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Special Education

Administrative Unit: Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education
College/School: School of Education
Admitting Plans:M.S., Ph.D.
Degrees Offered:M.S., Ph.D.
Minors and Certificates:Doctoral Minor

Faculty: Professors Wilkerson (chair), Chan, Hanley-Maxwell, Rosenthal, Trainor; Assistant Professors Bal, Doren, Phillips, Ruppar, Smedema, Tansey


The department offers the master of science in rehabilitation psychology, the master of science in special education, the doctor of philosophy in rehabilitation psychology, and the doctor of philosophy in special education. The department addresses the life-span educational and rehabilitation needs of persons with disabilities through its special education and rehabilitation psychology areas. Children and youth are served by teacher preparation programs emphasizing inclusion and individualization with a strong background in working with students with disabilities cross-categorically. The rehabilitation psychology program prepares professionals at the graduate level to serve adolescents and adults with disabilities in both private and public service delivery agencies including counseling, assessment, job placement, case management, and advocacy. Department faculty in both areas join resources in providing training and research programs that promote successful transition from school to the adult world of work, postsecondary education, and successful independence for individuals with disabilities.

The department offers a teacher certification master’s program, a general master’s program, and a doctoral program in special education. The master’s program prepares students to serve as resources and advocates for persons with disabilities and their families and to work cooperatively within and outside the schools to improve the quality of life for individuals with disabilities and their families. Graduates of the master’s with certification program are eligible to apply for a cross-categorical Special Education license at the Middle Childhood through Early Adolescence level (ages 6–12/13), and also at the Early Adolescence through Adolescence level (ages 10–21).

The Ph.D. degree is a research-based program preparing leaders in the field of special education to bring systemic change to educational and community settings in ways that improve access and equity for children and youth with disabilities and their families. The program prepares graduates to address pressing issues in the field including:

  • Increasing equity across diverse groups of students
  • Improving post-school outcomes for individuals with disabilities
  • Enhancing teacher efficacy in secondary education methodologies with students with disabilities

Faculty research interests reflect foci on research methods, reading, adolescence, transition and vocational education, and diversity and equity issues in the field of special education. The department is a national and international leader in preparing Ph.D. professionals to serve in leadership positions in university teaching, research, and program administration. This leadership is evidenced by the publication and research record of its faculty and graduates, and by the routine placement of Ph.D. graduates in major universities and colleges. The program develops outstanding researchers and leaders who contribute to creating, integrating and disseminating new knowledge related to the education and rehabilitation of persons with disabilities.

The department serves students from across the nation and around the world. Financial support, although limited, is available to qualified graduate students and may include scholarships, traineeships, teaching assistantships, and research/project assistantships. Employment opportunities following graduation include elementary and secondary schools; public and private educational, rehabilitation, and mental health agencies; colleges and universities; and research settings.


Interested applicants must identify and submit materials to the program of their choosing. The candidate will be expected to meet general requirements for admission to the Graduate School. The following factors will be considered by the admissions committee: relevancy of prior undergraduate and graduate study, employment history specific to education and disability, stated goals for graduate study, evidence of writing and research skills, and three professional references. For more information: Student Services and Graduate Admissions, Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education, 1000 Bascom Mall, Room 431, Madison, WI 53706; 608-263-4608; rpseinfo@education.wisc.edu; www.education.wisc.edu/rpse.