Higher Education Ph.D.

The higher education doctoral program will not be accepting applications for Fall 2021 admission.  Information about applications for fall 2022 admission will be posted in summer 2021.

We regret this decision, but it is necessary due to the Covid-19 pandemic, resulting economic crisis, partial shutdown of our campus, and continued negative budget outlook. The College of Education has decided to prioritize funding for continuing students rather than newly admitted students. Combined with concerns about our ability to offer courses without a typically robust cohort and the resulting impact on the doctoral student experience, the faculty have made the hard decision to pause doctoral enrollments in the Higher Education program for one year. If you have additional questions, please contact Jennie Southgate (jsouthgate@educ.umass.edu). 

Higher education doctoral students are scholar practitioners preparing for careers as administrators, faculty members, researchers, and policymakers while making significant contributions to the scholarship of the field.

The doctoral program is research and writing intensive. You’ll complete 60 credits of coursework, developing a mastery of research methods and key issues and concepts in at least two specific areas of study within higher education (history; leadership, management and organization; law and ethics; student learning and development; academic affairs; social justice, oppression and diversity; assessment, evaluation, and research methods; and policy, politics, and economics). After completing your coursework, you’ll undertake a comprehensive exam and then write and defend a dissertation.

Our doctoral students come from a range of backgrounds and professions. Most attend UMass full time (taking three courses each semester), though some work full time, often in higher education institutions in the region, and take classes part time (two per semester). They move through the program in a cohort of 2-4 students, taking several classes as a group and serving as a source of support for each other throughout the doctoral process.

Well before completing their degrees, our doctoral students become active members of the higher education research community. They 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 leader in higher education while generating new knowledge through scholarly research, we encourage you to apply.

Course of Study

Minimum Credit Requirements for the Doctoral Program (60 credits)

Introduction To Inquiry (EDUC 739) 3 credits
Research in Higher Education – 4 semesters 12 credits
Research Courses 12 credits
Specialization Courses 15 credits
Dissertation 18 credits

First Year

During the first year of the doctoral program, you’ll work with an advisor to develop a program of study, creating a set of goals and planning courses and experiences to meet these.

You’ll take some of your courses with your fellow doctoral student class, in a supportive cohort. The first of these serves as an introduction to academic inquiry and doctoral-level research. You’ll also work together in a four-semester sequence of applied research courses, completing projects as mentees and then as mentors, as well as an individual research project.

Required First Year Courses

Introduction to Inquiry (EDUC 739)

In this seminar course, you and your fellow students will engage in sustained discussion about and reflection on the assumptions, theories, and practice of inquiry relevant for policy and leadership studies. You’ll be introduced to selected genres of inquiry in order to become intelligently conversant with a variety of approaches to research. This also gives you the opportunity to examine research conducted through differing methods in the four concentrations within the department: educational leadership; higher education; international education; and research, educational measurement, and psychometrics (REMP).

Research in Higher Education (EDUC 717)

This course is an applied research course, which you will take in each of the first four semesters. You and your fellow students will become part of a research team on a Center for Student Success Research project. In the first year, you will learn the basics of research design and methods in a team, and will contribute to the literature review, data collection, and/or data analysis. In your second year, you will serve as mentors to the first year students in the group, and will have more responsibility for project management, data collection, data analysis, and completion of a research paper for presentation and/or publication.

First Year Portfolio

At the end of the first year, you’ll assemble a portfolio of your writing from first-year courses—the original papers with instructors’ comments from each. You will then meet with your advisor and another faculty member to discuss your work and your future direction in the program.

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 790E Social Networking Analysis for Ed Leadership 3

Specialization Courses

You will fill out the remainder of your program of study with higher education specialization courses that provide context and expertise in the area you will further pursue in your dissertation. Sample Specialization Courses:

Course Description Credits
EDUC 601 College Student Development Theory 3
EDUC 615T Impact of College on Students 3
EDUC 674 Leading in Higher Education 3
EDUC 621 Managing in Higher Education 3
EDUC 723 Organizing Higher Education 3
EDUC 691A Assessment Practices in Higher Education 3
EDUC 642 Principles and Practices of Student Affairs 3
EDUC 621A Higher Education Finance 3
EDUC 621B Race, Class, and Gender in Higher Education 3
EDUC 683 Women in Higher Education 3
EDUC 689 The Academic Profession 3
EDUC 634 Strategies for Institutional Change 3

doctoral student listening to poster presentation

Comprehensive Exam

The comprehensive examination gives 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 two specific areas of study within higher education (history; leadership, management, and organization; law and ethics; student learning and development; academic affairs; social justice, oppression, and diversity; assessment, evaluation, and research methods; and policy, politics, and economics).

The 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.


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.

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


Admissions Process

The admissions process for the doctoral program is as much of a discernment process for applicants as it is a chance for the faculty to evaluate your readiness for doctoral work. We encourage applicants to ask themselves “why now?” “why UMass?” and “what will I contribute?” 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 not only add to the scholarship, but how you will change the landscape and how you 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. A key part of this process is ensuring that there is an alignment between an applicant's stated interests and a potential advisor's expertise. Please note that not all faculty plan to admit student in every admission cycle. More information about advisor research interests can be found on the faculty profile page. Once finalists are identified, they are then invited to an interview with two admissions committee members, either on campus or via Skype, where they discuss their interest in UMass and in higher education, their research interests, and what they can contribute to the program. They are also paired with a current student to learn their perspective on the program and the field.

In addition to the interview, applicants are asked to complete a higher education journal article critique. The faculty send a peer-reviewed article and the applicant writes a critique of the theories, research methods, and conclusions. This is an opportunity to showcase their critical thinking, writing, creativity, and knowledge of the field. The faculty on the admissions committee will do a blind review of the critique and factor these into their final evaluations. They notify applicants of admissions decisions in late February or early March.

The faculty makes admissions decisions prior to and independent from decisions about assistantships. Paid assistantships include full tuition credit, excellent health benefits, and pay of roughly $30/hour, 10-30 hours/week. 

Admission Requirements

  1. The deadline for submission of all required application materials is January 1. 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.

  2. Admission to the program is highly selective. 

  3. We strongly recommend that you have experience working in the field of higher education.

  4. A master’s degree is required for admission, but this master’s need not be in higher education.

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
  • The GRE is not required

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

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