Top 10 Special Education Teaching Schools in California 2023

Written by Tien Rooney
Published on January 1, 2023 · Updated on April 16, 2023

Top 10 Special Education Teaching Schools in California 2023

Written by Tien Rooney
Published on January 1, 2023 · Updated on April 16, 2023

Did you know that there’s a shortage of special education teachers in the U.S.? According to American University, more than half of U.S. school districts struggle to find appropriately trained special education teachers, and this disproportionately affects high-poverty districts. 

If you’re thinking about a career working with the country’s most vulnerable student population, a job in special education teaching is both rewarding and very much in-demand today. These jobs can also pay reasonably well. Special education middle school teachers in California, for example, make a median annual wage of $76,420. The top 10% of earners in that demographic make about $106,130 per year. 

The first step toward a valuable job in teaching is finding the right degree program. Let’s take a look at some of the best teaching schools in California for 2023.

What is Special Education Teaching?

Special education teachers work directly with learners who possess a wide range of emotional, mental, learning, or physical disabilities. These professionals work in both public and private schools and utilize specialized assessment and instructional skills to meet the needs of their specific student population.

A great special education teaching degree program prepares you with the hard and soft skills teachers need today. These skills include the critical thinking and assessment skills that special education teachers need to offer the best educational support for each learner. Excellent degree programs also help bring out and harness your best qualities, including creativity, patience, and a sense of humor, which helps foster a successful and comfortable learning environment for students with special needs.

Top 10 Special Education Teaching Programs in California

With a quick online search, you’ll see that there are many excellent colleges in California. To help narrow things down, we’ve looked at hundreds of schools to see which programs offer you the best instruction in special education teaching, online and on-campus resources, and student support services. Check out the full rankings page here.

10. University of California-Los Angeles

A public research institution with approximately 46,000 students, UCLA offers a Ph.D. program in Special Education. UCLA offers this program in partnership with California State University-Los Angeles. Incoming students without a master’s degree must take the doctoral screening examination. Degree-seekers must complete a traditional dissertation and pass oral and written defenses to graduate. Tuition and fees for graduate students is about $17,756 (residents) or $32,858 (nonresidents) per year.

9. University of Redlands

The University of Redlands is a private school established in 1907. The university boasts roughly 5,000 students and offers an Education Specialist Preliminary Teaching Credential for learners interested in careers working with mild to moderate disabilities. When coupled with the credential, this 36-39-credit MA in Education program takes about 16 months to complete. Learners in this program pay $789 per credit.

8. Loyola Marymount University

LMU is a private Jesuit school in Los Angeles. Learners can pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Studies with an Education Specialist Preliminary Credential. There is also a MA in Special Education with a California Preliminary Mild/Moderate Education Specialist credential. LMU’s School of Education offers excellent internal scholarship opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate degree-seekers. Undergraduate and graduate tuition for the year is about $53,067 and $16,836, respectively.

7. California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo

Cal Poly is a public institution established in 1901. Graduate students at Cal Poly can earn an MS in Special Education/Education Specialist (Special Education) with a Mild/Moderate Disabilities credential. Master’s students complete an English Language Learner and Autism Spectrum Disorder authorizations. Graduates of this program enjoy a high job placement rate, with 22 of 23 recent MS students receiving teaching contracts within months of completing the program. Cal Poly alumni include athlete Ozzie Smith and NASA astronaut Robert L. Gibson.

6. University of La Verne

ULV is a private institution founded in 1891. Today, the school serves approximately 7,000 students and offers an MA in Teaching with a Mild/Moderate Specialist Preliminary Credential. Ambitious learners can also complete its dual credential option to earn the Special Education credential and its Multiple Subject Teaching Credential. Tuition for this program is $775/credit.

5. Chapman University

Chapman is a private research institution in Orange established in 1861. Special education teaching students can choose from undergraduate programs in Integrated Educational Studies and a five-year combined BA/MA program. Learners in the graduate program can pursue an MA in Special Education.  Undergraduate and graduate tuition at Chapman is $1,810/credit and $1,065/credit, respectively. Alumni include actor Colin Hanks and comedian Leslie Jones.

4. California State University-Los Angeles

Cal State LA was established in 1947 and serves about 26,400 students. In the Division of Special Education and Counseling, undergraduate Cal State LA students can earn a BS in Rehabilitation Services or a BA in Urban Learning with an Education Specialist/Special Education credential. The graduate program features an MA with 11 available concentrations and a Ph.D. in Special Education program. Notable alumni include politicians Rosario Marin and Maxine Waters.

3. California State University-Fresno

Fresno State is a public school founded in 1911 with nearly 25,400 students. Special education teaching students can pursue multiple-subject and single-subject credential paths. There is also an Education Specialist credential offered at the undergraduate and graduate levels and an MA in Special Education. Undergraduate and graduate tuition is generally $1,177/credit and $690/credit, respectively, with some special education courses costing as low as $340/credit.

2. San Francisco State University

Established in 1899, SFSU’s Department of Special Education features an undergraduate minor, Master of Arts, and Ph.D. programs in Special Education. Learners can also pursue post-baccalaureate credential programs, graduate certificates, or temporary intern credential programs in Special Education. Standout alumni include journalist Melba Pattillo Beals and author Anne Rice.

1. University of the Pacific

UOP is a private, Methodist school in Stockton. Its Benerd College of Education offers a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies with a concentration in Special Education. Graduate students can also take advantage of its Master of Arts in Education with a concentration in Special Education. Undergraduate and graduate tuition is $1,781/credit and $1,079/credit, respectively. Notable UOP alumni include musicians Dave Brubeck and Chris Isaak.

If you’re looking for other schools that offer Special Education programs, check out the Find Your Perfect “U” tool. You can search over 6,000 colleges and universities with 11 different filters to find the perfect school for you!

How Do I Pay For My Special Education Teaching Degree?

Earning a degree is no small financial feat. Thankfully you have several options to choose from when it comes to acquiring financial aid. Some special education teaching programs will offer their students internal awards or assistantships to help offset the cost of their degree. 

If there is no internal funding from your department, it’s best to seek out scholarships and grants from external and federal sources. You can also take out student loans but, unlike scholarships or grants, you will need to pay them back plus interest.

All students should complete and submit a FAFSA to ensure they receive full consideration for financial aid. For more information, check out our helpful scholarship tool here.

Scholarships for Special Education Teaching Students

Golden State Teacher Grant

With awards up to $20,000, GSTG is for students currently in a teacher preparation program who can commit to teaching in a high-priority school upon graduation. Learners should also be focusing on a high-need field, such as special education.


Offered through the U.S. Department of Education, the TEACH Grant comes with up to $4,000 of award money per academic year. When they graduate, recipients must agree to four years of teaching in a high-need field such as special education at a low-income school.

SPEDxchange Future SPED Teacher Scholarship

Undergraduate or graduate students interested in becoming a special education teacher, special education diagnostician, or a teacher of visually impaired or deaf and hard of hearing students can apply for this $1,000 scholarship.