VCU Bulletins

Public Policy and Administration, Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree requirements

The doctoral program is structured around a core curriculum and several areas of concentration. The curriculum is designed to provide a sound intellectual foundation for the pursuit of scholarly research in certain areas of public policy. These areas include health policy, education policy, urban and regional policy, public administration and criminal justice policy.

Students take a minimum of 36 credits, or 12 courses, in addition to any prerequisites that might be necessary. Five of these courses are part of the core and four are concentration courses; the remaining three comprise dissertation credits. Required courses generally will be available on an evening or weekend schedule.

Course work in the Ph.D. program has a strong orientation toward research, both applied and theoretical. Where appropriate, course work may be linked to funded university projects or to external agency-based analytical work. Courses emphasize research, writing and presentation skills.

Core curriculum

PPAD 711 Seminar in Public Policy I
PPAD 712 Seminar in Public Policy II
PPAD 721 Survey of Applied Research Methods in Public Policy
PPAD 722 Survey of Data Analysis Techniques for Public Policy
PPAD 780 Synthesizing Seminar in Public Policy


In addition to the core, all students will take four courses in one of the following areas of concentration:

The remaining courses will be selected from a list designated by the concentration committee for each area. The concentration committee will approve the program of study for each student in the concentration.

Qualifying examinations

After completing all of the core courses in the Ph.D. program, each student takes a comprehensive qualifying examination on the core. The examination is designed to evaluate the mastery students have achieved over the body of knowledge represented by the core. It is intended to measure the ability of students to organize, integrate and creatively apply the knowledge in the field to important problems. Although organized around the courses in the core, the examination is not restricted to material covered in those courses. It is expected that doctoral students will read well beyond the confines of individual courses.

In order to continue in the program, students must attempt the qualifying examination no later than the next regular semester following their completion of the core course requirements, and they must pass the exam by the end of the second regular semester after completing the core course requirements. A student may attempt the examination twice. Examinations are offered twice per year.

A student also must take a comprehensive examination in the concentration. Each student, under the direction of the adviser, will prepare a reading list on the concentration or on a significant portion thereof. The student will then take an oral examination with his or her adviser based upon the reading list. A student may attempt the examination twice. Exams are scheduled at the convenience of the student and the adviser. Each student must pass this second examination before defending a dissertation proposal.


After completing the qualifying examination and course work for the concentration, students must prepare a dissertation involving original research that contributes to the body of knowledge in the field. A committee approved by the director of the program supervises the dissertation work. The chair of the committee must be a core or affiliate faculty member of the Ph.D. program.

The first formal step in the dissertation process is the development and defense of a dissertation prospectus that frames the problem to be studied, provides background on the problem, presents a review of relevant literature and justifies the methodology to be used. The defense of the prospectus as well as the completed dissertation must be done orally to the dissertation committee. The dissertation defense is conducted in a forum open to other students and to faculty.


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Last update: 11/22/2013

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