Higher Education EdD/PhD

The mission of the Higher Education Program (EdD/PhD) at UMass Boston is to develop scholar-practitioners who can, through their research, leadership, and educational practice, bring about changes in colleges and universities to advance equity and racial justice.

The Higher Education Program focuses on issues of concern to leaders in all types of higher education institutions, including community colleges and four-year institutions, both public and private. The curriculum covers topics such as organization and leadership, teaching and learning, college student development, diversity, public policy, institutional change, college access, equity, globalization, finance, and community engagement. Students also develop a strong foundation in both quantitative and qualitative research methods, as well as an understanding of the social and historical foundations of higher education.

Why Apply to UMass Boston's Higher Education EdD/PhD Program?

Founded in 1993, the Higher Education Program is one of the largest doctoral programs at UMass Boston. Six Higher Education scholars serve as full-time faculty in the program.

The Higher Education Program has an excellent track-record of graduating doctoral students and fostering their professional advancement. Here are a few highlights, based on our latest program review:

Retention and Degree Completion

Professional Advancement

Research Accomplishments of Program Graduates

Cohort Model

Each year, the program admits a cohort of between 10 to 12 students, who take courses together throughout their program of study. The cohort model fosters collaborative approaches to learning, exploration, development and problem solving. Through cohort development, students build strong peer-to-peer relationships that cultivate a vibrant learning environment founded in meaningful connection, active engagement, and a commitment to individual and group development. In the classroom, the cohort model fosters a learning environment in which students can establish meaningful connections to theory, research, and practice.

Student Success

The success of our program is measured by the success of our students. The program review team highlighted the following: “the retention and graduation rate [of the Higher Education Doctoral Program] is well above national averages for all students and students of color, at 87.1% and 91.1%, respectively. 

Students described how their participation in the program was already contributing to their professional advancement. Two-thirds of student survey respondents (34 of 51, 66.7%) indicated that they have received a job promotion since starting the program. In fact, 9 students (17.6%) reported that they have received two or more job promotions since starting the program. Furthermore, 75.6% of student survey respondents indicated that they have taken on increasing levels of responsibility in their job, since starting the program. The students attributed their job promotions and new responsibilities to the knowledge and skills that they gained in the program: 

“My most recent promotion is directly attributable to the knowledge and skills that I have developed in the program. Specifically, the knowledge I gained about student success, university policy, and finances were key factors in my job interview and that led to this promotional opportunity.”

Educating Scholar-Practitioners

Students noted that the curriculum is relevant to their work as a practitioner. A total of 61.5% of student survey respondents strongly agreed with the statement that “the content in the program's required courses is relevant to my work as a higher education practitioner,” and 35.9% agreed with that statement. Only one student disagreed (fall 2016 survey). The survey of recent alumni demonstrated a similar level of agreement for this item: 58.3% strongly agree and 41.7% agree (fall 2016 survey). 

Survey results showed that students find the curriculum to be highly relevant to higher education as a field of study. Current students noted that the program’s courses have enhanced their understanding of research and theory in the field of higher education; 77.5% strongly agreed and 22.5% agreed (fall 2016 survey).

The program is distinguished by five defining characteristics:

  1. The program serves experienced professionals who are committed to strengthening and expanding their capacities for leadership to advance equity and racial justice in higher education.

  2. The program contributes to increasing the racial and gender diversity of leaders in higher education and promotes critically conscious, equity-minded, and asset-based approaches to leadership.

  3. The program is structured through a cohort model, with cohorts comprised of students from a range of identities and experiences, who enter the program at the same time and take a series of courses together. The knowledge contributed and developed by cohort members serves as an important learning resource as students move forward through the coursework.

  4. The program prepares scholar-practitioners as educational leaders who can contribute to organizational change for equity and racial justice in higher education.

  5. The program emphasizes the development of equity-minded scholar-practitioners who can apply research and theory to issues of policy and practice, as well as contribute new knowledge to the field of higher education through their own research.

Student Profile

Nearly all of our students are full-time practitioners in higher education who occupy a variety of roles in: academic affairs, student affairs, admissions and enrollment management, financial aid, institutional research, and other administrative areas. Faculty and department chairs have also entered the program to develop leadership skills and perspectives. Students are not required to be working full-time as they progress through the program. A small number of our students are employed in part-time roles or are in transition between professional roles. However, the program does expect applicants to have some full-time work experience in higher education before entering the program. Students have work experience in different institutional settings including community colleges, liberal arts colleges, and public and private universities.


The Students | The Cohort Model | The Application Process | The Courses and Program of Study

The Students

1. Who are the students in the program? What are their professional backgrounds?

Nearly all of our students are full-time practitioners in higher education who occupy roles in academic affairs, student affairs, enrollment management, financial aid, institutional research, human resources, and other administrative areas; or serve as faculty members, department chairs, or academic program directors. They work in public and private higher education institutions and represent a broad range of institutional types, including community colleges, liberal arts colleges, and research universities.

Most of our students work in campus-based positions, but some work for organizations that serve the higher education sector or conduct research on higher education issues. Some students in the program work for K-12 school systems in roles that focus on students’ transition to higher education.

2. How do applicants decide whether to pursue the PhD or EdD degree?

Our applicants’ professional goals guide their decision about whether to apply to the PhD or the EdD program of study. Applicants who plan to pursue a career that includes college teaching, research, policy analysis, or service as a provost or chief academic officer should apply to the PhD. Our applicants who plan to pursue a career as a senior-level college or university administrator should apply to the EdD. Get more information about the degree options.

3. Does the program accept only people who are working full-time?

The program is designed to serve full-time practitioners and most of our students work full-time as they participate in the program. Students, however, are not required to be working full-time as they progress through the program. A small number of our students are employed in part-time roles or are in transition between professional roles.

However, the program does expect applicants to have some full-time work experience in higher education before entering the program.

4. How much work experience does the program expect its students to have?

The program has not set a quantifiable indicator regarding number of years of work experience. Applicants must demonstrate professional accomplishments in higher education and show potential for leadership success. Several years of work experience may be necessary to address these requirements.

5. Does the program accept international students?

Yes, and the same expectations for higher education work experience apply to international applicants. The higher education work experience need not occur in the U.S.

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The Cohort Model

1. What is the cohort model?

Each year, the program admits a cohort of students who take courses together throughout their program of study. This model fosters collaborative approaches to learning, decision making, and problem solving and creates a strong learning community among students and faculty. Cohort members frequently meet informally outside the classroom setting, and when students reach the dissertation stage of their work, the cohort often serves as an important peer support network.

The cohort sequence of courses begins with a three-week June session in which students enroll in two courses that meet during the day, Monday through Thursday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. During the fall and spring semesters, students enroll in two courses that meet during the day on Fridays, from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., with a lunch break from noon to 1:30 p.m.

The cohort courses include three June sessions and three academic years. (For fall and spring, see the Higher Education Student Advisement Sheet.)

2. Can a student start the program in September or January, rather than June?

No, the program admits only one cohort per year, and all students must begin their studies in June with their respective cohort.

3. Are students required to take all of their courses with their cohort?

No, the program requires students to take elective courses (six electives are required for the PhD degree and two for the EdD degree), and these courses may be taken outside the cohort structure. Students can take two of their electives at other institutions and transfer the credits to UMass Boston. Students can also take advantage of the wide range of elective courses offered at UMass Boston, both online and on campus.

4. What are the advantages of the cohort model?

The cohort model:

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The Application Process

1. The application requires an essay. What should applicants include in the essay?

Essays should address the following areas:

The essay should reveal how the applicant thinks about higher education in general and how their perspectives on higher education shape their leadership actions. Applicants can describe key incidents or significant accomplishments as examples of how their perspectives on higher education shape their actions.

The essay should not merely recite information that is already included in the applicant’s resume or curriculum vitae (which also must be submitted as part of the application process).

2. The application requires an employer agreement. What is that?

The employer agreement shows year-by-year how the applicant and his or her employer will arrange the applicant’s work schedule so that he or she can participate in the cohort courses during the three-week June session and on Fridays during the academic year.

The employer agreement must be signed by the applicant’s direct supervisor and submitted as part of the application. The application will not be considered complete until the employer agreement is submitted.

In case an applicant is currently not working, an employer agreement is still required to complete the application in the online system. In such a case, candidates should indicate their work status on the agreement and no further signatures are required.

3. What forms of financial assistance are available?

The university offers graduate assistantships that provide stipends and tuition credits. Please contact Financial Aid Services (finaid@umb.edu) or visit the Cost & Aid website for information about financing your education.

Full-time employees of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are eligible for tuition credits. Contact the Human Resources office at your workplace for more information.

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The Courses and Program of Study

1. What areas of study are addressed in the curriculum?

The curriculum covers topics such as higher education access and equity, governance and leadership, finance and management, organizational theory, organizational change, teaching and learning, diversity, and public policy. Courses in the social and historical foundations of higher education serve as an important platform for future learning in the program. Research methods courses and dissertation seminars help students build skills for conducting empirical research – skills that are useful not only for completing the dissertation but also for future leadership practice.

PhD and EdD students follow the same curriculum of required courses during their first three years of study. In subsequent years, the electives taken by PhD and EdD students differ, with PhD students taking more electives in different disciplines and additional research methods classes.

2. What is expected in the dissertation?

The dissertation is designed to demonstrate the capacity of students to analyze a problem in higher education in significant depth, to carry out empirical research, and to articulate research-based implications for practice or policy. The research problem will involve a specific issue or policy, which is of critical concern in higher education. The problem can be drawn from organizational or administrative practice, theories and practices concerning learning and teaching, historical or cultural issues, or public policy at the state, regional, national, or international level. In their dissertation, students frequently pursue research on topics they determine to be related to their professional goals and scholarly interests.

The dissertation presents the findings of an individual research project. Though the work is individualized, cohort members often provide strong peer support at the dissertation stage, and dissertation committee members offer extensive feedback and mentoring through the research process.

The dissertation should include (1) a detailed statement of the educational problem; (2) an analytical review of the literature; (3) a thorough discussion of the research design; (4) a systematic presentation of findings; and (5) an analysis of findings from which implications and recommendations for research and practice will be based.

3. How does the program prepare students for the dissertation? What support is provided?

During their second year in the program, students write a Qualifying Paper Proposal (QPP), which articulates a research problem and identifies theoretical and empirical literature that would be useful in understanding that problem. During the fall semester of their third year, students write a Qualifying Paper (QP), which provides a thorough literature review helpful toward the development of their dissertation proposal. For both of these qualifying papers, faculty provide extensive feedback. In the third year of the program, students also enroll in two dissertation seminars to assist them in developing a dissertation proposal.

In addition, the university provides support services through the Graduate Writing Center and the Graduate Research and Computer Lab.

4. How long does it take to complete the program? What is the program’s graduation rate?

The EdD program of study is designed to be completed in four years, while the PhD degree is a five-year program of study; however, five years is more likely for the EdD and six years for the PhD, depending on the time necessary to complete the dissertation. The maximum amount of time allowed to complete the program is seven years.

The program’s graduation rate is 87 percent—a figure much higher than the national average for education doctoral programs (which is somewhere between 50 and 60 percent).

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