With its nationally known faculty, the HESA doctoral program is one of the country’s major doctoral-granting programs in the field of higher education and student affairs.

HESA reflects a movement in the study and practice of American postsecondary education to integrate academic experiences with the co-curricular learning experiences of students, and to study the outcomes of both. The curriculum is organized around three core areas: Higher Education Administration & Policy; Teaching, Learning, and the College Experience; and Diversity, Equity, and Foundations of Higher Education. 

Application Deadlines

  • December 1 (Fall semester)

Admission Requirements

  • A bachelor’s degree from a Regionally Accredited American College or University, or an equivalent degree from another country as determined by the Office of Admissions.
  • Minimum GPA of 3.0 (in both undergraduate and graduate work)
  • Graduate Record Exam (GRE) General test – verbal and quantitative
  • Evidence of significant leadership or work experience, writing ability, and fit with the program
  • English Proficiency Requirements (international students)
  • Most students admitted to the HESA Ph.D. program hold a previously earned master's or equivalent degree

These are general criteria; the admissions committee considers each applicant's entire portfolio. Applicants will not be considered until they have submitted a complete application packet.

Application Process

  1. Create an application account to begin the application process.
  2. Submit the online application to the Graduate College and pay the $60 application fee by credit card ($100 for international applicants).
  3. Once you have submitted your application, you will receive email instructions on how to establish your HawkID and password which you will use to access MyUI, our online service center for students and applicants.
  4. You will use your Admissions Profile on MyUI to upload required supplemental materials.

Required Supplemental Documents

  1. Official transcripts from all post-secondary institutions
  2. Official GRE scores from Educational Testing Service (the University’s institutional code is 6681)
  3. A statement of purpose (1-3 pages) that includes an indication of tentative specialization, professional and/or research interests, whether you plan to enroll full- or part-time, and how your goals and experiences are consistent with the HESA program’s mission and values.
  4. Resume or Curriculum Vitae
  5. Three letters of recommendation. At leaset one letter should be from a professor or instructor.*

* You will be asked to give the contact information of your recommenders, including their email, on your Admissions Profile. The recommender will then get an email with instructions on how to upload the recommendation letter and/or form.


Application questions can be directed to: Sue Cline in the Office of Student Services   319/335-5260, sue-cline@uiowa.edu.

Questions about HESA Ph.D. program requirements can be directed to Betsy Winter (program graduate assistant) at epls-hesa@uiowa.edu.

We look forward to receiving your application!

PDF iconPh.D. Curriculum Overview (printer-friendly)

FilePh.D. Plan of Study Worksheet

Required Core (24 sh)

Designed to constitute a general knowledge base that all students master — regardless of career goals and interests — this core curriculum reflects an important foundational understanding of higher education today. The following courses must be taken at The University of Iowa.

  • EPLS:6216 - Finance in Higher Education
  • EPLS:6220 - History of Higher Education
  • EPLS:6221 - The College Curriculum
  • EPLS:6224 - Organizational Theory & Administrative Behavior
  • EPLS:6225 - Introduction to Higher Education Policy
  • EPLS:6273 - The College Student
  • EPLS:6275 - Diversity and Equity in Higher Education
  • EPLS:7432 - Multicultural Initiatives

Research Core (17 sh)

The purpose of the research core is to ensure a level of scholarly autonomy and initiative. Ph.D. students in HESA must fulfill a combination of basic research methods and statistics/linear regression.

Basic Research Methods (6 sh)

  • All students must take the following two courses:
  • EPLS:6206 Research Process and Design, 3 sh
  • EPLS:7373 Qualitative Research Design and Methods, 3 sh (or an approved substitute)

Statistics/Linear regression (8 sh)

All students must take the following three courses:

  • PSQF:6243 Intermediate Statistical Methods, 4 sh
  • EPLS:5240 Data Coding & Management, 1 sh
  • EPLS:6370 Quantitative Methods for Policy Analysis, 3 sh

Advanced/Specialized Research Methods (3 sh)

Students should work with their advisor to choose one of the following courses appropriate to their dissertation design.


  • EPLS:7392 Mixed Methods Research, 3 sh
  • EDTL:7072 Advanced Qualitative Data Analysis, 3 sh
  • EDTL:7071 Critical Discourse Analysis, 3 sh
  • EPLS:5240 Introduction to Historical Methodology, 3 sh
  • EDTL:7073 Ethnographic Methods, Theories, & Texts, 3 sh
  • RCE:7444 Qualitative Research in the Multicultural Context, 3 sh
  • OR other comparable research methods courses approved by student’s advisor and HESA Program*


  • EPLS:6209 Survey Research and Design, 3 sh
  • SOC:7170 Advanced Statistical Modelling of Data, 3 sh
  • EPLS:5240 Multilevel Modeling, 3 sh
  • POLI:7003 Advanced Methodology, 4 sh
  • PSQF:6246 Design of Experiments, 4 sh
  • SOC:7180 Structural Equation Modelling, 3 sh
  • OR other comparable research methods courses approved by student’s advisor and HESA Program*

*Students that desire to enroll in a course that is not listed above, and wish to receive credit towards their program requirements, must obtain prior approval from their advisor AND from the HESA Program.

Area of Specialization (12 sh)

The area of specialization provides an opportunity to develop a particular expertise. Students may complete up to 24 semester hours of study before declaring a specialization within the program.

Recommended options to complete the specialization*:

Higher Education Administration & Policy

  • EPLS:6217 Theory & Practice of Leadership
  • EPLS:6218 The Law & Higher Education
  • EPLS:6226 Educational Management
  • EPLS:5252 Administration of Higher Education & Student Affairs
  • EPLS:7380 Practicum in College Teaching
  • EPLS:6336 Impact of College on Students

Teaching, Learning, and the College Experience

  • EPLS:7385 Teaching & Learning in Higher Education** - required
  • PSQF:6217 Seminar in College Teaching
  • EPLS:6332 College Student Psychosocial & Identity Development
  • EPLS:6334 College Student Learning, Cognitive, & Moral Development
  • EPLS:6336 Impact of College on Students
  • EPLS:7380 Practicum in College Teaching

Diversity, Equity, & Foundations of Higher Education

  • EPLS:5142 Sociology of Higher Education
  • EPLS:5154 Education, Race, & Ethnicity
  • EPLS:6238 Gender and Education in Historical Perspective
  • EPLS:5240 Topics in Education: College Choice
  • EPLS:5247 Multiculturalism in Higher Education
  • EPLS:7380 Practicum in College Teaching
  • EPLS:7444 Advanced Practicum

*Students may take one approved course outside of the College of Education to complete their specialization. Occasional special-topic seminars may meet the specialization. Courses must be approved by the faculty advisor.

**In consultation with the advisor, students may substitute suitable courses for specialization courses, with the single exception that everyone in the Teaching, Learning, and the College Experience specialization must take Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (EPLS:7385).

Graduate Electives (25 sh - may be transferred in)

Dissertation Research (12 sh)

Comprehensive Examinations and Dissertations

Upon completing the HESA PhD curriculum, students will undergo a comprehensive examination. The comprehensive examination is an opportunity for PhD students to demonstrate they can apply the knowledge gained in the program curriculum to a series of questions linked to a specific case or problem. Each semester the program faculty meet to construct examination questions that will be used during that semester only. In addition to the written comprehensive exam, an oral examination is required. Students must have completed all required core and specialization courses prior to their examination. Comprehensive exams are not administered in the summer.

A dissertation is a required part of the doctoral program at the University of Iowa. HESA PhD students identify a dissertation topic with the assistance of their faculty advisor. Although students may take up to five years to successfully defend the dissertation, it is strongly recommended that you finish as quickly as possible following your comprehensive exam. Although coursework is completed, students must continue to be registered until the semester of their actual graduation. Consult the Graduate College manual for more information.

Examining Committees

A HESA PhD student should work with a faculty advisor to construct examining committees to include faculty members with varying, but related, areas of expertise. The comprehensive and final examinations are conducted by committees of no fewer than five members of the Graduate Faculty appointed by the dean upon recommendation of the major department or program.

The constellation of the committee must include:

  1. At least four of the faculty members must be members of the University of Iowa tenure-track faculty.
  2. At least two of the faculty members are from the major department (defined as faculty members who hold any appointment in the major department or program), and are members of the University of Iowa tenure-track faculty.
  3. At least one of the faculty members is from outside the major department on a thesis committee. This committee member can be an appointee if four tenure-track faculty are serving on the committee. A comprehensive exam committee would only need an outside member if a student is writing on a question from that area.

Departments and programs may request the dean's permission to replace one of the five members of the Graduate Faculty by a recognized scholar of professorial rank from another academic institution. This request must demonstrate that the external scholar brings expertise or experience not available among University of Iowa faculty.

*The policies of the Graduate College and College of Education will take precedence over program policies.


Required Core: 24
Research Core: 17
Specialization: 12
Graduate Electives: 25
Dissertation Research: 12
Total Hours Required: 90

Employment Opportunities
  • Leaders in student affairs and academic administration
  • Graduate faculty at research universities
  • Leaders in conducting research about college students and higher education
  • Policy analysts in postsecondary institutions and public or private agencies
  • Teachers and academic leaders at two-year and four-year colleges
Application Questions

Sue Cline
Office of Student Services

Application Deadline: December 1 (Fall semester)


Upcoming Events

February 14-15, 2019 (PhD) - February 13-15, 2019 (MA)