Special education PhD

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Special education PhD

Become a leader in special education research and train future educators

As a PhD student in the special education program, you'll receive the training to find solutions to problems that help individuals with disabilities learn and grow. The program’s rigorous coursework and faculty-guided experiences will prepare you for a leadership role in special education.

Rated #9 in the nation among special education graduate programs by U.S. News and World Report in 2020


Graduates with their doctorate in special education conduct research, teach in universities, and work in other educational settings in special education.


Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) (66 credits)


Visit the College of Education and Human Development's Finance and Funding page for information on tuition.


National Center for Leadership in Intensive Intervention (NCLII-2)

As the original NCLII finishes training 28 scholars around the country, a new consortium of seven universities, the National Center for Leadership in Intensive Intervention (NCLII-2), is now funded by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) to prepare a new group of special education leaders to become experts in research on intensive intervention for students with disabilities who have co-occurring, persistent and severe academic (e.g., reading and math) and behavioral difficulties. The project is currently recruiting applicants to begin doctoral study in special education in the fall of 2020. Funding covers tuition, a stipend, travel for professional conferences and meetings, as well as research related materials across the four year program.

Scholarships, fellowships and awards

Special education scholarships, fellowships, and awards

Submit your application materials by Dec. 1, and you’ll automatically be considered for Graduate School fellowships and departmental awards based on scholastic achievement. Notification of awards will be sent in March.

College of Education and Human Development awards

Financial aid

Visit OneStop Student Services for more information on available financial aid.


Visit the College of Education and Human Development’s Awards page for scholarship information.

Student profile

"After working in schools for five years, I realized I wanted to contribute to research and train future educators. I decided to join the department after speaking with Dr. McMaster and discovering the program was ideal for helping me achieve my goals.”

Kyle Wagner headshot

Kyle Wagnerwagn0524@umn.edu

Faculty and staff

Choose your area of emphasis in special education based on the faculty member whose research is most interesting to you.

Watch videos on some of our faculty member's research in special education.

M.Y. Savana Bak headshot

M.Y. Savana Bak mbak@umn.edu

  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Language and social communications
  • Early intensive behavior intervention
  • Special education
Debbie Golos headshot

Debbie Golos Deaf/Hard of Hearing licensure and MEd coordinator

  • Developing and evaluating the effects of educational media in ASL on young deaf and hearing children's language and literacy skills
  • Examining the portrayal of deafness in media and literature from a cultural perspective and it's effects on children's identity development
  • Exploring alternative routes to literacy development, that meet the needs of visual learners, particularly deaf children
LeAnne Johnson headshot

LeAnne Johnson chaf0032@umn.edu | Lab

  • Motivating and engaging adults in the adoption and implementation of interventions that improve the quality and quantity of learning opportunities available to young children with challenging behavior
  • Closing the research to practice gap and speeding the adoption of new innovations into practice by improving professional development systems
  • Enhancing data driven,precision oriented, problem solving through new tools for monitoring children’s development and response to intervention
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of interventions addressing the social and communication needs of young children with Autism and emotional/behavioral disorders
Jennifer McComas headshot

Jennifer McComasProgram coordinator, head emotional behavioral disorders licensure and MEd and special education MA with emphasis in ABA and programs
jmccomas@umn.edu | Lab

  • Functional analysis of problem behavior in educational and residential settings
  • Basic behavioral processes maintaining desirable and undesirable behavior, such as schedules of reinforcement, stimulus control, and establishing operations
  • Behavioral treatment of problem behavior based on concurrent schedules of reinforcement as well as antecedent stimuli
  • Analysis of academic performance of students with behavior problems
Scott McConnell headshot

Scott McConnellsmcconne@umn.edu | Lab

  • Skills and competencies that enable pre-school aged children to learn and participate in school and other settings
  • Design, evaluation, and application of:
  • Easy-to-use tools for describing children’s current language, literacy, and other important skills
  • Interventions that support development of these skills, particularly in “non specialized” settings
  • Design and improvement of programs – from classroom efforts to comprehensive community-wide efforts – that help children of all ages develop fully
Kristen McMaster headshot

Kristen McMasterAssociate department chair
mcmas004@umn.edu | Lab

Create conditions for successful response to intervention of academically diverse learners by:

  • Promoting teachers’ use of data-based decision-making and evidence-based instruction
  • Developing individualized interventions for students for whom generally effective instruction is not sufficient
Frank Symons headshot

Frank SymonsCEHD Associate Dean for Research and Policy
symon007@umn.edu | Lab

  • Development, assessment, and treatment of severe problem behavior among children and adults with neurodevelopmental and emotional/behavioral disorders
  • Bio-behavior analysis of self-injurious behavior
  • Problem of pain among children and adults with significant cognitive impairments and associated developmental disabilities
  • Rett syndrome - refining measurement approaches to improve understanding of the behavioral phenotype
Rose Vukovic headshot

Rose Vukovic rvukovic@umn.edu | Lab

  • Learning disorders
  • At-risk learners
  • Underserved populations
  • Early identification, intervention, and prevention
  • Social justice
Jason Wolff headshot

Jason WolffMcKnight Presidential Fellow, Autism Spectrum Disorder certificate coordinator
jjwolff@umn.edu | Lab

  • Early brain and behavioral development in children with autism spectrum disorder
  • Restricted and repetitive behaviors associated with autism and other developmental disabilities
  • Identifying neurodevelopmental moderators of response to early intervention
  • Integrating neuroscience with special education research