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

World-Improving Research and Creativity

The 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.

Admission Deadlines

The College of Education has application deadlines for Spring (November 15). Students wishing to apply for a graduate assistantship for Fall semester must apply for the Ph.D. program and the college graduate assistantship by February 1. Applications for Fall will continue to be reviewed up to July 15.

About Our Program

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.

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.

Program Information

  • Admissions

    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 www.ets.org. 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 shanon@unr.edu.

    Your program application form must be scanned and emailed to coe@unr.edu 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

    • Doctoral Seminar in Education

    Required Research Courses:

    • One Quantitative research course
    • One Qualitative research course
    • Additional research courses (may be chosen from courses above, others from below with approval of advisor):
      • Program Development and Evaluation
      • Survey Research in Education
      • Research Applications in Education
      • 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
    • Course names and requirements are subject to change. Please visit the course catalog for the lastest information.


    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.

Program Faculty

Special Education
Tammy Abernathy
Tammy Abernathy, Ph.D.
Professor of Special Education
(775) 682-7862
WRB 3076
1418
Special Education
Ann Bingham
Ann Bingham, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Special Education
(775) 682-7863
WRB 3086
1418
Special Education
MaryAnn Demchak
MaryAnn Demchak, Ph.D., BCBA-D
Associate Dean of Reseach and Graduate Programs, Professor of Special Education
(775) 682-7852
WRB 3109
1418
Special Education
Lindsay Diamond
Lindsay Diamond, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Special Education
(775) 682-7927
WRB 3085
1418
Special Education
Lindsay Dorio
Lindsay Dorio, M.A.
Administrative Assistant III, Literacy, Language and Culture
(775) 682-7857
WRB 3067
1418
Special Education
Robert Ives
Robert Ives, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Special Education
(775) 682-7867
WRB 3080
1418
Special Education
Stephen Rock
Stephen Rock, Ph.D.
Professor of Special Education, NCED Director
(775) 784-6385
WRB 4102
1418
Special Education
Shanon Taylor
Shanon Taylor, Ed.D.
Associate Professor of Special Education
(775) 682-7864
WRB 3081
1418