Jul 21, 2024  
2021-2023 Graduate Catalog 
2021-2023 Graduate Catalog [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Public Policy and Administration, Ph.D.

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The Ph.D. program with a major in public policy and administration is designed to serve the specialized interest of students preparing for either academic or professional public management careers. The program is delivered only in fully online format, with 7000-level courses meeting one night a week synchronously online and 6000-level electives typically delivered asynchronously online.

The program emphasizes the various contexts and forms of public policy and administration in contemporary society as well as an understanding of knowledge areas basic to the profession. These include the application of theory and analytical techniques appropriate for solving management and policy problems and for undertaking a systematic inquiry into the discipline.

Since the curriculum explores and compares theory with administrative practice, students should enter the program with experience in public or non-profit administration. Applicants lacking this background are encouraged to pursue this degree later in their careers.

The Ph.D. program is designed to play a number of significant roles in public service. It provides:


  1. Students with the necessary education for meeting the increasingly complex challenges facing middle and senior managers at all levels of government.
  2. Public and non-profit organizations with qualified individuals who are capable of undertaking independent research on organizational, managerial, or public policy issues.
  3.  Higher education institutions with instructors and researchers prepared to represent and advance the field and profession of public administration.


All applicants to graduate programs in the College of Public Service and Urban Affairs must also consult the Graduate School policies detailed at the beginning of the Graduate Catalog, which pertains to all TSU graduate students. All students are expected to be familiar with and to adhere to both Graduate School policies and specific departmental requirements for their degree and/or graduate certificate.

A cumulative grade point average of 3.0 in all graduate courses taken at Tennessee State University is required for successful completion of graduate certificates or graduate degree programs; individual programs may also have more restrictive policies as detailed in their Catalog section (for example, C grades in core courses are not accepted for the Ph.D. in public administration). We abide by Graduate School policies including those regarding retention, probation, suspension, and time limitations for degrees (see the front matter of this Catalog). Per Graduate School policy, a given course in our programs may be repeated one time only, and the second grade will replace the first. A student may repeat a maximum of two (2) courses in a given program for the purpose of improving grades.


Students entering the program must possess a Master’s degree. The Master’s degree, whether the MPA or another degree, should include the knowledge and skills common to an understanding of public administration. A student admitted to the Ph.D. program who has not acquired the requisite knowledge and skill base may expect a longer commitment of time to complete the Ph.D. degree. The prerequisite knowledge and skills include:

  1. Quantitative Skills-statistical, methods (equivalent to one course at master’s level in a social science field), research methods (equivalent to one course at master’s level in a social science field), and computer use. 
  2. Public Management-political, legal, social, and economic contexts of public administration and American national government. 
  3. Organizations-theory and analysis of organizations and the human resources within organizations.
  4. Fiscal Management-operational and program budgeting.

Admission Process and Requirements

To be considered for admissions, applicants must provide the following items to the Graduate School: (1) Application for Admission to the Graduate School; (2) Application Fee; (3) Graduate Record Examination (GRE) score of at least the 35th percentile averaging across the verbal and quantitative sections (only the General Test is required) and a writing score of 3.5; (4) one official transcript from all colleges and/or universities previously attended (to be submitted with the Application for Admission); applicants must have a Master’s degree in an associated field from an accredited university and a grade point average of at least 3.25 in previous graduate studies; (5) three letters of recommendation from persons familiar with the applicant’s potential for doctoral level study in public administration; (6) a 500-1,000 word essay discussing personal, academic, and career goals as well as interests and experience in the area of public administration; and (7) a sample copy of the applicant’s single-author academic or professional writing (e.g., graduate term paper, thesis, academic/professional clinical study, or policy analysis/management report). Once all these materials have been submitted and minimum requirements for consideration have been met, the department chair will contact the applicant to schedule an admissions interview. Applicants must also receive a positive recommendation from the Ph.D. Admission committee after the interview process, and after the application and all other admission materials have been evaluated.  Non-GRE pathways to admission: Students who have completed the Master of Public Administration degree or a Master’s degree in a related field at TSU or another accredited university with a program GPA of 3.7 or higher may have the GRE requirement waived for admission into the Ph.D. program. Students completing the Master of Public Administration degree or a master’s degree in a related field at TSU or another accredited university with a program GPA lower than 3.7 (while having a GPA of at least 3.25 in previous graduate studies) and who meet all admissions criteria for one of the 18 credit-hour graduate certificate programs offered by the Department of Public Administration, may be admitted to that graduate certificate program. If they complete that graduate certificate program with a 3.7 or higher cumulative GPA in the certificate coursework, the GRE will be waived for admission into the Ph.D. program. All other admission requirements must be met by any applicant seeking admission through one of these pathways

All applicants are expected to be competent in written and spoken English and must possess basic computer literacy; international applicants whose native language is not English are required to meet the English proficiency requirements set by the Graduate School be considered for admission to the Ph.D. The admission decision will be based on the entire academic and professional record after the conditions specified here have been met. Applicants will be granted unconditional admission if the overall record (based on the above variables) indicates a high potential for success in the program.

Credits Needed

The Ph.D. degree requires 36-course credits beyond the Master’s degree and at least 12 dissertation credits (total number of dissertation credits will depend on how fast the student progresses in the research phase). Credits needed to meet Ph.D. requirements must include each of the seven core courses cited in the program of study, below.

Transfer Credit

Students who have credits beyond the Master’s degree may be permitted to apply to transfer a maximum of six credits for course work applicable to public administration to the Ph.D. program if approved by the department chair.


Students must maintain a cumulative grade point average (GPA) of 3.00 or better on the scale of 4.00, and pass all courses throughout the program to remain in good academic standing. Students must have a grade of B or better in all Ph.D. core courses (7000-level) and may not have more than two C grades in other courses used to meet degree requirements.  Per Graduate School policy, a given course in our programs may be repeated one time only, and the second grade will replace the first. A student may repeat a maximum of two (2) courses in a given program for the purpose of improving grades. After completion of nine (9) semester hours of graduate work, if the student’s cumulative GPA at the end of a given semester falls below 3.00, the student will be placed on academic probation for the next semester and must satisfy the existing University and Graduate School requirements to return to good academic standing. Students may be dismissed from the program upon recommendation of the Ph.D. Program Committee for continued probation beyond two consecutive semesters.

Academic Load

Students who are on leave of absence from full-time employment or who have made arrangements to pursue studies on a full-time basis may take up to twelve (12) hours of credit a semester, with the approval of their advisor. Students working full-time in their professional capacities may enroll for no more than six (6) credit hours each semester without requesting permission from the department chair to take additional classes.

Early Review

After nine credit hours of enrollment in the doctoral programs, students will be interviewed and evaluated as to their strengths and weaknesses performing in the program to date. Remediation or other action, including a recommendation to withdraw, may be indicated at this time.

Time Limitation for Credit

Post-Master’s degree credits earned more than ten (10) years prior to a student’s graduation may not be applied toward the Ph.D. degree.

Sequence of Courses and Course Selection

The sequence of courses taken towards the Ph.D. degree must be determined in consultation with the Ph.D. program advisor.  Staffing and enrollment limitations make it necessary to offer courses in rotation. If a student chooses for any reason not to take a required core course when it is offered or fails to obtain the required grade in the core course, the student must wait until the next time that course is offered in the scheduled rotation.  However, if a student registers for a scheduled course when it is offered and the course is canceled due to low enrollment, the Department will make reasonable efforts to make an alternate plan for the student. Contact the department chair regarding upcoming course availability.

Preliminary Examination

After taking the first four Ph.D. core courses, PADM 7000; PADM 7310; PADM 7410; and either PADM 7130, PADM 7220, or 7230, each Ph.D. student must pass the preliminary exam at the first available offering of the exam or they may be dismissed from the program.  The preliminary exam is offered in Spring and Fall at mid-semester on the date announced by the department. The student must be in good academic standing both according to Graduate School and Public Administration Department program criteria to sit for this exam, including having no I’s or grades lower than a B in the Ph.D. core courses.

If the student passes the preliminary exam he or she will seek a dissertation chair among the faculty.  If a student fails, he or she may take the preliminary exam the next time it is offered with the approval of the Ph.D. Program Committee; but in the meantime, he or she may not re-enroll in any additional Ph.D. courses.  If he or she fails the preliminary exam two times, the student is dismissed from the Ph.D. program.  In this case, he or she may elect to apply for the MPA or MPS program.

Preliminary Examination format

This written exam will consist of multiple essay questions.  Details will be provided by the department during the semester of the exam; and more information is available in the Ph.D. handbook online. The exam will be administered over the course of one day from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. 

Qualifying Examination

This examination is offered in Spring and Fall on a date determined by the committee.  In a student’s final semester of Ph.D. coursework, or before the end of the second regular semester following their final semester of coursework, he or she must sit for the Qualifying Examination. For example, if a student completed coursework in Fall semester, he or she must sit for their Qualifying exam before the end of the next Fall semester and if they completed coursework in Spring semester, he or she must sit for the Qualifying exam before the end of the next Spring semester. 

A student must be in good academic standing both according to Graduate School and Department criteria to sit for the exam, including having no I’s or grades lower than a B in the Ph.D. core courses.  If having completed all coursework, an eligible student does not sit for the exam within two regular semesters, he or she may be dismissed from the program. If a student fails the qualifying examination and the student’s committee approves the request to take it again, he or she may take the qualifying exam again no later than the next available offering (the questions will be different from the first exam).  This exam may only be taken twice.  If the student does not retake the exam at the next available offering, he or she is dismissed from the program.

Qualifying Examination format

The student’s qualifying examination will be developed by the student’s committee (Chair and second member at the minimum; the third member can choose to participate) in conjunction with the other PA faculty.  The faculty who set the exam will assess the overall quality of the qualifying examination with a grade of pass or fail, based on the view of the majority. This is a two-part examination; the first part is written and the second oral.  The written examination will consist of a series of questions specific to the student’s topical area of interest and one general public administration question.  All students who complete the written exam will be required to take the second part of the exam on a different day; it consists of an oral examination by the faculty who set the written exam.  The oral exam is a free-ranging discussion in which the student must demonstrate public administration competency relevant to their specialization area. The decision of whether a student has passed the qualifying exam will be based on the judgment of the committee considering both the written and oral exam performance of the student.


Once a student has passed the qualifying exam, he or she is a candidate and may register for dissertation credit.

Dissertation Committee

In brief, the selection of Dissertation Committee members is as follows. Additional detail and possible models for committee composition are available at the Ph.D. handbook online in the Department of Public Administration website. The Chair is selected immediately after passing the Preliminary exams.  The second and third members are selected while the student is completing Ph.D. coursework.  The timing of selecting the fourth member and the reader of the Dissertation committee will be determined by the student’s Chair. 

Some Chairs prefer to select the fourth member and reader before the Prospectus Defense while others prefer to wait until afterward. The fourth member may be program faculty or a subject matter or methods expert from another department with Graduate Faculty status, or an external subject matter expert subject to current Graduate School policy; the reader is from another department of the University with Graduate Faculty status.  This committee of five members will sit as the final examining body for the dissertation defense.  If they have been selected prior to the Prospectus Defense, the fourth and fifth members may also choose to participate in the prospectus defense.  Every Dissertation committee must have at a majority of members from the Public Administration faculty.


Prospectus Defense

Students are expected to defend their prospectus within two regular semesters after successfully completing the qualifying exam.  A student may only attempt to defend a prospectus two times, and the second attempt must take place within one regular semester of the first attempt.  If a student does not successfully defend a prospectus within these constraints, the student may be dismissed from the program.  The format for the Prospectus will be provided to the student by their committee chair.


The student must continue to take dissertation credits, by registering for PADM 8110 every semester (in the section assigned to their dissertation chair) until a total of 12 full-tuition dissertation credit hours have been accumulated.  From that point on, students register for dissertation continuation credits (PADM 8110 Section 35) at a reduced rate.  The student must engage in original, scholarly and significant research in public administration or public policy, guided in this endeavor by the dissertation committee.  On the basis of this research, the student must write a work of publishable quality adhering to the style and format required by the Graduate School.  The draft of the dissertation must be considered suitable for defense by all members of the student’s dissertation committee for the defense to occur.

Dissertation Defense

Once the full committee approves the dissertation draft for defense, the student must make an oral defense of the dissertation before this body and in the presence of all others who choose to attend.  In defending the dissertation, the student is expected to relate its significance to the field of knowledge to which it contributes and to the general field of public administration.  The student is judged to have passed the final oral examination if at least four of the five examining committee members certify to that effect. Students failing the defense may be reexamined only once, conditional on the approval of the committee.  A majority of the committee will determine if “substantial” or “minor” revisions to the dissertation are necessary after a passing defense. Should substantial revision be necessary due to deficiencies in the dissertation draft, the Dissertation Committee will reconvene at a later date to decide if those deficiencies have been fully addressed. The student may not graduate until a majority of the committee approves the major revisions.  In cases where minor corrections are required on the dissertation, the Dissertation Committee Chair shall be responsible for seeing that the proper corrections are made and the final document is ready for submission to the Graduate School in preparation for graduation.  


Program of Study

Students should complete a Program of Study with the Ph.D. Advisor after the student has completed nine credits of coursework towards the Ph.D. degree.

Doctoral Electives - 15 credits

Elective courses must be selected in consultation with the student’s advisor and may be chosen from program offerings. Upon the recommendation of the student’s advisor and the approval of the department head, a portion of this work may be taken outside of the Department.

Dissertation Research - 12 hours (minimum)

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