PhD in Public Administration

PhD in Public Administration

TSU is the only Tennessee university offering the PhD in public administration.  Our first student was admitted in 1991, and we are pleased that our graduates have succeeded in obtaining placements appropriate for their academic preparation and career experience, as shown below.  You can review our graduates and their dissertation topics. Our program is designed for working individuals, a distinctive feature among research doctorates in public administration/public policy. Many of our students continue to work full-time while pursuing the PhD, as each class meets once weekly in the evening. You can also choose to pursue this degree full time to progress faster.  While this demanding course of study is not to be undertaken lightly whether by part-time or full-time students, it can lead you to your fullest development as an academic or researcher in the social sectors. Contact us to learn more.

The goal of a research doctorate in general is to prepare scholars who can both understand and produce original research of the highest quality, which adds to the state of theoretical knowledge in the field and improves practice.  In an interdisciplinary, applied field of study such as public administration, PhD graduates can see the impact of their work in the research they conduct or through the accomplishments of the students they teach.  Through the core curriculum, benchmark exam, prospectus and dissertation processes, students develop and demonstrate mastery of the core literature of the subfields of public administration including organization theory, public budgeting and finance, and policy implementation.  Doctoral students develop the ability to communicate, synthesize and evaluate complex abstract concepts key to the generation of new knowledge.

The specific mission of the Doctor of Philosophy program in public administration at TSU is to prepare experienced public, nonprofit, or healthcare administrators for careers (1) as faculty members in public administration or related fields based on their education combined with professional expertise; (2) as high-level professional researchers; or (3) as senior managers with extensive research expertise in public service in public, non-profit, or healthcare agencies. The data on positions our alumni hold reflect this mission (position last held is used for retired individuals). Of 42 Ph.D. alumni (as of 8/23/2016), 25 teach at the college/university level either as their primary occupation, or in addition to their primary position. Of the 16 alumni whose primary occupation is as a faculty member at an institution of higher education, field of appointment varies depending on individual expertise from their practitioner careers, combined with educational qualifications and doctoral dissertation focus.  Fields of appointment include public administration and management, criminal justice, health policy, management, social work, sociology, planning/urban studies, political science, and clinical practice management.

  table with bar graph of positions held by PhD in public administration alumni

Online Handbook: PhD in Public Administration

Point of contact for prospective students:  Dr. Rodney Stanley, Department Chair
Point of contact for admitted students in course-taking phase: Dr. Ann-Marie Rizzo, PhD Program Advisor
Point of contact for doctoral candidates past the course-taking phase:  student's Dissertation Committee Chair and Dr. Ann-Marie Rizzo, PhD Program Advisor

I. Key guiding documents

  1. TSU Graduate Catalog - Relevant policies are found both in the front of the catalog which apply to all TSU graduate students (p. 15-45 of 2015-2017 Catalog) as well as the program-specific part in the College of Public Service section (begins p. 157 of 2015-2017 Catalog).  Some clarifications relevant to the PhD program are also contained in these updates and revisions to the 2015-2017 Graduate Catalog; please review.

    Please note that this "online handbook," while it provides useful details for prospective and current students, does not replace or supercede the Graduate Catalog, nor does it cover all the important elements of policy included in the Catalog.  All applicants and students are responsible for knowing and abiding by TSU, Graduate School, and program policies outlined in the Catalog.

II. Purpose and uses of the PhD degree in public administration

  1. program flyer for PhD
  2. FYI  |  sample past syllabi
  3. Current students offer advice
  4. Graduates and dissertations
  5. Where do our graduates work? Fall 2016 data

III. Applying for admission to the PhD in public administration

  1. FYI  |  TSU Graduate Catalog including admissions requirements
  2. Apply to the Graduate School directly, 615-963-7371

IV. Scholarly engagement opportunities beyond coursework

  1. Our 2015-2016 Public Service Research Brown Bag Series offers an opportunity for students to both learn about and present on current research, along with TSU faculty and other scholars.
  2. Many students, alumni and faculty are active participants in activities and leadership of the Tennessee chapter of the American Society for Public Administration
  3. In recent years, our doctoral students have presented at scholarly conferences such as SECoPA, ABFM, ASPA, COMPA, NAPA's Social Equity Leadership Conference, and others.
  4. Once per semester, program advisor Dr. Ann-Marie Rizzo holds an evening PhD Roundtable event for current and prospective PhD students.
  5. A blog, Synergy, is maintained by Drs. Streams and Rizzo with announcements of interest to our doctoral students, including job postings; research tips; conference opportunities; and others.

V. Routine program advising and course selection

  1. The Phd program advisor is Dr. Ann-Marie Rizzo.
  2. The recommended sequence of courses depends on the semester in which program is begun. Check in with Dr. Rizzo every semester before course selection to verify that your choices are appropriate and to complete any necessary paperwork to complete program benchmarks.  Seeking advising regularly is your responsibility as a graduate student and will help to ensure a smooth path through the program.
  3. While subject to change due to staffing, enrollment or other issues, the PhD program core course offerings are projected several years out to aid students in planning. Changes are rare but before planning a new semester check the schedule for updates.  While students in this program are not compelled to stay on pace with a cohort, maintenance of a steady pace is expected to show satisfactory progress. However, if a student chooses not to take a course in the semester it is offered, there may be no alternative but to wait for the next scheduled offering which can delay program benchmarks. An overview of the Public Administration pattern of course offerings is also available but is not a substitute for seeking advising.
  4. Admitted students may access the course schedule and register for a semester's coursework in the myTSU system.  That system is also where you access information about billing and financial aid status, view your unofficial transcript and see which programs you have been admitted to, and where you register your vehicle to obtain a parking permit. While registration and the most current course schedule information is inside myTSU, for our students' convenience we also produce a summary sheet periodically showing the upcoming semester's course schedule.  These summaries are available here with other resources for registration.
  5. Upon successfully completing 9 credits in the program and satisfying any outstanding conditions on your admission, you must contact Dr. Rizzo and schedule an appointment to complete the program of study for PhD students.  This form is essential for continuing in the program and ensuring that you have a plan for coursework that has been approved by your advisor.

VI. Advising related to committee composition, prospectus development and dissertation research

  1. Once a student has successfully passed the preliminary exam, the process of building the advisory PhD dissertation committee begins.  The Chair and committee members will play an important role in the student's further development as a scholar, particularly as progress is made towards the prospectus and dissertation research. The Committee is also the evaluating body for the qualifying exam; the prospectus defense; and the dissertation defense.  For details on composition of the committee, please read this FAQ on the selection and role of the PhD Dissertation Committee.

VII. Benchmark exams (comprehensive on old design or prelim/qualifiers on current design)

  1. Dates of PhD exams
  2. FAQ on PhD exams (all entering students are on new program design with prelim/qualifying exam)
  3. Form | Request to take the PhD comprehensive exam (students on old program design; if you're not sure, consult Dr. Rizzo); due at beginning of semester
  4. Form | Request to take the PhD preliminary exam (students on the current program design; if you're not sure, consult Dr. Rizzo); due at beginning of semester
  5. Sample questions
  6. Current students offer advice

VIII. Preparing to graduate

  1. Form (online)  | Graduation Application ; you must apply online for graduation in advance; check deadlines at the beginning of your last semester! Application is mandatory whether or not you plan to attend commencement.
  2. FYI  |  TSU commencement site - important information on the "Grad Finale" which you must attend to get fitted for cap and gown, etc.; occurs before mid-semester - check site for date

webpage contact:
Department of Public Administration