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Special Education Ph.D.

Special Education Ph.D.

The Ph.D. in Special Education concentration is designed to prepare educators for leadership positions in both K-12 schools and higher education institutions, where they can contribute to special education teacher preparation and address a nationwide shortage of special educators. Working within our larger Ph.D. in Education academic degree, doctoral students in the Special Education concentration gain knowledge and skills in research and evidence-based practices for supporting all students with inclusive learning opportunities. Our program offers academic rigor with the flexibility to pursue a program of study specifically catered to your interests and goals. Our faculty have extensive experience with teaching and research in areas such as low-incidence disabilities (Autism Spectrum Disorder and intellectual disabilities), high-incidence disabilities (dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, emotional disorders and ADHD), multi-tiered frameworks (Response to Intervention and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) and multilingual learners in special education. Throughout their doctoral program, students have opportunities to put research into practice, working with one of our many partner organizations both on- and off-campus that serve individuals with disabilities.

The doctoral concentration curriculum includes of a minimum of 15 required foundation course credits, 15 required research core credits, 12 required program core credits and three elective credits combined with comprehensive exams, a research practicum and a dissertation. A minimum of 57 credits are needed to graduate.

Plan of Study/Course List:

Research Prerequisite

  • EHD 510: Introduction to Educational Research
  • INT 601: Responsible Conduct of Research

Foundation Courses

  • SED 598: History of Special Education
  • EHD 661: The Sociology of Education
  • EHD 664: Philosophy of Education
  • EHD 522: Educational Psychology

Research Core

  • SED 598: Single Case Research Design
  • SED 598: Systematic Literature Review and Meta-Analysis
  • SED 598: Evaluation Methods for Education Programs
  • EHD 573: Statistical Methods in Education I
  • EHD 574: Statistical Methods in Education II
  • EHD 571: Qualitative Research: Theory, Design, Practice
  • EHD 572: Advanced Qualitative Research: Methods and Analysis
  • EHD 576: Interviewing Methods in Qualitative Research
  • EHD 577: Discourse Analysis

Program Core

  • SED 598: Issues and Trends in Special Education
  • SED 598: Policy (internships)
  • SED 598: University Teaching/Co-Teaching
  • SED 598: Grant Writing

Research Practicum

  • Students earn 3-6 credits while developing and conducting a pilot study related to their research interests.


  • Students’ programs of study include a minimum of 6 credits for dissertation research and writing.

Multiple states and the federal government have identified an urgent need to develop and train more special education teachers and related personnel. A shortage of special education faculty in higher education contributes to shortages and limits the capacity of colleges and universities to address the problem. Our Ph.D. graduates are prepared to meet the needs of children and communities as district special education directors, curriculum coordinators, school-based administrators and in positions at state education departments. The program also prepares graduates for faculty positions at higher education institutions, working with the next generation of teachers and producing transformative research.

Learning Outcomes

Our curriculum is designed to help our graduates attain the professional knowledge and competencies outlined by the Council for Exceptional Children’s Advanced Preparation Standards. The standards describe the necessary skills and expertise for practicing special education teachers. The Council for Exceptional Children is the premiere professional organization for special education.

  1. Assessment: Special education specialists use valid and reliable assessment practices to minimize bias.
  2. Curricular Content Knowledge: Special education specialists use their knowledge of general and specialized curricula to improve programs, supports, and services at classroom, school, community, and system levels.
  3. Programs, Services, and Outcomes: Special education specialists facilitate the continuous improvement of general and special education programs, supports, and services at the classroom, school, and system levels for individuals with exceptionalities.
  4. Research and Inquiry: Special education specialists conduct, evaluate, and use inquiry to guide professional practice.
  5. Leadership and Policy: Special education specialists provide leadership to formulate goals, set and meet high professional expectations, advocate for effective policies and evidence-based practices, and create positive and productive work environments.
  6. Professional and Ethical Practice: Special education specialists use foundational knowledge of the field and professional ethical principles and practice standards to inform special education practice, engage in lifelong learning, advance the profession, and perform leadership responsibilities to promote the success of professional colleagues and individuals with exceptionalities.
  7. Collaboration: Special education specialists collaborate with stakeholders to improve programs, services, and outcomes for individuals with exceptionalities and their families.

As the state’s largest teacher preparation and training institution, the UMaine College of Education and Human Development has relationships with schools across the state that doctoral students can collaborate with on research and acquire practical skills related to their program of study. The program provides opportunities for students who wish to become higher education faculty to teach courses in special education to undergraduates. In addition, our special education faculty lead or have relationships with several organizations both on- and off-campus that our students can work with while earning their degree. These include:

Core Faculty

Affiliate Faculty

  • Craig Mason, Professor of Education and Applied Quantitative Methods
  • Shihfen Tu, Professor of Education and Applied Quantitative Methods
  • Nicole Achey, Assistant Professor of Rehabilitation Services (University of Maine at Farmington)
  • Alan Cobo-Lewis, Associate Professor of Psychology

Emeritus Faculty

For current information about tuition and fees, please visit the Bursar’s office.

For questions, contact Special Education graduate program coordinator Sarah Howorth, sarah.howorth@maine.edu. When you’re ready to apply, complete an online application at the University of Maine Graduate School website.

Admission is based on several factors, including candidates’ past academic performance, future academic or research goals and program resources. Candidates must possess a master’s degree and gain recommendations from faculty in their area of specialization. Please get in touch with the program faculty before applying to seek a recommendation and inquire whether we are currently accepting new students. An interview is required. 

For application deadlines, check with the program coordinator for your desired concentration. Application requirements:

  • UMaine Graduate School application
  • An essay (300-500 words) on academic and personal goals, including a special interest the candidate would like to pursue now or in the future
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • At least one letter of recommendation from a faculty member
  • Official transcripts
  • Graduate Record Examination NOT REQUIRED
  • Interview: Please email Sarah Howorth, sarah.howorth@maine.edu, with the area of special education research you are most interested in and we will arrange an interview with a faculty member whose research is most closely aligned with yours.