Skip to main content
Navigate Up
Sign In

Doctor of Philosophy, Education and Human Development (PhD)


Are you interested in pursuing a career as a researcher or faculty member in a university or other research-based organization? Our PhD program will help you obtain the skills you need to succeed in these fields.

As a student in the program, you will combine core courses in urban education and learning theory with extensive training in research methods and a chosen area of concentration.

You will also participate in research with faculty and other students to gain experience conducting and presenting scholarly work that will directly inform your dissertation.

Our outstanding faculty will be dedicated to your academic and professional growth as you address challenging research questions. Classes are offered at a variety of times, including evenings and weekends, and in a variety of formats (online, hybrid and face-to-face.)

The PhD program is designed to provide each student with an induction to the university research and teaching culture. Students can expect a minimum of 15 hours per week in addition to class meeting times, to engage in class preparation, reading, writing and collaborative work activities.

Funding to support students to participate in this program is available through multiple avenues, generally in association with individual concentration areas. Typically, students are admitted to this program through funds associated with scholarships, internships, funded grant projects, teaching assistant opportunities and/or a mix thereof. Support typically includes tuition and fees for up to 18 credit hours per year as well as a stipend for the requisite 20 hours per week of research involvement for about 32 weeks. This varies related to funding streams. Students can elect to self-pay and thus, self-support.

A great strength of the program is the diversity of our students and their dedication to school reform and educational equity. Currently, 27% of our PhD seekers are students of color.

The University is recognized as a top-tier research institution, and the School of Education & Human Development's reputation is rising steadily as new resources are devoted to research and development. This is a perfect time at CU Denver to build the skills you need to pursue a scholarly career. 

To complete the doctoral program, you will need regular access to a computer with a high-speed Internet connection, either at home or a convenient work location. Faculty, staff and students are required to use e-mail as one form of communication, and web-based applications are used to complete work in many courses.

For more information, select from the above tabs and/or contact the Student Services Center at or 303-315-6300 with questions.

We welcome applications from individuals with master's degrees and a strong interest in pursuing rigorous research. Admitted students are matched with faculty members with compatible research interests in a concentration area. Students complete a 75 credit hour plan of study; 45 credit hours in three core areas: foundations of equitable teaching and learning, research, and a specified concentration area and a final 30 dissertation hours. 

Assessments are in place to mark continued progress in the program, as outlined below. Note that failure in any of these exams is grounds for probation or dismissal from the program.

  • Annual Reviews
  • Comprehensive Exam
  • Dissertation Defense

Detailed application requirements and materials are available.

The PhD course rotation begins every fall. The deadline to apply for fall semester is December 1. The financial support we provide our PhD students is often tied to federal and state funding decisions. On our website, please note the PhD concentration areas with current funding opportunities.

Note that upon examination of an applicant’s materials, the admission committee will have the prerogative to require additional courses or experiences to ensure that an individual has the necessary background to move successfully into the program requirements.


Overview of Coursework:

  • Foundations: Equity and Diversity, Learning, Epistemology, and Teaching in Higher Education - 4 Courses; 12 Credit Hours
  • Research Methods – 6 Courses; 18 Credit Hours
  • Concentration Area – 5 Courses; 15 Credit Hours**
  • Dissertation: 30 credits

Courses are offered in weekday, weekend, face-to-face, hybrid (part face-to-face, part online), online and/or summer intensive formats.

**Doctoral students will complete a series of courses/experiences in a specified concentration area. Content domains that align to prospective positions in institutions of higher education will be the basis for concentration areas. We define a concentration area as a line of courses that leads to increasing subject matter expertise. Concentration areas are designed to help students focus on a defined discipline or content area in preparation for professional roles as researchers and faculty members.


The 'Urban Ecologies' and 'Administrative Leadership and Policy Studies' concentrations will change to 'Critical Studies in Education' and 'Leadership for Educational Organizations' effective fall 2019 for all enrolled students. The new name is more descriptive of the expertise program completers acquire and provides employers with a clearer description of graduates’ learning. This change better serves the interests of our current and future students and ensures their success post-graduation.


Following, we list the current areas of concentration in which students can be admitted. These areas may change over time as they are tied to faculty research and externally funded grant projects.

  • Early Childhood Special Education/Early Childhood Education - The goal of this concentration area is to introduce students to issues and practices in early childhood special education/early childhood education and to prepare students to provide leadership to improve outcomes for all children including children with disabilities across early childhood settings. Students will obtain the skills and knowledge of evidence-based practices needed to meet state and national leadership needs within institutions of higher education to address issues in ECE/ECSE. Graduates will: conduct rigorous research related to culturally responsive, evidence-based practices; translate research into practice, thus expanding the use of evidence-based practice in the field; and, create, evaluate, and improve pre-service teacher education programs in ECE and ECSE. Faculty: Elizabeth Steed, Phil Strain, Barbara Smith​, Cristina Gillanders.

  • Family Science and Human Development - The goal of this concentration is to prepare students to critically examine and understand family science within an ecological life span development lens. This program prepares students to work in academic careers as professors, researchers and scholars in Family Science and Human Development. Students are provided a rich curriculum that centers on theoretical and scholarly based knowledge in family science, human development and research inquiry. Another objective of this program is to integrate the importance of family diversity (which includes race, ethnicity, culture, class, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, ability and language) into the curriculum as it relates to social justice in family science and child, adolescent and adult development. Central to the Family Science and Human Development concentration is the conceptual framework of family and human ecological systems and how that impacts research, practice and policy with diverse families in the United States and at the global level. Faculty: Ruben Anguiano

  • Mathematics Education - Students and faculty in this concentration area focus on teacher learning and professional development experiences. Specifically, projects investigate the ways that particular interventions used in professional development for mathematics teachers impacts their content knowledge and pedagogical practices in their classrooms. Work in this area is framed by a situative perspective of learning and incorporates mixed methods to answer questions around the ways particular interventions support teacher and student learning. Video data is prominent in both the design of professional development interventions as well as a major data source for analyses. Analytic methods vary based on the research question and grain size. Faculty: Heather Johnson, Ron Tzur

  • Research, Assessment and Evaluation - The goal of this concentration area is to prepare students to design and carry out significant applied research on individual and organizational change in the field of education and human development. Through problem-based pedagogy and hands-on learning, students will be prepared to be collaborative applied researchers who work with community, university and school partners. Students will learn advanced quantitative, advanced qualitative and mixed methods research techniques. Course content includes mixed methods, advanced statistics, advanced qualitative data analysis, systems analysis, collaborative team research and practicum experiences. Graduates of the program are prepared to work as faculty members, school district and organizational researchers, data analysts and assessment coordinators. Faculty: Alan Davis, Nancy Leech, Kent Seidel​, Courtney Donovan

  • Science Education - The goal of this area is to prepare students to explore, understand, and think critically about the nature of science and science education from a largely research-oriented perspective. Students may elect to focus on environmental science education as an area of specialization within this concentration area through electives and discipline- specific research agendas. Faculty: Bryan Wee, Geeta Verma, Bud Talbot 

  • Urban Ecologies - This concentration area brings together several faculty members in interdisciplinary study of education in urban ecologies. Participating faculty members are aligned with the interdisciplinary concentration area as a whole, rather than specific threads or foci. The philosophical assumptions underlying work in this concentration area are: 1) Cultural groups are not monolithic, 2) Urban life and learning, including Pre-K-20 education, complex phenomena that benefit from the multiple lenses offered by multi-disciplinarity, and 3) Trans-nationalism characterizes the cultural experiences and political/economic realities of many communities in cities and contributes to the hybrid identities of residents. These assumptions contribute to a conceptual frame for investigating diversity within the city that is not focused on specific groups and is concerned with the influence of globalization on communities in general within the city. Experiences of and issues confronting different cultural and ethno-linguistic groups will be the key content of this concentration area. Faculty: Alan DavisSheila Shannon, Rene Galindo, Cheryl Matias, Margarita Bianco and Manuel Espinoza.

  • Administrative Leadership and Policy Studies - This concentration serves as key area for those concerned about leadership in schools and a key focus for research by scholars in higher education. A crucial assumption the underlies this concentration area is that school leadership makes the difference in how schools succeed in improving learning outcomes for all students, but we are only beginning to scratch the surface in understanding why leadership is successful when it is, what the interactions are between effective leadership and effective teaching, and their collective impact on learning outcomes at all levels in schools. Faculty: Connie Fulmer, Dorothy Garrison-Wade

Graduates of this program are prepared to pursue a career as a researcher or faculty member in a university or other research-based organization.


CU Denver School of Education &
Human Development

1380 Lawrence St., Denver, CO 80204 | Map It

© The Regents of the University of Colorado, a body corporate. All rights reserved.

Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. All trademarks are registered property of the University. Used by permission only.