Ph.D. in Education and Social Change

Earn your doctorate in education and help change the playing field for children living in poverty.

Why earn your Ph.D. in Education at Bellarmine?

At Bellarmine, our Ph.D. in Education and Social Change focuses on the development of highly skilled professionals who will act as change agents in improving the education of children and adults coming from high poverty circumstances. Our degree prepares graduates to work as leaders in a wide range of education-related vocations including not-for-profit agencies, family advocacy, higher education, learning and teaching research, social policy, and leadership in public/private school venues or environments.

Our Ph.D. in Education and Social Change is not a certification or endorsement program for public school educators. Rather, the program helps graduates attain advanced knowledge in such areas as:

  • Quantitative and qualitative research practices;
  • Assets and challenges of children living in high poverty predicaments;
  • Development and diffusion of innovative education solutions;
  • Change management; and
  • Depth of knowledge in a chosen area of study related to improving learning for all citizens.

At the heart of our Ph.D. program is a commitment to improve learning and social justice for some of the world’s most challenged children and adults.

Program highlights

The Ph.D. in Education and Social Change is an affordable 60-hour, cohort-based program attracting students because of its social justice paradigm rooted in the Catholic tradition and research-driven structure. We deliver our courses 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 underprivileged. Most candidates complete their dissertation and graduate within a four-year timeframe.

For those serving in education-related fields outside of P-12 schools, the ideal candidate will usually hold the equivalent of an undergraduate and graduate degree in their fields more broadly based related to the education enterprise and social justice (e.g., communications, nonprofit leadership, education policy, etc.). Areas of concentration within the Bellarmine University Ph.D. include Literacy Education, Educational Leadership, Superintendent Focus, and Higher Education Administration. An Individualized Plan option is also possible for persons wishing to have a more customized experience to suit clearly identified career goals.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. How would this program benefit me in the workplace?
A. The mission of the Bellarmine Ph.D. in Education and Social Change, consistent with Catholic social justice teachings, is to prepare “change agents” who improve education for children and other citizens living in poverty circumstances. The principles of change management can be applied to any environment. Whether you are employed in the public/private P-12 school system, a non-profit or higher education institution, the Ph.D. in Education & Social Change will teach you how to lead and initiate change in your organization for children and adults in high poverty circumstances.

Q. When does the program start?
A. The cohort typically begins each fall in early September. If a spring cohort is able to begin, then classes would begin in early January.

Q. When do classes meet?
A. For the first three program years, classes will meet on Friday 5-10 p.m. and Saturday 8 a.m.-5 p.m. six weekends a semester. The fourth program year will be the dissertation year. Higher Education Administration courses may meet one evening a week. All other concentration courses will be offered in the weekend format only.

Q. How much time would I need to spend outside of class to be prepared for class?
A. On average, we recommend three hours outside of class time to prepare for each hour of instruction. However, this will vary with the content of the course(s) you are taking each semester.

For more frequently asked questions, please visit our FAQ page.

Program Objectives

  • Examine education issues associated with poverty within a perspective of social justice.
  • Evaluate change theories and practices aimed at improving education access and outcomes for all people.
  • Evaluate secondary research and formulate an original argument; then design, implement, analyze and disseminate an empirical research study.
  • Develop and implement interventions informed by theory and empirical evidence for the purpose of promoting positive change.

Faculty Profiles

Here is a quick snapshot of a few of our faculty members. Read profiles of all of our distinguished faculty.

Grant Smith, Ph.D.

Grant Smith, Ph.D. is Chair of Doctoral Programs and Assistant Professor of Research Design and Statistics. Grant spent over 20 years in the private sector working in operations management, mergers and acquisitions and the design and execution of feasibility research and process improvement studies. His research interests include accountability measurements, and the relationship of educational outcomes and economic opportunity. He received a B.A. from the University of Florida, a Ph.D. in measurement and statistics from the Florida State University and is currently completing postdoctoral studies at Harvard University where he works with the National Center for Teacher Effectiveness at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. At Bellarmine Grant teaches courses in statistics, research methods and evaluation.


David D. Paige, Ed.D., is Associate Professor of Education at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky. After a 20-year career in business, Dr. Paige began his educational career as a special educator in an urban middle school in Memphis, Tennessee where he taught reading and math for five years to children with mild to moderate learning disabilities in both pull-out and collaborative class settings. Dr. Paige completed his doctoral studies at the University of Memphis under Dr. Robert B. Cooter. Paige’s research interests are framed around literacy issues, particularly those concerning the role of oral reading fluency in adolescent children from poverty. Additionally, Dr. Paige works in urban school settings investigating strategies for improving literacy achievement, instruction, and educational outcomes. Research by Dr. Paige has been published in The Reading Teacher, Reading Psychology, Reading Horizons, Literacy Research and Instruction, and the Kentucky Reading Journal. As part of his interest in school reform around literacy and instruction, Dr. Paige recently completed a Master’s of Arts degree in Instructional Leadership and School Administration and holds a Kentucky license as a school administrator. Dr. Paige is currently Treasurer and member of the Board of Directors of the Association of Literacy Researchers and Educators (ALER).

David and his wife Elizabeth live in a restored, circa 1890 home in the Butchertown neighborhood of east downtown. David has four sons, Garrett and Taylor who are both serving in the U. S. Army, Cameron who is a student at Bellarmine University, and Logan who is completing high school in Dixie County, Florida.


Donald "DJ" Mitchell Jr., Ph.D. is professor of higher education leadership and chair of the M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership and Social Justice Program at Bellarmine University. DJ's research and scholarship focus on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education contexts, primarily using qualitative methodologies. More specifically, his work theoretically and empirically explores race, gender, identity intersections, and intersectionality within higher education contexts.

DJ's research and scholarship have received local and national recognition. He is recipient of the Ethnographic and Qualitative Research Conference's 2016 McGraw Hill Distinguished Scholar Award; the American College Personnel Association's 2015 Emerging Scholar Award; Grand Valley State University's 2015 Distinguished Early-Career Scholar Award; the Multicultural/Multiethnic Education Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association's 2014 Dr. Carlos J. Vallejo Memorial Award for Emerging Scholarship; the American College Personnel Association’s Standing Committee for Men and Masculinities 2014 Outstanding Research Award (with Dr. Darris Means); and, the Michigan College Personnel Association's 2013 John Zaugra Outstanding Research/Publication Award. He was also awarded the Center for the Study of the College Fraternity's 2012 Richard McKaig Outstanding Doctoral Research Award for his dissertation, "Are They Truly Divine?: A Grounded Theory of the Influences of Black Greek-Lettered Organizations on the Persistence of African Americans at Predominantly White Institutions." He currently serves as associate editor for Oracle: The Research Journal of the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors and as an editorial board member for the Journal of College Student Development, the Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, the Journal Committed to Social Change on Race and Ethnicity, and the Journal of Ethnographic & Qualitative Research.

DJ earned a Bachelor of Science in chemistry from Shaw University, the first historically Black institution in the South, a Master of Science in educational leadership from Minnesota State University, Mankato, and a Ph.D. in educational policy and administration with a concentration in higher education from the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities.

Dr. Will Wells

Will Wells, Ed.D. is an Assistant Professor of Instructional Leadership and School Administration. He earned his doctoral degree from the University of Louisville in Educational Leadership and School Administration. Before joining the faculty at Bellarmine in 2016, Dr. Wells was Superintendent in the Oldham County Schools. His experience as a successful assistant superintendent, school principal, assistant principal, guidance counselor, and middle school teacher, in both urban and suburban districts, provided him a broad base of experience and expertise as he served in this role. His current research interests are systems, structures, and policies that improve teacher quality vis-à-vis job embedded professional learning such as the academy structure and other means of building teacher capacity in order to ensure the learning of ALL students. Wells teaches a variety of instructional leadership and administration courses to graduate students at the masters, specialist, and doctoral levels.

Admission Requirements

Candidates must have an earned baccalaureate and master's degree in any discipline. Advanced degrees in fields other than education will be considered to meet this requirement (e.g., JD, MBA, etc.). A minimum grade point average of 3.5 in all graduate coursework completed at the time of application.

For a complete explanation of admission requirements, please visit our Procedure for Admission page.

Tuition and Fees

Visit our Graduate Tuition Rates for the most up-to-date tuition and fees information.

School districts may apply tuition supports for this program; please contact your school district’s personnel specialist. Students are eligible for federally supported forms of student aid. Financial aid questions should be directed to the Financial Aid Office at Bellarmine University ( or 502.272.7300).

Contact Information

Grant Smith, Ph.D., Chair of Doctoral Programs and Assistant Professor
502.272.7921 or

Sara Pettingill, Ph.D., Dean of Graduate Admission
502.272.8401 or

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