About the Program

The Basics

Each entering cohort is limited to 20 students, and ideal applicants have at least five years of experience in higher education. Unlike traditional education programs that begin with a set curriculum, this program begins with the identification of problems in need of solutions. Students still take courses and earn units, but the issues, concerns, and callings of the students in the program are central in determining which problems and topics will be investigated.

Core Values

APU’s Department of Higher Education programs are driven by these core values:

  • A commitment to rigorous research that makes a difference in real-world settings
  • A commitment to enable students to become “big picture” thinkers who are people of character and integrity
  • A strengths-oriented perspective on learning and leadership that encourages students to reach their full potential and teaches them how to lead effectively by developing the strengths of others
  • A commitment to diversity and an international perspective that enhances learning and leadership effectiveness
  • A commitment to mentoring doctoral students academically, professionally, and personally

A Focus on Personal Transformation

Ideal candidates are student affairs professionals who are invested in their personal development as leaders and change agents. This program is not about accumulating enough academic credits to get a doctoral degree; it is about personal transformation.

Thus, the program’s curriculum and teaching approach are designed to foster the development of six core character strengths and values essential for becoming a leader of integrity committed to personal, institutional, and systemic change:

  • Curiosity: Essential for devising creative new approaches in place of entrenched and dying systems.
  • Courage: Required of those who are called to be agents of change.
  • Compassion: Critical in leaders, for it represents a genuine desire to be fully present in the struggles of those we lead.
  • Community: Welcoming and encouraging the gifts and experiences of all, enabling us to live into our full potential as members of the human family.
  • Calling: The essence of vocation; the alignment of our giftedness and the needs of the world.
  • Competence: Including all of the specific skills we need to do our work effectively.

Program Format

The EdD in Higher Education Leadership program meets on the Azusa campus full time for one week in June and one weekend (Friday and Saturday) a month for nine months (not including May or August). Between sessions on campus, faculty and students are in communication with one another and assignments are submitted electronically. This schedule enables working professionals from across the region to participate in the program.

The APU Experience

APU’s doctoral programs in higher education are residency programs for the working professional. As such, there are distinctive features of these programs that make the APU experience a life-changing one for our students.

The Cohort Model

Students are admitted to the program as part of a cohort of 15-20 students who are usually employed full-time in higher education or a related field. Students take courses in a carefully designed sequence and stay with their cohort throughout the program. This model affords students the benefit of a supportive network of professional colleagues with whom to study and conduct research. Our students report that the relationships they form within their cohorts comprise one of the highlights of the program.

Course Schedule

Students begin each academic year in May. Attendance on campus is expected for a one-week residency in June, as well as one weekend (9 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday and Saturday) a month, with the exceptions of May and August. Students take two courses a term, and three terms per academic year, for a total of six courses (17 units) per academic year. In between campus visits, students complete course assignments and communicate with faculty and fellow students.

Registration and Books

Students register for classes online. Payment for doctoral courses is due each term. A textbook list is sent in advance to students. Doctoral students are expected to complete some assigned reading in advance of each session.

International Travel Requirement

Students travel internationally during the spring of their second year. The coursework for that session will be the focus of the trip. All in-country costs of the trip are included in the program tuition, but students are responsible for their international airfare.


Students are responsible for arranging their own housing. The department can recommend local options each semester to help students find housing.

Program Outcomes

Graduates of the EdD in Higher Education Leadership program are expected to be able to:

  1. Conduct and disseminate research that answers meaningful questions and makes a difference to campus practice or to the field of higher education.
  2. Lead effectively, collaboratively, and with vision.
  3. Competently effect change at the campus level through creative interventions and program design.
  4. Articulate and evaluate a strengths-based approach to teaching, learning, and leadership development.
  5. Articulate and evaluate a Christian perspective on effective leadership in higher education.
  6. Relate effectively to diverse populations, communicate competently in a global and multicultural context, and appropriately confront personal and institutional injustice and marginalization in higher education settings.
  7. Demonstrate a commitment and ability to foster student learning within individuals and institutions.


The dissertation is completed concurrently with coursework within the three-year course of study. Action research is the primary methodology used in EdD dissertations, with students engaging in a process of leading change by introducing specific innovative actions and investigating the impact of those actions on the institutions they serve and on themselves as leaders.

Standards and procedures for the dissertation are defined by the doctoral faculty and are provided to students in a Dissertation Handbook. The student defends the dissertation in a meeting with the faculty committee that is open to all faculty in the department. Subsequently, the student participates in a public presentation of the research.

Additional Requirements

Grading and Grade-Point Average

Throughout higher education, and particularly at the doctoral level, commitment to learning should outweigh the pursuit of grades. Nonetheless, grading and the grade-point average continue to play a crucial role in students’ careers. For doctoral students, the grade of B is considered average; a grade below B- is not applied toward doctoral degree requirements.

A doctoral student whose cumulative grade-point average falls below 3.0 or who has any grade below B- is placed on academic probation. Students whose cumulative grade-point average has not reached 3.0 by the end of two terms on probation may be dismissed from the program.

A doctoral student whose grade-point average falls between 3.0 and 3.2 or who earns eight credits or more of B- grades is required to meet with his/her advisor to identify academic skills that may need to be strengthened and to plan appropriate action.

Policies regarding incompletes and withdrawals are set forth in the Graduate Academic Policies and Procedures section of the university catalog.

First-year Review

To evaluate success in meeting program goals and uphold the mission and objectives of the university and the School of Behavioral and Applied Sciences, the program design includes an extensive array of procedures for quality control and assessment. These include a first-year review, which calls for completion of the problem statement for the dissertation. The student’s academic performance is also reviewed. Continuation in the program is contingent upon a successful first-year review. A second-year review focuses on self-assessment as well as peer and faculty assessment.

Critical Issues Seminars

Christian perspectives and moral and ethical issues in higher education form an essential strand in the doctoral program and are embedded within all courses. In addition, students must attend three of the annual critical issues seminars that are offered each July on the Azusa campus; these seminars are built into the July class session.

Note: This information is current for the 2023-24 academic year; however, all stated academic information is subject to change. Please refer to the current Academic Catalog for more information.

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