Curriculum & Degree Benchmarks

The PhD curriculum prepares our graduates for careers as faculty. In addition to taking core, methods, elective and cognate courses, students serve as research and teaching assistants during their four years. The assistantship appointment (50%) stipulates that research and teaching responsibilities occupy 50% of a graduate student’s total effort, allowing for the remaining 50% to be dedicated to the student’s individual academic pursuits.

Research and teaching assistantships are funded by USC Rossier and by external or internal grants to our faculty. Research assistantships provide students an opportunity to work closely with faculty to produce important new work in education. Teaching assistantships offer PhD students the opportunity to develop a number of important skills related to course delivery and instruction.


The PhD curriculum includes the following concentration areas:

  • Educational Psychology
  • Higher Education
  • K-12 Education Policy
  • Teacher Education


Component Purposes
Core Block The Core Block (16 units) consists of four 4-unit courses and represents different perspectives and levels of analysis in the formulation and consideration of urban educational issues.
Concentration Block The Concentration Block (15 units) consists of directed readings, research, and USC Rossier School of Education elective courses in your specific area of concentration. You also have the opportunity to collaborate with educational practitioners in our EdD program through this block.
Research Method Block The Research Block (a minimum of 15 units) curriculum provides students with the tools to pursue systematic, programmatic and empirical investigation.
Cognate Block The Cognate Block (12 units) reflects an interdisciplinary perspective on educational issues, with courses taken at the University of Southern California outside of the Rossier School of Education.
Dissertation Block The Dissertation Block (5 units) is designed to prepare students for their dissertation research and continues through the writing and defense of the dissertation.

 Multidisciplinary Coursework

The program features multi-disciplinary coursework that allows students to explore educational topics in depth while gaining exposure to diverse research methodologies. In order to reflect a critical interdisciplinary perspective to educational issues, our students are expected to take courses outside of their discipline-specific area. These courses form the program’s cognate requirement and are taken at other schools within the University of Southern California to ensure that our graduates possess breadth as well as depth. Cognates have included public policy, sociology, business, economics, social work, history, anthropology, psychology, and American studies.

Diverse Research Methodologies

The PhD curriculum allows you to study diverse research methodologies using both qualitative and quantitative methods, including case studies, survey research, statistical analysis, regression analysis and econometrics, and multivariate statistical analysis research design.


Doctoral Screening – Upon completion of 24 units, the doctoral screening committee assesses the student’s performance and makes a decision about his/her readiness to continue in the program.

Qualifying Exam – As a prerequisite to candidacy for the PhD, students must pass written and oral qualifying examinations. The written qualifying examination is designed to assess a student’s readiness to undertake dissertation research and to assess the student’s ability to critically analyze and synthesize theoretical and methodological knowledge.

Teaching and Research Portfolios – A teaching and research portfolio are required for the PhD degree. The requirements must be fulfilled prior to the qualifying examination defense.

Dissertation Proposal – Once the student has successfully completed all coursework and passed the qualifying examination, the candidate should write a proposal for the dissertation.

Doctoral Dissertation – After the qualifying examination is passed, students must enroll in 794 Doctoral Dissertation each semester, except summer session, after admission to candidacy until all degree requirements have been completed.