. What can you do with a special education degree if you decide not to become a special education teacher? Read on to explore the many career options outside the classroom that may be available to you with an accredited bachelor’s degree from Cal U.

What Can You Do with a Special Education Degree Outside a Classroom?

There are many reasons to earn a special education degree, and not all of them involve teaching. While many Cal U graduates who receive a bachelor’s degree in special education do go on to rewarding teaching positions in Pennsylvania or elsewhere, many other exciting career opportunities await you after earning your bachelor’s degree. Here are a few of the possibilities that may be available once you receive your bachelor’s degree in special education.

State Agencies

Pennsylvania and other U.S. states receive federal funding to provide a variety of services for individuals with disabilities. The Intellectual Services division of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (PA DHS) and the Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) are two examples of agencies that provide services. State agencies such as these often have case management or support positions that require a degree in social work, special education, vocational rehabilitation or a related field. Sometimes these agencies also have positions that specifically require a teaching degree.

Nonprofit Careers

Just as Pennsylvania and other states across the nation have programs designed for individuals with disabilities, many nonprofit organizations exist solely to serve the needs of people with special needs. Nonprofit organizations often recruit graduates with a bachelor’s degree in special education, because these candidates have the background and professional skills needed to be successful in these roles. A special education degree also indicates that the job candidate has made a significant, long-term commitment to improving the lives of individuals with disabilities. Many nonprofit programs actually work hand in hand with special education programs and also serve as vendor agencies for the state, meaning they are reimbursed for providing services. This is an important detail, because a nonprofit’s contracts with the state often require key leadership positions to be filled by college graduates whose degrees are immediately applicable to educating and working with individuals with disabilities. A nonprofit may provide many different services, including:

  • Residential Programs: These programs provide housing, supervision and life skills training for individuals with disabilities. Common positions for employees with a bachelor’s degree in special education include program coordinator, program manager, director and other senior management positions, up to and including CEO. Most degree-holders begin in case management, ensuring that the individuals on their caseload are being provided services in accordance to an Individual Plan (IP), not unlike the Individual Education Plan (IEP) found in the school system.
  • Vocational Programs: These programs provide employment training, job readiness and job placement for individuals with disabilities. Like residential programs, vocational programs often have positions that require a bachelor’s degree, with titles such as program manager, program coordinator, director and other senior management positions. Many vocational programs hire teachers to offer job readiness classes and mock interviews to help prepare individuals with disabilities to enter the workforce. Because these programs are designed for people with a wide range of disabilities, a candidates with a bachelor’s degree in special education may be highly sought after.
  • Advocacy Programs: Advocacy programs may provide outreach, support, community education, direct advocacy, mediation or legal protection for individuals with disabilities. Many are devoted to particular causes (e.g., legal protection) or certain populations (e.g., individuals with autism spectrum disorder), which makes this a particularly attractive destination for professionals who are passionate about a particular facet of special education. The career options vary widely, depending on the type of advocacy being provided.


Pros and Cons of Nonprofit Careers: In terms of salary, entry-level management positions at nonprofit organizations are often comparable with early-career special education positions in public or private schools. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the median salary for special education teachers in May 2017 as $58,980, compared to a social and community service manager’s median salary of $64,100. (One should use caution, however, as these figures vary widely from state to state.) Individuals working for nonprofit organizations often have greater upward mobility and salary prospects, with directors and senior managers making six figures for their roles in larger programs. However, employees of nonprofits often have much less job stability than educators, and it’s much more important to find the career that best suits your personal and professional interests.  

Just as in the education system, employees in the nonprofit sector eventually may need a master’s degree in a related field, such as special education, in order to reach their career goals. The online degree program at California University of Pennsylvania can open the door to a much wider array of fulfilling careers, both for educators and for employees at nonprofit organizations.

Earn the special education degree you need to qualify for the career of your dreams. Why wait? Apply now!

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