Doctoral Program in Public Administration
- Mission Statement
- Objectives of the PhD Program
- Admission Information
- Financial Aid
- PhD Requirements
- PhD Course Summary Sheet (PDF)
- PhD Coursework
- The Comprehensive Written Examinations
- The Comprehensive Oral Examination and Advancement to PhD Candidacy
- The Dissertation
- The Doctoral Student/Advisor Relationship
- SPAA Doctoral Program Policies
- Student Travel Funding
- The Research Seminar Program
- Financial Support and Student Obligations
- The Responsible and Ethical Conduct of Research
- Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Policies
- Accommodations for Students with Disabilities
- Miscellaneous KU Resources
- Contact Information
The mission of the doctoral program in the KU School of Public Affairs and Administration is to provide advanced graduate education in theory and research in order to prepare students for academic and research careers in public administration, as well as professional careers in advanced practice of public administration.
KU SPAA doctoral students are expected to:
- Assist in research being conducted by a public administration faculty member;
- Serve as teaching assistants to gain experience and contribute to the production function of the School;
- Co-author a refereed article with a faculty member;
- Present a scholarly paper at a national conference.
Admission to the PhD program is based on the applicant's undergraduate and/or graduate academic record, standardized test scores, and references from instructors. All applicants must have completed a bachelor’s degree. A completed MPA or equivalent degree is a preferred admissions requirement, although students without the MPA or equivalent may be admitted. Students without an MPA or equivalent degree are required to complete University of Kansas core MPA requirements as part of their doctoral studies.
A completed application must include:
- An application to the Office of Graduate Studies (click here to go to the application)
- The Graduate Record Examination results—verbal, quantitative, and analytical. (Note: there is no minimum score requirement).
- A resume
- A two page statement of goals and research interests, including evidence of research aptitude and interest
- A writing sample that reflects the applicant’s interest in and potential to conduct research
- Three letters of recommendation, preferably from faculty members who can comment upon the applicant's potential as a doctoral student. Letters must be accompanied by the PhD evaluation and waiver form, and applicants must sign the form on the second page. Letters and forms can be mailed to the postal address below or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- A nonrefundable application fee
- One official transcript from the degree-granting college or university and any post-graduate college or university attended. To be considered official, a transcript should be sent via hard copy or electronically directly from the college or university. (Note: The copy uploaded by the applicant as part of the online application is NOT considered an official transcript.)
- An interview may be required
- International students are also required to submit TOEFL scores from an examination administered no more than two years prior to the date of application. To access Minimum English Proficiency Requirements, click here.
- Requirements regarding immigration and a financial statement are available at the Office of International Student Services: (http://www.ku.edu/~issfacts/).
All of the above materials must be received before the application for admission can be considered.
If the applicant wishes to be considered for fall admission and financial aid, the application file must be completed by January 25 for the fall semester.
Send all application materials to:
The School of Public Affairs and Administration
Attn: Doctoral Admissions
1445 Jayhawk Blvd, 4060 Wescoe Hall
Lawrence, KS 66045
Financial aid for doctoral students is available through the School and also through the University of Kansas. Applicants who submit their materials by February 1st will be automatically considered for financial aid offered by the School. To apply for financial aid through the University, contact the Office of Student Financial Aid.Back to top
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 P.A. “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 is to be 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)
- 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,
- 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.
II. Public Administration 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.
III. 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.
IV. 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.Back to top
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.Back to top
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).
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.
A PhD advisor is crucial to a successful career as a PhD student. The importance of the advisor cannot be overstated. Advisors provide guidance on research ideas, help to provide direction and coherence to the student’s program of independent research, coordinate the dissertation research plan, help to find funding for dissertation research, ensure that a dissertation is successfully completed, and coordinate the job search.
Students should seek out and cultivate a scholarly relationship with an advisor as soon as possible in their student career. The primary basis for selecting an advisor is the advisor’s “fit” with the student’s academic interests. An equally important consideration is the ability of the student and advisor to work together productively.
Although advisors play a critical role in students’ scholarly development, students have an equally significant responsibility to remain in ongoing communication with advisors, respond to advisors’ advice, and report progress, especially during the critical period after the completion of coursework
Reasonable Progress Policy
KU has a Reasonable Progress Policy that outlines performance expectations that doctoral students must meet in order to remain in the program in good standing. This policy can be found here.
Annual Performance Assessment
Each doctoral student is evaluated annually using two forms: a self-assessment, which can be found, a faculty assessment, which can be located here, a PhD course worksheet, which can be found here; and a CV, the template for which can be found here. Doctoral candidates are only required to submit their CVs.
Post-Comp Enrollment Requirements: https://documents.ku.edu/policies/Graduate_Studies/doctoralcandidacy.htm
SPAA doctoral students can apply for conference travel funding. Funding is available from several sources within the University. Travel is reimbursed up to a maximum allowable amount after the student travels. Students must submit appropriate receipts to the School travel officer in order to receive reimbursement.
SPAA Travel Grant: Students are eligible to receive up to $650 in travel funding. To apply, click here for an application. The application must be signed by your advisor, the SPAA Doctoral Director and the SPAA School Director.
Graduate Scholarly Presentation Travel Fund: maximum award of $500. Click on this link for application instructions: http://www.graduate.ku.edu/graduate-scholarly-presentation-travel-fund
The School hosts a research seminar coordinated by the faculty. The seminars serve as a forum for presentation of work-in-progress (which is to say, preliminary papers from students’ and faculty members’ ongoing research programs). Students should expect to attend the seminars and should anticipate presenting their research in them.
SPAA strives to provide ongoing financial support for PhD students who are making normal progress toward their degree. The level of support may vary and is subject to SPAA’s budgetary exigencies.
Unless special arrangements have been made, financial support from SPAA is contingent on students’ working exclusively on PhD coursework and research. This means that funded PhD students are ordinarily prohibited from carrying outside employment.
Financial support typically comes in two forms: Research Assistantships and Teaching Assistantships. When the primary assignment is a Research Assistantship, the student’s obligation is to the faculty member who is directing the Research Assistantship; the student should carry out the tasks assigned by the faculty member, up to the number of hours per week allocated for the position. Evaluations of the student’s work are the primary responsibility of the faculty member in charge of the position. When the primary assignment is a Teaching Assistantship, the student’s obligation is to SPAA and the students in the course(s). Evaluation of the student Teaching Assistant is the primary responsibility of the School Director.
Ongoing financial support is contingent on normal progress toward the PhD degree. At the end of each semester, the Doctoral Committee, in conjunction with advice from SPAA’s graduate faculty, assesses each student’s progress toward the degree. Ordinarily, “normal progress” is contingent on having no more than one grade of “incomplete” at any time, passing PhD prelim exams by the start of the fourth academic year in residence, successfully defending a dissertation proposal within thirty days of successful completion of the prelim exams, and certification of progress on the dissertation by the advisor. Additionally, funding is contingent on satisfactory completion of obligations assigned as part of the GTA or RA positions.
Research in Public Administration typically involves the use of “human subjects” as defined by federal regulations and University rules. In order to conduct their research, therefore, virtually all PhD students in Public Administration must gain University certification for compliance with regulations governing human subjects. Please see the University website concerning these regulations and the process for gaining certification: http://www.rcr.ku.edu/hscl/
More broadly, the University requires training in the responsible conduct of research before sitting for comprehensive PhD exams, and SPAA provides this training as part of our core research methods courses.
The University and SPAA seek to foster a diverse and welcoming learning environment. We prohibit discrimination and sexual harassment of and by our faculty and students. If you have a concern about discrimination or sexual harassment, please speak with the school director, the SPAA Doctoral Director, or any faculty member with whom you feel comfortable discussing the issue. You may also contact the KU Office of Human Resources and Equal Opportunity. Please see the following links for additional information:
Additionally, as part of our effort to foster a diverse and welcoming learning environment, we seek to comply with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and seek to accommodate the needs of students with disabilities. If your learning would be enhanced by an accommodation, please speak with the department chair or PhD director and consult with the KU Academic Achievement and Access Center in order to determine an appropriate accommodation. See the following link:
The KU libraries, taken together, are an outstanding research collection. Most materials of interest to public administration students will be found in the Watson, Anschutz, and Green Law libraries, all of which are on the main campus within walking distance of Blake Hall.
The library catalog may be searched online, and most journals are available in electronic format via the library catalog or the library’s electronic databases. Useful databases for article searches are ArticleFirst and JSTOR.
KU Research & Graduate Studies offers links to some resources regarding housing at: http://www.graduate.ku.edu/student/housing/
International Student Services: http://www2.ku.edu/~issfacts/
KU Graduate Student Support Services
Although the following link is hosted by the Applied English Center, the resources offered are not limited to non-native speakers. For instance, there are resources on thesis/dissertation writing and psychological services, among other things. http://www.aec.ku.edu/grad/index.html
The Graduate Writing Program
The Graduate Writing Program supports the international, research and graduate missions of the University of Kansas by fostering excellence in the writing of graduate students and scholars at the University of Kansas (KU). The Graduate Writing Program (GWP) fulfills this mission by offering interdisciplinary courses, university-wide and department-specific workshops, and semester-long individualized tutorials that model the writing skills and research strategies graduate students need for successful careers at KU and beyond. Today the full range of GWP instructional offerings helps students to produce their best scholarly and creative work, to participate more fully in their academic and professional communities, and to successfully complete their degrees. In this way we provide a vital service to the campus community. http://web.ku.edu/~gwsp/index.shtml
Contact the Doctoral Program Director, Rosemary O'Leary at email@example.com.