Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Higher Education

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Admissions Deadline
 March 15
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The Higher Education program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) offers a Ph.D. in Higher Education. Students who have completed doctoral degrees from our programs have taken a variety of positions in education, government, and industry. Graduates from the higher education program are represented in the faculty ranks, mid- and upper-level administration in community colleges and universities, and state policy positions.

UNLV's Ph.D. program is versatile and allows students to concentrate in one of several areas, depending on each person's educational and career goals. Our departmental partnership with educational psychology means that doctoral students get a combination of content and methodological coursework and research opportunities that span individual leadership to organizational levels, embodied within the following three emphasis areas:

  1. University and community college leadership
  2. Student affairs leadership and
  3. Higher education policy and planning

We place a premium on research and balance it with equal attention to the practice of leadership, management, and policy work by taking advantage of the distinct environment in which we reside. The breadth of faculty expertise, program options, and the Las Vegas context continues to attract students from Nevada and throughout the United States.

Program Overview

We offer an exciting, dynamic Ph.D. program that prepares individuals for faculty positions and professional roles in higher education and policy, student personnel services, community college leadership, and for-profit and nonprofit industry settings. We place a high premium on research and balance it with equal attention to the practice of leadership, management, and policy work.

The program consists of an innovative combination of courses and practical experiences divided into five segments: program core, research core, emphasis area, internship, and dissertation.

The program core provides all students with a solid foundation to complement the student's emphasis area of choice. Program core courses in finance, policy, history, law, and organization theory are offered by program faculty. The research core requires students to take courses from faculty in one of the nation's top 20 educational psychology programs, along with additional departmental requirements and research electives.

The emphasis area affords students the opportunity to specialize in one of three tracks:

  1. University and community college leadership: The Community College and University Leadership emphasis area prepares students for leadership roles in two and four-year college and university settings.
  2. Student affairs leadership: The Student Affairs Leadership emphasis area prepares students for leadership and research positions in two and four-year College and University settings.
  3. Higher education policy and planning: The Higher Education Policy and Planning emphasis area prepares students for leadership and research in two or four-year college and university settings and in the policy environment.

All students are required to engage in an internship experience. Administrative internships enable students to apply theory to practice in a professional, administrative setting. Administrative internship placements are available in a variety of professional settings including UNLV, the Community College of Southern Nevada, Nevada State College, the Nevada System of Higher Education administrative departments, as well as in neighboring institutions of higher education and government policy and business environments. Teaching and research internships are typically done in partnership with a student's faculty chair.

The final and most crucial program component is the dissertation phase, which includes a proposal writing course. In this phase, you hone your research and professional interests by exploring in great detail one particular aspect of your area of emphasis. In doing so, students establish themselves as scholars and experts in a particular area.

For more information, download the Ph.D. in Higher Education PDF brochure.

Admissions Information

Students must fulfill graduate college and departmental requirements to complete the admissions process.

Step I. Graduate College Admissions Process

Applicants can apply to the Graduate College and the department all in one online application simultaneously. Please use the upload of documents feature in the ApplyYourself (AY) system to submit all required application materials. Applicants are strongly encouraged to upload all required documents to expedite the application process. However, if difficulties are encountered, a mailing address for application materials is also provided below. If you have questions regarding your application materials, please contact Dr. Nancy Lough, Doctoral Admissions Coordinator, at

For more information on application for admission visit the Graduate College Admissions website.

Admissions requirements to the Graduate College include:

  • Completed application and non-refundable application fee (
  • A master's degree from an accredited four-year college or university.
  • One copy of official transcripts from all institutions attended after high school, including verification of a master's degree.
    *Note: After May 1, 2010, all new applicants (international and domestic), EXCEPT those applying to programs in the College of Engineering or to Management Information Systems or Economics, are required to provide a course-by-course evaluation of all foreign credentials from one of the external evaluating agencies listed below. Foreign credentials refer to transcripts from educational institutions outside the United States. When ordering your foreign credential evaluation, please be sure that your grade point average (GPA) is calculated and included in your agency evaluation.
  • Proof of English proficiency if you are from a country where English is not the native language, or if you did not receive a degree from an institution where English is the language of instruction.
    * Note: Acceptable official documents submitted by the testing agency include:
    • International Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) with a minimum score of 550 (written) or 213 (computerized) or 80 (Internet based)
    • Michigan Test of English Language Placement (MTELP) with a minimum score of 85
    • International English Language Testing System (IELTS) with a minimum score of 7

Step II. Departmental Admission Requirements

In addition to the Graduate College admission requirements, please prepare and upload the following documents:

  • Professional resume or vita
  • Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT)
  • Two letters of recommendation, which do not need to be submitted using any special template
  • Evidence of writing ability.
    • Click here to download the instructions. Instructions for Writing Sample (PDF | WORD)
    • Click here to download the article to produce the Program Writing Sample (PDF | WORD)
  • Statement of professional aspirations and interest in the program
  • Evidence of a minimum of two years satisfactory teaching or administrative experience (or equivalent) preferable but not required.
  • Indication of interest in a graduate assistantship, if applicable

A select number of students will be chosen for interviews after all admissions requirements are met and the faculty review candidate portfolios. Out-of-state applicants are interviewed over the phone or via SKYPE. Final admission is based on an evaluation of all completed application materials and the interview.

If unable to upload Departmental requirements, then documents should be submitted or mailed to:

Educational Psychology & Higher Education Doctoral Admission in Higher Education
College of Education
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
4505 Maryland Parkway, Box 453003
Las Vegas, Nevada 89154-3003
Telephone: 702-895-3253
Fax: 702-895-1658

Initial applicant review begins on February 1st. Applicants will be accepted and reviewed up until March 15.

Program Completion Requirements

A complete listing of the program requirements is available in the UNLV Graduate Catalog.

Internship Requirements

All students are required to engage in an internship experience. There are three types of internships for doctoral students: Administrative, Teaching, and Research.

  1. Administrative internships enable students to apply theory to practice. Internship placements are available in a variety of professional settings including UNLV, the Community College of Southern Nevada, Nevada State College, the Nevada System of Higher Education administrative departments, as well as in neighboring institutions of higher education and government policy and business environments. These are challenging experiences in which students are expected to make meaningful contributions that advance the goals of the host site.
  2. Teaching internships are done under the aegis of a faculty member. Doctoral teaching assistants may team with a faculty member in a Master's course or teach undergraduate courses.
  3. Research internships are usually done with the student's doctoral chair. These internships allow students to team with a faculty member on a research-based project, which may entail design, data collection, analysis, or writing.

Each internship is an individually designed, semester-long experience that can be repeated for credit for up to a maximum of 6 hours. Ordinarily, the internship is completed after the student has successfully passed the core comprehensive examination.

Comprehensive Examination

The doctoral comprehensive examination consists of two parts: A core examination and an individualized examination.

Part I: Core examination

The core examination is offered twice a year (usually September and February). Students should take this examination as early in their programs as possible. Students are eligible to the Comprehensive Examinations if they have passed all core courses with a "B-" or better. No student with anything less than a "B-" in any core course will be allowed to take the Comprehensive Examination. A core course may be repeated, allowing the student an opportunity to earn a "B-" or better.

To be eligible to sit for this examination, students must have completed the following courses:

  • EDH 703 History of Higher Education
  • EDH 710 Higher Education Finance and Budgeting
  • EDH 715 Organizational Theory
  • EDH 752 Higher Education Law or EDH 738 Public Policy and Higher Education
  • EDH 707 Research Design and Critique
  • EPY 718 Qualitative Research Methodology
  • EPY 722 Inferential Statistics and Experimental Design

NOTE: Even though Ph.D. students may take EDH 738 or EDH 752 to qualify for the comprehensive exam, both courses are required as part of the program of study.

Each section of the comprehensive examination is taken over a two week period.

Section One: Covers research design. It draws heavily on EDH 707 and the research core. Students are encouraged to integrate information from other methods courses into their answers. Information about this question is provided to students prior to the examination.

Section Two: Affords student the opportunity to integrate basic historical, organizational, financial/economic, policy, and legal perspectives into a discussion of one or more current issues. Faculty members will meet with students prior to distributing this question to talk about specific, appropriate issues that may be addressed in this section of the exam.

The evaluation rubric is available for download in PDF format. Students who do not pass a section of the comprehensive exams meet with their current advisor to discuss options and potential remedies.

The purpose of the individualized examination is to help students fill in gaps in their knowledge base and to help them move forward into the dissertation stage of the program.


Technically, the residency begins after the successful completion of the comprehensive examinations and 42 credit hours into the program.

Once a student enters the residency phase of the program, the following outcomes must be accomplished:

  • Completion of the internship (790);
  • Completion of the dissertation proposal course (796);
  • Completion of remaining course work;
  • Research courses, and/or electives (within department or out of department); and
  • Completion of a national presentation and/or a manuscript submitted for publication consideration

Completion of remaining course work can be accomplished by incorporating up to two (2) independent studies with the student's chair into the program of study. An independent study can substitute for one research elective or one elective (within department or out of department). A student may also use three (3) credits of dissertation hours (EDH 799) toward the residency. Completion of the national presentation and/or manuscript for publication consideration can be completed before or during the time in which students have begun enrolling in the first three dissertation credit hours.

The residency requirements must be fulfilled prior to the proposal defense of the student's dissertation. Students must review an outcome checklist with their advisors prior to the proposal defense, to verify completion of the residency.

Advancement to Candidacy

Upon completion of the all course work, comprehensive examinations, residency requirements and successful defense of the dissertation proposal, the student advances to candidacy. Advancement to candidacy indicates the student's unique research plan has been accepted by a juried committee, and therefore the actual execution of the study may begin.


Department forms can be downloaded using the links below. You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader Program to download, prepare, and then print the pdf forms. Completed forms are turned in at the main office of the Carlson Education Building, Room 320. Additional forms can also be found on the Graduate College website.

Graduate Assistantships

Full-time Ph.D. students receive funding through graduate assistantships. Graduate assistantships represent opportunities for students to gain valuable experience as faculty research assistants, academic advisors, program assistants, career counselors, analysts, institutional planners, student program advisors, development researchers, and other professional responsibilities. Assistantships on the UNLV campus are housed in Student Life, the UNLV Foundation, the Department of Educational Research, Cognition, and Development, as well as other offices. Assistantships are sometimes available on our sister community and state university campuses, with some potential opportunities in the state's system office, located in Las Vegas. Efforts are made to match the developmental needs of the student with available opportunities.

Graduate assistantships require 20 hours per week during the 9-month academic year. Compensation includes a monthly stipend. For doctoral students that stipend will total approximately $13,000 per academic year. The assistantship also covers most of the per-credit tuition/registration fee and contributes to the cost of student health and accident insurance and includes professional development opportunities. In several instances, professional development opportunities include funding for national conference attendance.

To qualify for an assistantship, students must be admitted to the Graduate College and complete the Graduate Assistantship Application form available at The UNLV Graduate College Catalog contains general information on graduate assistantships.

Graduates of the Program

A listing of alumni can be found on the Student Gallery/Honors page.

Dr. Nancy Lough
Ph.D. in Higher Education Program Coordinator
Phone: 702-895-5392
Room: CEB 317