Jul 14, 2024  
Graduate Catalog | 2021-2022 
Graduate Catalog | 2021-2022 Previous Edition

Public Policy, Ph.D.

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The Ph.D. in Public Policy is an interdisciplinary program focused 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 social, economic, and political environments.

The Ph.D. in Public Policy degree program 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. The intellectual focus of the program is guided by four 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. Adaptable Analytic and Critical Thinking Skills: Applied policy analysis requires researchers to pivot their policy focus to address constantly shifting policy priorities.
  4. 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.

The core curriculum provides the skills needed to pursue varied policy domains, adapt to changing policy environments, and clearly communicate research results to shape policy outcomes.  Students become versed in analytical techniques suitable for research and policy analysis to address substantive issues and problems in varied geographic and political contexts.

Students graduate with expertise in a specific policy field. Students have flexibility in identifying their policy field.  The multidisciplinary nature of the program allows students to develop a cutting-edge policy field as they work with faculty across disciplines and colleges.  Students are provided multiple opportunities to conduct guided research both within and outside of their policy field.  Examples of the policy field include, but are not limited to:

  • Community Development
  • Economic Policy
  • Economic Development Policy
  • Education Policy
  • Election Policy
  • Energy Policy
  • Environmental Policy
  • Food and Nutrition Policy
  • Health Policy
  • Infrastructure Policy
  • Justice Policy
  • Peace and Conflict Policy
  • Policy Process
  • Political Institutions
  • Social Policy
  • Trade Policy
  • Transportation Policy
  • Urban and Regional Development

Admission Requirements

The following are general guidelines for successful admission into the Ph.D. in Public Policy degree program:

  1. A master’s degree in a social science or other field related to policy studies with a GPA of at least 3.3 is required for admission to full standing in the Ph.D. in Public Policy program. 
  2. 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 Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or the GMAT.  The GMAT/GRE can be waived if one of the following conditions are met:
    • Master’s degree from a college or university accredited by an accepted accredited body with a minimum cumulative graduate GPA of 3.0, AND a minimum GPA of 3.0 in all Economics and/or Statistics courses completed at the undergraduate and/or graduate level, AND at least two years of relevant, professional work experience, OR
    • Completion of at least 9 credit hours in the UNC Charlotte Graduate Certificate in Public Policy Research and Analysis  program with a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.33.
    • The waiver must be requested from the Public Policy Doctoral Director via email when submitting the completed application. Please include “PPOL GRE Waiver” in the subject line.  All GRE/GMAT waivers are at the discretion of the Public Policy Doctoral Director.  If candidates are unable to secure the GRE/GMAT waiver, they will be required to submit official GRE/GMAT test scores with their application.
  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) or GMAT scores (verbal, quantitative, analytical writing, and integrated reasoning).
  3. 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 potential areas of policy field 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 microeconomics
  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 publicpolicy.uncc.edu.

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 29 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 12 credit hours for policy field 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 (29 credit hours)

Professional policy researchers must have a foundation of theoretical and research skills that are transferrable across policy foci.  Students are provided a strong foundation in theory and methods.

Nature of the Field Courses (11 credit hours)

Professional policy researchers require a variety of tools to assess policies and develop policy recommendations. All students are required to take courses to understand the nature of the field.  Students learn to critically assess the current policy literature (PPOL 8600 ), design a research study (PPOL 8602 ), and consider the ethical implications of their work (PPOL 8635 ).  Students also take two professionalization seminars (PPOL 8690 ) that assist with career development and help students develop the soft skills necessary for a career in Public Policy.  


* Students in the program develop their appreciation of the varied nature of policy applications and improve their communication skills by participating in at least two seminar series throughout the course of their program.  Seminars also serve as a clearinghouse, introducing students to the varied faculty in the program. Students engage in activities aimed at professional development for both practitioners and for those interested in pursuing careers in academia.  

Methods of Analysis Courses (12 credit hours)

Public policy researchers and scholars must have a strong foundation in research methods.  All students are required to take GRAD 8101  and PPOL 8630  to develop this foundation.  Students also complete two studio courses that provide hands-on research experiences.  PPOL 8101  (taken before GRAD 8101 ) will provide hands-on experience with data management and analysis using the R statistical software package. PPOL 8102 , taken after GRAD 8101 , provides an opportunity for a guided research experience where students complete an independent research project under the guidance of the faculty. 

Economic Analysis Courses (6 credit hours)

A strong foundation in economics is critical for effective policy analysis. Students are required to take 6 credit hours in the economic analysis of public policy.

Advanced Analysis Courses (6 credit hours)

Advanced analytic skills prepare policy researchers to tackle a variety of complex research studies.  Prior to defending a dissertation proposal, students must complete at least six (6) credit hours of advanced analysis coursework at the doctoral level.  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.  Students are strongly encouraged to take additional advanced analytic courses, as possible. Expertise in diverse methods is critical for a policy research career.

Policy Field Courses (12 credit hours)

The Policy Field allows students to select an area of focus that culminates in a dissertation.  Students have flexibility in defining this field, in consultation with the director and the advisor. 12 credit hours are required for the policy field.  Three of these credit hours must be an independent study in which students develop a reading list, in consultation with the advisor. Three of the credit hours must be a focused research experience. The final six credit hours can include any combination of an independent study, an elective PPOL course, or an elective from any graduate level program across the university with advisor or program director approval.  This student-centered approach to creating the policy field allows students flexibility in identifying innovative, multidisciplinary policy expertise.  This expertise is complemented by hands-on research in PPOL 8602  and 18 dissertation credit hours.  Students are encouraged to take additional courses aligned with their policy field, as relevant.

Elective Policy Field Courses (6 credit hours)

Students should choose two additional courses that align with their Policy Field. These courses may include elective courses from any graduate level program across the University with advisor or program director approval. This permits students flexibility in identifying innovative policy fields.  Examples of courses in the Ph.D. in Public Policy program that could count toward the elective include, but are not limited to:

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 nine 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 a college or university accredited by an accepted accrediting body, 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.

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