Ph.D. in Educational Leadership

If you are interested in Educational Leadership Ph.D, please follow this link to the new program: 

As of Fall 2024, the PhD in Educational Leadership is no longer offered at Penn State.  The information below is only relevant to the cohorts admitted Fall 2023 and prior.

The Ph.D. is a flexible course program that is determined in consultation between a student and their academic adviser. Students will complete at least 15 credits in Education Leadership courses, 12 credits in research courses, and 9 credits in courses outside of Education Leadership which enhance and support your research interests. 

Admissions Information

Our Ph.D. doctoral track is chosen by students with a specific interest in research and policy. Our Ph.D. students typically anticipate an academic career or work in preK-12 educational policy, and/or in educational leadership within government, the non-profit sector, and elsewhere. Our Ph.D. students often focus on educational leadership and policy not only within domestic contexts, but also in international and comparative contexts.

1.  EDLDR Coursework (15 credits) - A minimum of 15 credits chosen in conjunction with the student’s academic advisor from a list of areas of concentration (strands) and courses that have been approved by the program to fulfill this requirement. Of these, the Educational Leadership Pro-Seminar (EDLDR 532) is required and Review of Research in Educational Leadership (EDLDR 597) and Reviewing and Editing Education and Policy Journals (EDLDR 582) are recommended. EDLDR Ph.D. student are strongly encouraged to complete at least one course in at least four of six areas of concentration: 

  • Leadership and Administration

  • Organizational Theory and Practice

  • Diversity and Equity

  • Educational Policy and Politics

  • Law and Ethics

  • Educational Resource Allocation

2.  Research Coursework (12 credits) - Ph.D. students are required to take a minimum of 12 credit hours of research courses. The following are required, although students are encouraged to enroll in additional research courses.

     * EDLDR 585 Research Design

     * A 3-credit course with statistical focus up to multivariate inference.

     * A 3-credit course with focus on qualitative research methods

     *  A 3-credit advanced research course including Mixed Methods

3.  Supporting Field (9 credits) - Students should enroll in 9 credits selected from outside the EDLDR program.  All supporting field courses should be at the 500-level or above. However, appropriate 400-level courses may be approved by the advisor. A student may choose to have research as a supporting field and substitute additional research courses to fulfill this requirement.

4.  Dissertation Research (credit hours will vary) - Dissertation research credits are to be completed following successful defense of student’s dissertation proposal. They serve to maintain the continuing connection between the student and the dissertation chair during the dissertation preparation process.


Over some twelve-month period during the interval between admission to the Ph.D. program and completion of the Ph.D. program, the candidate must spend at least two consecutive semesters (not including summer sessions) as a registered full-time student engaged in academic work at the University Park campus. Full-time student status is enrollment in 9 credit hours. Full-time University employees may meet Ph.D. degree residence requirements by registering for 6 credits per semester. Students should note that 601 cannot be used to meet the full-time residence requirement.

Continuous Enrollment

It is expected that all graduate students will be properly registered at a credit level appropriate to their degree of activity. After a Ph.D. candidate has passed the comprehensive examination (proposal defense), the student must register continuously for each fall and spring semester until the final oral defense is passed. Students who are in residence during summers must also register for summer sessions if they are using University facilities and/or faculty resources.

Post-comprehensive Ph.D. students can maintain registration by registering for noncredit 601 or variable credit 610, depending upon whether they are devoting full time or part time to thesis preparation. Students may take 601 plus up to 3 additional credits of course work for credit or audit.

Penn State is an Act 48-approved provider for Pennsylvania educators, so courses may count toward professional development hours.

Penn State is an Act 45-approved provider for Pennsylvania school administrators, so the courses for the Graduate Superintendent Letter of Eligibility Certificate may count toward professional development hours.

Many US states and territories require professional licensure/certification to be employed. If you plan to pursue employment in a licensed profession after completing this program, please visit the Professional Licensure/Certification Disclosures by State interactive map.