Graduate Catalog 2023-2024

Special Education Ph.D.

Program Overview

College of Education and Behavioral Sciences

Site: Greeley; Extended Campus/Distance
Mode: In-person (Greeley); Online (Extended Campus)
Start term: Fall

Director: Corey Pierce, Ph.D.

Location: McKee 36

Telephone: 970.351.2691

Website: www.unco.edu/cebs/special-education/

The Ph.D. in Special Education is a flexible doctoral program with provisions for individual planning to prepare stewards of the discipline of special education for positions of leadership in public and private schools and for colleges, universities, agencies, businesses and government entities. Major emphases are internally flexible and may be established to fit a variety of interests in the field of special education and gifts and talents. Graduates develop leadership knowledge and skills in exceptionalities related to six major themes: theory, pedagogy, research methodology, evidence-based practice, public policy/advocacy, and collaboration. The program is designed to prepare students for creative leadership in a rapidly changing world that is experiencing increasing cultural diversity, curriculum and structural reforms in schools and pedagogical innovations across the educational spectrum.

The Ph.D. program in Special Education is designed to prepare candidates in theory, pedagogy, research methodology, evidence-based practice, public policy and advocacy, and collaboration. The philosophy of the doctoral program is based on the concept that learning is an active, self-regulated process. The doctoral program is composed of required courses in special education, research methods, electives, research tools, and requires the completion of a dissertation. Doctoral learners are guided through their program by their advisor (who usually serves as Research Chair for the dissertation) and a committee of faculty from special education and other disciplines. The doctoral dissertation is defended by the Doctoral Learner in a committee meeting open to the campus community. The program can be completed in 3-5 years, depending on enrollment status (full- or part-time) and professional goals.

In joint planning sessions, the doctoral learner and advisor, in consultation with the doctoral committee, should establish a tentative doctoral plan of study during the first and second semesters on campus. This plan should be based on past experience and training and on the student’s interests and goals. The plan of study must include an emphasis on critical thinking, breadth and depth of theoretical understanding, scholarship, methods of inquiry, direct experiences in schools with diverse populations, and collaboration with faculty and student colleagues. Doctoral learners are expected to become stewards of the discipline, demonstrating: a) the ability to conduct research and scholarship; b) an understanding of the history and foundational ideas of special and gifted education; and c) the ability to represent and communicate ideas effectively and clearly.

Each applicant must receive a positive recommendation from representatives of the School of Special Education faculty to be recommended for admission to the Graduate School.

See program requirements:

Special Education Administration Licensure

Special Education Doctoral Minor


General Doctoral Degree Admission Requirements

Program Requirements:

The School of Special Education accepts applications from doctoral applicants throughout the year. However, complete applications must be received by April 1 to be considered for admission beginning summer or fall semester. International applicants must submit all required materials by March 15. Applications are reviewed by the Doctoral Admissions and Review Committee, and every artifact submitted [see below] will be considered when making a decision.

The committee typically meets every three weeks during the academic year. Applications received during the summer term may not be reviewed until fall semester. Students are encouraged to begin their program of study during the summer term.

Doctoral applicants meet the Graduate School minimum criteria for admission if they have a GPA of at least 3.0 on a 4.0 scale on the most recently completed degree, scores of at least 140 on the quantitative and 146 on the verbal sections of the GRE-General Test with a combined score of at least 297 and an analytical writing score of at least 3.5. Please see general university requirements for admission for doctoral applicants.

The doctoral application is a two-step process: (a) completion of the admission application (www.unco.edu/graduate-school/admissions/domestic-admissions.aspx), submitted to the Graduate School; and (b) submission of the additional artifacts, listed below, to the School of Special Education, Doctoral Admissions and Review Committee, Campus Box 141, Greeley, CO 80639.

In addition to the minimum GPA and GRE requirements for the Graduate School admission, a strong doctoral application to the School of Special Education includes:

  1. A resume that highlights the applicant’s professional experience working with children or youth and excellent demonstration of leadership potential through presentations, publications, grants, or professional service;
  2. A written statement (3-5 page, 12 font, double spaced) that addresses the following:
    1. Your interest in a particular area of exceptionality (e.g., learning disabilities, autism, deaf or hard of hearing, transition, gifts and talents);
    2. A brief discussion of some of the trends in that area of your chosen exceptionality; and,
    3. Your future goals after you earn a doctorate in special education from the University of Northern Colorado. Your future goals should focus on teaching, research, and leadership in the field of exceptionalities.
  3. A published or professional writing sample that is thoughtful; communicates effectively; illustrates thorough understanding of academic scholarship that demonstrates strong and logical linkages among the question(s), the results/findings, and conclusions; is both technically and mechanically correct; and is completed in an exemplary manner.
  4. Three names, titles, and contact information for references. It is recommended that at least one of these references be a former professor who can comment on the applicant’s ability to succeed at the doctoral level.

In addition, the applicant may be invited to participate in an in-person, telephone, or internet-conference interview. The interview will evaluate specific and positive demonstration of interpersonal skills, with clear indication of potential in all areas: effective practitioner, scholar, advocate, and educational leader.

International Applicants:

Admissions requirements for international applicants include the same requirements mentioned above. In addition, all applicants, including applicants who have successfully completed a master’s degree in the US, whose native language is not English, must meet a minimum TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) score of 80 on the internet based (iBT) test. Applicants may request the Educational Testing Service (ETS) to send an official TOEFL score report directly to the University of Northern Colorado. The institution code for the University of Northern Colorado is 4074. Materials from international applicants will not be reviewed until the Doctoral Admissions and Review Committee receive official TOEFL scores.

If you have questions or concerns regarding the application process, please contact Dr. Silvia Correa-Torres at silvia.correa-torres@unco.edu or 970-351-1660.

Degree Requirements — 77-83 Credits

Students will be required to demonstrate literacy and competency in computer applications as part of the program.

Doctoral Core Courses (25 hours)

EDSE 701Introduction to Doctoral Study in Exceptionalities


EDSE 702Law of Exceptionalities


EDSE 721Theories of Exceptionality


EDSE 727Seminar in Exceptionalities


EDSE 728Seminar in Professional Writing


EDSE 732Research in Exceptionalities


EDSE 733Preparing Teachers of Students with Exceptionalities


EDSE 744Grant Writing Seminar


EDSE 745Advanced Doctoral Seminar


Externships (3 hours - minimum)

EDSE 730Externship in Exceptionalities

1- 9

Externships are taken in one to three hour blocks and involve an off-campus experience. Variable titles related to inquiry, university teaching, research, and administration are selected based on the nature of the externship.

Elective Credits — 9 hours (minimum)

Students are to select 9 semester hours of courses in a cognate closely related to the student’s program goals. Electives are chosen in consultation with the major advisor and are an integral part of the program plan.

Areas of Special Interest

The student may select an area of interest (one or more), in conference with their advisor, from the following areas: transition of children and youth with exceptionalities; education of infants and preschool children with exceptionalities; one of the categorical areas of special education (autism, blind or visually impaired, deaf or hard of hearing, emotionally disturbed, learning disabilities, mental retardation, etc.); gifts and talents; curriculum development; special education administration; university teaching/research; or other areas as designed by the student and their advisor.

Research Core — 12 hours

SRM 602Statistical Methods I


SRM 603Statistical Methods II


SRM 680Introduction to Qualitative Research


SRM 700Advanced Research Methods


Research Proposal/Dissertation — 16 hours

EDSE 797Doctoral Proposal Research

1- 4

Requires permission of major advisor. Explores dissertation research problems, theoretical frameworks, methodology, and data analysis procedures expected to develop an approved dissertation proposal. Students enroll for 1- to 4-hour blocks for a maximum of 4 hours. The student works closely with the Research Advisor and Doctoral Committee members to develop the proposal.

EDSE 799Doctoral Dissertation


Requires permission of major advisor. Dissertation research is taken in 1- to 12-hour blocks for a maximum of 12 hours. The student works closely with the Research Advisor and Doctoral Committee members to develop the proposal.

Research Tools — 12-18 hours

Students in special education must demonstrate proficiency in two of the four research tools listed below:

1. Research Design/Applied Statistics (3 hours from the following courses)

The GPA for this course and the 12 hours of Research Core above must be 3.0 or higher.

SRM 606Multiple Linear Regression Analysis


SRM 607Non-Parametric Statistics


SRM 608Experimental Design


SRM 609Sampling Methods


SRM 610Statistical Methods III


SRM 611Advanced Statistical Data Analysis


SRM 625Applied Multiple Regression Analysis


SRM 627Survey Research Methods


SRM 629Structural Equation Modeling


SRM 635Categorical Data Analysis


SRM 685Educational Ethnography


SRM 686Qualitative Case Study Research


SRM 687Narrative Inquiry


SRM 688Writing Qualitative Research


SRM 705Advanced Issues in Research Methods


2. Evaluation (9 hours from the following courses)

ELPS 654Instructional Leadership and Supervision


ELPS 665Policy Analysis and Development


SRM 670Evaluation: Models and Designs


SRM 673Evaluation: Advanced Methods


3. Instructional Technology (9 hours from the following courses)

ET 502Instructional Design


ET 602Performance Technology for Instructional Environments


ET 617Development of Online Applications


ET 628Design of Multimedia Learning Environments


4. Collateral Field (9 hours)

Contact the doctoral coordinator for examples of approved courses taken in a collateral field (cognition, instruction, measurement, psychology, human development, rehabilitation; additional research courses may be considered) that will support the dissertation research (600-level and above).

Comprehensive Performance Assessment

The comprehensive examination consists of a written Major Paper plus a matrix of performance options that demonstrates competency in theory, pedagogy, research methodology, evidence-based practice, public policy/advocacy, and collaboration.