Dec 01, 2023  
Graduate Catalog | 2018-2019 
Graduate Catalog | 2018-2019 Previous Edition

Public Policy, Ph.D.

The Ph.D. in Public Policy at UNC Charlotte is an interdisciplinary program focusing on the study of policy development, implementation, and evaluation. It stresses the development of skills, tools, and specialties, as well as a theoretical understanding of them, that contribute to our understanding of the structure of institutional systems and sub-systems and of how policy should be shaped within political environments.

The Ph.D. in Public Policy prepares students to be researchers, decision makers and policy analysts in local, state or federal governments, not-for-profit agencies, for-profit institutions, and academia. The Program stresses applied and empirical policy research grounded in an interdisciplinary theoretical foundation. Students will become versed in analytical techniques suitable for research and policy analysis to address substantive issues and problems in varied geographic and political contexts. The intellectual focus of the Program is guided by three overarching themes:

  1. Interdisciplinary Perspective: Effective policy analysis and policy formation are not informed by any single discipline. Rather, public policy requires knowledge of the historical, cultural, political, institutional, geographic, and economic dimensions of policy problems facing any community.
  2. Applied and Empirical Policy Analysis: Public policy is an inherently applied endeavor that seeks practical solutions and cogent analysis. While theory informs all research and analysis, the purpose of policy research is to elevate public discourse and improve public decision-making.
  3. Place-Based Research: To exercise applied policy analysis in an interdisciplinary context, policy research must be place-based. Real policy analysis, based on real data, applied to actual geographic and political settings is a strength of the Program.

Admission Requirements

The following are general guidelines for successful admissions into the Ph.D. in Public Policy Program:

  1. A master’s degree in a social science or other field related to policy studies is required for admission to full standing in the Ph.D. in Public Policy.
  2. Exceptional performance at the master’s level is required. This means a GPA of at least 3.3 in a master’s degree program is required for admission. Students with baccalaureate degrees may be admitted on a conditional basis if they have an overall undergraduate GPA of at least 3.5 and are currently enrolled in a master’s level program at UNC Charlotte in a field related to policy studies. However, such students will not formally be admitted to the Ph.D. program until completion of the requirements for the master’s degree.
  3. Admission to the program requires strong scores (at least at the fiftieth percentile) on the verbal, quantitative, and analytic sections of the Graduate Record Examination. The Graduate Record Examination is a required part of the application package.
  4. Three strong, positive letters of recommendation, at least two of which must come from faculty in the student’s previous academic programs. All letters should be written by individuals in a position to judge the applicant’s likely success in a Ph.D. level program. Letters should address the applicant’s suitability for a Ph.D. program and ability to complete the program in a timely fashion. Letters from the student’s master’s level program are preferred.
  5. Admission to the program of students who are not native English speakers requires strong scores on the TOEFL exam. The TOEFL exam is a required part of the application package for non-native English speakers.
  6. Students entering the program are expected to remedy any coursework deficiencies identified by the Admissions Committee and Program Director in the first semester after enrolling in the Program. The amount and kinds of remedial coursework required for the program depends on the background of the student and are established by the Admissions Committee and the Program Director. Possible deficiencies are indicated in the prerequisites for the required core courses of the program. This program emphasizes the quantitative and analytical skills necessary to confront the challenges of contemporary policy dilemmas that communities face at the local, state, federal, and international levels.

Documents for Admission:

  1. Official transcripts from all colleges and universities attended
  2. Official GRE scores (verbal, quantitative, and analytical writing)
  3. The UNC Charlotte application for graduate admission form
  4. Three letters of reference from academics who have taught or worked directly with the applicant
  5. An essay that addresses professional goals and motivation for pursuing the degree, suitability for the program, career goals following the degree, and the policy specialty the applicant would pursue within the Program
  6. TOEFL scores (if the student is not a native English speaker)

Admission Assessment

  1. An Admissions Committee reviews applications and recommends to the Program Director whether each applicant should be admitted and, if so, under what conditions.
  2. The Program’s Admissions Committee assesses each student’s previous academic coursework in light of the student’s stated direction of study.This assessment is used to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the student’s previous academic history and to suggest specific coursework for the student’s public policy program. Any remedial coursework required for the program depends on the student’s background and will be established by the Admissions Committee and the Program Director. The Admissions Committee may also suggest specific coursework based on the student’s intended direction of study within the program. The Admissions Committee conducts this assessment upon the student’s acceptance and formal declaration of intent to attend. For each entering student, the Director of the Public Policy Program serves as his or her major advisor for the first year in the Program before the student chooses his or her committee chair.

Student Responsibility
Students entering the program must present evidence that their background is sufficient to undertake the coursework required of them. Such evidence ideally should include some combination of:

  1. Familiarity with political and legal processes, behaviors, and institutions
  2. A graduate level social science methods or statistics course
  3. College coursework in both macro- and micro-economics
  4. Substantial background in a public policy specialty area

Students may have completed appropriate courses to provide this background elsewhere. Normally, transcripts provide the evidence required by the Admissions Committee; however, if the student’s previous experience is offered as evidence, the student must document such experience. A more detailed list of the types of prerequisite coursework can be found online at

Degree Requirements

The total number of credit hours is established by the student’s advisor according to a plan of study that must be presented after the successful completion of 18 credit hours of coursework.  The Ph.D. Program requires 26 credit hours of core course credit, at least 6 credit hours of advanced analysis coursework, 18 credit hours of dissertation credit (enrollment contingent on admission to candidacy), and a minimum of 15 credit hours for specialty elective courses.  Students can complete the program with 65 credit hours, but will likely take more.  Students progress through the program in five stages:

  1. Core Courses
  2. Qualifying Examinations
  3. Advanced Analysis Coursework and Specialty Policy Field Courses
  4. Dissertation Proposal Defense
  5. Dissertation

Core Courses (26 credit hours)


* Students in the program develop their appreciation of the varied nature of policy applications and improve their communication skills by participating in at least three seminar series throughout the course of their program.  Seminars also serve as a clearinghouse, introducing students to the varied faculty in the program.  Each semester, a series of guest speakers prepare monthly seminars reflecting a range of policy issues and challenges.  Students engage in activities aimed at professional development for both practitioners and for those interested in pursuing careers in academia.  

Advanced Analysis Courses (6 credit hours)

Prior to defending a dissertation proposal, students must complete at least six (6) credit hours of advanced analysis coursework at the doctoral level.  These credit hours may also be taken outside the Public Policy program with the approval of the Program Director.  Students are encouraged to choose courses that cover the types of analysis that are prevalent in the student’s policy area of interest.  Students may select from the following list or take courses in other departments with permission of the Program Director:

Policy Application Courses (15 credit hours)

After students have completed the 26 core course credit hours and the 6 advanced analysis course hours, they are prepared to select a substantive application for their dissertation research.  Students, in consultation with their advisor, take a minimum of 5 courses (15 credit hours) in a substantive area on which their dissertation will focus.  While the core courses prepare students to develop, implement, and evaluate policy, the dissertation research provides the opportunity to put those tools into a substantive context.  Public Policy at UNC Charlotte is in Charlotte’s Urban Research University, and the program is particularly strong in studying the various aspects of urban policy, including issues of economics, social inequality, education, health, development, criminal justice, and other aspects of urban life locally and globally.  Thus, students should, in consultation with their advisor, develop a set of research questions and substantive interest on which their dissertation will focus.  Students are encouraged to work with their advisor and the Program Director to design a program of study tailored to their policy interests by combining courses in several of these policy areas.  While the particular courses required in each policy area may vary according to prerequisites needed by the student or individual programs of study, the minimum number of required courses in any given policy area is five (5) for 15 credit hours..

Examples of such areas and typical course sequences include:

Economic Policy

The Policy Field in Economic Policy focuses on the study of policy issues related to market, government, firm, and individual behavior. This specialty allows students to build knowledge regarding economic theory and tools used by economists to consider policy issues. In addition, the specialty offers several courses in which theoretical and statistical tools are applied to specific policy areas, including public economics, urban and regional economics, and health economics.

The following advanced quantitative methods courses are strongly recommended, and students are encouraged to work with their advisor to identify other relevant advanced methods courses:

In addition, the following economic theory courses are recommended for students without Master’s level training in Economics:


Other courses appropriate for each specialty may be available, and students may take these or substitute them for one of the listed classes in consultation with their advisor and the Program Director.

Students are encouraged to develop a focus in other related fields or design their specialty based on faculty resources available. As with all programs, such a program would need the approval of the student’s advisor and the Program Director. Program faculty continue to develop additional substantive and methods courses.

Environmental/Infrastructure Policy

The Policy Field in Environmental/Infrastructure Policy focuses on environmental issues impacted by energy production and consumption, growth, pollution, and population change. This specialty allows interested students to gain knowledge on the economic factors related to environmental degradation and improvement. It also allows them the opportunity to become familiar with the scientific aspects of urban air, water, and earth systems. Policy making and policy analysis related to these issues will all be covered by courses in this specialty.

Health Policy

The Policy Field in Health Policy focuses on applied research in the organization, delivery and financing of healthcare and population-based issues in health (including mental health). A multidisciplinary faculty in epidemiology, health economics and finance, health policy, medical sociology, bioethics, and health law is ideally suited to prepare quantitative health service researchers and health policy analysts. Qualified students without a relevant Master’s degree can prepare for the Ph.D. by completing coursework in the Health Administration, MHA , the MA in medical sociology, or the MS in Health Promotion while enrolled in the Ph.D. with a field specialty in Health Policy.

Justice Policy

The Justice Policy Field provides an interdisciplinary approach to the study of crime and society’s response to it. This specialty prepares students to conduct research and policy analysis on local, state, and national policies and policy initiatives and provide information for policy makers. The primary goal of this specialization is to provide students with the tools necessary for critically and objectively assessing policies related to the administration of justice. Toward that end, students gain the appropriate analytical skills, an understanding of the nature of criminal behavior and its impact, and knowledge about the criminal justice system as well as about a variety of issues related to the control of crime. They also become familiar with the process of making and implementing justice policy and with those organizations involved in this process.

Social Policy

The Policy Field in Social Policy prepares scholars, researchers, practitioners, and policy makers to address crucial social issues facing communities and our nation including social welfare, education, poverty, housing and homelessness and the role of public, nonprofit, and private sectors in alleviating and contributing to such problems. In addition to dealing with these topics in their own right, the social policy field focuses on the complex interrelationships among these issues and the manner in which they are influenced by–and in turn influence–prevailing patterns of racial, ethnic, and gender stratification. The social policy specialization provides the theoretical background, methodological training, and substantive knowledge that will allow students to make important contributions to the development, implementation, and evaluation of public policies addressing the most vexing and important social issues of our time.

Urban and Regional Development Policy

The Urban and Regional Development Policy Field stresses applied and empirical policy research that is grounded in an interdisciplinary theoretical foundation. Students will be prepared in analytical techniques suitable for research and policy analysis through courses addressing several topics at the neighborhood, city and regional levels, including: Economic Development; Transportation Policy; Infrastructure Provision; Public Service Delivery; Growth Management; Regionalism and Governance.

Dissertation (18 credit hours)

The program requires that the student complete 18 hours of dissertation credit. Enrollment in dissertation credit is contingent on admission to candidacy. The dissertation topic may be proposed after the student has passed the qualifying exams. The doctoral student advances to candidacy after the dissertation proposal has been defended to, and approved by, the student’s advisory committee and reported to the Director of the Ph.D. in Public Policy and the Dean of the Graduate School. The student must complete and defend the dissertation based on a research program approved by the student’s dissertation committee that results in a high quality, original, and substantial piece of research.

Degree Total = 65 Credit Hours

Grade Requirements

A student must maintain a cumulative average of 3.0 in all coursework taken for graduate credit. An accumulation of three C grades will result in termination of the student’s enrollment in the graduate program. If a student receives a grade of U in any course, enrollment in the program will be terminated.

Admission to Candidacy

After completing the core courses, students are required to write a qualifying examination covering the nature of the field, methodology, and economic analysis skills.  After completing the qualifying examination, students take their policy field courses.  Successful completion of core courses and the qualifying examinations allows students to proceed to the dissertation proposal preparation and defense stage.  The dissertation proposal defense includes an oral presentation and written proposal.  Prior to the proposal defense, with the guidance of their advisor, students develop a topic paper that outlines the policy area on which their dissertation will focus.  After a topic approval meeting, students develop that topic paper into a full proposal.  During the oral component of the proposal defense, the student addresses not only the specific research topic about which they will write but situates that topic in the larger body of  relevant policy literatures; the defense serves as the comprehensive examination.  Procedures for establishing the dissertation committee are addressed in the Student Handbook and in the Public Policy Seminar course.


While the Program Director serves as the de facto advisor for each student for the first year, the Program Director works with the students and faculty to help the student work with a suitable advisor. Once the student is matched with the advisor, they work closely with that advisor on suggested schedules of classes, research options, and other issues important to success. After approximately one year in the program, each student is expected to have identified the faculty member with whom they would like to mentor, with the expectation that this mentor would ultimately serve on the student’s committees. Following completion of the policy field courses, students establish their dissertation advisor and form a dissertation committee. The procedures for establishing these committees are in the Student Handbook and are addressed in the Public Policy Seminar.

Application for Degree

Each student should make application for his/her degree by completing the online Application for Degree through Banner Self Service no later than the filing date specified in the University Academic Calendar. After successful defense of the dissertation, a student will be conferred with the doctoral degree.


The Ph.D. in Public Policy is committed to academic year funding for all full-time students. Additional support for summer sessions may be available through program funds and research grants working with program faculty. Available options for funding include graduate assistantships, teaching assistantships for those interested in careers in academia, and scholarships. For more information on funding options, contact the Director of the Public Policy Program.

Research Opportunities

The Ph.D. Program in Public Policy has an extensive pool of professors to enhance the research opportunities and experiences for the students. Each program of study could be individually tailored for the research of the student with the possibility of individual studies under the supervision of an advisor.

Residency Requirement

Students must satisfy the residency requirement for the program by completing 21 hours of continuous enrollment, either as coursework or dissertation credits. Residence is considered continuous if the student is enrolled in one or more courses in successive semesters until 21 hours are earned. All 18 hours of dissertation credit must be earned at UNC Charlotte.

Time Limits for Completion

The student must achieve admission to candidacy within six years after admission to the program. All requirements for the degree must be completed within eight years after first registration as a doctoral student. These time limits are maximums; full-time students will typically complete the degree requirements in five years.

Transfer Credit

The Program will accept up to two courses in the core curriculum as transfer credit from other regionally accredited doctoral institutions, providing that the Admissions Committee determines that these courses are equivalent to those offered in the core or one of the specialty areas. The acceptance of transfer credit is subject to the approval of the Graduate School. The grade in these transfer credits must have been A or B. All of the dissertation work must be completed at UNC Charlotte.