PhD in Public Policy and Administration

PhD in Public Administration

TSU is the only Tennessee university offering the PhD in public policy and 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.  Read about the requirements for admission and curriculum in the current Graduate Catalog (2021-2023 edition). You can also review our graduates and their dissertation topics, and examine past sample syllabi (see the 7000-level courses). This synchronous online program is designed for working individuals, a distinctive feature among research doctorates in public administration/public policy. The majority of our students continue to work full-time while pursuing the PhD, as each doctoral core class meets once weekly in the evening (synchronously online); electives are typically asynchronous. While this demanding course of study is not to be undertaken lightly, it can lead you to your fullest development as researcher, leader or academic in the social sectors. Contact us to learn more.

The goal of a Ph.D. in general, as a research doctorate, 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, Ph.D. 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 policy and administration at TSU is to prepare experienced public or nonprofit administrators for careers (1) as faculty members in public administration or related fields based on their education combined with their professional expertise and experience; (2) as high-level professional researchers; or (3) as senior managers with extensive research expertise in public service in public or non-profit agencies. The data on positions our alumni hold reflect this mission (position last held is used for retired or deceased individuals). Of the 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 have included public administration and management, criminal justice, social work, and political science.

Table of PhD alumni positions held by NASPAA category; top three are State, provincial or regional gov't in same country as the program (45%), Nonprofit domestic-oriented (27%), Private Sector - research/consulting (9%); total alumni = 55. Data cover all alumni through August 2022

 table of types of positions held by PhD in public administration alumni

Handbook: PhD in Public Policy and Administration

Point of contact for prospective students:  Dr. Meg Streams, Interim Dept. Chair
Point of contact for admitted students in course-taking phase: Dr. Alex Sekwat, PhD Program Advisor
Point of contact for doctoral candidates past the course-taking phase:  student's Dissertation Committee Chair and Dr. Alex Sekwat, PhD Program Advisor

I. Key guiding documents

  1. TSU Graduate Catalog - (2023-2024; use dropdown menu in upper right of Catalog page to access past catalogs) - Relevant policies are found both in the front of the catalog which apply to all TSU graduate students as well as the program-specific part in the College of Public Service section. 

    Please note that this "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 policy and administration

  1. Graduate Catalog: 2023-2024 - PhD PPA section (use dropdown menu in upper right of Catalog page to access past catalogs)
  2. FYI  |  sample past syllabi
  3. Students offer advice
  4. Graduates and dissertations
  5. Where do our graduates work? Fall 2022 data

III. Applying for admission to the PhD in public policy and administration

  1. FYI  |  TSU Graduate Catalog - (2023-2024; use dropdown menu in upper right of Catalog page to access past catalogs)ncluding admissions requirements
  2. Apply to the Graduate School directly, 615-963-7371
  3. Tuition and fees for programs at TSU are available at the Bursar's website. All programs in the Department of Public Administration are delivered 100% online. Out-of-state students taking only online courses may be eligible for the TSU eRate, which is lower than regular out-of-state tuition rates. Please learn more about this possibility at the Bursar's website and at the TSU Out Of State eRate page. Note that students are responsible to verify promptly each semester that they have been assessed the proper rate for their situation and resolve any issues before Day 14 of the Semester with the Bursar Office and TSU Global Online as needed.

IV. Scholarly engagement opportunities beyond coursework

  1. Our 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. 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.
  3. Periodically, the PhD program advisor holds an evening PhD Roundtable event for current and prospective PhD students.
  4. The Ph.D. program advisor communicates with current students via email about important opportunities and advising matters. A blog, Synergy, is also maintained by the PhD program advisor and Dr. Streams with periodic announcements of interest to our doctoral students, including job postings; research tips; conference opportunities; and others.

V. Routine program advising and course selection

  1. ADVISING: The department chair provides registration advice for the first semester. Read the PhD in PPA section in the appropriate Graduate Catalog as well as this Handbook to prepare for advising. From that point on the Ph.D. program advisor is Dr. Alex Sekwat. You should arrange for program advising before taking your first course in the program and again before the end of your first semester. By the time you've completed 9 credits in the program at the latest, you should work with Dr. Sekwat to complete the program of study for PhD students.  This form is essential for continuing in the program and ensuring that you have a coursework plan that has been approved by your advisor.
  2. COURSE SELECTION: Use the PhD course rotation document to add in planning your program of study, in collaboration with program advisor Dr. Sekwat. The recommended sequence of courses depends on the semester in which program is begun and also your educational background (field of masters, since this may affect appropriate electives). Check in with Dr. Sekwat 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. It is important to take each doctoral course when offered as waiting for the next scheduled offering which can delay program benchmarks, such as the preliminary exam, qualifying exam, prospectus defense, and dissertation phase.
  3. REGISTRATION FOR REGULAR COURSES: 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 financial aid status, billing and student account, view your unofficial transcript, and see which programs you have been admitted to. 
  4. REGISTRATION FOR DISSERTATION RESEARCH CREDITS: How to register for dissertation research credits once admitted to candidacy
  5. TUITION AND FEES; OUT-OF-STATE eRate: Tuition and fees for programs at TSU are available at the Bursar's website. All programs in the Department of Public Administration are delivered 100% online. Tennessee residency as defined by the University is required for in-state graduate tuition and fees.  Out-of-state students taking only online courses may be eligible for the TSU graduate out-of-state eRate, which is lower than regular out-of-state graduate rates. Please learn more about this possibility at the Bursar's website and at the TSU Out Of State eRate page. Follow any instructions regarding qualification for the out-of-state eRate at the TSU Out Of State eRate page. It is the student's responsibility to ensure that the proper rate was applied to the current semester's bill by monitoring their account carefully and following up promptly with the Bursar's office if needed. Tuition, fees, and eRate availability are determined at the University level and may change over time. Include your T-number in all correspondence with the Bursar or other University support units. [Out-of-state eRate graphic pdf]
  6. TEXTBOOKS: Students should also budget for textbook purchases at the beginning of every semester for each of the 12 required courses in the doctoral program.
  7. PAYMENT AND PENALTIES FOR DROPPING/WITHDRAWING: Payment due dates are available at the Bursar's website. All students using any form of aid must confirm their registration following the Bursar's instruction. Dropping (without adding a replacement) or withdrawing from a class starting on the first day of the semester on incurs a penalty that increases over time; see Bursar's site for prorate schedule. Note that withdrawing before the withdrawal deadline in the Academic Calendar means you will get a W on your transcript for that course -- but depending on exactly when you withdrew during the semester, you may still be charged for part or all of the tuition and fees for that course (Bursar's prorate schedule.) It is the student's responsibility to monitor their student account and resolve any balance issues.
  8. FINANCIAL AID: To use US federal financial aid in a given semester of graduate study in the department, at least two courses must be taken that semester. It is the student's responsibility to monitor their student email account and myTSU account records throughout the year for messages from Financial Aid, and to promptly complete any necessary steps which may apply (such as entrance counseling, Master Promissory Note, or other requirements to receive and accept a loan for a given semester.) All students using any form of aid must confirm their registration following the Bursar's instruction. Always be aware of the terms of any loan accepted for graduate study, the applicable annual and aggregate limits given your situation, and the effect a decision to drop or withdraw from, or repeat a class or poor academic performance may have on your aid and balance owed.  All questions regarding financial aid should be directed to the Financial Aid office (include your T-number); there is a financial aid counselor assigned to graduate students (contact).
  9. USING STATE OF TENNESSEE FEE WAIVERS (state employees only): Students wishing to use a state fee waiver to pay for a course must email the completed fee waiver with all signatures directly to before class start, and never more than 14 days after semester start. Late waivers will not be processed and you will be responsible for your balance. A new waiver must be submitted EVERY semester -- they do not "roll over." Put "State Fee Waiver" in the subject header of your message to the Bursar's office. Include your name and T-number in the message with the attached waiver. Double-check to make sure you sent the waiver attached. Save a copy of your sent message for your records. Waivers sent soon after registration opens should post to your student account in myTSU by a few weeks before classes start; if not, follow up promptly with If you registered and sent a waiver close to the start of classes, check your myTSU student account daily to make sure it posts. It should post within a few days of sending in that case. It is the student's responsibility to send the fee waiver in a timely fashion prior to semester start, and it is the student's responsibility to verify that it posts properly to the student account. Do not wait till late in a semester or the next semester to try to resolve an issue -- waiver issues must be resolved promptly in the beginning of the semester of use. Questions should be sent to; visit the Bursar's website. The current state policy and FAQ on the fee waiver is available at THEC's website. Waivers may only be used for one non-overlapping course per regular semester, summer 10-week, or summer 5-week term unless a special state exemption applies based on your state position. If the exemption applies, your HR person must indicate that on the waiver, when they sign it (see the state policy). No one, with or without the exemption, may take more than 4 classes per year with a waiver. It is the student's responsibility to know the current state policy as it applies to their situation and register for classes accordingly. Error or delay in filing the waiver with the Bursar office will result in the student bearing liability for the course, and may prevent further registration as well as access to grades and transcripts until the balance is paid. Here is a graphic pdf version of fee waiver tips.

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

  1. Once a student has successfully passed the preliminary exam (which should be taken after successful completion of the first four 7000-level courses, not counting 7140 if taken) 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: Preliminary Exam and Qualifying Exam

  1. Dates of PhD exams
  2. FAQ on PhD exams 
  3. Form | Request to take the PhD preliminary exam ; due at beginning of semester in which you plan to take the exam
  4. Sample questions for preliminary exam . Students preparing for the preliminary exam can get an idea of the types of questions eligible to be asked with this list. Students who entered under the current program design (prelim/qualifying exams) who have passed the preliminary exam, completed doctoral coursework and are taking the qualifying exam take a specifically designed exam developed by members of their committee, as described in the Graduate Catalog . Therefore sample questions that are "generic" cannot be provided for that benchmark exam.
  5. Students offer advice

VIII. Preparing to graduate

  1. Please read this detailed FAQ on preparing to graduate. Important points are summarized below, but full information is in the FAQ.
  2. If you are planning to graduate in the upcoming semester, you must apply online inside myTSU to notify the Graduate School of your plans and to trigger degree audit. Apply by Oct. 15 (Fall semester graduate), Mar. 15 (Spring semester graduate), Jul. 15 (Summer semester graduate).  Apply to graduate inside that system separately for each program you plan to complete (including certificate if applicable).   Check the Graduate School graduation information website  for deadline. Application is mandatory whether or not you plan to attend Commencement ceremonies; instructions on how to apply to graduate are available. If you have any problems registering to graduate for all program(s) you are completing, contact your advisor immediately.
  3. Visit the TSU commencement site to obtain important information on the "Grad Finale" which you must attend to get fitted for cap and gown; this event typically occurs before mid-semester) as well as on Commencement exercises themselves. Commencement ceremonies are held only in May and in December.  In May, the ceremony for graduate students may be held at a different time than the undergraduate ceremonies; the site will have these details.

webpage contact:
Department of Public Administration