Bloomington Campus

Doctor of Philosophy in Public Affairs

The Doctoral Program in Public Affairs was created to take advantage of the unique strengths of SPEA’s interdisciplinary faculty and research programs, both of which have earned wide recognition from peer institutions, national and international agencies, and professional groups. The curriculum equips students with the necessary skills for independent research and analysis of problems, issues, and solutions in government and the nonprofit sector in four major fields:

  • Public Finance: the theory and practice of fiscal administration, including public budgeting, revenue administration, and financial management
  • Public Management: the design and operation of government institutions, including strategic/operations management and interrelationships between public and private organizations;
  • Public Policy Analysis: research methods and quantitative techniques for policy analysis, including the content, design, and evaluation of public programs; and
  • Environmental Policy: the study of and contribution to public policies that affect the environment, both domestic and international, including legal, economic, and other policy tools and approaches.

Instead of being grounded in a traditional academic discipline, each of the fields has developed from several theoretical literatures applied to real-world public affairs problems. Although research is grounded in the social sciences, the context of inquiry reverses the normal research process. Instead of beginning with questions originating in discipline-based scholarship, the research process begins with public problems and issues. The research challenge, then, is to match available tools of inquiry to the research opportunities presented by problems.


Students apply directly to the School of Public and Environmental Affairs; those accepted are recommended to the University Graduate School for formal admission into the Ph.D. program.
Application materials can be found at Applicants to this program must have completed at least a bachelor’s degree. Prospective students are required to submit (1) a statement of purpose, which should be as specific as possible and, preferably, should refer to potential research mentors by name; (2) official results of the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE); (3) official transcripts of all undergraduate and graduate work completed; and (4) three letters of recommendation. Applicants whose native language is not English must also submit results of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).

Degree Requirements

The Ph.D. in Public Affairs degree requires the completion of at least 90 credit hous in advanced study and research beyond the baccalaureate. Typically, two-thirds of the 90 credit hours are taken in formal course work and one-third in thesis credit. Students completing a Master of Public Affairs or similar degree may be allowed to transfer some of their graduate course work (30 hours maximum) if approved by their Progress Review Committees, though a prior master’s degree is not required for admission.

Major Junctures
Progress Review Committee

Each student is assigned an advisor on arrival in Bloomington. If the advisor sufficiently reflects a student’s research interests, then the student can request that the advisor serve as chairperson of the student’s Progress Review Committee. The student may also select another professor who is more suited to the student’s research interests.
At the end of the first year, the student develops a Progress Review Committee. The committee, in cooperation with the student, defines program objectives, supervises the selection and completion of the minor field, monitors overall progress toward completion of course work requirements, and assists in preparing for the qualifying exams. Members of the Progress Review Committee should be scholars who know the student’s academic record and who are recognized experts in the fields in which the student will stand examination. The committee will consist of four to five members chosen by the student in consultation with the director of Ph.D. in Public Affairs/Ph.D. in Public Policy—Bloomington the Ph.D. program. At least one member of the Progress Review Committee will be chosen from each of the student’s two major fields. It is required that one member of the Progress Review Committee be a non-School professor and represent the outside minor.

Third Semester Review

During the third semester each student holds a third semester review meeting with the Progress Review Committee. The purpose of the meeting is to reach an agreement between the student and the committee about the character and status of the student’s program. This meeting also serves as a formal evaluation of the student’s performance and prospects and includes a presentation of a research paper prepared by the student.
In this progress review meeting, the committee members review the student’s record of past and planned courses, the likely dissertation topic, and the quality of the research paper and its presentation. The committee determines whether the proposed program of courses will prepare the student for the examinations to be taken at the end of the course work as well as for the dissertation.
The principal objective of the research paper is to allow the faculty to judge whether the student has the ability to complete all requirements for this research-oriented degree in a timely fashion. Thus, of most importance will be that the paper demonstrates the student’s ability to carry out reasonably independent research and write the results in a well-reasoned and coherent fashion. The paper should also demonstrate that the student has a good command of the literature in the area and has the ability to use appropriate research methods in carrying out the analysis. It is anticipated that the progress review paper will be a revision of a substantial research paper prepared to fulfill a requirement for a regular course. (The student can, however, submit an entirely new paper to fulfill this requirement.) The paper should be of a quality warranting presentation at a professional society meeting.

Qualifying Examinations

After completion of course work, students take a written exam in each of their two major fields. The Examination Committee for each field may also require an oral examination at its discretion. If there is an exam requirement in the minor department, then the student must also complete a third exam. Once the examinations are successfully completed, the student is formally admitted to candidacy.


After filing for candidacy status, the doctoral candidate forms a Research Committee consisting of at least four faculty members, including one representative of the candidate’s minor field. This committee may be but is not necessarily identical to the Progress Review Committee. The selection of Research Committee members should reflect the dissertation topic and expertise of the faculty chosen.
The candidate prepares a dissertation proposal to present and defend in a meeting of the Research Committee. The Research Committee is ultimately responsible for determining whether the dissertation is acceptable.


The Ph.D. Office, the director of the program, and individual faculty members work hard to ensure that graduates of the program are placed in academic or research organizations. Although the Public Affairs program has been operational only since 1993, graduates have been very successful recently in obtaining such positions. Recent placements include North Carolina State University, The Ohio State University, University of Colorado, Syracuse University, Brigham Young University, Iowa State University, the U.S. Department of Labor, National Taipei University, and Yonsei University in South Korea.

Academic Bulletins

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