Jul 20, 2024  
Graduate Catalog | 2022-2023 
Graduate Catalog | 2022-2023 Previous Edition

Special Education, Ph.D.

The doctoral program at UNC Charlotte prepares special educators as collaborators, teachers, leaders, and researchers whose work contributes to enhancing the quality of life of individuals who are exceptional learners and their families.  Students specialize in high or low incidence disabilities or in the Academically or Intellectually Gifted (AIG).  This program offers graduates the widest array of career options and provides the solid research foundation needed for the rapidly changing field of special education.  Potential employment for program graduates includes leadership positions in schools and agencies and faculty positions in higher education as teacher trainers/researchers.

The program builds on the Master of Education in Special Education  or a comparable program.  Applicants who wish to focus on AIG may have a Master’s degree in other areas of education with additional coursework in gifted education.  The 59-credit Ph.D. program includes 14 credit hours in doctoral seminars in special education, 12 credit hours in research and practice (field work and writing courses), 15 credit hours in research, 15 credit hours of an individually designed specialty, and a dissertation. Additional coursework may be required for students who do not have a Master’s degree or licensure in Special Education or AIG; whose master’s program was not comparable to UNC Charlotte’s; or whose Master’s coursework is outdated.

The program will accept up to two courses as transfer from a doctoral-granting college or university accredited by an accepted accrediting body, providing the Special Education Doctoral Committee determines that the course or courses to be transferred are equivalent to similar courses required in the UNC Charlotte Special Education Ph.D. program or fit the specialty area. The grade in these transfer courses must be an A or B.  Transfer credits cannot replace the four core doctoral seminars in special education, and all of the dissertation work must be completed at UNC Charlotte.

Students are admitted for either full-time study or intensive part-time study and begin in the Fall semester.  Students must complete their degree, including the dissertation, within nine years.  The minimum time for completion for a full-time student is 3 years.  Full-time students must meet benchmark requirements each year to maintain their status as a doctoral student.  Part-time students also must meet benchmark requirements that occur approximately every two years.  These benchmarks are intended to help students achieve their goal of completing the doctorate in a timely manner.

Admission Requirements

Applications for admission will be accepted once a year to begin doctoral studies in the fall semester and must be submitted to the Graduate Admissions Office by December 1.

The following documents must be submitted in support of the application:

  1. One official transcript of all academic work attempted since high school indicating a GPA of 3.5 (on a scale of 4.0) in a graduate degree program.*
  2. Official report of score on the GRE or MAT that is no more than 5 years old.*
  3. At least three references* of someone who knows the applicant’s current work and/or academic achievements in previous degree work.
  4. A two page essay describing prior experiences with individuals with exceptionalities and objectives for pursuing doctoral studies.*
  5. A current resume or vita.
  6. A professional writing sample (e.g., published article, manuscript submitted for publication, term paper submitted in prior coursework, abstract of thesis, teaching manual).
  7. Documentation of teaching and other field experience (e.g., copy of teaching evaluation or letter of recommendation from supervisor and licensure in special education or AIG certificate
  8. An interview with the program faculty.
  9. International students must submit official and acceptable English language proficiency test scores on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), the Michigan English Language Assessment Battery (MELAB), or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). All tests must have been taken within the past two years.**

*These items are required of applicants to any of UNC Charlotte’ s doctoral programs.
**See the Graduate School ‘s website for minimum acceptable scores.

Degree Requirements

Research Courses (15 credit hours + Doctoral Seminar in Research and Dissertation Seminar)

Specialty Courses (15 credit hours)

An individually designed specialty of graduate courses developed by student and advisor.  This specialty is typically related to the student’s licensure area and may include the following components:

Required Courses

Elective Courses (9 credit hours)

Select from the following:

Dissertation (3+ credit hours)

Total = 59 Credit Hours

Additional Degree Requirements

In addition to coursework and the dissertation, students complete a portfolio of achievements related to the four focus areas: leadership, collaboration and diversity, teaching, and research. This portfolio must receive satisfactory ratings from the Portfolio Review Committee at two critical junctures known as Benchmark One and Benchmark Two. The first benchmark serves as a Qualifying Examination and includes demonstration of writing, teaching, and research skills. The second benchmark is comparable to the comprehensive exams required by some Ph.D. programs in Special Education and includes the development of a grant. Students receive opportunities to build this portfolio through the Research and Practice coursework. The following are some of the products in the portfolio: research based paper, journal article review, conference presentation, advocacy project, grant proposal, team study, and research report.

Dissertation Requirements

The purpose of the dissertation is for doctoral students to demonstrate their ability to synthesize the professional literature and generate new knowledge for the profession through using well-established research tools. For the Ph.D. in Special Education, the dissertation may be quantitative (group or single subject) or qualitative research. Whatever type of design, it must adhere to current standards for quality as reflected in professional writing on the chosen method of research design and reflected in the current literature. Students must be continuously enrolled for dissertation research credits through the semester of graduation. Defense of the dissertation is conducted in a final oral examination that is open to the University community.

Application for Degree

Students must submit an online Application for Degree during the semester in which they successfully defend their dissertation proposal. Adherence to Graduate School deadlines is expected. Degree requirements are completed when students successfully defend their dissertation and file the final copy of the dissertation in the Graduate School.