University of Southern Maine offers new special education bachelor’s degree

Created with current ed techs in mind, the online program seeks to address Maine’s critical need for special education teachers

The University of Southern Maine is offering a new bachelor’s degree in special education in an effort to get more special education teachers in Maine schools. Geared toward those already working in schools, particularly as ed techs, the program is fully online, accepts prior learning credits and course transfers, and allows students to complete their student-teaching internship while working their current job as an ed tech.

“Because we don’t have enough special educators in Maine, we really want to find a way to build capacity from within the ranks of folks already interested in this type of work,” said Rachel Brown-Chidsey, Associate Professor of Special Education.

The program also includes an apprenticeship option, a new initiative co-sponsored by the U.S. Departments of Education and Labor. Teacher apprentices work for a sponsoring school district to complete specific degree requirements as part of their jobs. USM has agreements with several southern Maine school districts, including Gorham, Scarborough, and SAD 6, to hire apprentices who will complete their associate’s degrees through Southern Maine Community College and then complete their bachelor’s degree in special education at USM.

The University of Maine System’s Board of Trustees approved the new degree in July. The program starts this fall and is open to applicants from any background, including those with prior college credits and those not already working in schools. 

Maine has faced a critical shortage of special education teachers for years. Even as this new school year starts, hundreds of positions still need to be filled. Without those teachers, schools must scramble to try to meet the needs of students with disabilities.

“IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) are not getting fulfilled, we know that,” Brown-Chidsey said. “Without trained personnel, it’s not possible to implement the IEPs. It means students are not getting the education they were promised, they’re falling farther behind. It puts them at risk for not completing school.”

USM already offers a master’s degree in special education. This will be the first time it has offered a special education bachelor’s degree in at least 30 years.

Although the program is new, the University has already secured an articulation agreement with Southern Maine Community College, allowing community college graduates to seamlessly transfer to USM and start their special education bachelor’s degree with two years of college requirements completed. 

Applications are now being accepted for spring 2024.