This is a named option in the Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis PhD.

The Department's focus is to develop a knowledge base that includes an understanding of the institutional context of higher education, academic leadership, culture and governance, and student services administration. Program faculty have expertise in a variety of institutional types and educational contexts, including research universities, historically black colleges and universities, community colleges, vocational technical colleges, adult learning in non-traditional settings, and the view that education should be approached as a K-16 system. Students receive a strong foundation in research methods (both qualitative and quantitative), and an understanding of the institutional dynamics and policy context of post-secondary education.

Students who have received their Ph.D. in Higher Education in our department have successfully pursued a wide range of leadership, faculty, and senior administrator and staff positions in colleges and universities across this country and the globe.  To illustrate, some graduates have gone on to become presidents of community colleges, four year colleges, major research universities, and liberal arts colleges.  Others have taken on a wide range of senior administrative and staff positions, such as vice-presidents of statewide systems of higher education, chief diversity officers, colleges and university provosts, and university-wide assessment directors.  Still others have taken on faculty and staff positions at a wide range of colleges and universities, including major research universities as well as regional colleges and universities. 

Please consult the table below for key information about this degree program’s admissions requirements. The program may have more detailed admissions requirements, which can be found below the table or on the program’s website.

Graduate admissions is a two-step process between academic programs and the Graduate School. Applicants must meet the minimum requirements of the Graduate School as well as the program(s). Once you have researched the graduate program(s) you are interested in, apply online.

Fall Deadline December 1
Spring Deadline The program does not admit in the spring.
Summer Deadline The program does not admit in the summer.
GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) Not required.
English Proficiency Test Every applicant whose native language is not English or whose undergraduate instruction was not in English must provide an English proficiency test score and meet the Graduate School minimum requirements (
Other Test(s) (e.g., GMAT, MCAT) n/a
Letters of Recommendation Required 3

Ph.D. applicants are required to upload the following items to the online application.

1. Essay statement. Each applicant must submit a "Reasons for Study" essay. As you prepare your responses, we invite you to review the information on our website to review the program literature, to talk with our alumni and current students, and to interact with members of the faculty and staff. Ph.D. applicants should address the following in an essay that does not exceed three pages (single or double spaced.)

  • What are your primary career goals and professional gaps you have identified as important for your intellectual and professional advancement over the next 5-10 years?
  • In what ways will these professional gaps be addressed through a doctoral program at UW-Madison?
  • Describe at least one research topic and/or project you plan to work on during your doctoral program.
  • As you will note, we are interested in developing and maintaining a diverse and engaged learning community. Please identify any unique or special contributions you will bring to this community.

A "Strong" essay is characterized by:

  • A clear, through, well-organized essay that expresses ideas in a detailed and engaging manner.
  • Addresses all components of the instructions.
  • Paragraphs signal the divisions of thought and sentences flow with ideas in a logical sequence.
  • No (or very few) noticeable errors in composition.
  • The articulation of clear scholarly interests that are consistent with the department's mission and that may expand knowledge within the field.

A "Satisfactory" essay is characterized by:

  • A detailed, well-organized essay.
  • Addresses all components of the instructions.
  • Paragraphs signal the major divisions of thought and sequence.
  • Few errors in composition.
  • The articulation of scholarly interests that are consistent with the department's mission.

A "Weak" essay is characterized by:

  • A well-organized but insufficiently detailed essay.
  • Addresses some, but not all, of the components of the instructions.
  • Paragraphs do not contain main topics.
  • A distracting number of errors in composition or spelling (i.e., more than two or three per page).
  • No articulation of scholarly interests.

2. Unofficial transcripts. Official transcripts will be requested prior to Graduate School admission.

3. Resume or CV.

4. Three letters of recommendation. We require recommendations from three (3) people who are qualified to evaluate the academic and professional competence of the applicants. When completing the online application, submit the names and emails of those requesting recommendation from; recommendations are sent electronically to your application.

5. Supporting document if required. Applicants who earned an undergraduate GPA below 3.00 or a graduate GPA below 3.5 should provide additional explanation/documentation to support their admission. In statement, explain why GPA does not accurately reflect high potential to serve in leadership roles. 

English proficiency requirements are required for international applicants. Test scores should be submitted to institution code 1846.

Graduate School Resources

Resources to help you afford graduate study might include assistantships, fellowships, traineeships, and financial aid. Further funding information is available from the Graduate School. Be sure to check with your program for individual policies and restrictions related to funding.

Minimum Graduate School Requirements

Review the Graduate School minimum academic progress and degree requirements, in addition to the program requirements listed below.

Named Option Requirements 


Face to Face Evening/Weekend Online Hybrid Accelerated
Yes Yes No No No

Mode of Instruction Definitions

Accelerated: Accelerated programs are offered at a fast pace that condenses the time to completion. Students typically take enough credits aimed at completing the program in a year or two.

Evening/Weekend: ​Courses meet on the UW–Madison campus only in evenings and/or on weekends to accommodate typical business schedules.  Students have the advantages of face-to-face courses with the flexibility to keep work and other life commitments.

Face-to-Face: Courses typically meet during weekdays on the UW-Madison Campus.

Hybrid: These programs combine face-to-face and online learning formats.  Contact the program for more specific information.

Online: These programs are offered 100% online.  Some programs may require an on-campus orientation or residency experience, but the courses will be facilitated in an online format.


Minimum Credit Requirement 75 credits
Minimum Residence Credit Requirement 32 credits
Minimum Graduate Coursework Requirement 51 out of 75 credits must be completed in graduate-level coursework; courses with the Graduate Level Coursework attribute are identified and searchable in the university's Course Guide; courses with the Graduate Level Coursework attribute are identified and searchable in the university's Course Guide (
Overall Graduate GPA Requirement 3.00 GPA required.
Other Grade Requirements The Graduate School requires that students maintain a graduate grade-point average (GPA) of 3.00 (on a 4.00 scale) for all graduate courses (excluding research) to receive a degree. Grades of Incomplete are considered to be unsatisfactory if they are not removed during the next enrolled semester.
Assessments and Examinations Doctoral students are required to take a comprehensive preliminary/oral examination after they have cleared their record of all Incomplete and Progress grades (other than research and thesis). Deposit of the doctoral dissertation in the Graduate School is required.
Language Requirements None.
Doctoral Minor/Breadth Requirements Doctoral students must complete a doctoral minor. See below for more information about the Minor requirement.

Required Coursework

Introduction to the Field6
These introductory courses lay the foundational framework for work in the department. The Doctoral Inquiry class, ELPA 810, is taken during the first semester of course work, and is required for all incoming Ph.D. students regardless of their area of interest. Students are strongly encouraged to take the second introductory course at the beginning of their studies as well.
Doctoral Inquiry in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis
Introduction to Higher and Post-Secondary Education
Core Knowledge12
The department believes that students in educational administration should be familiar with four program areas of knowledge: (1) Organizations and Planning; (2) Program and Instructional Leadership and Management; (3) Politics, Policy and Finance; and (4) Learning and Diversity.
Knowledge in each of these areas is focused on providing a theoretical and empirical research knowledge base to facilitate improvements in teaching and learning in educational organizations. Students should take one course from each program area. Students who have taken similar courses at other institutions and are transferring credits for those courses should take an advanced or related ELPA course in each area identified through consultation with their advisor.
Organizations and Planning (SELECT 1 COURSE)
Knowledge of classic and emerging theoretical approaches to organizations; Understanding and interpreting organizational experience; Decision making; Planning and evaluation; Key relationships between organizations and their environments.
Organizational Theory and Behavior in Education
Theory and Practice of Educational Planning
Program and Instructional Leadership and Management (SELECT 1 COURSE)
Leadership theory; Effective leadership; Functional, symbolic, political, and human aspects of leadership; Leading change; Conflict resolution; Empowerment; Sharing leadership; Motivation of self and others; Ethical and moral dimensions of leadership.
Governance and Administration of Colleges and Universities
Politics, Policy and Finance (SELECT 1 COURSE)
Educational governance; Operating within a political environment; Understanding and interpreting political context; Principles of design and implementation of educational policies; Sources of revenues; Effective expenditure of educational dollars; Equity and adequacy issues.
Financing Postsecondary Education
Legal Aspects of Higher Education
The Politics of Education
Learning and Diversity (SELECT 1 COURSE)
Addressing the diverse learning needs of students; Professional development; Managing academic program, curriculum and instruction to promote student learning; Administering learning and co-curricular activities to reflect students’ common and distinct experiential base.
Administration of Student Services in Higher Education
Academic Programs in Colleges and Universities
Diversity and Inequality in Higher Education
Program Depth9
The department believes that students should have depth in at least one of the four program areas: (1) Organizations and Planning; (2) Program and Instructional Leadership and Management; (3) Politics, Policy and Finance; OR (4) Learning and Diversity. Therefore, the department requires that students in Educational Leadership & Policy Analysis select 1 of the 4 domains and take at least 3 ADDITIONAL courses in that program area.
If courses from other departments are permitted in one of the depth areas, at least one of the three additional courses must be an ELPA course.
Organizations and Planning
Organizational Theory and Behavior in Education
Theory and Practice of Educational Planning
Special Topics Seminar in Educational Leadership
Seminar in Organizational Behavior and Design
Sociology of Organizations
Sustainable Approaches to System Improvement
Program and Instructional Leadership and Management
Governance and Administration of Colleges and Universities
Special Topics Seminar in Educational Leadership
Politics, Policy, and Finance
Financing Postsecondary Education
Legal Aspects of Higher Education
The Politics of Education
Seminar in the Politics of Education
Special Topics Seminar in Educational Leadership
Problems in Educational Policy
Issues in Educational Policy Analysis
Economic Theory-Microeconomics Sequence
Economic Theory-Macroeconomics Sequence
Theory of Public Finance and Fiscal Policy
Theory of Public Finance and Fiscal Policy
Workshop in Public Affairs
Public Program Evaluation
Policy-Making Process
Topics in Public Affairs
Microeconomic Policy Analysis
Benefit-Cost Analysis
Federal Budget and Tax Policy and Administration
State and Local Government Finance
Learning and Diversity
Administration of Student Services in Higher Education
Academic Programs in Colleges and Universities
Ideas of the University: Images of Higher Learning for the 21st Century
Minority-Serving Institutions of Higher Education
Diversity and Inequality in Higher Education
Assessment in Higher Education
Special Topics Seminar in Educational Leadership
Students may take any five courses inside or outside of the Department, to provide depth or breadth to program focus. Students are reminded that their programs must include at least 39 credits taken from ELPA. Note that electives are separate from minor/supporting coursework.
Minor/Supporting Coursework12
The minor is a rational, unified set of courses taken outside of the department which have a clearly articulated theme or focus which allows the student to develop knowledge in a related area of study. Students may either pursue an option A (departmental minor in a SINGLE department outside of Educational Leadership & Policy Analysis) or an option B-distributed (courses in two or more departments outside of Educational Leadership & Policy Analysis) minor. The Option A minor requires a minimum of 9 credits; the Option B, 12 credits. Students interested in an Option A minor should initiate contact and seek approval from the minor department. Students electing the Option A minor must complete an additional 3 credits of course work outside of the department in order to satisfy the supporting coursework requirement for the department. At least two courses (6 credits) must be completed during or after the semester in which the student is admitted to the Ph.D. program.
Research Methods and Design12
Students must complete a sequence of courses in research methods and design, focusing on either quantitative or qualitative methods. Students choosing to focus on quantitative methods should take two statistical methods courses and one qualitative methods course. Students choosing to focus on qualitative methods should take two qualitative methods courses and one statistical methods course. After the methods requirement has been met, all students should take the research design course (ELPA 825). Substitutions for ELPA 825 are not allowed.
Introduction to Quantitative Inquiry in Education
Quantitative Methods
Data Management for Education Policy Analysis
Surveys and Other Quantitative Data Collection Strategies
Special Topics Seminar in Educational Leadership
Statistical Methods Applied to Education I
Statistical Methods Applied to Education II
Statistics for Sociologists I
Statistics for Sociologists II
Introduction to Statistical Methods
Accelerated Introduction to Statistical Methods
Qualitative Methods
Introduction to Qualitative Research
Qualitative Research Methods in Education: Field Methods I
Qualitative Research Methods in Education: Field Methods II
Field Research Designs & Methodologies in Educational Administratn
Special Topics Seminar in Educational Leadership
Methods of Qualitative Research
Introduction to Narrative Inquiry
Discourse Analysis
Research Design
Advanced Research Methods in Educational Administration
Students are required to complete a minimum of nine credits of research/thesis and/or independent reading. While nine credits is the minimum required, there is no maximum.
Research or Thesis
Independent Reading
Total Credits75

Graduate School Policies

The Graduate School’s Academic Policies and Procedures provide essential information regarding general university policies. Program authority to set degree policies beyond the minimum required by the Graduate School lies with the degree program faculty. Policies set by the academic degree program can be found below.

Named Option-Specific Policies

Prior Coursework

Graduate Work from Other Institutions

With program approval, students are allowed to count no more than 36 credits of graduate coursework from other institutions. Coursework earned ten years or more prior to admission to a doctoral degree is not allowed to satisfy requirements.

UW–Madison Undergraduate

No credits from a UW–Madison undergraduate degree are allowed to count toward the degree.

UW–Madison University Special

With program approval, students are allowed to count no more than 15 credits of coursework numbered 300 or above taken as a UW–Madison special student. If necessary to meet the Graduate School minimum graduate credit requirements for the degree, special student coursework may have to be converted to graduate credits.  Once converted, students are assessed the difference in tuition between special and graduate tuition.  Coursework earned ten or more years prior to admission to a doctoral degree is not allowed to satisfy requirements. More information here.


The Graduate School regularly reviews the record of any student who earned grades of BC, C, D, F, or Incomplete in a graduate course (300 or above), or grade of U in research credits. This review could result in academic probation with a hold on future enrollment or in being suspended from the Graduate School.


Every graduate student is required to have an advisor. An advisor is a faculty member, or sometimes a committee, from the major department responsible for providing advice regarding graduate studies. An advisor generally serves as the thesis advisor. In many cases, an advisor is assigned to incoming students. Students can be suspended from the Graduate School if they do not have an advisor.

To ensure that students are making satisfactory progress toward a degree, the Graduate School expects them to meet with their advisor on a regular basis.

A committee often accomplishes advising for the students in the early stages of their studies.


15 credits

Time Constraints

Doctoral degree students who have been absent for ten or more consecutive years lose all credits that they have earned before their absence. Individual programs may count the coursework students completed prior to their absence for meeting program requirements; that coursework may not count toward Graduate School credit requirements.

A candidate for a doctoral degree who fails to take the final oral examination and deposit the dissertation within five years after passing the preliminary examination may by require to take another preliminary examination and to be admitted to candidacy a second time.

Grievances and Appeals

These resources may be helpful in addressing your concerns:

School of Education Grievance Policy and Procedures

The following School of Education Student Grievance Policy and associated procedures are designed for use in response to individual student grievances regarding faculty or staff in the School of Education.

Any individual student who feels they have been treated unfairly by a School of Education faculty or staff member has the right to file a grievance about the treatment and receive a timely response addressing their concerns. Any student, undergraduate or graduate, may use these grievance procedures, except employees whose complaints are covered under other campus policies. The grievance may concern classroom treatment, mentoring or advising, program admission or continuation, course grades (study abroad grade complaints are handled through International Academic Programs), or issues not covered by other campus policies or grievance procedures. 

For grievances regarding discrimination based on protected bases (i.e., race, color, national origin, sex, disability, age, etc.), contact the Office of Compliance (

For grievances or concerns regarding sexual harassment or sexual violence (including sexual assault, dating/domestic violence, stalking and sexual exploitation), contact the Sexual Misconduct Resource and Response Program within the Office of Compliance.

For grievances that involve the behavior of a student, contact the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards in the Dean of Students Office at

For grievances about, or directed at, faculty or staff in a School of Education department, unit, or program, students should follow these steps:

  1. Students are strongly encouraged to first talk with the person against whom the concern is directed.  Many issues can be settled informally at this level.  If students are unable to resolve concerns directly or without additional support, step 2 or 3 should be pursued.
  2. If unresolved after taking or considering step 1:
    1. If the concern is directed against a teaching assistant (TA), and the student is not satisfied, the student should contact the TA's supervisor, who is usually the course professor.  The course professor will attempt to resolve the concern informally.
    2. If the concern involves a non-TA instructor, staff member, professor, academic department, or School of Education office or unit, the student should contact the chair of the department or the director of the office or unit, or their designee. The chair or director, or their designee, will attempt to resolve the concern informally. If the concern is about the department chair or office/unit director, the student should consult the School of Education Senior Associate Dean for guidance.
  3. If the concern remains unresolved after step 2, the student may submit a formal grievance to the chair or director in writing within 30 business days1 of the alleged unfair treatment. To the fullest extent possible, a formal written grievance shall contain a clear and concise statement of the issue(s) involved and the relief sought.  
  4. On receipt of a written grievance, the chair or director will notify the person at whom the grievance is directed with a copy of the written grievance. The person at whom the complaint is directed may submit a written response, which would be shared with the student.
  5. On receipt of a written grievance, the chair or director will refer the matter to a department, office, or unit committee comprised of at least two members. The committee may be an existing committee or one constituted for this purpose. The committee, or delegates from the committee, may meet with the parties involved and/or review any material either party shares with the committee.  
  6. The committee will provide a written description of the facts of the grievance and communicate recommendations to the department chair or office/unit head regarding how the grievance should be handled.
  7. The chair or director will offer to meet with the student who made the grievance and also will provide a written decision to the student, including a description of any related action taken by the committee, within 30 business days of receiving the formal grievance.

    For the purpose of this policy, business days refers to those days when the University Offices are open and shall not include weekends, university holidays, spring recess, or the period from the last day of exams of fall semester instruction to the first day of spring semester instruction. All time limits may be modified by mutual consent of the parties involved.

If the grievance concerns an undergraduate course grade, the decision of the department chair after reviewing the committee’s recommendations is final. 

Other types of grievances may be appealed using the following procedures:

  1. Both the student who filed the grievance or the person at whom the grievance was directed, if unsatisfied with the decision of the department, office or unit, have five (5) business days from receipt of the decision to contact the Senior Associate Dean, indicating the intention to appeal.   
  2. A written appeal must be filed with the Senior Associate Dean within 10 business days of the time the appealing party was notified of the initial resolution of the complaint.
  3. On receipt of a written appeal, the Senior Associate Dean will convene a sub-committee of the School of Education’s Academic Planning Council. This subcommittee may ask for additional information from the parties involved and/or may hold a meeting at which both parties will be asked to speak separately (i.e., not in the room at the same time).
  4. The subcommittee will then make a written recommendation to the Dean of the School of Education, or their designee, who will render a decision. The dean or designee’s written decision shall be made within 30 business days from the date when the written appeal was filed with the Senior Associate Dean.  For undergraduate students, the dean or designee’s decision is final.

Further appealing a School of Education decision – graduate students only

Graduate students have the option to appeal decisions by the School of Education dean or designee by using the process detailed on the Graduate School’s website.

Questions about these procedures can be directed to the School of Education Dean's Office, 377 Education Building, 1000 Bascom Mall, 608-262-1763.




Graduate School Resources

Take advantage of the Graduate School's professional development resources to build skills, thrive academically, and launch your career. 

Faculty: Professor Anjalé (AJ) Welton (chair); Professors Conrad, Eckes, Halverson, Kelley, Miller, Wang, Winkle-Wagner; Associate Professors Burt, Hillman; Assistant Professors Grooms, Henry, McQuillan, Saldana, Yu; Clinical Professors Crim, Li, Sramek, Salzman, Soffa-Jimenez