The doctoral degree in public policy and administration offered by the University of Kentucky through the Martin School of Public Policy and Administration is an academic credential of the highest order. Since 1988, the Martin School has offered a doctoral degree in public administration (now public policy and administration) to prepare scholars and leaders for distinguished careers in public service. Our Ph.D. program was ranked #4 by the National Research Council. 

The Ph.D. program is designed to prepare graduates to carry out sophisticated research at the frontier of public policy and administration theory. It provides knowledge of the principle core features of organizational behavior and administrative decision making in public and quasi-public organizations; the development of public budgets and management of public finances; an understanding of the critical aspects of public policy processes, including the interrelationships of economic, political and social factors that facilitate and constrain change. Our graduates have an ability to apply research and analytical methods to the analysis of policy and administrative problems, and an in-depth understanding of policy issues and analytical approaches in a functional public affairs area.


Many incoming students hold a master's degree in public policy, public administration, political science, economics, agricultural economics, or business administration. All students are also expected to have a strong background in research methodologies. Students who have not had adequate preparation in specific courses may be required to enroll in pre-requisite courses prior to entering certain Ph.D. classes. Details about these requirements will be provided by the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS). 

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Course work toward the Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration is divided into four phases with a total requirement of 42 hours of graduate course work beyond the master's level as well as the completion and successful defense of a dissertation of original research. Course work includes 12 credit hours of core courses, 9 hours of research methods, 3 hours of microeconomics, 3 additional hours of theory, and 15 hours in the area of concentration.

Core Curriculum (12 hours)

  • PA 731: Fiscal/Budgetary Policy
  • PA 742: Theory of Public Organizations
  • PA 751: Public Policy Formulation and Implementation
  • PA 752: Economics of Policy Analysis

Research Methods (9 hours)

Theory (3 hours)

  • PA 750: Introduction to Economics for Public Policy

Area of Concentration (15 hours)

  • Public Financial Management
  • Public Management
  • Public Policy


Upon completing the four core courses, each student will take an examination over the material covered soon after the spring semester. A written examination, which lasts four hours and is administered by the Director of Graduate Studies, includes a series of questions developed by the faculty teaching the core courses. The written portion of the core examination is followed by an oral examination before the Director of Graduate Studies and selected Martin School faculty. Students failing the exam are allowed a second attempt. Those failing on the second attempt must withdraw from the program.

Qualifying Examination - Written
The written qualifying examination consists of three papers on topics approved by the advisory committee. The papers should be completed in a manner that demonstrates integration of theory, policy issues, and research capabilities, and should be of professional quality. This examination process is initiated only upon written certification by the Director of Graduate Studies that all Graduate School and Martin School requirements have been met.

Qualifying Examination - Oral
An oral examination follows completion of the three assigned papers. As the final part of the qualifying examination, all of the formal Graduate School requirements for scheduling, reporting, and recording must be satisfied before the candidate can take the oral exam. Students must have completed the language and/or skills requirements, resolved all incompletes in course work, and completed all pre-qualifying requirements.


Following successful completion of the qualifying examination, the student must defend a dissertation prospectus before his or her advisory committee. The oral defense must take place within 90 days of completion of all parts of the qualifying examination. Failure to defend a prospectus successfully within this time period will result in a loss of financial assistance. Any student who fails to defend a prospectus within one year of the qualifying examination will be excused from the PhD program.

The dissertation must constitute a work of original research that makes a significant contribution to the field of study. The dissertation is prepared under the direction of the student's advisor and advisory committee.

Each completed dissertation must be defended before a final examination committee appointed by the Dean of the Graduate School. The dissertation defense, or final examination, is oral and usually lasts about two hours. In addition to defending the completed dissertation, the student is expected to demonstrate an understanding of the discipline of which the dissertation is a part and a thorough understanding of the context of the dissertation.

Application Requirements

  • GRE

  • Transcripts

  • Three letters of recommendation

  • Personal statement

  • CV or resume

  • Writing sample

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