Doctor of Philosophy in Public Affairs


The Doctor of Philosophy in Public Affairs 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 program stresses the development of theoretical, conceptual and methodological knowledge in public administration, policy and management.

The Program at a Glance

School: School of Public Affairs Campus: CU Denver Classroom: Online and on campus classes Credits required for completion: 60 Maximum transfer credits: 9 Application deadline: Fall: February 1

The Details

The program, based on the CU 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. 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 four to six 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.

For excellent candidates, the School of Public Affairs 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 for the academic year. The School of Public Affairs' goal is to provide such funding for students for at least three years.

General requirements

Review CU Denver's Academic Policies.

Program requirements

  • The Doctor of Philosophy in Public Affairs degree requires 60 credit hours of coursework beyond a master's degree in public administration or a related field, including 30 hours of coursework and 30 credit hours of dissertation work.
  • In some cases, additional prerequisite courses may be required to assure adequate preparation for doctoral studies.
  • To maintain full-time student status, all PhD students are required to take a minimum of 6 credit hours of course work in both the fall and spring semesters until their coursework requirements are met.
  • Students at the University are expected to maintain progress in their degree program, as defined by being in "good academic standing." Good academic standing requires minimally a cumulative grade point average (GPA) of 3.0 on all University of Colorado course work.

Required courses

During their first year of study, doctoral students are required to take the following doctoral seminars, for a total of 12 credit hours. All course descriptions can be found in the Graduate Academic Catalog.

  • PUAD 8010 - Historical and Comparative Foundations of Public Administration (3 credit hours)
  • PUAD 8020 - Seminar in Public Management (3 credit hours)
  • PUAD 8030 - Seminar in Public Policy (3 credit hours)
  • PUAD 8040 - Seminar in Economic and Institutional Foundations of Public Affairs (3 credit hours)

During the second year of study, doctoral students are required to take the following methods classes, for a total of 9 credit hours.

  • PUAD 8050 - Quantitative Methods I
  • PUAD 8060 - Seminar on The Conduct of Empirical Inquiry
  • PUAD 8070 - Quantitative Methods II

In addition to the three methods classes listed above, 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.

Elective courses

In addition to the required courses, doctoral students must complete 6 credit hours of elective courses relevant to the student's dissertation plans. With approval of the PhD program director, students may apply graded graduate-level credit taken at other universities toward their elective courses.

All course descriptions can be found in the Graduate Academic Catalog.

Preliminary exam

In addition to coursework, doctoral students must pass a preliminary exam in the testing cycle or semester immediately following the completion of their core courses. By passing the exam, doctoral students demonstrate their preparation for conducting dissertation research.

Dissertation proposal and dissertation

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.

At the proposal defense, a doctoral student presents a dissertation proposal to School of Public Affairs faculty and students and to his or her dissertation committee.

Students are advanced to candidacy for the PhD once they have completed all required coursework and examinations, have successfully presented their research and have been certified for candidacy by their doctoral committee.

After students are formally advanced to candidacy, they must complete 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 credit hours of dissertation research.

If students are unable to register for at least 5 credit hours, they must request a leave of absence from the PhD program until they are able to complete the minimum dissertation requirement. Students may take up to two semesters of leave of absence before they are unenrolled from the program. Students then would need to reapply to the program.

Admissions Requirements

View the admissions requirements for the School of Public Affairs.