This degree is part of the higher education program, housed in the Department of Educational Leadership & Policy Analysis.

The mission of the doctor of philosophy with an emphasis in higher education is to prepare graduates for research and teaching (i.e., faculty) positions in higher education programs, centers, and departments, as well as practitioner-leader positions in the variety of institutions and organizations in which postsecondary education plays a central role.

The higher education faculty are nationally recognized experts in college student development, administration, college access, faculty work, diversity issues in higher education and higher education policy. They regularly publish in top journals in the field and present their scholarship at national and international conferences, including the Association for the Study of Higher Education, the American Educational Research Association, and the Association for Education Finance and Policy.

Classes are mainly taught in seminar formats. This provides opportunities for students to enhance their communication skills and discuss empirical and theoretical work. Courses typically include case studies, presentations, papers, debates and reflection. These experiences are intended to help students meet the learning objectives of the program.

Learning Objectives

Through the program, students will gain the knowledge to:

  • Examine the relationship of society and education through a variety of theoretical perspectives and empirical studies;
  • Understand issues of diversity, equity and social justice as they apply to higher education;
  • Gain an understanding of the political context in which educators work and how these relationships play out across local, state and federal levels.

Through the program, students will have the skills to:

  • Conceptualize and complete rigorous research projects as independent scholars using qualitative, quantitative and/or mixed-methods approaches;
  • Analyze higher educational organizations from a variety of perspectives and theories;
  • Become critical leaders and scholars in the field of higher education;
  • Apply theory to practice in higher education and to examine the relationship of society and education through a variety of theoretical perspectives and empirical studies;
  • Describe the ways in which postsecondary leadership roles and processes may be influenced by political ideologies, globalization and cultural diversity;
  • Communicate ideas clearly and within the standard practices of the field.

Degree Requirements

Doctoral candidates complete a minimum of 60 credit hours by selecting courses with their advisers, which will most fully meet their individual needs. At least 16 hours must be taken at the 8000- or 9000-level or above, exclusive of research and independent study hours.

The degree includes:

Core Courses in ELPA (15 credit hours):

  • ED LPA 9400: Social Theory in Education
  • ED LPA 9401: Educational Leadership
  • ED LPA 9402: Educational Policy Analysis
  • ED LPA 9403: Organizational Analysis
  • ED LPA 9404: Inquiry into ELPA (pro-seminar)

Core Research Courses (15 credit hours minimum):

  • ESC PS 8850: Quantitative Foundations in Educational Research (or its equivalent)
  • ESC PS 8957: Qualitative Methods in Educational Research I (or its equivalent)
  • ED LPA 9409: Introduction to Research Design
  • Two advanced research methods courses

Foundational Emphasis Area Courses (9 hours minimum)

  • Sociology of Education (required)

And two classes from these options:

  • History of U.S. Ed Policy
  • Politics of Ed & Policy Implementation
  • Comparative and Int’l Ed
  • Admin & Gove of Ed Institutions
  • Economics of Education

Focus Area Courses (15 hours minimum):

Each student will design an additional focus area in consultation with their advisor. Students are strongly encouraged to take some courses or create one focus area outside of ELPA. Focus areas may cover topics such as social justice and equity, immigrants and education, or educational law and reform. Courses taken for graduate certificates, such education policy studies or qualitative research, may be included in a focus area.

Dissertation Hours (six hours minimum and until graduation):

  • ED LPA 9090: Research in ELPA

Learn more about individual courses in ELPA.

Residency and Transfer Credits

Students must complete residency requirements. To do so, they must take either two 9-hour semesters or three 6-hour semesters consecutively.

A maximum of 6 semester hours of graduate-level graded course work completed at another accredited college or university offering an equivalent degree may be transferred subject to approval by the adviser, the department director of graduate studies and the Office of Graduate Studies.

Up to 12 hours earned as a post-baccalaureate graduate student at MU may be applied to the degree pending admission to the program and approval of program faculty.

Learn more about credit transfer.

Exams and Dissertation

Doctoral students must successfully complete qualifying and comprehensive exams. The format for comprehensive examinations can vary and is determined by students’ committees. A dissertation and a final defense are also required of all candidates.

Assistantships, Scholarships & Fellowships

ELPA will consider applications for departmental graduate assistantships when funding is available.  These positions are intended for full-time students and involve assisting faculty with research and/or teaching. An offer of a graduate assistantship typically comes with an expectation of 20 hours of work a week, a monthly stipend, and tuition remission. Assistantships must be renewed on an annual basis. Some positions may be for a semester and some for the Fall and Spring. For applicants to receive full consideration, please submit your ELPA assistantship application by January 15 (e.g., submit by January 15, 2025, for an assistantship in 2025-2026).

The College of Education offers a variety of competitive scholarships for newly admitted and continuing graduate students: Mizzou Ed graduate financial assistance.

Top candidates for admission into ELPA graduate programs may be nominated for Graduate School fellowships.




The deadlines for both the application to the program and the ELPA Assistantship Application are January 15th (by 11:59 Central Time).
Coursework begins the Fall semester of the same year.

Admission Requirements

Beginning January 1, 2020, a Graduate Record Examination (GRE) score is not required for admission.

  • GPA of 3.0 (4.0 scale) in the last 60 hours of undergraduate education from a regionally accredited institution
  • GPA of 3.5 (4.0 scale) in graduate studies (master’s degree) from a regionally accredited institution
  • Evidence of consistency between candidate’s and the program’s goals
  • Minimum scores accepted by the MU Graduate School for TOEFL, IELTS, PTE, or the Cambridge C1 Advanced exams for non-native English speakers
  • Three letters of recommendation (at least 2 of which should be from faculty who instructed or academically advised the applicant). Instructions will be provided through the Graduate School application process.

Any exceptions to the above must be justified.

How to Apply

For more information about this program, contact us:

Department of Educational Leadership & Policy Analysis