Apr 14, 2024  
2013-2014 CU Denver Catalog 
2013-2014 CU Denver Catalog [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Public Affairs PhD

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  Graduate School Rules  apply to this program

Program Director: Tanya Heikkila, PhD



Kathleen Beatty, PhD, Washington State University
Lloyd Burton, PhD, University of California, Berkeley
Mary Dodge, PhD, University of California, Irvine

Angela Gover, PhD, University of Maryland
Mary Guy, PhD, University of South Carolina
Richard Stillman, PhD, Syracuse University

Paul Stretesky, PhD, Florida State University
Paul Teske, PhD, Princeton University

Associate Professors:

Brian Gerber, PhD, Stony Brook University
Jody Fitzpatrick, PhD, University of Texas, Austin
Allan Wallis, PhD, City University Graduate Center
Christine Martell, PhD, Indiana University
Jessica Sowa, PhD, Syracuse University
Tanya Heikkila, PhD, University of Arizona

Callie Rennison, PhD, University of Houston

Chris Weible, PhD, University of California-Davis


Assistant Professors:

Todd Ely, New York University

Danielle M. Varda, PhD, University of Colorado Denver

Lonnie Schaible, PhD, Washington State University

Benoy Jacob, PhD, University of Illinois at Chicago


Research Professor:

Stephen Block, PhD, University of Colorado


Clinical Professor:

Malcolm Goggin, PhD, Stanford University

Professor Emeritus:
John Buechner, PhD, University of Michigan


The School of Public Affairs offers a program of advanced graduate study leading to the doctor of philosophy in public affairs. The program, based on the Denver campus, permits elective work to be taken on any campus of the university if it is part of the approved program of study or degree plan.

The doctoral program was developed to meet the need for people with mastery in the scholarly theory, concepts and research skills of public administration, public policy and public management, and who are able to use such skills in careers of research, teaching and analysis of public-sector challenges. The PhD is designed to prepare students for leadership responsibilities in academia, research and public policy analysis. Accordingly, the PhD stresses the development of theoretical, conceptual and methodological knowledge in public administration, policy and management.


The doctoral program is primarily designed to serve (1) people who desire to further the field of public policy and public and nonprofit management through teaching and research; (2) scholar-practitioners working in government, private-sector organizations concerned with government and nonprofit organizations; and (3) policy analysts in government, private-sector organizations concerned with government and nonprofit organizations.

Time Required for PhD Degree

The PhD program requires an intense commitment. Most courses and seminars are offered during the late afternoon, in the evenings or on an intensive basis. (Some electives are offered online, but core courses are not.) Anyone starting the PhD program with a master’s degree in public administration can expect to take at least three but no more than eight years to complete all of the requirements for the PhD.  Any student entering the program with no prior graduate work in public administration, public policy or management should expect additional course requirements.

PhD Admission Requirements

Admission to the program is based on the personal and professional qualifications of the applicant. It is desirable that an applicant have a master’s degree in public administration or a closely related field before undertaking doctoral work. Applicants should have a 3.5 GPA or above in master-level course work, as well as GRE scores that are, at a minimum, above the 50th percentile ranking in both the quantitative and verbal sections. Successful applicants will also show the potential for productive careers in scholarship, research and analysis.

Meeting the minimum thresholds listed above does not assure admission. In unusual cases, students who fail to meet the thresholds may be admitted if high academic skills are demonstrated in other ways.

PhD Application Process

Applicants must submit the following items to the SPA office before they can be formally considered for admission. The application deadline is February 1; admitted students will begin in the fall semester.

  • application forms
  • official transcripts (two copies) from all degree granting institutions
  • GRE scores (no more than five years old)
  • a resume or vita
  • three letters of reference attesting to a candidate’s academic promise
  • a well-articulated statement of purpose demonstrating an understanding of the research orientation of the degree and a strong motivation and determination to successfully complete the program

In addition, students may also submit samples of research reports or publications.

Applicants whose native language is not English are required to submit TOEFL or IELTS scores.  This requirement may be waived for applicants who have completed a baccalaureate or graduate-level degree program at an English-speaking college or university.  In addition, applicants whose native language is not English are required to participate in an oral interview to demonstrate English language skills sufficient to succeed in a rigorous American doctoral program.

All application materials will be retained by SPA and will not be returned. A personal meeting with the PhD director or other faculty member is recommended.

Financial Assistance

For excellent candidates, SPA will fund a small number of doctoral research assistantships each year based on financial availability. Students selected will receive a full-tuition waiver as well as a stipend of $15,000 for the academic year. SPA’s goal is to provide such funding for students for at least three years.


Degree Requirements

Course Work

A total of 36 semester hours of course work is required past a master’s degree in public administration or a related degree. In some cases, additional prerequisite courses may be required to assure adequate preparation for doctoral studies. All PhD students are required to take a minimum of 6 semester hours of course work in both the fall and spring semesters, until their course work requirements are met, if they wish to maintain their full-time student status.

Total: 12 Hours

During the next year, doctoral students are required to take the following methods classes:

Total: 9 Hours

Additional Coursework: 

In addition to the three methods classes listed above (8050, 8060, and 8070), students must take an approved qualitative methods course of the student’s own choosing.  Depending on the student’s interest, topics might include qualitative methodology, administrative law, geographical information systems, or social network analysis.  In addition, all PhD students must complete four elective courses relevant to the student’s dissertation plans.  With approval of the PhD director, students may apply up to 9 semester hours of graded graduate-level credit taken at other universities toward their elective courses.


Preliminary Exam, Colloquium and Dissertation

In addition to course work, PhD students must pass a preliminary exam in the testing cycle or semester immediately following the completion of their core courses.  Students are also required to complete and defend, before a faculty committee, a dissertation that makes a significant contribution to the literature and theory of public administration, management or policy.  Prior to starting the dissertation, students must successfully pass a colloquium (comprehensive exam) that demonstrates their preparation for conducting dissertation research.  At the colloquium, a doctoral student presents a dissertation proposal to SPA faculty and students, and to his or her dissertation committee.

Students are advanced to candidacy for the PhD once they have completed all required course work and examinations, have successfully presented their research colloquium and have been certified for candidacy by his/her doctoral committee. After students are formally advanced to candidacy, they must register for a total of 30 hours of dissertation research credit to complete the PhD. Each fall and spring semester, students are expected to register for 5 semester hours of dissertation research; if unable to register for at least 5 semester hours, students must request a leave of absence from the PhD program until able to complete the minimum dissertation requirement. Students may take up to two semesters’ leave of absence before they are disenrolled from the program. Students then would need to reapply to the program.

Further details on the program can be found in the Handbook for the Doctor of Philosophy in Public Affairs Program, available from the SPA office or online at http://spa.ucdenver.edu.

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