Program mission

The mission of the Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration program is to provide students with the knowledge and skills that will enable them to conduct original and scholarly research in academic institutions, governmental agencies and public policy research institutions. The purpose of the program is to prepare students for scholarly and leadership roles in government, universities, research organizations and other settings where knowledge and research skills in public policy and administration are needed. The doctoral program is committed to accomplishing this mission by creating an intellectually vibrant atmosphere for scholarship involving an active faculty from a broad spectrum of academic disciplines and substantial interaction with government agencies and community groups.

Program goals

  1. Enable students to develop expertise in a particular area of public policy
  2. Enable students to apply their knowledge and skills in order to conduct original and scholarly research

Student learning outcomes

  1. Students will be able to expertly apply public policy theories, integrating relevant ideas, concepts and approaches from the humanities, social sciences, law and public administration to policy analysis, formulation and implementation.
  2. Students will be able to demonstrate mastery of a particular area of public policy.
  3. Students will be able to formulate appropriate research questions related to public policy and apply methodological knowledge to develop an appropriate research design for a research proposal.
  4. Students will be able to conduct original and scholarly research on public policy issues.

VCU Graduate Bulletin, VCU Graduate School and general academic policies and regulations for all graduate students in all graduate programs

The VCU Graduate Bulletin website documents the official admission and academic rules and regulations that govern graduate education for all graduate programs at the university. These policies are established by the graduate faculty of the university through their elected representatives to the University Graduate Council.

It is the responsibility of all graduate students, both on- and off-campus, to be familiar with the VCU Graduate Bulletin as well as the Graduate School website and academic regulations in individual school and department publications and on program websites. However, in all cases, the official policies and procedures of the University Graduate Council, as published on the VCU Graduate Bulletin and Graduate School websites, take precedence over individual program policies and guidelines.

Visit the Graduate study section for additional information on academic regulations for graduate students.

Degree candidacy requirements

A graduate student admitted to a program or concentration requiring a final research project, work of art, thesis or dissertation, must qualify for continuing master’s or doctoral status according to the degree candidacy requirements of the student’s graduate program. Admission to degree candidacy, if applicable, is a formal statement by the graduate student’s faculty regarding the student’s academic achievements and the student’s readiness to proceed to the final research phase of the degree program.

Graduate students and program directors should refer to the following degree candidacy policy as published in the VCU Graduate Bulletin for complete information and instructions.

Visit the Graduate study section for additional information on degree candidacy requirements.

Graduation requirements

As graduate students approach the end of their academic programs and the final semester of matriculation, they must make formal application to graduate. No degrees will be conferred until the application to graduate has been finalized.

Graduate students and program directors should refer to the following graduation requirements as published in the Graduate Bulletin for a complete list of instructions and a graduation checklist.

Visit the Graduate study section for additional information on graduation requirements.

Apply online at graduate.admissions.vcu.edu.

Admission requirements

Degree: Semester(s) of entry: Deadline dates: Test requirements:
Ph.D. Fall Dec 15 for assistantships GRE, GMAT, MAT or LSAT
Jan 30 final date for admission consideration International applicants TOEFL

Special requirements

  • Master’s degree, J.D. or M.D. from an accredited university. Graduate assistantships are only awarded for fall admission. For students wishing to be considered for a limited number of fellowships, materials must be received no later than Dec. 15. Spring admissions are considered exceptions and will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Admission is open to qualified persons without regard to age, physical disability, national origin, race, religion or gender. Admission is competitive. The admission process is intended to assure a reasonable fit between the student’s professional and research interests and faculty expertise. Consequently, otherwise qualified applicants may be denied admission.

In addition to the general admission requirements of the VCU Graduate School, applicants to the program must hold a master’s degree or a recognized post-baccalaureate degree in one of the professions such as law or medicine from an accredited institution of higher education. A standardized test score, fewer than five years old, is required. Accepted examinations include the Graduate Record Examination, the Graduate Management Admissions Test, the Miller Analogies Test and the Law School Admissions Test and the Test of English as a Foreign Language for international students. Professional experience is not required, but is considered desirable.

In order to apply for admission to the Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration program, prospective students must submit:

  1. A VCU application for graduate study
  2. Transcripts from all previous colleges or universities
  3. Scores from a standardized examination (GRE, GMAT, MAT or LSAT and TOEFL for international students)
  4. Three letters of reference
  5. A personal statement describing reasons for applying to the program
  6. A current professional resume

Admission standards

Applicants are evaluated based on the entire admission package; however, the following provides some guidelines for a competitive application.

  1. Cumulative minimum GPA of 3.6 (on a four-point scale) or equivalent for graduate-level work
  2. Standardized examination scores less than five years old (GRE preferred)
  3. Three references – a minimum of one academic recommendation attesting to the applicant’s ability to succeed in doctoral-level work
  4. Personal statement, resume, curriculum vitae that:
    1. Clearly articulates the applicant’s academic research interests whereby a decision can be made as to the applicant’s “fit” with the program
    2. Shows a clear indication of a faculty match and expertise for the applicant’s research interests
    3. Displays enthusiasm for the field of public policy and administration
    4. Is well-written and error-free
  5. All students admitted to the program must have completed prior to admission, or are required to complete during the first year, the following graduate-level courses (or their equivalents):
    1. Research methods (equivalent of PADM 623/GVPA 623/CRJS 623/URSP 623)
    2. Statistics (equivalent of PADM 624)
    3. Public policy, economics or administration/management

The primary admission deadline is Jan. 30 for enrollment to begin the following fall semester; however, materials must be received no later than Dec.15 from those students wishing to be considered for assistantships. A small number of special admissions may be offered (Oct.15 application deadline) for entry the following spring semester; however, these are considered on a case-by-case basis. Assistantships are only offered to those offered full-time admission in the fall. Applicants who wish to be considered for the Oct.15 deadline must include a letter requesting and justifying early admission. If the request for early consideration is not accepted, the application will be held over to the Jan. 30 application deadline for consideration for the following fall admission.

While VCU Graduate School policy allows up to six credit hours of course work to be taken as a nondegree-seeking student prior to formal admission, taking such courses in no way guarantees admission to the program. Also, transfer credit hours are only considered for elective courses. Core courses must be taken at VCU.

Application information is available from the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs Office of Graduate Advising or the Graduate Admissions Office. International applicant information and materials are available from International Admissions.

Degree requirements

The doctoral program is structured around a core curriculum and four areas of concentration. The curriculum is designed to provide a sound intellectual foundation for the pursuit of scholarly research in areas of public policy, urban and regional policy, public administration and criminal justice policy. Students will select a concentration after the first year of study and after passing the comprehensive examination.

In addition to general VCU Graduate School graduation requirements, students take a minimum of 45 graduate credit hours of course work and dissertation research in addition to any prerequisites that might be necessary. Five of these courses are part of the core, and at least four are concentration courses. The remaining three electives are to be taken outside the concentration with additional methodology courses highly recommended. Required courses generally will be available on an evening or weekend schedule.

Course work in the Ph.D. program has a strong orientation toward research, both applied and theoretical. Where appropriate, course work may be linked to funded university projects or to external agency-based analytical work. Courses emphasize research, writing and presentation skills.

All students must take a comprehensive qualifying examination on the core course requirements and a written or oral comprehensive examination in the concentration and must be approved by the VCU Graduate School for degree candidacy before beginning work on their dissertations.

Curriculum requirements

Core courses (required)

PPAD 711Seminar in Public Policy I3
PPAD 712Seminar in Public Policy II3
PPAD 721Survey of Applied Research Methods in Public Policy3
PPAD 722Survey of Data Analysis Techniques in Public Policy3
PPAD 780Synthesizing Seminar in Public Policy3
Total Hours15

Criminal justice policy concentration

Concentration courses (required)
PPAD 761Risk Assessment in Criminal Justice3
Additional research methods or statistics course (within or outside the Wilder School)3
Concentration electives
Select six credits from the following:6
Criminal Justice Policy and Program Evaluation
Topical Seminar
Independent Study
Total Hours12

Electives outside of the concentration

Students will take at least three elective courses outside the concentration with the approval of their advisers. Students may take courses at the 500-level or higher from other Ph.D. concentration areas (as listed under each concentration) and other programs such as homeland security, criminal justice, public administration and urban and regional planning within the Wilder School. In addition, students may choose elective courses from among the following 3-credit courses:

Select three of the following:9
Graduate Research Methods I
Statistical Methods I
Graduate Research Methods II
Statistical Methods II
Introduction to Econometrics
Econometrics
Econometric Time-series Analysis
Panel and Nonlinear Methods in Econometrics
Qualitative Methods and Analysis
Themes in Interdisciplinary Studies
Public Health Policy and Politics
Feminist Research Epistemology and Methods
Women and Public Policy
Applied Health Services Research
Health Services Research and Policy I
Health Services Research and Policy II
International Perspectives on Community Health in Developing Countries
Mass Media and Society
Texts and Textuality
Quantitative Research
Qualitative Research
Machine Learning Algorithms
Multiparadigmatic Qualitative Methods and Analysis
Multivariate Analysis in Social Work and Human Services Research
Total Hours9

Dissertation research

PPAD 898Dissertation Research (variable credit hours)1-12

Total graduate credit hours required (minimum) 45

Qualifying examinations

After completing all of the core courses in the Ph.D. program, each student takes a comprehensive qualifying examination on the core. The examination is designed to evaluate the mastery students have achieved over the body of knowledge represented by the core. It is intended to measure the ability of students to organize, integrate and creatively apply the knowledge in the field to important problems. Although organized around the courses in the core, the examination is not restricted to material covered in those courses. It is expected that doctoral students will read well beyond the confines of individual courses.

In order to continue in the program, students must attempt the qualifying examination no later than the next regular semester following the completion of the core course requirements. They must pass the exam by the end of the second regular semester after completing the core course requirements. A student may attempt the examination twice. Examinations are offered twice per year.

A student also must take a written or oral comprehensive examination in the concentration. The concentration faculty will determine the form of the examination. A student may attempt the examination twice. Each student must pass this second examination before defending a dissertation proposal.

Dissertation

After completing all course work for the concentration and passing both qualifying examinations, students must prepare a dissertation involving original research that contributes to the body of knowledge in the field. A committee approved by the associate dean of the Wilder School supervises the dissertation work. The chair of the committee must be appointed as graduate faculty and be a core or affiliate faculty member of the Ph.D. program.

The first formal step in the dissertation process is the development and defense of a dissertation prospectus that frames the problem to be studied, provides background on the problem, presents a review of relevant literature and justifies the methodology to be used. The defense of the prospectus as well as the completed dissertation must be presented orally and be approved by the dissertation committee. The dissertation defense is conducted in a forum open to other students and faculty.

Sample plan of study

Year one
Fall semesterHours
PPAD 711 Seminar in Public Policy I 3
PPAD 717 Law and Public Policy 1 3
PPAD 721 Survey of Applied Research Methods in Public Policy 3
 Term Hours: 9
Spring semester
PPAD 712 Seminar in Public Policy II 3
PPAD 716 Public Policy Economics 1 3
PPAD 722 Survey of Data Analysis Techniques in Public Policy 3
 Term Hours: 9
Summer semester
Electives 2 variable
Other optional courses variable
 Term Hours: 0
Year two
Fall semester
PPAD 780 Synthesizing Seminar in Public Policy 3
Concentration courses 6
First comprehensive examination on the core  
 Term Hours: 9
Spring semester
Concentration courses and electives variable
 Term Hours: 0
Year three
Fall semester
PPAD 898 Dissertation Research (variable credit hours) 1-12
Second comprehensive examination on the concentration  
Electives variable
 Term Hours: 1-12
Spring semester
PPAD 898 Dissertation Research (variable credit hours) 1-12
 Term Hours: 1-12
 Total Hours: 29-51
1

Recommended: See concentration listings for required and elective courses.

2

Students on 12-month assistantships are required to register for a minimum of three graduate credit hours.

Total graduate credit hours required (minimum) 45

Graduate program director
Sarah Jane Brubaker, Ph.D.
Associate professor
Email: sbrubaker@vcu.edu
Phone: (804) 827-2400

Additional contact
Simon H. Okoth, Ph.D.
Director of graduate studies, Wilder School
Email: okothsh@vcu.edu
Phone: (804) 827-1430

Program website: wilder.vcu.edu/academic/pubpolicy.html