The core purpose of the ISU Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) is to produce transformational, equity-focused leaders for education systems across the P-20 continuum with concentration areas in P-12 Systems-Level Leadership and Community College Leadership. Iowa State University’s Ed.D. program is a member of the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate (CPED). All students, regardless of concentration, will take a core curriculum that immerses students across the scope, substance, and inter-relationship of the P-20 education continuum. This document outlines the milestones for the Ed.D. and provides guidance to doctoral students and School of Education faculty on the process of pursuing the degree.

5.1 – Coursework for the Ed.D.

The program is designed as a 54-hour (minimum) curriculum and culminates in a dissertation in practice focused on a problem of practice.

All Ed.D. students are required to take the following core courses:

  • ELPS 654: Scholar-Practitioner Inquiry (3 credits)
  • ELPS 651: Social Foundations of Education (3 credits)    
  • ELPS 655: Qualitative Inquiry in P-20 Education (3 credits)        
  • ELPS 652: Organizational Theory in P-20 Systems (3 credits)
  • ELPS 656: Statistics for P-20 Education (3 credits)
  • ELPS 653: Contemporary Issues of Equity and Diversity (3 credits)        
  • ELPS 657: Dissertation in Practice Seminar (3 credits)

All students admitted into the Ed.D. program are also admitted into a concentration, Systems-Level Leadership or Community College Leadership and will complete an additional 24 credits in concentration coursework.

Additionally, all students in the Ed.D. are required to complete a minimum of 9 credits in HGED 699 or EDADM 699 Dissertation Research.

5.2 – Ed.D. compentencies

The Ed.D. is guided by six principles identified by the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate (CPED), a selective national consortium of over 80 colleges and schools of education in the United States. The six principles establish that an Ed.D.:

  • Is framed around questions of equity, ethics, and social justice to bring about solutions to complex problems of practice.
  • Prepares leaders who can construct and apply knowledge to make a positive difference in the lives of individuals, families, organizations, and communities.
  • Provides opportunities for candidates to develop and demonstrate collaboration and communication skills to work with diverse communities and to build partnerships.
  • Provides field-based opportunities to analyze problems of practice and use multiple frames to develop meaningful solutions.
  • Is grounded in and develops a professional knowledge base that integrates both practical and research knowledge, that links theory with systemic and systematic inquiry.
  • Emphasizes the generation, transformation, and use of professional knowledge and practice.

The CPED six principles underpin ISU’s Ed.D. academic objectives. Students who complete the ISU Ed.D. will demonstrate an ability to:

  • Identify and address issues of equity, ethics, and social justice central to bringing about solutions to complex problems of practice.
  • Construct and apply knowledge to make a positive difference in the lives of individuals, families, organizations, and communities.
  • Collaborate, communicate, and build partnerships with diverse communities.
  • Analyze problems of practice and use multiple frames to develop meaningful solutions.
  • Integrate both practical and research knowledge, that links theory with systemic and systematic inquiry.
  • Use professional knowledge and practice in the generation of solutions and transformation of educational institutions.

In addition to these broad academic objectives, because the Ed.D. is designed to prepare scholarly practitioners for professional practice in specific types of educational systems (e.g., community colleges and P-12 school systems) the degree program also aligns with leadership competency standards established by national organizations, including the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), American Council on Education (ACE), and the University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA) and with state certification standards for P-12 systems-level leaders. Students will thus gain advanced knowledge and skills in core areas, including:

  • Administrative and Organizational Leadership
  • Budget and Financing
  • Cultural Diversity and Inclusion
  • Public Policy Analysis
  • Theories of Learning and Student Development.

5.3 – Ed.D. dissertation in practice

According to CPED, a problem of practice is “a persistent, contextualized, and specific issue embedded in the work of a professional practitioner, the addressing of which has the potential to result in improved understanding, experience, and outcomes.”

Further, the dissertation in practice is a scholarly endeavor to address a complex problem of practice that:

  • will make a positive difference in the lives of individuals, families, organizations, and/or communities;
  • is actionable;
  • can be improved;
  • is directly observable and can be studied empirically;
  • is grounded in evidence or dialogue;
  • is framed around equity, diversity, ethics, and/or social justice; and
  • has implications for the organization(s) of study.

A dissertation in practice culminates in a theory of action or tentative solution that can be applied to the problem that:

  • results in an understanding of, and possible solution to, the problem of practice;
  • demonstrates an ability to frame the study in existing research on both theory and practice;
  • uses rigorous and appropriate methods of inquiry for the problem of practice;
  • demonstrates the appropriate development of findings and conclusions that are meaningful, insightful, and well-developed;
  • integrates theory and practice to advance practical knowledge; and
  • provides evidence of the potential for impact on practice, policy, and/or future research.

5.4 – Temporary advisor and major professor

When students are admitted to the Ed.D. program they are assigned temporary advisers who will guide them through the initial orientation to the program.

Once students have begun coursework and had an opportunity to interact with several faculty members in the program, they will need to choose a major professor. We recommend that students make this decision no later than their third semester in the program. While students may choose to ask their temporary adviser to serve in this capacity, students are not required to do so. Students who wish to seek a major professor other than their temporary adviser are encouraged to discuss this with their temporary adviser. Once students have decided whom they would like to serve as major professor, they need to contact this individual and invite the faculty member to serve in this role. Some faculty may not be able to take on additional advisees at the time and students may need to select another faculty member. Once identified, students should maintain regular contact (at least once per semester) with the major professor to review their progress and obtain guidance for any advising needs.

An annual evaluation of doctoral students in the School of Education is required. The student and major professor shall meet each spring semester to evaluate the student’s progress towards degree completion. A summary of student annual evaluation results shall be sent to the DOGE annually by the conclusion of the spring semester.

5.5 – Ed.D. milestones & timelines

Three milestones (and their associated meetings with the POSC) mark the pathway to completing an Ed.D. in Education. At each of these, students will meet with their committee. Milestones 2 and 3 (preliminary oral examination and final oral examination) represent formal requirements of Iowa State University’s Graduate College. As such, they require advance scheduling and are governed by specific policies and associated documentation. One of these requirements includes meetings between students and their POSCs (see the Graduate College handbook for meeting participation details). Students are responsible for scheduling the milestone meetings. Once a date and time has been agreed upon, students can initiate the room scheduling process with the graduate support specialist.

Milestone 1: Program of Study and Committee Formation

Milestone 2: Preliminary Oral Exam (Dissertation in Practice Proposal Defense)

Milestone 3: Final Oral Exam (Final Dissertation in Practice Defense)

Milestone 1: Program of Study and Committee (completed by the end of the 5th semester)

Students must have an approved POSC the semester prior to the preliminary oral examination (see Graduate College deadlines for specific dates).

Selection of the Program of Study Committee (POSC) – ISU requires that the doctoral POSC consist of five members, though larger committees are permissible. A majority must come from the major or program (within your division, Higher Education or TLLP). In addition, at least one member must serve as an “outside” member of the committee, representing a field outside the area of concentration (note: this person may be “inside” the School as long as they are not in the student’s area of concentration). Students should discuss potential members of the POSC with their major professor and then invite these individuals to serve on the committee. When selecting the major professor, students should be aware that faculty members are not always able to accept additional student committee responsibilities. Students are encouraged to discuss any availability and scheduling constraints (such as professional development leaves, international travel, etc.) with faculty when forming their POSC.

Program of Study – The POSC lists the courses students will complete to meet the requirements of the degree. Students will consult with their major professors for assistance in completing the Program of Study. It will need to include the core courses required of all students within the Ed.D., as well as concentration and dissertation courses. Students are advised to be aware of and comply with Graduate College and School of Education policies for expired courses. The Graduate College time-to-degree limit for graduate programs is 7 years.

The POSC is completed online through AccessPlus. Additional information about the POSC process, including a paper worksheet that can be used with the committee, is available on the Graduate College website. Once the committee has reviewed and approved the Program of Study, students submit the POSC form via AccessPlus for electronic routing to the committee members and the director of graduate education (DOGE) for approval.

Ed.D. Transfer Courses Policy: The program is a minimum total of 54 credits. Because the program is designed as a cohesive, cohort-based experience, no transfer credits are accepted.

Expired Courses Policy: Maximum numbers of expired credits that may be included on School of Education programs of study (with the approval of the POS Committee) are listed below. The age of the course is dependent on the date of expected graduation provided in the POSC. If the student does not complete the degree by the expected date, additional current coursework may be required to conform to the limits established below.

DegreeMax. Expired Credits8-10 years
Ed.D12Up to 12

The acceptance of expired credits towards the degree does not guarantee these credits application to Board of Educational Examiners licensure requirements.

Milestone 2: Preliminary oral examination (dissertation in practice proposal defense) (completed a minimum of 6 months prior to final oral examination)

The purpose of this milestone is to determine eligibility for doctoral candidacy and to approve the candidate’s dissertation in practice proposal.

The proposal is submitted to the full committee at least two weeks prior to the dissertation proposal meeting. Students must submit these materials to the major professor for approval prior to submitting to the full committee following an agreed upon timeline with the major professor. In most cases, this is an iterative process of drafts and revisions. The major professor must approve the materials that go to the full committee. Students are required to obtain Institutional Review Board (human subjects) approval for all dissertations. This approval may occur before or after the POSC approves the proposal. Students are advised, however, that it is not uncommon for the POSC to require changes to the study as part of the approval process.

For the dissertation in practice proposal, students meet with the full committee (see note below about scheduling the examination). Typically, students will be asked to clarify/defend aspects of the written dissertation in practice proposal. At the end of this examination, the committee determines whether the student has passed or failed the preliminary oral examination. The POSC members sign the preliminary examination report form, which indicates the outcome of the examination. If students pass they are officially considered Ed.D or doctoral candidates, rather than doctoral students. If a student fails the preliminary oral exam, he/she may be allowed to retake the exam, but at least six months must elapse between the failed attempt and the next exam.

During this meeting, the committee provides the student with feedback on the proposal and may recommend changes to the study. Students should not begin data collection activities until the POSC has approved the proposed study and the student has obtained Institutional Review Board approval for the study. At the conclusion of the dissertation proposal meeting, the committee will have reached consensus about the parameters of the proposed study or determined that further work is needed on the proposal and requested a future proposal meeting be held to review the revised proposal. 

Students must pass the preliminary oral examination (proposal defense) before beginning dissertation work, except in very rare circumstances and with the approval of the full committee. The Graduate College requires a minimum of six months from the time of the preliminary oral examination until the time of the final oral examination (i.e., dissertation defense).

Note: Once you have confirmed a date and time for your preliminary examination with your committee, contact the graduate support specialist at least four weeks in advance of the exam date to reserve a room and then submit online the final oral examination request form to the Graduate College. Also, please let the graduate support specialist know if you have a committee member who intends to participate in the exam from a distance.

Milestone 3: Final oral examination (final dissertation in practice defense) (completed by the end of the third year)

Students conduct the dissertation research and write the dissertation with guidance from the major professor. This is an iterative process that typically entails multiple drafts and revisions. Once the major professor has approved the final draft, the student may schedule the final oral examination (two hours).

Students submit the dissertation to the full committee at least two weeks prior to the final oral examination. (Be aware there are other deadlines involving the Graduate College and the thesis office.)

Students meet with the full committee and are questioned/examined on their dissertation research. Typically, students are asked to begin the meeting with a brief overview of the dissertation research and the written product. At the end of this examination/meeting, the committee determines whether the student passes. The possible outcomes of the final oral examination are pass, conditional pass, and fail. The POSC will record the outcome of the examination and sign the report of final oral examination, which is submitted to the Graduate College.

Students who earn a pass may still have to complete minor revisions to the written dissertation before it is submitted. If students earn a conditional pass, the POSC establishes additional criteria that must meet prior to earning a pass and determines who (major professor, some committee members, full committee) is responsible for reviewing and evaluating students’ work on the additional criteria; these are documented on the examination report form. If a student earns a fail on the examination, the committee will determine (and note on the form) whether the student is allowed to retake the final oral examination (at least two months must elapse before the exam can be retaken.

If students pass the final oral examination and resolve any outstanding issues identified by the Graduate College, they have officially completed their doctoral studies. Be aware of Graduate College deadlines and requirements for submission of the final dissertation.

Note: Once you have confirmed a date and time for your final oral examination with your committee, contact the graduate support specialist at least four weeks in advance of the exam date to reserve a room and then submit online the final oral examination request form to the Graduate College. Also, please let the graduate support specialist know if you have a committee member who intends to participate in the exam from a distance.