Special Education Careers

The 5 Best Paraprofessional Programs

Paraprofessionals are a crucial part of education in the school system. While a para is not a certified teacher, it’s still a credentialed education professional that works alongside educators in the classroom. For those of you interested in pursuing a career in special education services, becoming a paraprofessional is an excellent choice—and this guide is perfect for you! 

But to become a paraprofessional, you need to meet the qualifications defined by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). If you have an Associate degree, two years of college completed, or pass a state assessment, then you’ll meet the minimum requirements defined by the federal government. But additional requirements vary from district to district, so it’s always in your best interest to go through a paraprofessional-specific program.

Spokane Falls Community College has the best paraprofessional programs because they offer Associate degrees and certifications for paraprofessionals. The school also gives you the option to complete the programs online or in person.  But this guide will also cover other top options for you to consider. At the end of this article, I’ll also explain the top factors to consider when deciding which paraprofessional program is right for you. 

Top 5 Online and In-Person Programs For Paraprofessionals

Below you’ll find more information on the five best paraprofessional programs and why they’re great for different reasons.

Spokane Falls Community College

Spokane Falls Community College offers multiple programs for paraprofessionals. So whether you’re seeking an Associate degree or you just want a certificate, you have options to choose from at this school. 

Another top benefit of this school is the fact that you can take classes in-person and online. So you don’t need to be located in the state of Washington to complete your program. 

Choose between the Associate in Applied Science – Education Paraeducator program or the Educator Paraeducator Certificate. Course fees start as low as $139. 

Highlights include:

  • Two different paraprofessional programs to consider
  • For AAS – Education Paraeducator, you can choose a path of Early Childhood Education, Signing Paraeducator, or Special Education
  • Learn to Comply with IDEA, Section 504, and ADA
  • Lots of career opportunities for both programs
  • Financial aid available

The Associate program is 92 credits, which is a bit more in-depth than some of the minimum credit requirements offered at other schools. Even the certificate program is 45 credits. So it will take a bit more work and effort compared to similar certificates that can be completed with just 30 credits. 

But overall, Spokane Falls Community College has an excellent education program. It’s perfect for anyone who wants to become a paraprofessional.

Teaching Assistant Certificate From Genesee Community College

The Teaching Assistant Certificate from Genesee Community College is perfect for anyone who wants to take the fastest path to become a paraprofessional. Unlike other programs that require two years of school or 60 credits, you can obtain this certificate with just 30 credits. 

This program teaches you the skills required to work as a teaching assistant or paraprofessional from pre-kindergarten all the way through the high school level.

Here’s why this certification ranks so high on our list:

  • 100% online and the ability to take classes on your own schedule
  • No set times required to log in or attend class
  • Learn to work with individual students, small groups, and as a classroom resource
  • Only 30 credits, which can usually be completed in one year

It’s worth noting that this program doesn’t count as an Associate degree or minimum college education requirements defined by the federal government for paras. 

With that said, it will provide you with the knowledge required to pass any local or state assessments prior to employment. You shouldn’t have any trouble getting a job as a paraprofessional once you obtain this certificate. 

Foundations of Teacher Education From Chippewa Valley Technical College

The Foundations of Teacher Education program offered at Chippewa Valley Technical College is a two-year, 60 credit Associate degree. The degree is offered both in-person and online. So anyone in the country can go through this program.

I really like this option because it gives you other career opportunities beyond a paraprofessional. So if you change your mind or want to change your role down the road, you can also use this degree to become a child specialist, instructional assistant, teaching assistant, or special education assistant. 

Here are some of the other noteworthy highlights of this program:

  • Meets Title I requirements in the ESSA Act for paraprofessionals
  • Flexible online learning lets you take coursework whenever it’s convenient for you
  • Ability to gain real experience at public school systems
  • Opportunity to receive credits prior to learning based on previous work experience or education

With an estimated program cost of over $11,000, this degree is a bit steep compared to some of the other options out there. But financial aid options are available. 

Chippewa Valley Technical College also has an Early Childhood Education Associate degree. This program is also offered both online and in-person. However, there are four in-person practicums required to complete the coursework. So this likely won’t be ideal for anyone living outside of western Wisconsin. 

Paraprofessional Associate Degree Program From Charter Oak State College

As the name implies, the Paraprofessional Associate Degree Program from Charter Oak State College is designed specifically for anyone who wants a career as a para. This 60-credit program gives students the necessary skills required to support teachers in the classroom.

Upon completion, you’ll have opportunities to work as a general education paraprofessional or as a special education paraprofessional. You can also use this degree as the foundation to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Child Studies or Early Childhood Education.

  • 100% online
  • Credits offered for credentials
  • Six different start dates offered throughout the year

There is one contingency noted on the program page. Charter Oak State College wants you to verify with your state department of education that this degree meets the requirements in your local area. So make sure you do this before you apply to the program.

Education Paraprofessional Certificate From Minnesota West Community and Technical College

Minnesota West’s Education Paraprofessional Certificate is an ideal option for both current and prospective paraprofessionals. As a 12-credit certificate, this is one of the least demanding programs that you’ll find from a reputable institution. 

The courses in this certificate are all part of the school’s Childhood Development path of Human Services degree. So you could always continue your education upon completion. 

Here’s a quick overview of the courses you’ll take:

  • Foundations of Childhood Development
  • Children’s Health, Safety, and Nutrition
  • Managing the Physical and Social Environment
  • Introduction to Special Education

You’ll also have the option to choose between Family and Community Relations, Computer Applications, or American Sign Language.

The certificate is 100% online, and you can complete it in a single semester. But the low credit amount might not meet the requirements for certain jobs. So you’ll need to verify that before you apply.

With that in mind, it’s still an excellent option for people just getting started as a paraprofessional and existing paras who want to further their education. 

How Do I Decide Which Paraprofessional Program Is the Best for Me?

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of paraprofessional programs out there. Even if you’re just considering the options listed above, making a final decision can still feel a bit overwhelming. I’ll explain what factors matter the most when you’re evaluating different programs.

Certificate vs. Degree

You need to decide if you’re going to pursue a degree or a certificate. 

Degrees tend to take at least two years and typically require a minimum of 60 education credits. Certificates can be obtained in as little as 12 or 30 credits, which can take anywhere from a semester to one year to complete. 

The great part about a degree is that you’re essentially killing two birds with one stone. You’re meeting the minimum requirements defined by ESSA and also studying something relevant to becoming a paraprofessional. 

For those of you who already met the minimum educational requirements to become a paraprofessional, a certificate would likely be enough for you. It looks good when you’re applying to jobs, and you should have the knowledge required to pass any state or local assessments. 

In-Person vs. Online

You’ll also need to choose between an in-person or an online program. If moving for a year or two isn’t realistic for your current situation, then you need to focus on certificate and degree programs that you can get online.

The best online courses don’t require you to log in at a specific time or attend actual classes. This is perfect for those of you who like to work at your own pace and make your own schedule.

While the flexibility of online learning is great, it does require lots of discipline and self-motivation. If that doesn’t sound like something you can handle, you may need to consider going through an in-person program.

Local Requirements

The last thing you want to do is spend your time and money going through a program, only to learn that it doesn’t fulfill any requirements for your local state or school district. 

So before you get started, it’s always in your best interest to verify the program with your state education office. If you’re interested in jobs within a specific school district or region, reach out to the district office or a school office professional and ask them what requirements need to be met for you to qualify.

Look beyond the bare minimum here. If all the paraprofessionals in a specific district have a Bachelor’s degree, then an Associate degree or certificate alone may not be enough for you.

Conclusion

Spokane Falls Community College is the best option because they offer Associate degrees and paraprofessional certificates both in-person and online. 

A Teaching Assistant Certificate from Genesee Community College is great if you want a quick 30-credit certificate from a reputable school. Chippewa Valley Technical College has a Foundations of Teacher Education Associate degree that’s perfect for anyone who wants to become a paraprofessional. 

If you want to start a program immediately without waiting for a fall or spring semester, Charter Oak State College has a 100% online program with six different start dates throughout the year. For those of you looking for a certificate program that can be completed in a single semester, check out the Education Paraprofessional Certificate from Minnesota West Community and Technical College.

About the author

Emily Cummings

I am a mom of two crazy, amazing, independent, little feminists. They bring so much light to my life and a lot less sleep. Since becoming a mother and increasingly in the last year, I have witnessed parents struggling to connect with their child's special education team with no success. I have become more aware of the gaps in our public school system and how parents may benefit from empowerment and advocacy tools.

My work experiences range from a juvenile detention center to an autism specialist in the Issaquah School District and a special education teacher in a self-contained program in the Lake Washington School District. My master's in teaching focused on special education and behavioral disorders from Seattle Pacific University. I completed my BCBA coursework from Montana State University.

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