Doctoral Degree: Educational Policy and Leadership Concentration

The Educational Policy and Leadership concentration provides for the in-depth study of leadership and policy in education with a focus on theory, research, and practice. This focus on the relationships between policy and leadership involves study of the major paradigms and theories of education; equity and excellence; governance and management; organizational theory, analysis and behavior; and theories of systemic and organizational change. Supporting such study are related fields of inquiry including methods of research and evaluation and current theory and practice of assessment. The concentration provides opportunities for students to specialize in policy and leadership in the contexts of higher education, international education, and PK-12 educational administration. Although doctoral candidates typically specialize in one of these contexts, they may design programs of study that represent cross-cutting interests.

Many of our doctoral candidates are experienced practitioners who return to graduate study to engage in systematic reflection about their practice and to develop further knowledge and skills for careers as leaders, administrators, planners, program designers, evaluators and the like in school systems, colleges and universities, non-formal settings, government agencies and non-governmental organizations in domestic and international contexts. The concentration offers a stimulating environment with opportunities for candidates with a wide array of academic interests.


For admission to the doctoral concentration, an applicant should have completed a Master's degree in a relevant area. Admissions decisions are based on the applicant's prior academic record as well as her/his substantive interests, experience, contributions to the diversity of the student population, potential to successfully complete the program of study, and potential for contribution to their chosen work.

Opportunities for Specialization

While a student may develop a program of study with cross-cutting interests, she/he typically specializes in one of three areas that provide specific contexts and career paths for educational professionals: PK-12 educational administration, higher education, and international education. A specialization implies a level of engagement with the subject matter typically achieved through taking at least six or seven courses specifically focusing on that context. As part of the admissions process, applicants indicate their areas of specialization within Policy and Leadership. Furthermore, as part of the process of developing a program of study during phase one, a student plans a combination of courses appropriate to her/his learning goals and the offerings and requirements of the chosen specialization. Specializations may require foundational and/or capstone courses that complement the required core areas in the concentration.

Doctoral Degree: Education Policy and Leadership Concentration - Higher Education Specialization

The specialization in Higher Education is designed for those who wish to pursue careers in colleges or universities or state or national agencies concerned with higher or postsecondary education. Course offerings cover such subjects as policy and leadership in higher education and closely related subjects of history, philosophy, management, organizational analysis, governance, assessment, the academic profession, diversity in higher education, teaching and learning, and student development. While much of the material focuses on issues, patterns and practices in the United States, students with international interests are welcome and can put together an appropriate program by combining work in higher education with work in international education. The Higher Education specialization works on the cohort model. 

All students in the specialization take a two­-semester foundational course, Doctoral Seminar in Higher Education I and II, during their first year of study; an applied course entitled Research Higher Education course at the end of their course work; and a number of other courses that relate to their learning goals and the field of Higher Education. The Research in Higher Education course provides an opportunity to work with other doctoral students in preparation for the comprehensive examination. 

Doctoral Degree: Education Policy and Leadership Concentration
International Education Specialization

The specialization in International Education provides educators with the opportunity to study the role of education in the context of Asia, Africa, and Latin America and other developing areas. The specialization has courses related to both formal and non-formal education theory and practice; on education for children, adolescents and adults; and on basic, primary, secondary, and higher education in developing countries. Students may focus on a wide variety of topics in international education, including comparative education, education reform, policy issues, teacher quality and development, institutional capacity building, project planning/management/monitoring and evaluation, social theories of education, education in crisis and conflict contexts, and gender issues in development.

Students in international education are expected to become aware of social justice issues in education and to understand participatory and popular education approaches to education. Graduates should have developed an in-depth awareness of cultural differences; the ability to apply critical theory and pedagogy in both schools and communities in domestic and/or international settings; and practical skills in training, project development, research, and evaluation.

Frequently asked questions about the international education concentration.

Doctoral Degree: Education Policy and Leadership Concentration - Educational Leadership Specialization

The specialization in Educational Leadership is intended for individuals with various PK-12 experiences (for example, teachers, counselors, school or district leaders, education agency personnel). Recognizing the centrality of educational policy in educational practice, the program seeks to help current and aspiring practitioners, policy analysts, academics, and researchers to (1) critically examine and synthesize theories, research, practices, and policies, and (2) conduct research. Because many courses are taken with peers whose work has been in higher or international education, educational leadership students are able to expand their perspectives beyond U.S. PK–12 education to gain insight regarding leadership, organizational change and school reform, policy and politics, curriculum, and evaluation.

The program is flexible, and because education is a professional field derived from various academic disciplines, students are encouraged to take courses outside the College of Education. However, although most of our courses are held in the late afternoon, we ask that applicants commit to arranging their work schedules for at least one semester so that they can take morning or early afternoon courses that are offered in other programs and schools.

Application materials can be found on the UMass Amherst Graduate School website.