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Doctor of Philosophy in Education & Social Change Program Details

The Bellarmine University Annsley Frazier Thornton School of Education offers the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree in Education and Social Change focusing on the development of highly skilled professionals who will act as “change agents” in improving the education of people coming from high poverty circumstances.

The degree is designed for professionals working in a variety of vocations including but not limited to careers in higher education, educational research, and leadership of not-for-profit agencies. Areas of research concentration include Literacy Education, Special Education, Educational Leadership, and Higher Education Administration (beginning 2013). An “individualized plan” option is also possible for persons wishing to have a more customized experience to suit particular career goals. At the heart of the new Ph.D. program is a commitment to improve learning and social justice for some of the world’s most challenged children and adults. Thus, this is a Ph.D. program focused on research into innovative solutions for educating those living in poverty circumstances.

The Ph.D. in Education and Social Change is an affordable 60-hour, cohort-based program attracting students nationally and internationally because of its social justice paradigm rooted in the Catholic tradition and research-driven structure. Courses are delivered over a three-year period on selected weekends (Friday evening/all day Saturday). In the course of study, students work in teams alongside top scholars to seek, replicate, develop and explore research-based innovations for improving learning for the under-privileged. Most candidates complete their dissertation and graduate within a four-year timeframe.

Two broad classes of professionals will likely find the Bellarmine Ph.D. in Education and Social Change of interest: those engaged in research and/or innovative practices focused on improving education for the poor, and persons serving in other education-related fields (e.g., higher education, not for profit agencies, etc.). The ideal candidate will usually hold the equivalent of an undergraduate and graduate degree in their field (e.g., mathematics, business, education, nursing/medicine, communications, the sciences, etc.).

Bellarmine’s Ph.D. in Education and Social Change incorporates key recommendations of the Carnegie Foundation’s Project on the Education Doctorate ( particularly in terms of focus, depth, and rigor. Candidates receive mentoring from an interdisciplinary faculty team whose credentials reflect decades of experience with innovation and change initiatives in education, corporate, and/or non-profit agencies.

The Ph.D. program in Education and Social Change grew out of Bellarmine’s Vision 2020, as well as our faculty’s extensive research into the learning needs of economically disadvantaged citizens and innovative solutions worldwide. Courses incorporate both quantitative and qualitative research methodology and provide core knowledge regarding learners in poverty predicaments, professional ethics and social justice in the Catholic and other traditions, change theory and education innovations, and politics and policy affecting the underserved. Students gain an integrated understanding of global education issues from intellectual encounters on campus and opportunities to participate in studies within diverse communities and in our study abroad programs.

Areas of Focus

Areas of Concentration: 15 hours (from one option)  
Option 1: Literacy Education
LITR 820 Socio-cognitive Literacy Theories
LITR 835 Applied Change Leadership in Literacy Education.: Poverty Urban & Rural
LITR 850 Family & Community Involvement in Literacy Development
LITR 845 Academic Literature Research in High Poverty Middle & Secondary School
LITR 890 Bilingualism and Second Language Learning 
SPED 863 Advanced Literacy Assessment & Intervention (may be substituted for any class above)

Option 2: Special Education
SPED 820
Advanced Literacy Assessment & Intervention
SPED 830 Special Education: Policy & Collaborative Practice
SPED 835 Low Incidence Disability
SPED 840 Transition Education & Services, Childhood through Adulthood
SPED 845 Supervision of Special Education Programs  

Option 3: Educational Leadership
EDAD 701
Instructional Leadership & the Role of the School Principal
EDAD 702 Data Management & School Leadership
EDAD 707 Leading and Administering the Secondary School
EDAD 705 Leading and Administering the Elementary School
EDAD 711 Financial, Legal and Ethical Responsibility of the Principal  

Option 4: Individualized Plan  
Option 4 is determined in collaboration with the student’s doctoral committee  

Ph.D. Program Admission Requirements

Bellarmine’s Doctor of Philosophy in Education and Social Change is focused on the improvement of education for children living at the poverty level. To that end we seek qualified students from the education and allied professions.

Our preferred applicants are currently involved in public, private, and parochial education. This may include teachers, school administrators, and allied professionals working in federal, state, or local education agencies.

Persons from other professions who work in venues related to educating the poor are also encouraged to apply. This may include not-for-profit and/or education policy professionals and other specialists whose primary focus is education of children in poverty predicaments.

Procedure for Admission

  1. Complete and submit the application.
  2. Submit a non-refundable application fee of $40 (fee waived for Bellarmine alumni). Checks should be made payable to Bellarmine University.
  3. Final official transcript(s) from each college or university attended should be mailed to the Office of Graduate Admission and not be marked “Issued to Student”.
  4. If any transcript(s) or undergraduate degree(s) are from an international institution you must provide an official copy of a third party course by course credential evaluation. The following organizations offer this service and information regarding processes and fees are available at:, and The Office of Graduate Admission reserves the right to request a certified copy of the original transcript(s).
  5. If your undergraduate degree is from an international institution, you were born outside the United States, or English is your second language, you will be required to submit an official TOEFLiBT (internet-based test) score and receive a total score of 80 or higher. We will also consider an equivalent score on the IELTS or MELAB tests. The Admission, Progression and Graduation Committee reserves the right to request a TOEFL score from any applicant.
  6. A minimum grade point average of 3.5 in all graduate coursework completed at the time of application. 
  7. An earned baccalaureate and masters degree in education (M.A., M.S.) or fields directly relevant to education. Other advanced degrees in other fields will also be considered to meet this requirement (e.g., J.D., M.B.A., etc.).
  8. Three letters of recommendation. The recommendations should be completed by individuals who are former professors or who have supervised the applicant in a school setting. One recommendation must come from the applicant’s current supervisor or designee. All recommendations must be related to the professional environment. 
  9. Optional: Official Graduate Record Examination (GRE) score mailed directly to the Office of Graduate Admission. 
  10. A current resume. (Note: Five years of successful teaching experience in a P-12 setting as the teacher of record must have either been achieved, or will be achieved, by Year 2 of the program. Some exceptions may be granted.)
  11. Submission of two essays, no more than 1000 words each addressing the following questions: 
    • What new knowledge and skills do you expect to acquire from the Ph.D. in Education & Social Change program? 
    • In what ways might you serve as a change agent in your career as a graduate of this program? 
  1. Interviews with doctoral program faculty will be arranged after the above documents have been received and reviewed.
  2. All application materials should be submitted to: Bellarmine University, Office of Graduate Admission, 2001 Newburg Road, Louisville, KY 40205.

International Applicants

Please complete the items under Procedure for Admission and submit the following:
U.S. law requires financial statements from a bank or other financial institution certifying the student’s ability to fund the cost of attendance for one academic year minus the amount of any scholarship dollars received. Figures should be in U.S. dollars and must be certified as an official document by the bank or financial institution. A sponsor may be used if the sponsor attaches a signed affidavit stating that he/she will financially support the student until completion of a degree at Bellarmine University. If a sponsor is used, the sponsor’s bank statement should accompany the letter. The amount that would need to be shown for the Ph.D. program is: $38,636. This amount includes tuition and fees associated with six credit hours per semester and an average cost for living expenses, books, supplies, health insurance, transportation and personal expenses.

Applicants actively involved in public, private, and parochial education must have the following:

  • Successful Teaching Experience; 5 years or more full time experience as the teacher of record in a P-12 setting must have either been achieved, or will be achieved by Year 2 of the program.
  • Must hold an entry-level degree (BA, BS, MAT) in education, and a master’s degree and/or substantial advanced coursework in a field such as: Reading/Literacy, Special Education, Mathematics Education or Science Education.

Professionals currently holding positions in higher education and/or pursuing leadership positions in higher education:

Should hold an earned baccalaureate and an advanced/graduate degree (e.g., M.A., M.S.N., J.D., M.B.A., etc.) from a fully accredited institution(s). Successful applicants will be able to articulate in their application essay how this particular degree program would enable them as “change agents” to assist students from disadvantaged backgrounds and/or first generation students to succeed in attaining a college degree.

Applicants holding a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree: 

Students holding an MAT degree, but who have not completed substantial advanced coursework beyond the MAT, some preparatory coursework may be required before full admission into the Ph.D. program.

Ph.D. Program Cost 

Graduate Tuition Rates

Financial Aid 

For information on financial aid, click here.

All applicants and correspondence relevant to admission should be directed to:

Office Location:
Office of Graduate Admission
Allen Hall, 4th Floor

Mailing Address:
2001 Newburg Road
Louisville, KY 40205

Bellarmine University | 2001 Newburg Rd, Louisville KY, 40205 | 502.272.8131 | 800.274.4723

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