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Ph.D. in Public Affairs

Overview of Program

The Ph.D. in Public Affairs Program was created to take advantage of the unique strengths of SPEA’s interdisciplinary faculty and research programs, both of which have earned wide recognition from peer institutions, national and international agencies, and professional groups. The curriculum equips students with the necessary skills for independent research and analysis of problems, issues, and solutions in government and the nonprofit sector in four major fields:

  • Public Finance: the theory and practice of fiscal administration, including public budgeting, revenue administration, and financial management;
  • Public Management: the design and operation of government institutions, including strategic/operations management, organizational behavior in the public sector, and interrelationships between public and private organizations;
  • Public Policy Analysis: research methods and quantitative techniques for policy analysis, including ex ante policy analysis and policy instruments, benefit-cost analysis, program evaluation, and applied econometrics; and
  • Environmental Policy: the study of the content, design and effects of public policies regarding the environment, both domestic and international, including legal, economic, and other policy tools and approaches.

Instead of being grounded in a traditional academic discipline, each of the fields has developed from several theoretical perspectives and literatures applied to real-world public affairs problems. Although research is grounded in the social sciences, the context of inquiry reverses the normal research process. Instead of beginning with questions originating in discipline-based scholarship, the research process begins with public problems and issues. The research challenge, then, is to match available tools of inquiry to the research opportunities presented by problems.

The National Research Council recently ranked the Ph.D. in Public Affairs Program as high as #1 among public affairs Ph.D. programs in the United States.

The Ph.D. in Public Affairs Program is located in Bloomington, Indiana, which was recently named one of the nation’s “Top Ten College Towns” by for the benefits of being home to a large, prestigious college as well as for the entertainment and recreational opportunities on campus and throughout the area.

Faculty Research and Areas of Expertise

SPEA policy and management faculty undertake research across a broad range of areas that include:

  • Cultural policy and arts administration
  • Environmental and energy policy
  • Civil society, civil engagement and volunteerism
  • Sustainability and sustainable development
  • International affairs and development
  • Social policy and health
  • Governance and public law
  • Public finance and economics
  • Nonprofit management and philanthropy
  • Policy analysis
  • Public management
  • Methods, econometrics and data management.

For more information on past and current research by SPEA faculty, click here.

In addition to the Ph.D. in Public Affairs and Joint Ph.D. in Public Policy, SPEA offers the Master of Public Affairs (MPA) degree. The M.P.A. Program was ranked #2 overall in the United States by U.S. News and World Report in 2013. Several concentrations within the M.P.A. Program were also highly ranked, including:

  • Environmental policy and management (#1)
  • Nonprofit management (#1)
  • Public finance and budgeting (#3)
  • Public management and administration (#3), and
  • Public policy analysis (#9)


Graduates of the Ph.D. in Public Affairs Program have been very successful at obtaining employment in academic and research organizations. Placements include Syracuse University, University of Georgia, University of Kansas, University of Washington, Ohio State University, North Carolina State University, Brigham Young University, University of South Carolina, DePaul University, University of Colorado, Iowa State University, Yonsei University (South Korea), National University of Taipei, and the U.S. Department of Labor.


Students apply directly to the School of Public and Environmental Affairs; those accepted are recommended to the University Graduate School for formal admission into the Ph.D. program. Application materials can be found here. Applicants to this program must have completed at least a bachelor’s degree. Prospective students are required to submit: (1) a statement of purpose, which should be as specific as possible and, preferably, should refer to potential research mentors by name; (2) official results of the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE); (3) official transcripts of all undergraduate and graduate work completed; and (4) three letters of recommendation. Applicants whose native language is not English must also submit results of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).

Degree Requirements

The Ph.D. in Public Affairs degree requires the completion of at least 90 credit hours in advanced study and research beyond the baccalaureate. Typically, two-thirds of the 90 credit hours are taken in formal course work and one-third in thesis credits and/or transfer credit hours. Students completing a Master of Public Affairs or similar degree may be allowed to transfer some of their graduate course work (30 credit hours maximum) if approved by their Progress Review Committees, though a prior master’s degree is not required for admission.

  • Core Requirements
  • Research Tool Skills
  • Major Fields
  • Minor Field

Core Requirements

Public Affairs students are required to complete the following courses:

  • Research Design and Methods in Public Affairs (V680)
  • Seminar in Teaching Public and Environmental Affairs (V621)
  • Workshop in Public Policy (V691)

Research Tool Skills

Required research skills include a two-semester quantitative analysis sequence. The two-semester quantitative analysis sequence can be fulfilled a number of different ways, including one of the sequences listed below.

  • Statistics for Research in Public Affairs I and II (V606 and V607, School of Public and Environmental Affairs)
  • Econometric Methods in Business I and II (G651 and G652, Kelley School of Business)
  • Statistical Techniques in Economics II and Econometrics I (E572 and E671, Department of Economics)
  • Political Data Analysis II and Advanced Topics in Political Data Analysis (Y576 and Y577, Department of Political Science)
  • Statistical Techniques in Sociology I and II (S554 and S650, Department of Sociology)

In addition, students must demonstrate either: (1) advanced proficiency in quantitative/qualitative analysis or specialized research skills by completing two additional courses approved by the student's Progress Review Committee or (2) proficiency in a language appropriate to his/her field of study and approved by the Progress Review Committee. To qualify as language proficient, a student must take a language proficiency exam from the appropriate language department at Indiana University.

Major Fields

Public Finance
Required/recommended courses:

  • Public Revenue (V666)
  • Seminar in Public Budgeting (V668)
  • Research Seminar in Public Debt (V685)
  • Advanced Microeconomics for Public Policy (V710)

Public Management
Required/recommended courses:

  • Public Organization and Management I (V671)
  • Public Organization and Management II (V672)

Policy Analysis
Required/recommended courses:

  • Seminar in Policy Analysis (V664)
  • Public Program Evaluation (V562)
  • Advanced Microeconomics for Public Policy (V710)
  • Benefit-Cost Analysis of Public and Environmental Policies (V541)
  • Public Policy Analysis and Management Science/Operations Research (V673)

Environmental Policy
Required/recommended courses:

  • Environmental Economics (V625)
  • Environmental Law (V645) or International Environmental Law (B783)
  • Domestic Environmental Policy (V710) or International Environmental Policy (V710)

Minor Fields

Students select a minor field according to research interests. A three- to four-course sequence is negotiated between the student and the Progress Review Committee, following the requirements of the department or school offering the minor. Among the minor fields currently or recently chosen by students in the program are Sociology, Statistics, Economics, Business, Political Science, Geography and Law.