College of

Special Education Program

We develop early childhood interventions and put the best into practice
A Day in the Life of Special Education Master's student Shane Watson

Follow grad student Shane Watson, M.Ed Elementary & Special Education, '20 as he share a day in his life. Shane works at Centennial School during the school year!

Taking a person-centered approach to education and including all people with disabilities in school and society.

Whether you have a Master’s degree or not, we have options for you to be a top professional in the area of special education. We prepare the best-qualified and most technically proficient teachers and all of our students receive jobs in education once they graduate.

The National Education Association reports that the number of U.S. PreK-12 students enrolled in special education programs has risen 30 percent in the past 10 years. Three out of every four students with disabilities spend part or all of their school day in a general education classroom. In turn, nearly every general education classroom across the country includes students with disabilities. The need for dual certified instructors has never been greater.

Further, there continues to be a significant national need for special educators and related field supervisors. The most recent report of the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the need for Special Education teachers will increase by nearly 17% between 2008 and 2018. The shortage of Special Education teachers has been identified regionally (i.e., Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York) and is particularly prevalent in our regional urban centers.

Many of our students work at our highly acclaimed and nationally recognized lab school: Centennial School. A primary goal of Centennial is to prepare special education teachers to work with youth with emotional and behavioral needs and autism. Students teach full-time, under supervision, while completing their Special Education Master’s degree and/or certification. Future teachers become highly skilled in positive behavior support strategies through hands-on learning.

Our doctoral program in special education is designed for individuals looking to pursue careers in leadership and higher education and enjoy careers as teacher trainers, consultants, and researchers. Grant funding is available to support doctoral students.

Our courses are held in the late afternoon and early evening to accommodate working professionals.

Allyse Hetrick, M.Ed. '10, Ph.D. '18  video testament
Learn more about our program from our students!

Allyse Hetrick, Special Education, M.Ed. '10, Ph.D. '18


Lehigh is on the verge of offering a 6-course sequence approved by the BACB®!

College of Education Special Education


Job Growth Rate for Special Educators

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The job rate growth for special educators across the United States is expected to continue to increase in the coming years. 

Special education teachers work with students who have a wide range of learning, mental, emotional, and physical disabilities. They adapt general education lessons and teach various subjects, such as reading, writing, and math, to students with mild and moderate disabilities. They also teach basic skills, such as literacy and communication techniques, to students with severe disabilities.

Most teachers work in public schools, teaching students at the preschool, elementary, middle, and high school level. Others work in private schools, childcare services, and other institutions. Many work the traditional 10-month school year, but some work year round.

Employment is projected to grow 17% percent from 2014 to 2024. Employment growth will be driven by continued demand for special education services. Many job opportunities will stem from the need to replace teachers who leave the occupation.

Job opportunities also may be better in certain specialties, such as those requiring experience with early childhood intervention and skills in working with students who have multiple disabilities, severe disabilities, or autism spectrum disorders. Those with experience and knowledge of working with students with learning disabilities and speech or language impairments may have the best job prospects.

Guiding Principles

We are strongly committed to the preparation of highly qualified educators who are not only skilled practitioners and/or researchers but also are leaders in establishing effective teaching and learning environments for individuals with disabilities in their school and community. 

The philosophy that underlies the program's curriculum and the activities of the program's faculty include the following:


Consistent with state guidelines, the program offers a 'cross-categorical' approach to teacher education with an emphasis on individual needs rather than labels. Students gain expertise in curriculum development, instructional strategies, assessment and planning, and behavioral support that is applicable to students with learning disabilities, emotional/behavioral disorders, intellectual disabilities, physical disabilities, autism, traumatic brain injury, and other disabilities.

Experiential Learning

The best way to learn how to teach and support individuals with disabilities is through a combination of course work and direct experience. All course work in special education involves fieldwork experiences. The program is affiliated with university-operated field-based programs that provide opportunities for student funding and fieldwork experiences.

Preventative and Proactive Strategies 

The most successful approaches for individuals with disabilities focus on prevention. Programming should focus on early identification and intervention to avoid the development of serious challenges. Interventions should build supportive environments that are instructive and maximize positive learning opportunities for individuals with disabilities.


Programs and educational experiences for individuals with disabilities should encourage self-determination and competence. Skills that facilitate autonomy and personal freedom are critical. Our faculty is committed to the enhancement of quality of life for people with disabilities.


Our faculty are uniquely involved in the development of both research and innovative practices. As practitioners, they glean the best of research to design instruction and behavior support that is highly effective. As researchers, we investigate new teaching and instructional proactive. All of our students learn to design instruction and other forms of support based on best practices. Opportunities to collaborate with faculty on research endeavors are available to all students.

Pennsylvania Department of Education Approved

Our program is fully accredited by the Pennsylvania Department of Education and offers special education certification at the Master's level. This means we have met the rigorous criteria and standards designed by this governing board to ensure that our programing provides a top education for students in our programs.

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