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Graduate Program in Special Education and Applied Disability Studies

mercyhurst special eduation program


Have an impact on the lives of children and adults who need the very best.

The graduate program in Special Education and Applied Disability Studies at Mercyhurst University will enhance your talents and give you the skills and knowledge to transform the lives of students and adults with mild to severe disabilities across a variety of settings. The program is designed to assist providers of educational and behavioral services to (a) refine their critical thinking and analytical skills to the highest level of proficiency necessary to attain excellence in the field, and (b) develop applied research competencies necessary to create innovations in education and behavioral services that benefit individuals with disabilities or unique learning needs.

All levels of teachers, from novice to expert, are required to continue their education beyond a bachelor’s degree and earrn a master’s degree within the first five years of teaching. Mercyhurst continues to be a leader in the education field by offering programs that meet both your needs as an educator and PDE certification requirements. By completing the Master of Science in Special Education, you are earning the most diverse certification possible, which will prepare you successfully teach every student in a wide range of potential settings.

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In addition to the master’s degree, Mercyhurst offers several different graduate certificates and concentrations which could lead to PA Behavioral Specialist Licensure, Board Certification in Applied Behavioral Analysis, and/or an Autism Spectrum Endorsement from the PA Department of Education.  

Classes are primarily held in the evenings, allowing participants to continue working while enrolled in the program. Courses are offered year-round, allowing customization for individual students upon consultation with the program director. Since the Fall of 2016, many courses are also now available online as well, providing even greater flexibility to the student juggling work, family and graduate school responsibilities.



Mercyhurst University's has earned a solid reputation for educating those in the fields of special education and behavioral services. Educational opportunities for those service providers range from master's degrees (30-39 credits) to graduate certificates (9-12 credits). Master's degree and graduate certificate options are available to students whether or not they hold a teaching certification.* Please Note: Those seeking special education teaching certification from the PDE must hold a teaching certification in another area, such as early childhood, middle level or secondary education. Please peruse the program offerings below to find the program that's right for you.

Masters Master of Science in Special Education and Disability Studies
Concentration(s) Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Concentration
  Autism Concentration
  English Language Learners Concentration
Graduate Certificate(s) Graduate Certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis 
  PDE Autism Endorsement/Graduate Certificate in Autism


Admission Requirements

  • A completed application for admission
    • Complete your online application for FREE at
    • Should you experience technical difficulties, please contact the graduate admissions office at (814) 824-3351 or for other application options
  • Application Deadline
    • The Special Education graduate program has a preferred admission deadline of August 1st. After August 1st, applications will be considered until the class is full.
  • A bachelor’s degree with a minimum overall GPA of 3.0
    • If seeking special education certification, a bachelor’s degree and PDE teaching certification in early childhood, middle level or secondary education
    • If NOT seeking special education certification, a bachelor’s degree in any discipline from an accredited college or university
  • If seeking special education certification, successful completion of or anticipated successful completion of Praxis Core and Praxis Subject Assessment (formerly the PAPPA and Praxis II tests)
  • PLEASE NOTE, for those seeking special education certification:
    • Candidates who do not already hold a valid teaching certification may have to take prerequisite or co-required courses in addition to the required special education graduate courses.
    • This will affect the length of the program from start to finish.
    • Additionally, there may be cases where exceptions to the following sequences may be made, based on previous related coursework.
  • Official transcripts from all post-secondary institutions you’ve attended
    • Send directly to: Mercyhurst University c/o Graduate Admissions, 501 E. 38th St., Erie, PA 16546
  • Three letters of recommendation from persons with whom you have a professional or academic relationship (ex. employer, professor, or volunteer coordinator)
    • Send directly to: Mercyhurst University c/o Graduate Admissions, 501 E. 38th St., Erie, PA 16546
    • OR Email directly to
  • A current résumé or curriculum vitae
    • Send directly to: Mercyhurst University c/o Graduate Admissions, 501 E. 38th St., Erie, PA 16546
    • OR Email directly to
  • A 500-750 word personal statement discussing:
    • Your reason for choosing this program
    • Your short- and long-term professional goals
    • The strengths you bring as an applicant to this program
    • The skills you hope to develop while in this program
    • Send directly to: Mercyhurst University c/o Graduate Admissions, 501 E. 38th St., Erie, PA 16546
    • OR Email directly to
  • PLEASE NOTE, a professional or academic writing sample may be requested after your application and required supplemental materials are initially reviewed
  • An Interview  
    • A personal interview (either on-campus or via Skype) is not required, but may be requested after initial review of your application and required supplemental materials.
  • PLEASE NOTE, for those seeking special education certification or ABA certification, during the course of your program it will be necessary for you to undergo the following:
    • Criminal background check including
      • Fingerprinting
      • Child abuse clearance
      • Drug screening
    • Medical verification of TB vaccination

The Special Education and Applied Disability Studies graduate program provides current and future special education practitioners with the skills and experiences necessary to implement evidence-based practices in the helping professions of teaching, behavior analysis, and disability services. A graduate of Mercyhurst's Special Education and Disability Studies program is prepared to create learning opportunities that allow individuals with educational and behavioral challenges to realize opportunities for self-determination and independence. Alumni are encouraged to be scientist-practitioners who serve the field in three evidence-driven ways: As consumers of applied research in their practice as teachers and clinicians; as producers of applied research or data-driven strategies in both their graduate studies and their professional careers; and to disseminate their clinical or research endeavors through the presentation of resulting data to others in the field.

Vision Statement: The Special Education and Applied Disability Studies graduate program seeks to produce the best quality special education professionals in the region; be the school of choice for those seeking a program that challenges them to think critically about trends in education while providing them with evidence-based effective approaches; and continue to shape the field nationally through service, publication, and presentation.

  • Write procedures for evidenced-based practices across disability groups and lifespans
  • Utilize evidenced-based practices and assessments in clinical settings
  • Write measurable objectives such as those found in an Individual Education Plan (IEP)
  • Analyze and Critique educational research
  • Design single subject research proposal using APA writing style
  • Discuss the connection between educational assessment and assessment-based instructional decisions
  • Define ethical conduct in the field of education
  • Apply dimensions of applied behavior analysis


Program Directors

Thomas Kitchen, M.S., BCBA, is the Director of Certification Programs in Behavior Analysis. He has co-authored authored a popular book on teaching students with autism, co-written textbook chapters on staff performance in special education, and he has conducted research on a broad variety of topics related to applied behavior analysis, autism and other developmental disabilities, language training, vocational training, and reading instruction. This research has been found in academic journals and national conference presentations. He also remains an active educational and behavioral consultant with experience in both “front-line” teacher/therapist and administrative leadership roles in the fields of special education and behavior analysis. Additionally, he oversees an autism support special education program run collaboratively by Mercyhurst and a public school district. Mr. Kitchen and the rest of the graduate education faculty believe that the effective educator is one who is familiar with current research and makes an effort to close the gap that exists between research and common practice in the field of education.


Dr. Phillip Belfiore, Ph.D., is the department chair of the graduate programs in special education and applied disability studies. Belfiore has authored over 60 scholarly research articles, published in peer-reviewed journals in the fields of applied behavior analysis, urban education, and special education. He has also authored numerous book chapters, and presents regularly at national and international conferences. He currently serves as Editor for Education Research International (2010- ), and has also served as editor for the Journal of Behavioral Education (2000-2006). He continues to serve on the editorial boards of scholarly journals within the fields applied behavioral education and special education. Dr. Belfiore has won numerous awards for teaching and scholarship, including the Teaching Excellence Award from Mercyhurst, the Outstanding Faculty Teaching Award from Purdue University, and the Outstanding Contributions to the Discipline from Lehigh University.

If you are interested in learning more about the graduate programs in special education and disability studies, please contact Department Chair Dr. Phillip Belfiore at or at (814) 824-2267.

Alternatively, please contact Mr. Thomas Kitchen at or at (814) 824-2054.






Contact Us

Should you have any questions regarding this program, the admissions process, graduate financial aid or to set up a campus tour, please contact us via the information below:

Office of Graduate & Continuing Education
501 East 38th St 
Erie, PA 16546
Phone: (814) 824-3351


Amy Burniston
Assistant Professor of Biology/Education, Chair of Graduate Secondary Education
Faculty Image for 
Dr. Kathleen Bukowski
Dr. Kathleen Bukowski, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus
Faculty Image for 
Leanne Roberts
Leanne Roberts, Ph.D.
Incoming Provost & Vice President for Academic Affairs
Faculty Image for 
Dr. Phillip J.  Belfiore
Dr. Phillip J. Belfiore, Ph.D.
Professor of Special Education
Susan D. Johnson, ABD
Assistant Professor of Special Education
Faculty Image for 
Timothy Frawley
Timothy Frawley, D.Ed.
Associate Professor
Faculty Image for 
Tom Kitchen
Tom Kitchen, MS, BCBA
Assistant Professor of Special Education - Mercyhurst University Director of Autism Support Initiative