Ph.D. in Education: Special Education and Disability Studies

Special Education doctoral studentsThe doctorate in Special Education and Disability Studies focuses on issues of disability as they apply to schools (with a focus on teacher preparation) and to human service agencies. Students may focus broadly across disability areas and age ranges, or they may focus more narrowly. Areas of study are available in the categorical areas of learning disabilities, emotional/behavioral disorders, intellectual disabilities and severe multiple disabilities, and early childhood/special education/early intervention. Cross-categorical courses are also offered, as well as special topics courses related to key contemporary issues in special education.

A key focus of the program is on preparing individuals for jobs in the special education professoriate; however, the doctorate may be tailored for individuals wishing to become special education leaders at the district or state level or work with individuals with disabilities in other agencies, such as college disability support services or non-profit support services.

Rolling Admission Deadlines
Spring: November 15
Fall: July 15

(expand Admissions section for details)

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The Special Education and Disability Studies area of emphasis is guided by the general framework found in the Doctoral Program in Education Application Manual. The manual provides general information about doctoral concentrations offered in the College of Education. This page will provide you with specific information that is unique to the Special Education and Disability Studies strand.


Our program operates on a rolling admissions structure; however, the Graduate School has preferred application deadlines of November 15 for spring admission and February 1 for fall admission. If you miss the Graduate School deadline, you may still apply to be a Graduate Special to begin taking coursework for your intended first semester. Materials and criteria for the Special Education and Disability Studies area of emphasis are as follows:

  • International Studies: TOEFL score of 550 (unless you have a college degree from a U.S. institution)
  • Undergraduate and Graduate GPA 3.00 (university requirements)
  • Preference for applicants who hold a master's degree from a regionally accredited institution in an area appropriately related to special education. High achieving applicants who possess only a Bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited institution will be considered. Emphasis of prior degree area(s) should be appropriately related to special education.
  • Program application form (included in COE doctoral application manual)
  • Graduate Record Exam (GRE). All applicants must complete the GRE. Scores for Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing are each considered by the review committees.
    Information about the GRE can be obtained from the Student Advisement Center in the College of Education or from You will need to request that scores be sent to the UNR Graduate School (institution code 4844).
    We do not use the GRE as a cut-off score. However, if your scores are significantly lower than the mean of our current students, you may be asked to re-take the GRE in order for your materials to be considered by program faculty. For you to have some understanding of expectations, in 2016 our mean Verbal Reasoning scores were 156, mean Quantitative Reasoning scores were 145, and mean Analytical Writing scores were 4.3.
  • Complete vita/resume
  • Sample of scholarly writing
  • Essay of intent - should include qualifications for completing a doctoral degree and reasons for pursuing the degree
  • Three letters of recommendation from professionals qualified to judge potential for success in doctoral work
  • Preferred: at least three years teaching special education in a U.S. public school or commensurate experience

All questions regarding application and admission may be directed to Dr. Shanon Taylor, program coordinator and graduate director for special education, at

Your program application form must be scanned and emailed to with the subject line "Application Materials for Special Education and Disability Studies PhD." You may also print and mail them to:

College of Education Doctoral Program Coordinator
Mail Stop 278
University of Nevada, Reno
Reno, NV 89557-0278

All other materials must be sent through the University's application portal. Once you create your account, go back to MyNevada to log in and start your application. You must apply to both the College of Education and to the Graduate School. Please reach out to Dr. Taylor if you have any questions.

Program Structure

The Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) program requires a minimum of 96 credits beyond the baccalaureate degree, which includes 24 credits of dissertation. Of the remaining 72 credits, a maximum of 24 credits (with grades of B or better) may be applied from a master's degree program or previous post-baccalaureate graduate studies program toward the doctoral degree. These credits must be approved by your chair, the College of Education Doctoral Director of Graduate Study, and the Dean of the Graduate School. Credit for completion of a thesis or special project may not be included.

At least 30 credits of 700-level courses beyond the bachelor's degree, exclusive of dissertation credits, are required for the Ph.D. degree. As many as 18 credits of 700-level course work may be used from a master's degree program (University General Catalog, under Graduate School). Degree requirements must be completed within 8 years of admission to the program.

24 credits: Research and required core
        EDUC 779 Doctoral Seminar in Education
Required Research Courses:
One Quantitative research course, such as:
        EDRS 740 Advanced Educational Measurement and Statistics*
        EDRS 741 Applied Research Design and Analysis in Education I
        EDRS 743 Applied Research Design and Analysis in Education II
One Qualitative research course, such as:
        EDRS 752 Qualitative Research in Education
        EDRS 753 Advanced Qualitative Research in Education
Additional research courses (may be chosen from courses above, others from below with approval of advisor):
        EDRS 761 Program Development and Evaluation
        EDRS 785 Survey Research in Education
        EDRS 790 Research Applications in Education
        EDRS 755 Mixed Methods Research in Education
        Special topics research course such as Single Subject Design
        Others from outside COE (with approval)
* Lower level courses such as EDRS 640 and EDRS 700 or equivalents are prerequisites

24 credits: Area of emphasis
Coursework is determined by the Advisory/Examining Committee in close consultation with the student. Credits brought in from Master’s degree may apply to area of emphasis.

24 credits: Cognate
The cognate is comprised of a second area of emphasis, interdisciplinary courses related to the emphasis area, or other courses to support, deepen, or broaden your advanced preparation. Students in our program have chosen to take coursework in Educational Leadership (if interested in administration), Counseling and Educational Psychology (if interested in collaborative work with counseling or working with students with addiction or mental health issues), or taking coursework in Behavior Analysis that may lead to the Board Certified Behavior Analyst certification. Your work in your cognate is a way to target your work in special education and should be planned carefully with your advisor.

24 credits: Dissertation
The dissertation is the culminating experience for the doctoral degree. It represents an independent research project that makes a contribution to the field of study.

Coursework earned as part of a master’s degree can count toward the area of emphasis, as well as toward the research or cognate areas, depending on relevance. Decisions about prior coursework are approved by your chair and your Advisory/Examining Committee.

Our program goal is for all students to complete the doctoral degree within 5-6 years. Research has shown that students who work on this trajectory have the highest chance of ultimately completing their doctoral studies. The best way to meet this objective is full-time studies; however, we have students in our program who are part-time students. You will be advised to work closely with your initial advisor and ultimately your chair to develop a timeline and program of study that meets your career goal and is most likely to result in completion.

Tuition, Cost, and Graduate Assistantships

Please see the University tuition and fee rates for information regarding costs and financial aid.

A limited number of Graduate Assistantships (GAs) are available in the college. Strong priority is given to doctoral students with strong professional experience who can contribute to our teaching mission. You must be fully admitted before beginning any GA work.

Graduate Assistants serve at the will of the College and program area, with decisions to re-hire dependent on faculty evaluations and related factors. There is a limit of 5 years for doctoral students to be on state-funded assistantships (these restrictions do not necessarily apply to grant-funded assistantships).

The GA application deadline is February 1st for the next fall semester. If vacancies occur during the year or for a spring semester, previous applications, as well as new applications, will be reviewed. Therefore, students admitted during fall semesters should file an application early if interested in a position. A College application is available on-line. To be eligible for a graduate assistantship, you must be admitted to a graduate program and cannot be admitted on a provisional basis.

Because our special education faculty are grant-active there may also be the possibility of grant-funded GA positions available or other grant-funded opportunities that may cover some or all of your costs. Please talk to Dr. Taylor about what funding opportunities we may have available at the time you are applying.

Research Completed by Doctoral Students

Below are articles, posters, presentations, and more completed by our current doctoral students.

Current students: you can submit your research projects here.

Alumni Testimonials

Nicole Casillas, Assistant Professor of Special Education, Seattle Pacific University
Nicole Casillas, PhD

The doctoral program in Education with an emphasis in Special Education and Disability Studies at UNR extensively prepared me for a position in higher education.

I am confident that I will have a flourishing career in higher education, because of the doctoral training I received. I am currently an Assistant Professor of Special Education at Seattle Pacific University. This achievement would have not been possible without the knowledgeable, caring, and dedicated faculty in Special Education at UNR. Faculty not only served as my professors, but they also served as my mentors. I was provided with numerous opportunities to teach, conduct research, and serve on committees. These three pillars are necessary for a successful career in higher education. Additionally, faculty encouraged me to pursue my passion. They guided me and cheered me on, as I prepared for a position in higher education. Furthermore, I am grateful for the life-long friendships I made with my fellow peers. I completed my doctoral program in a supportive, cooperative, and collaborative environment. I am glad that I chose UNR to pursue my doctorate in Special Education.

Program Faculty

Shanon Taylor, Ed.D., Associate Professor, and Graduate Director
Shanon Taylor
Tammy Abernathy, Ph.D., Professor, Program Coordinator
Tammy Abernathy
Ann Bingham, Ph.D., Associate Professor
Ann Bingham
MaryAnn Demchak, Ph.D., BCBA-D, Professor
MaryAnn Demchak
Lindsay Diamond, Ph.D., Assistant Professor
Lindsay Diamond
Robert Ives, Ph.D., Associate Professor
Robert Ives
Stephen Rock, Ph.D., Professor
Stephen Rock

Related Degrees and Programs

Contact College of Education

Phone (775) 784-4298 (Undergraduate Advisement)
(775) 784-4345 (Main)
Fax (775) 784-6298
Location William J. Raggio