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The goal of the Special Education Leadership Personnel Preparation Program in the Department of Early Childhood, Special Education, and Counselor Education (EDSCE) is to prepare students to assume positions as educators, researchers, and scholars in higher education settings. The program leads to the Doctor of Philosophy in Education degree (Ph.D.). Students in the Ph.D. in Special Education may select program focus areas in applied behavior analysis, learning and behavior disorders, moderate and severe disabilities, and interdisciplinary early childhood education.


Program Objectives

The University of Kentucky Special Education Doctor of Philosophy degree program addresses professional development and roles in four doctoral core areas: teaching, supervision, research and scholarship, and leadership and advocacy. These four doctoral core areas represent the foundational knowledge required of our program. The specific objectives of this PhD degree program are to facilitate student acquisition of knowledge and skills as follows:

  • Teaching – Related to roles, pedagogy, learning models, curriculum design, online and in-person instruction, assessment, mentoring, ethical issues, and cultural considerations and inclusion.
  • Supervision – Related to clinical supervision including purposes, models, roles, skills, assessment, administration, legal and ethical issues, cultural diversity and inclusion, and social justice.
  • Research and Scholarship – Related to research design, statistical analysis, program evaluation, publication and presentation, use of human subjects, grant development, ethical practices, cultural considerations, and collaboration.
  • Leadership and Advocacy – Related to theories, skills, development, administration, consultation, social justice, ethical and cultural considerations, and public policy.

Why You Should Enroll

Students in our Ph.D. program interact with nationally-recognized faculty and staff that are highly respected individuals with a rich tradition of scholarship and service in their fields of expertise. Graduates are trained to become faculty members in early childhood or special education programs across the country and internationally. There is a strong emphasis on students acquiring the research competencies needed to conceptualize and conduct research and publish their scholarship. At the same time, students learn how to become quality educators through initial program planning and ongoing collaborative mentorships with faculty members. Graduates also find that the doctoral program prepares them to be program evaluators, administrators, policy analysts, advocates, and researchers.

Program Details

Delivery Method: On-campus

Following the guidelines adopted by the College of Education, the doctoral program must consist of a minimum of 42 credit hours past the master's degree. Most doctoral students take between 60 and 100 semester hours of coursework (including the master's degree).

Specific course requirements for individual students will vary according to each student's background and stated objectives. Competency lists that have been developed by faculty in EDSCE guide the selection of courses and related training experiences. However, each student must complete a graduate core (23 credits), coursework in a departmental area of emphasis (a minimum of 15 credits), coursework in a support area (a minimum of 15 credits), and a research block of courses (a minimum of 21 credits).

The coursework is divided among four areas:

1. Special education personnel preparation

2. An area of emphasis selected from the following:

  • Applied behavior analysis
  • Interdisciplinary early childhood education
  • Learning and behavior disorders
  • Moderate and severe disabilities

3. A thematic support area from outside the department area of emphasis.

4. A research block of courses.

The first phase of study (up to 18 semester hours) is considered the preliminary year. During this period, students are expected to demonstrate basic competencies in applied behavior analysis, assessment, general special education content, instructional strategies, and technology. They may do this by fulfilling the requirements of the required graduate core courses.

Tuition Cost: Refer to Credit Hour Rates for Graduate Students on the UK Tuition and Mandatory Fees page.

Refund Policies: You can find tuition refund policies, deadlines, amounts, and other important information on the UK Student Account Services website.

How to Apply

You can complete the application for doctoral study with the University of Kentucky Graduate School here. Or visit the UK Graduate School homepage. Students are admitted to the program for the Fall and Spring Semesters.


  • Fall admission applications are due by March 1
  • Spring admission applications are due by October 1

Admission Requirements

Admission standards for the Ph.D. in Special Education include the following:

  1. Applicants must meet the Graduate School admission requirements.
  2. CV
  • The CV or resume must include prior education/degrees, the institutions attended (including years), prior teaching certification and/or other professional certification/licensure (if any), and employment history.
  1. Personal Statement
  • Within the personal statement, applicants must include a biographical sketch that addresses the evolution of their professional career, research interests, and their professional goals as they relate to the doctoral program of study. Applicants must also indicate their proposed departmental area of emphasis from among the following: Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), Interdisciplinary Early Childhood Special Education (IECE), Learning and Behavior Disorders (LBD), or Moderate and Severe Disabilities (MSD).
  1. Applicants must include a sample of their academic and/or professional writing.
  2. At least three (3) positive recommendations attesting to the candidate’s professional disposition and fitness for the profession, self-awareness, and emotional stability; oral and written communication skills; cultural sensitivity and awareness; and potential for scholarship, professional leadership, and advocacy.
  • Recommenders should address the applicant’s ability (demonstrated or perceived) to work with students with disabilities.

If an applicant meets these criteria and appears to have the background, academic record, experience, and professional objectives that are consistent with department expectations, the person is invited to campus to interview with Program and Department faculty and to meet current doctoral students. If the candidate is unable to visit the campus, arrangements can be made to interview through video conference or alternative format. However, it is highly recommended that applicants visit campus. Final admissions decisions are the purview of the Department’s faculty.

I'm Ready to Apply 

Tuition and Fees

Questions about tuition should be directed to the Registrar’s Office.  More information about tuition and cost to attend can be found on the University Registrar’s website.

Financial Aid

There are occasional opportunities for students to receive funding as Teaching Assistants, Research Assistants, or via Scholarship funding. These announcements will be posted to the Student Advising Center on Canvas regularly. Students who are interested in more information about Financial Aid should contact the University of Kentucky’s Financial Aid Office at (859) 562-CATS (2287) or 128 Funkhouser Building, Lexington KY 40506.

State Authorization and Licensure

If you plan to complete a University of Kentucky online program while living outside of Kentucky, you should check the Out-of-State Students page to determine if the University of Kentucky is authorized to provide this program in your state of residence. If you plan to use the degree to seek licensure, you should also determine if the degree meets the educational requirements for licensure in your state.


We Are Happy to Talk with You!

Feel free to contact us with any questions you might have regarding this program. We look forward to hearing from you!

Channon K. Horn

Director of Graduate Studies

(859) 257-7460