Higher Education Ph.D.

Earning a Ph.D. focused on higher education at the University of Amherst helps prepare graduates for careers as administrators, policymakers, researchers, and faculty members. Most importantly, our emphasis on scholarly practice helps graduates to support student success through evidence-based policies and interventions as well as rigorous empirical research. 

Our doctoral program is research and writing intensive. You’ll complete 42 credits of coursework and 10 dissertation credits. Along the way, you will develop a mastery of research methods and key issues and concepts in at least one major area of study within higher education ( e.g., student learning and development; social justice, oppression and diversity; assessment, evaluation, and research methods; policy, politics, and economics). Along the way, you will develop new methodological, theoretical, and analytical skills that will support you as you complete a comprehensive exam and then write a dissertation. 

Doctoral students in our Ph.D. program come from a range of backgrounds and professions. Some attend UMass full time (taking three courses each semester) while many attend part-time and work full-time at nearby higher education institutions.

Well before completing their degrees, our doctoral students become active members of the higher education research community. Many of our students publish their work individually or in collaboration with others, often in some of the most prestigious academic journals in the field of higher education. They also present at professional conferences individually, with other students, and in collaboration with faculty members. The conferences they attend include NASPA, ACPA, ASHE, AERA, and CIES.

If you aspire to be a scholar-practitioner in higher education while also moving into leadership roles as an administrator, policymaker, researcher or faculty member, we encourage you to apply.

For more information about the doctoral program, please contact Jennie Southgate, jsouthgate@educ.umass.edu. You can also sign up for a virtual information session to find out more information in a group Zoom session. Feel free to drop in with a question or stay for the whole session. Fall 2022 information sessions will be hosted on the following dates at 4:00 p.m. ET.   

  • Tuesday September 20
  • Tuesday October 18
  • Thursday November 10

Program of Study

Minimum Credit Requirements for the Doctoral Program: 52 credits (42 credits from coursework and 10 from dissertation credits)

Higher education doctoral students develop their programs of study in combination with their advisor and/or guidance committee, creating a set of goals and planning courses and experiences to meet these. Generally, however, the program of study for full-time students resembles the following:

Sample Full-Time Course of Study

Fall - Year 1

  • EDUC 643 Foundations of Higher Education (replaced by an elective for students with a masters degree in higher education) 3
  • EDUC 621 Managing Higher Education 3
  • Research Methods course 3
  • EDUC 717 Research in Higher Ed  (one-credit proseminar) 1

Spring - Year 1

  • EDUC 644 Critical Perspectives on Equity and Justice in Higher Education 3
  • Elective / Specialization Course 3
  • Research Methods course 3
  • EDUC 717 Research in Higher Ed (one-credit proseminar) 1

Fall - Year 2

  • EDUC 621B Race, Class & Gender in Higher Education OR EDUC 601 Student Development Theory 3
  • Elective / Specialization Course 3
  • Research Methods course 3
  • EDUC 717 Research in Higher Ed (one-credit proseminar) 1

Spring - Year 2

  • EDUC 697K Supporting Student Success 3
  • EDUC 642 Principles & Practices of Student Affairs OR EDUC 647B Higher Education Policy 3
  • Research Methods course 3
  • EDUC 717 Research in Higher Ed (one-credit proseminar) 1

Fall - Year 3

  • EDUC 717 Research in Higher Ed (taken for two credits; one-credit proseminar and one-credit independent study) 2
  • Additional Coursework as Needed and/or Dissertation Credits 10
  • Comprehensive Exam Preparation

52 credits

 

Sample Part-Time Course of Study

Fall - Year 1

  • EDUC 643 Foundations of Higher Education (replaced by an elective for students with a masters degree in higher education) 3
  • EDUC 621 Managing Higher Education 3
  • EDUC 717 Research in Higher Ed  (one-credit proseminar) 1

Spring - Year 1 

  • EDUC 644 Critical Perspectives on Equity and Justice in Higher Education 3
  • Research Methods course 3
  • EDUC 717 Research in Higher Ed (one-credit proseminar) 1

Fall - Year 2

  • EDUC 621B Race, Class & Gender in Higher Education OR EDUC 601 Student Development Theory 3
  • Research Methods course 3
  • EDUC 717 Research in Higher Ed  (one-credit proseminar) 1

Spring - Year 2 

  • EDUC 697K Supporting Student Success 3
  • EDUC 642 Principles & Practices of Student Affairs OR EDUC 647B Higher Education Policy 3
  • EDUC 717 Research in Higher Ed (one-credit proseminar) 1

Fall - Year 3

  • Research Methods course 3
  • Elective / Specialization Course 3
  • EDUC 717 Research in Higher Ed (one-credit proseminar) 1

Spring - Year 3

  • Research Methods course 3
  • Elective / Specialization Course 3
  • EDUC 717 Research in Higher Ed (one-credit proseminar) 1

Fall - Year 4 (if needed)

  • Additional Coursework as Needed and/or Dissertation Credits 10
  • Comprehensive Exam Preparation

52 credits

As can be noted in the sample part-time schedule, students continue to enroll in EDUC 717 Research in Higher Ed until they have successfully defended their comprehensive exams. Doctoral students can register for dissertation credits at any point as long as they enroll in at least ten (10) credits prior to graduation; for most students, it is advisable to enroll in these credits early in their program of study.

Research Requirements

As a higher ed doctoral student, you’ll take at least four research methods courses, with at least two quantitative and at least one qualitative. Possible research courses include:

Qualitative Courses

Course Description Credits
EDUC 6193 Qualitative Research Methods 3
EDUC 794D Seminar in Discourse Analysis 3
EDUC 797A Qualitative Data Analysis 3
EDUC 819 Alternative Research Methods in International Education 3

Quantitative Courses

Course Description Credits
EDUC 555  Introduction to Statistics I 3
EDUC 656 Introduction to Statistics II 3
EDUC 650 Regression Analysis 3
EDUC 671 Survey Research Methods 3
EDUC 676 Secondary Data Analysis 3
EDUC 731 Structural Equation Modeling 3
EDUC 785 Social Network Analysis 3

doctoral student listening to poster presentation

Comprehensive Exam

The comprehensive examination consists of two components: an applied research paper and two applied analysis papers in which you respond to questions you prepare with your committee. Together, these papers give you the opportunity to demonstrate mastery of the knowledge, skills and expertise necessary for conducting dissertation research in this multidisciplinary applied field. You will be required to demonstrate your knowledge of the research process as well as key issues and concepts in at least one major area of study within higher education.

Dissertation

Whereas the comprehensive exam allows you to demonstrate a breadth of knowledge about higher education, the dissertation is your opportunity to demonstrate depth of knowledge in one particular area of higher education. The dissertation is a highly individualized endeavor representing the area in which you will become an expert and generate new knowledge for the field. In close coordination with your dissertation adviser, you will design, execute, and report on a major research study. You will also form a three-person faculty committee to advise and validate this scholarly work. The process begins with your dissertation proposal, which your committee must approve. You’ll then conduct research, write the dissertation, and defend it before the committee.

For more details on the doctoral program course of study, consult the Higher Education Program Handbook.

Admissions

Admissions Process

The admissions process for the doctoral program is intended to help both program applicants and faculty determine if the program represents a good fit. We encourage applicants to ask themselves “why now?” “why this program?” and “what will I contribute to the field when done?” as they prepare application materials. Embarking on a doctoral program means shifting from being a consumer of knowledge to being a producer of knowledge. Before you apply, you should be able to articulate your broad research agenda, even if you haven’t identified specific questions you want to pursue. In the admissions process, you will communicate your vision of how you will add to scholarship and practice. Please note that as a program we are particularly interested in applications from candidates who describe how their work will challenge and re-envision the norms and assumptions of higher education.

The higher education faculty reviews all of the application materials and selects a pool of finalists based on overall program fit. As a program, we feel that we are particularly well-positioned to support doctoral students interested in topics such as: student success; critical and social justice perspectives on higher education; student learning and development; and higher education policy. Once finalists are identified, they are then invited to an interview with two admissions committee members, where they discuss their interest in UMass and in higher education, their interests, and what they can contribute to the program. Following the interview process, we notify applicants of admissions decisions in late February or early March.

Please note that, while a limited number of assistantships may be available for full-time students, the higher education faculty makes admissions decisions prior to and independent from decisions about assistantships. Paid assistantships include full tuition credit, excellent health benefits, and pay in excess of $30/hour, 10-30 hours/week.

Admission Requirements

The deadline for submission of all required application materials is January 2.

Priority Deadline: December 1. We will continue to review applications until the final College of Education application deadline (January 2). However, we encourage applicants to apply by the December 1 deadline in order to obtain first priority for full consideration into the Higher Education concentration.

  • Admission to the program is highly selective.
  • We strongly recommend that you have experience working in the field of higher education.
  • A master’s degree is required for admission, but this master’s need not be in higher education.
  • The GRE is not required

Application Requirements

  • Online Graduate Admissions Application
  • A minimum of two letters of recommendation
  • Official transcript(s) from all colleges/universities you’ve attended, undergraduate and graduate, where you completed 6 or more credits
  • A personal statement that tells us why you are interested in pursuing a doctorate in higher education, and why this is the right program for you
  • Application fee

For more information about the application process, visit Graduate School Admissions.

For more information about the doctoral program, contact Jennie Southgate.