About the Program

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

Program Format

The Doctor of Philosophy in Higher Education program meets on campus full time for two weeks each July and two weeks each January. At each visit, students conclude two courses and begin two new ones. Between sessions on campus, faculty and students are in communication with one another and assignments are submitted electronically. This schedule enables working professionals from the U.S. and abroad to participate in the program.

In addition, all students join a faculty-led research team for their second and third years of the program. These research teams often meet at professional conferences in between the January and July residency sessions, and afford students the opportunity to not only conduct research, but to publish and present at professional conferences. Each student earns one unit of doctoral credit per semester on a team; four units are required for graduation.

In late May of the second year in the program, all students in the cohort join the faculty for a required international trip to South Africa as part of the Qualitative Research Methods and Global Policy courses. All in-country costs of the trip are included in the program tuition, but students are responsible for their international airfare.

The PhD in Higher Education is a four-year sequenced curriculum of 60 units. Students in the cohort take all classes together in the same sequence, unless they transfer in specific units from other regionally accredited doctoral programs. Components of the dissertation process are embedded throughout the curriculum so that students are able to complete the full degree, including the dissertation, within four years. A guaranteed tuition plan ensures that students who follow the course sequence not only graduate on time, but never pay a higher tuition rate than when they entered the program.

Transferring Units

Students in the PhD program may transfer up to 16 units of coursework with a grade of B or higher from another regionally accredited doctoral program. Official transcripts and course descriptions must be submitted to the department chair, who will determine the courses that successfully transfer.

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 residency program as part of a cohort. Cohorts are typically 15–18 students who are employed full-time in higher education or a related field. They take courses in a carefully designed sequence and stay with their cohort throughout the program. This model affords students the benefit of a network of professional colleagues with whom to study and conduct research. Our students report that their fellow students are one of the highlights of being in the residency program.

Course Schedule

In the residency program, students come to APU twice a year for two weeks each time. Morning classes are offered 8:30 a.m.–12 p.m. and afternoon classes meet 1:30–5 p.m. Two courses are offered each term. Each class consists of five days in July and five days in January; each term, two classes are starting and two classes are concluding. In between terms, students are working online on course assignments and attending professional conferences with their research teams.

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.


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

Support from Your Home Institution

Students in this program hail from many different kinds of institutions throughout the world. Their home institutions provide various levels of support for these professional students who are pursuing graduate education. Please consider asking your home institution to support you in your advanced educational efforts. Types of institutional support students receive from their home institutions include the following: release time for professional development (2-4 weeks); funds for airfare, housing, and meals (as if attending a professional conference);book purchases; and tuition subsidy (faculty/staff development funds or benefit packages).

Local Airports and Transportation

Ontario International Airport (ONT) is the closest airport to APU, located approximately 25 minutes away. The Burbank (BUR), Los Angeles International (LAX), Long Beach (LGB), and John Wayne (SNA) airports are all about an hour from campus. Shuttle vans are available from the airport for a fee; however, most students arrange for a rental car. PhD students receive a list of students who are flying in for the Residencies each year, so that car pooling and airport pickups can be arranged.

Program Outcomes

At APU, 84.5% of students who begin the PhD program graduate, compared to a national rate of 46.5%. Graduates of the PhD in Higher Education are expected to:

  • Conduct and disseminate original research that extends the theoretical knowledge base of higher education policy and practice and answers meaningful questions.
  • Competently engage the critical issues and help shape the conversations that affect the future direction of higher education at the national and international level.
  • Lead effectively, collaboratively, and with vision.
  • Articulate and evaluate a strengths-based approach to teaching, learning, and leadership development.
  • Foster optimal learning in the students they serve, through effective pedagogy and institutional practices that are learning-centered.
  • Articulate and evaluate a Christian perspective on effective leadership in higher education.
  • Effectively address personal, institutional, and systemic injustices through competent policy analysis, formulation, and revision, as well as individual actions.

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.

Dissertation Proposal

Students in the PhD program enroll in HED 791 in fall of their third year and HED 792 in spring and begin the dissertation proposal. Students who do not complete their proposal in their third year will take HED 790 for 2 units in their fourth year.

Critical Issues Conference

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 two of the annual program conferences on research or current issues in higher education that are offered each July on the Azusa campus.

Advancement to Candidacy

Following successful completion of all coursework and approval of the dissertation proposal, students are advanced to doctoral candidacy status.


The final step in the doctoral program is to design, implement, and write a research-based dissertation. Standards and procedures for the dissertation are defined by the doctoral faculty and are provided to students in a Dissertation Handbook.

Continuous enrollment in HED 791, HED 792, HED 794, and HED 795 is expected until the dissertation has been successfully defended.

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.

Study Load

To be classified as a full-time doctoral student, one must be enrolled in at least 6 units per term. Half-time status is 3 units per term. At the dissertation level, students are considered full time if they are enrolled in any one of the following courses: HED 791, HED 792, HED 794, or HED 795.

Maximum Time for Degree Completion

Although the PhD program is designed to be completed within four years, doctoral students have up to eight calendar years from the date of their first residency to complete the degree. Students may petition for a one-time extension of this time limit; however, only one extension of a maximum of two years is permitted, with the approval of the dissertation chair and the department chair. Students who are granted a leave of absence from the program may also request that the “clock stops” on the degree completion time frame; this request must be approved by the department chair and the dean of the School of Behavioral and Applied Sciences. Students who do not defend their dissertation successfully and submit their final approved copy of the dissertation to the APU library within the above time frame will not earn the PhD in Higher Education from APU. Please plan your time carefully, particularly at the dissertation phase of the program.

Note: This information is current for the 2022-23 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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