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PhD in Public Administration

Degree Completion Requirement - Timeframe

After being admitted to the doctoral program, a student must complete all (doctoral) degree requirements in eight years. Students who complete the master's degree at KU and subsequently begin doctoral studies have a maximum total enrolled time of ten years to complete both degrees.

Residency Requirement

Two semesters, which may include one summer session, must be spent in resident study at KU. During this period, the student must be involved full-time in academic or professional pursuits, which may include an appointment for teaching or research if it is directed specifically toward degree objectives. Full-time is defined as nine credit hours during the fall or spring semesters, and six credit hours during the summer semester. If you have questions about the residency requirement, please visit with your advisor or the doctoral program coordinator.

PhD Coursework Requirements - Summary

The completion of a PhD from the KU School of Public Affairs and Administration requires coursework, a written examination, an oral examination and the dissertation.

The PhD program is designed to provide intensive training in Public Administration three major areas or fields:  foundations, a “major field” (also referred to as your area of specialization) and a cognate field.

Foundations refer to the enduring theoretical issues and questions in the field; thus, on entering the academic job market, students can justifiably claim to be familiar with the core public administration “canon.”

The student’s major field, by contrast, is his or her primary area of specialization. The standard specializations are public administration theory and ethics; organizational theory and behavior; public management; public finance and budgeting; human resources; and law.  Students commonly develop programs of research that intersect two or more of these sub-fields, or which are specialized focus areas within one of these sub-fields. Still, in order to be competitive on the job market, students must be able to justifiably claim to be an expert in at least one of these sub-fields as a whole.

The cognate field consists of a coherent series of courses outside the discipline of Public Administration.  Ideally, students, in conjunction with advice from their advisor, will craft cognates that are closely related to their areas of specialization and their research program. For instance, a student specializing in budgeting may develop a cognate in related areas in the School of Business; a student specializing in theory and ethics may develop a cognate in Philosophy; a student specializing in organizational theory and behavior may develop a cognate in Sociology and Psychology.

The School and the student will track his or her course progression on the PhD Course Summary Sheet. An example is provided here: PhD Course Summary Sheet (PDF).

PhD Coursework - Foundations

Four of the five courses listed below are required of all PA doctoral students.

  • PUAD 932, Seminar in the Intellectual History of Public Administration,
  • PUAD 930, Research Seminar in Public Administration and Democratic Theory,
  • PUAD 931, Research Seminar in Public Administration and Management,

And one of the following:

  • PUAD 943, Constitutional Foundations of Public Administration or
  • PUAD 949, Law, Courts and Public Policy.

Substitutions for these requirements require the approval of the Departmental Coordinator of Doctoral Studies.

PhD Coursework - Methods

The PA doctorate emphasizes the development of research skills. It requires PUAD 934 Research Methods in Public Administration, with the prerequisite PUAD 836 or its equivalent, and PUAD 935, Advanced Quantitative Methods in Public Administration. As mentioned in the introduction, the public administration field is epistemologically and methodologically diverse, and doctoral students will be encouraged to take PUAD 937, Qualitative Methods in Public Administration or PUAD 936 Policy Analysis and Evaluation, or their equivalents. Substitutions for these courses require the approval of the SPAA Doctoral Program Director. The Methods requirement satisfies Option 1 of the Foreign Language or Research Skills (FLORS) Requirement of the Graduate School.

PhD Coursework - Specialization

In consultation with a faculty advisor , each doctoral student will develop a public administration specialization. The specialization will consist of at least three courses. Within the public administration discipline commonly considered subjects for specialization would be areas like budgeting, public finance, human resources management, public policy analysis and evaluation, public values and ethics, organizations and organization theory, public law and administration, and urban policy/politics and community building. Each of these specializations has a basic course that is regularly taught in the present graduate public administration curriculum at the 800 level, and it is presumed that at least one additional course would come from an independent study. A third course could come from within SPAA or could be taken outside of SPAA. Potential cooperating departments include Communications Studies, Economics, Political Science, School of Education and the Business School. Communication in Appendix B from each of these units indicates their willingness to work with public administration doctoral students.

PhD Coursework - Cognate Fields

The doctorate in public administration also requires a cognate field in addition the Public Administration specialization. The cognate field is envisioned as a sub field in economics, political science, education administration, etc. or, a policy specialization (environmental policy, transportation policy, etc.)

The Cognate Fields sequence of courses requires the approval of the student’s advisor and the SPAA Doctoral Program Director and does not require a comprehensive examination.

Course Descriptions

The Comprehensive Written Examinations

Only students who complete the required courses in the Foundations, Specialization, Cognate, and Methods Sequence with a GPA of 3.0 or better may proceed to the preliminary written examination. The Doctoral Committee (see Doctoral Program Governance) certifies the successful completion of course work and will administer a written preliminary examination. While no examination is required in the cognate field, the student’s advisor must provide a written notice that the student has fulfilled the cognate requirement. Credits taken for the Cognate may not be applied to an examination field.

Students should consult their adviser to plan a schedule of course work and seminar preparation in anticipation of the written preliminary examination in public administration foundations and specializations. The student must complete the course credit requirements and the PhD residency requirements before registering for the preliminary examination. All incompletes in courses counting toward the PhD must be completed or the doctoral coordinator must grant a waiver before the student may take the preliminary examination. If an aspirant receives a grade of “unsatisfactory” the preliminary written examination may be repeated but under no circumstances may a student take it more than twice.

PA doctoral students are required to take two separate written exams: one to cover Foundations and the other their area of Specialization. Students must declare their area of specialization no later than six months prior to taking the exam and may only answer questions in their declared specialization. Each exam will contain four to six questions with the student answering two.

The Foundations examination will cover the intellectual history and enduring questions in the field. Many, but not all, of these subjects will be covered in the required doctoral courses and will include such topics as public administration and democratic theory, public organizations and management, and constitutional and legal foundations. This exam will be written and graded by the Public Administration graduate faculty.

The Specialization examination will be tailored to the doctoral candidate’s specific course of study. It will be written by faculty teaching in the student’s area of specialization but graded by the Public Administration graduate faculty.

The Comprehensive Oral Examination and Advancement to PhD Candidacy

Following the successful completion of the comprehensive written examinations, the student must, within four weeks, satisfactorily complete a comprehensive oral examination and present a dissertation proposal in order to become a PhD candidate. No student may attempt the comprehensive oral examination until he or she has successfully passed the comprehensive written examinations. The oral exam will involve comprehensive questioning across the intellectual field and a close review of the student’s dissertation idea. It is advised that the student prepare a dissertation précis for oral presentation and defense.

The committee for the Final Oral Examination will consist of at least five members (the three members of the dissertation committee plus other members of the Graduate Faculty). At least one member will not be a member of the Public Administration faculty; this member will represent the Graduate school and must be a regular member of the Graduate Faculty. The representative of the Graduate school will be a voting member of the committee and will have the right to full participation; this individual will be charged with reporting any unsatisfactory or irregular aspects of the examination to the Graduate School. Interested members of the university community will be encouraged to attend the Final Oral Examination and will be permitted to question the candidate.

NB: students and their advisors must ensure that the outside member of the oral exam committee is a member of the University’s Graduate Faculty.  The Doctoral Program Director can assist you in making this determination.

If the aspirant receives a grade of “unsatisfactory,” the examination may be repeated but under no circumstances will the student take it more than twice.

After passing their oral examinations, doctoral students will give a colloquium to PA faculty and doctoral students on their dissertation proposal. After the colloquium but prior to proceeding with their dissertation research, the student’s doctoral committee must approve the dissertation proposal.

After passing the comprehensive oral examination, the doctoral candidate must write a dissertation approved by a departmental dissertation committee and pass a final oral defense of the dissertation to qualify for the PhD degree.

In the period after passing the comprehensive oral examination and prior to the dissertation defense, the candidate must be continuously enrolled until completing all requirements for the degree.

The procedure for scheduling the dissertation defense (“Final Oral Examination,” under University rules) is as follows. After all degree requirements have been met and the dissertation committee has preliminarily accepted the completed dissertation but before it has been bound, SPAA must request the Graduate School to schedule the Final Oral Examination, allowing a minimum of two weeks to verify requirements and publicize the examination. At least five months must elapse between the successful completion of the Comprehensive Oral Examination and the Final Oral Examination (dissertation defense).

The Dissertation

Students must complete a dissertation which reports substantial original research in the field of Public Administration. Whether the dissertation satisfies the requirements for the degree is determined by the dissertation committee.

The most basic, fundamental element of a successful PhD student career is active development of an original program of research. Ultimately the dissertation constitutes the final expression of this program of research. Students entering the program should not think of their research as something that may be put off until the “dissertation stage.”  Students’ research programs begin the moment they enter the program, and students should begin thinking about possible dissertation topics and ideas from the moment they begin their program. Nearly every course requires a final paper; these papers should be used to explore aspects of students’ research interests.

There is room, of course, for “experimentation” with dissertation ideas that may later be abandoned for one reason or another. Few successful students know their final dissertation idea at the start of the program. 

In the process of exploring research ideas and developing a dissertation topic, students should work closely with their advisor/mentor.  Some advisors may prefer to direct dissertations that are elements of the advisor’s research program; others may prefer to have students develop their own independent dissertation topic.  In either case, advisors have a good sense of which ideas have already been “taken,” which ideas are likely to lead to “dead ends,” which ideas are “marketable,” and how to implement ideas in the form of a practical program of research.  Although advisors may help in these and many other ways, students should play a very active role in developing their own basic research program. 

As a matter of practicality and prudence, students should expect to have a well-developed dissertation idea and research plan prior to sitting for the comprehensive written examinations.

As a matter of formal School rules, students are required to present a dissertation idea to a faculty committee as the basis for the PhD oral exam, which shortly follows the comprehensive written examinations.

Application Deadlines

Deadlines follow University guidelines

M.U.P (Master of Urban Planning)
Fall semester: July 1
Spring semester: December 1

M.U.P as International Student
Fall semester: June 1
Spring semester: November 1

City Management Fellowship Applications:  February 1
Summer semester:  February 1
Fall semester:  May 1
Spring semester:  November 1
Fall semester: January 5