Undergraduate Nicole Humphrey explores the Kansas State Capitol during her UGRA presentation at the Kansas Undergraduate Research Day at the Capitol.

Ph.D. Program

The mission of the Ph.D. 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.

Preparing students for academic careers

Our Ph.D. program prepares researchers to enter academia or pursue careers that involve cutting edge and innovative research in public affairs, policy, planning, and management/governance.

Students are advised by accomplished faculty members with research expertise and experience. In addition to our traditional strengths in public administration, our faculty specialize in:

  • Decision-making, discretion and accountability in organizational and network contexts.
  • Law, policy and practice.
  • Gender, race and ethnicity.
  • Sustainable and resilient communities.
  • Transportation planning and environmental justice.
  • Urban planning, equity, and governance.
  • Information technology and data governance.
  • Election administration.
  • Collaborative governance and management.

Successful Ph.D. applicants are clear about their research interests and why the School of Public Affairs and Administration is the best place to pursue their research. 

Our graduates have been hired into tenure-track positions at universities such as American University, University of Michigan, and Arizona State University.

Admissions Deadlines

  • Fall admission: Jan. 5

  • Applicants will be notified of decisions in February

Admissions Information

Program information


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 public administration “canon.”

PA doctoral students are required to take the following foundational courses:

  • 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.


The PA doctorate emphasizes skill development in research methods.

PA doctoral students are required to take the following methods courses:

  • PUAD 934 Research Methods in Public Administration
  • PUAD 935, Advanced Quantitative Methods in Public Administration.

PA doctoral students are encouraged to take the following methods courses:

  • PUAD 937, Qualitative Methods in Public Administration
  • PUAD 936 Policy Analysis and Evaluation


Students also choose a primary area of specialization, consisting of at least 3 courses. The standard specializations are 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.


A student's cognate consists of a coherent series of courses outside the discipline of Public Administration.  In consultation with their academic advisor, students will craft cognates that are closely related to their areas of specialization and their research program.

Comprehensive written exams

Students who complete the required courses with a GPA of 3.0 or better may proceed to the preliminary written examinations. PA doctoral students are required to take two separate written exams: one covering foundations and the other their area of specialization.

Comprehensive oral exam and advancement to candidacy

Following the successful completion of the comprehensive written examinations, the student must satisfactorily complete a comprehensive oral examination and present a dissertation proposal in order to become a PhD candidate. The oral exam involves comprehensive questioning across the intellectual field and a close review of the student’s dissertation idea.


Students complete a dissertation which reports substantial original research in the field of Public Administration.


SPAA doctoral students develop teaching knowledge and skills through serving as graduate teaching assistants, attending departmental teaching workshops and utilizing campus resources such as the Center for Teaching Excellence and the Center for Online & Distance Learning.


SPAA doctoral students develop research knowledge and skills through coursework, positions as graduate research assistants and departmental research workshops.

Learn more about this program

Get more info on admission, deadlines, tuition and financial aid, career paths, curriculum, and more when you fill out the form below. We’ll be in touch to answer any questions and help you get started.

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Questions about  Ph.D. Program?

Program details
Benjamin Merriman, Ph.D. Program Director

Application questions
Derek Bixler, Graduate Program Coordinator

Issues submitting application
KU Graduate Studies