Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Higher Education (2020)

NOTE: This sequence of coursework will begin in spring 2020 and become standard for the cohort beginning in summer 2020. All students (current and newly admitted) will be on A-B-C segments for summer and fall 2019, then switch in January 2020 to the course sequence found here.

For more information: (626) 815-5349

The Doctor of Philosophy in Higher Education is a research degree program consisting of 60 units of coursework, inclusive of dissertation. It primarily develops scholars who are able to conduct original research and interpret and communicate the results of that research through their writing, teaching, and leadership. The dissertation for the Ph.D. involves original research that extends the theoretical knowledge base of higher education policy and practice.


Students are admitted to the program once a year, with coursework beginning in July of the admission year. The program requires students to complete their coursework on the Azusa campus during two-week visits in early January and again in July each year for four years, or until the dissertation is completed. In addition, all students are assigned to a research team when beginning the second year of the program. Students are expected to attend meetings required of their research team, which may be held in conjunction with a designated conference. In May of the second year of the program, all students are expected to travel internationally as part of the required course HED 722 Global Policy Analysis in Higher Education. All in-country travel costs are included in tuition; students are responsible for purchasing their own international airfare.

Sequence of Courses

The Ph.D. is a sequenced program of courses with only 2 units of electives. Because this program is designed in a cohort model, students take courses together in January and July in a specified sequence as follows:

Year 1
Summer (24-week term)
HED 701Strengths-Oriented Leadership4
HED 702The Nature of Inquiry4
Spring (24-week term)
HED 703Critical Issues in Higher Education4
HED 705Student Access, Equity, and Success in College4
Year 2
Summer (24-week term)
HED 710Research Design and Statistics4
HED 721Diversity and Social Justice in Higher Education4
HED 760Research Seminar1
Elective 12
Spring (24-week term)
HED 711Qualitative Research Methods4
HED 722Global Policy Analysis in Higher Education4
HED 760Research Seminar1
Year 3
Summer (24-week term)
HED 724Teaching, Learning, and Assessment in Higher Education4
HED 725Administration in Higher Education4
HED 760Research Seminar1
Spring (24-week term)
HED 730Advanced Quantitative Methods4
or HED 731 Advanced Qualitative Research
HED 732Leading Change in Higher Education4
HED 760Research Seminar1
HED 791Dissertation Proposal I1
Year 4
Summer (24-week term)
HED 792Dissertation Proposal II1
Spring (24-week term)
HED 794Dissertation Research I2
Year 5
Summer (24-week term)
HED 795Dissertation Research II2
Total Units60

Program of Study

The program requires 60 units beyond the master’s degree, inclusive of dissertation; most courses are 4 units, with some 2- and 1-unit courses. Some elective courses are offered in conjunction with travel to professional conferences. The required research seminars (HED 760) each term meet between sessions, often in conjunction with professional conferences. Read the complete course descriptions for more information.

Dissertation Courses

The dissertation proposal process begins in the third year, as students take HED 791 (1 unit) and HED 792 (1 unit) while they write the first three chapters of their dissertation. If students do not successfully defend their dissertation proposal in HED 792, they enroll in HED 790 for 2 units each term until the proposal is successfully defended. Once students successfully defend their dissertation proposal, they enroll in HED 794 for one semester (2 units) and then in HED 795 (2 units) for each semester thereafter until the dissertation has been successfully defended. Enrollment in these courses entitles a student access to faculty and university resources, including library databases and the services of the doctoral research librarian. Continuous enrollment in dissertation courses is required until the dissertation is successfully defended. Students are considered enrolled full time from the proposal (HED 791) through the completion of the dissertation (HED 795). Students are expected to come to campus for one week each term during the dissertation phase. Credit for dissertation courses is given for completion of the stated course objectives as outlined in the syllabus. Students who do not meet the designated course outcomes will not receive credit for the course and will be required to retake the course.

HED 791Dissertation Proposal I1
HED 792Dissertation Proposal II1
HED 794Dissertation Research I2
HED 795Dissertation Research II2

Independent Study

Students may petition to take an independent study course (HED 799) to substitute for an elective course.

Comprehensive Examinations

All students enrolled in the program must pass all of their comprehensive examinations before defending their dissertation proposal and advancing to candidacy. The purpose of the comprehensive exam process is to ensure that all students graduating from APU with a Ph.D. in Higher Education are able to articulate a thorough grasp of the critical issues and theories impacting the professional field. Accordingly, there are three key areas of the program’s learning outcomes that are assessed via this process:

  1. Social justice and diversity
  2. Leadership and change
  3. Student success

Students demonstrate each competency as follows:

  • Social justice and diversity: Students produce a “TED Talk” type of video per instructions.
  • Leadership and change: Students create an electronic leadership portfolio per instructions.
  • Student success: Students produce a creative design project per instructions.

Projects submitted for demonstration of the above competencies are due either April 15 or November 15 each year. Complete instructions are provided to students upon arrival to campus. Students have two opportunities to earn a passing score on a particular competency; failure of the second opportunity results in potential dismissal from the program.

Program Learning Outcomes

Students who successfully complete this program shall be able to:
  1. Conduct and disseminate original research that extends the theoretical knowledge base of higher education policy and practice and answers meaningful questions.
  2. Competently engage the critical issues and help shape the conversations that affect the future direction of higher education at the national and international levels.
  3. Lead effectively, collaboratively, and with vision.
  4. Articulate and evaluate a strengths-based approach to teaching, learning, and leadership development.
  5. Foster optimal learning in the students they serve, through effective pedagogy and institutional practices that are learning-centered.
  6. Articulate and evaluate a Christian perspective on effective leadership in higher education.
  7. Effectively address personal, institutional, and systemic injustices through competent policy analysis, formulation, and revision, as well as individual actions.