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Part 5: The Doctoral Process

The two doctoral degrees are designed to be completed in three years by students pursuing full-time studies. However, actual length of time to complete the degree varies depending on the individual student's time and effort. Both doctoral degrees (Ph.D. and D.Ed.) consist of three phases involving core course work, course work related to an area of specialization, research experiences, internships, candidacy and comprehensive examinations and the writing of a doctoral dissertation. Each phase is described below. A description of the annual review of doctoral students’ progress precedes the information regarding the three phases.

Section 5.1: Phase I – Becoming a Doctoral Candidate

In the first phase of the doctoral degree students are introduced to a wide variety of practices within the field of adult education. Issues cross-cutting these practices are also examined. Core course requirements are usually fulfilled in this phase. During this phase not much difference exists between the experiences of D.Ed. and Ph.D. students. This phase culminates with a candidacy evaluation, in which a decision is made regarding whether the student fits into the program and is likely to succeed in the completion of the degree. During candidacy examinations, students identify a specific area of study or practice.

5.1.1: The Doctoral Candidacy Evaluation

The policies and procedures set forth below apply to both Ph.D., and D.Ed. students. Additional policies and procedures are found in the Graduate Degree Programs Bulletin.

The candidacy evaluation constitutes a second doctoral admissions process. The evaluation is conducted within three semesters (summer sessions do not count) of entry into the doctoral program, after the student has completed 30 and before s/he has completed 48 credits beyond the baccalaureate degree. These credits may be earned from a previous master’s degree or from graduate courses taken at Penn State or elsewhere. For the Ph.D. student, these credits must include ADTED 460 and ADTED 507 or their equivalent, and a graduate-level statistic course. For the D.Ed. student, these credits must include ADTED 460 or its equivalent.


To be eligible to have the candidacy evaluation, the student must meet the following criteria:

  1. Have a minimum grade-point average of 3.00 at the time the examination is given, for graduate work done at Penn State,
  2. Have no deferred or missing grades, and
  3. Be registered as a full-time or part-time student for the semester in which the comprehensive examination is taken. Candidacy exams are not offered in summer.


The evaluation has three purposes. One is to determine the "fit" between the student’s academic and professional aspirations and what the program offers. The evaluation provides an opportunity to discuss the student’s goals and progress, to determine if the Adult Education Program has the faculty and resources to meet the student’s educational objectives. The second purpose of the candidacy evaluation is to assess the student’s abilities in areas critical to completion of the dissertation process, including skills of writing, critical thinking, and research. A third purpose is to confirm admission to either the D.Ed. or Ph.D.

The Evaluation Process

The candidacy evaluation takes the form of a meeting—typically lasting about an hour—between the student and a program committee made up of at least two Graduate Faculty members in the program. One of the faculty members is the student’s academic advisor. The others are selected by the advisor in consultation with the Professor-in-Charge (for University Park students) and in consultation with the Program Coordinator (for Harrisburg students). During the meeting, the program committee discusses with the student a plan of study to help develop the knowledge and competence required for completion of the comprehensive exam and the dissertation. The candidacy is more like an advising session than a test of knowledge. The student comes to it prepared to hold a dialogue with the faculty instead of simply answering questions. 

Academic advisors and candidates (students seeking candidacy) are reminded that The Pennsylvania State University has a single adult education program, offered on two campuses—University Park and Harrisburg. In determining “fit” the faculty and resources of both campuses is taken into account.

Candidacy is scheduled once in each fall and spring semester. Eligible students should contact their program staff assistant for specific dates.

Eligible students will need to make arrangements with their advisor and submit copies of the following materials to the program staff assistant to be forwarded to program committee members no later than 14 days before the scheduled Candidacy:

  1. A cover sheet with name; date, time, and place of Candidacy; degree being sought (i.e. D.Ed. or Ph.D.); and the names of the members of the program committee
  2. A brief report (2-3 typewritten, double-spaced pages) of progress to this point and plans for completing the program
  3. A copy of two term papers (at least one from an adult education course)
  4. A current transcript (obtainable from the program staff assistant)
  5. A copy of the current Plan of Studies (see Appendices H & I) and an anticipated schedule for completion of the comprehensive exam and dissertation requirements
  6. A short prospectus of thesis research idea (5-7 typed, double spaced pages) that includes:

a)      A statement of the proposed topic area

b)      A statement of how this research topic is significant to the field of adult education

c)      An indication of the areas of literature the student plans to review (include key references)

d)      An attached bibliography of literature examined to date

e)      A discussion of appropriate research methods

f)       An explanation of how the plan of studies will assist in the accomplishment of proposed research

The prospectus should be well written, coherent, and should demonstrate a logical rationale for the topic area. Writing the prospectus and meeting with the faculty provides the student an opportunity to focus coursework on an area of research.

After meeting with the student, the program committee will make one of the following decisions:

  1. Admit student to candidacy for either the D.Ed. or Ph.D. degree.  Successful completion of the candidacy represents full admission into the program and the student will be officially recognized as a doctoral candidate for one of the degrees.  From that point on the student will take the coursework outlined in the plan of studies, as amended by the program committee in light of the proposed research. Doctoral candidates should remember this date; this is the point at which the "clock starts ticking" for the eight year time limitation to complete the degree. Extensions are possible but rare. (See Appendix B for the program’s Reinstatement and Extension of Time-to-Degree policies).
  2. Postpone a decision until further conditions are met.  These may include taking additional courses or improving certain skills, such as writing skills.  The program committee will set forth those conditions in writing.
  3. Not admit student to candidacy.  If this option is selected, alternative steps that may help the student achieve her/his academic and professional goals will be discussed prior to adjournment. 


Please note:  Although the Adult Education doctoral degree program is offered at more than one geographic location, the criteria listed here apply uniformly. This means that a student denied candidacy to the doctoral program at either Penn State Harrisburg or at University Park is not eligible to pursue candidacy at the other program location.

Dual-Titled Degree in CIED.  Prior to the time of their application for candidacy, students seeking a dual-titled degree in CIED must invite a CIED faculty member (either their assigned CIED advisor or a CIED faculty member within their primary program) to participate in and sign off on their candidacy process.  There will be one candidacy examination/evaluation administered by the student’s major program, but CIED must have input in the candidacy.