Bloomington Campus

Doctor of Philosophy in Public Affairs

The Doctoral Program in Public Affairs was created to take advantage of the unique strengths of O'Neill’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 O'Neill 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 hours 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 at the O'Neill School of Public and Environmental 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
Preliminary Exam

Students must take the first six core requirement courses during their first year in the program. At the end of their first year, students are required to sit for a preliminary exam on material covered in these six courses. The core faculty will meet to assign grades of pass, qualified pass, or fail on this exam. Students receiving a qualified pass will be required to re-take portions of the exam. Students who receive a fail on the exam will be required to re-write the entire exam. Students will receive a pass or fail on the retake. Those who fail will not be allowed to continue in the program.

Progress Review Committee

Early in the student’s program, but in no case later than the third semester in the program, the student must form a progress review committee. The committee consists of four to five members and includes at least two faculty members from the student’s chosen major fields of study and a minor field representative. The committee members act as mentors and help monitor the selection and fulfillment of program requirements. The chairperson of the committee serves as the student’s principal advisor.

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, and monitors overall progress toward completion of course work requirements. Members of the Progress Review Committee should be scholars who know the student’s academic record and who are recognized experts in the field in which the student will stand for examination. The committee will consist of four to five members chosen by the student in consultation with the director of the Ph.D. program. At least two members of the Progress Review Committee will be chosen from the student’s major field. It is required that one member of the Progress Review Committee be a professor and represent the inside or 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.

Before the meeting of the Progressive Review Committee, the student develops a Progress Review Statement. The statement needs to include background professional and educational information, course work completed and planned in each field and for basic and research tool skills, tentative dates for taking the qualifying exam and a discussion of a proposed dissertation topic. Once approved by the committee, the statement serves as a contract for the completion of degree requirements.

In the progress review meeting, the committee members review the student’s record of past and planned courses, and the likely dissertation topic. The committee determines whether the proposed program of courses will prepare the student for the examination to be taken at the end of the course work as well as for the dissertation.

Third Year Paper

During the spring semester of the third year, each student will prepare an original research paper to present before the Progress Review Committee. The committee will evaluate the quality of the paper and its presentation. 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

Students are required to sit for a qualifying exam in their major field. SPEA field exams employ a standard format for all students in a field and are offered at predetermined times each year. Each exam is administered by a team of faculty and organized by an exam coordinator for each field. Students will receive a high pass, pass, qualified pass, or a fail the exams. Students receiving a qualified pass will be asked to re-write portions of the exam, or complete an oral examination. Those who fail the second attempt will not be allowed to continue in the program. Upon completion of the exam, signatures of the Committee members and Program Director are required on the Report of Preliminary Examination Committee form. 


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 the 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 reviews the research proposal and requires changes as needed.

Once the dissertation research is completed, the candidate defends the thesis in an open oral examination meeting. The Research Committee is ultimately responsible for determining whether the dissertation is acceptable.


The Indiana University O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs Ph.D. in Public Affairs is ranked as high as #1 among public affairs Ph.D. programs in the United States by the National Research Council. The program is able to recruit highly skilled and talented doctoral students and place graduates in some of the most prestigious public affairs programs in the United States and abroad. Graduates of the program now serve (or once served) on the faculties of Syracuse University, University of Georgia, University of Kansas, University of Washington, Ohio State University, University of Arizona, Dartmouth College, North Carolina State University, Brigham Young University, University of South Carolina, DePaul University, University of Colorado, Iowa State University, Cleveland State University, Yonsei University, University of Hong Kong and National University of Taipei. In addition, the program enjoys broad support from the faculty.

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