PhD in Leadership Studies

Department of Leadership Studies


Collaborative leadership calls for a style that employs both personal and professional skills such as the ability to establish mission and direction; elicit and cultivate cooperation; and empower institutions, organizations and communities to achieve greater levels of quality, effectiveness and flexibility.

Curriculum (57 units)

Leadership Core Curriculum (36 units)

This component offers an interdisciplinary and multicultural opportunity to study leadership. The courses are designed to enable the doctoral student to explore, understand, and critique theories, concepts, competencies, and values/ethics related to leadership. In the process, students are encouraged to develop and to critically explore specific strategies for implementing these philosophies. Generally, students take LEAD 600, LEAD 602, and/or LEAD 611 at the outset of the program.

LEAD 600 Integral Leadership and Practice
LEAD 602 Competing Conceptions of Knowledge and Research
LEAD 607 Applied Statistics and Quantitative Research Methods
LEAD 608 Qualitative Research Methods
LEAD 611 Leadership Theories:  Past, Present and Future
LEAD 619 Applied Leadership Practices: An Integral Self and Systems Approach to Leadership

Choose one of the following advanced research courses:

   LEAD 612 Advanced Qualitative Research Methods 3
 LEAD 613 Advanced Quantitative Research Methods

Choose one additional research course from the following:

LEAD 612

Advanced Qualitative Research Methods 3

LEAD 613

Advanced Quantitative Research Methods 3

LEAD 614

Special Topics in Advanced Research 3

LEAD 615

Action Research Methods II 3

LEAD 616

Survey Research Methods 3
LEAD 610 Dissertation Seminar 3
LEAD 695 Dissertation 9

Area of Specialization (21 units)

An important aspect of the doctorate in Leadership Studies is the Area of Specialization requirement which enables each student to design a sequence of courses that will help the student develop knowledge and skills in a specific area of interest.

International Experience

At SOLES, all masters and doctoral students participate in an international experience designed to support the growth of cultural competency. Our goal is to inform best practices in working with culturally diverse populations locally, nationally and globally.

For many students, this experience will include a one- to two-week, faculty-led course abroad. For students who prefer to stay in southern California, this experience may be fulfilled through research or coursework on international issues. Service trips and site visits across the border in Tijuana are offered regularly.

Visit the department website for more information on the Department of Leadership Studies' International Experience to view the options for fulfilling the requirement. 


All students will be required to complete a dissertation under the supervision of Department of Leadership Studies faculty.


For more than 30 years, SOLES has provided doctoral candidates the conceptual and practical tools needed to make consequential contributions in a variety of academic and professional disciplines. The program is grounded in a theoretical framework designed to challenge our students' perspectives of successful leadership practices and strategies and provide them with the ability to affect positive and sustainable change in our global community.

Degree Names

In 1982, we awarded our first Doctorate of Education (EdD) in Leadership Studies and now boast more than 300 alumni of that program. In 2006, we began offering the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Leadership Studies. In 2016, a program revision included the reduction of units from 63 down to 54. However, effective for Summer 2018, the total number of units will increase to 57.  The leadership doctoral program is characterized by a rich diversity of people who share a commitment to upholding the highest standards of intellectual inquiry and academic freedom. The program includes a common core of studies in leadership theory and practice, as well as courses, internships, projects and independent studies oriented toward the specific needs of each participant.

By offering an education rooted in critical analysis and reflection, our candidates have the opportunity to:

  • Inspire a clear, mutual vision; one that integrates individual and organizational aspirations for sustained performance and continuous improvement;
  • Develop skill sets that empower them to mobilize the forces of inclusion and diversity for the attainment of organizational objectives;
  • Apply theoretical concepts to organizational systems; thinking critically to assess current and/or continuing problems, and employ acquired tools of inquiry to facilitate positive change;
  • Develop new levels of insight and self-awareness regarding their strengths and challenges as a leader;
  • Become part of a collaborative community that allows doctoral candidates to learn from their peers, support one another, and develop habits and practices that facilitate future professional growth;
  • Develop the resources and flexibility to pursue a dynamic range of dissertation topics;
  • Take advantage of paid graduate assistantships offered in: assessment, nonprofit leadership and management, teaching leadership, community college leadership, and global education;
  • Benefit from the small class size and personalized attention from dedicated faculty; and
  • Use the applied learning opportunities available from our institutes and centers:

Frequently Asked Questions

How long will the program take me?

Full-time students can complete their degree in 4 years. Part-time students complete their degree in 5-6 years.

How many units are included?

For students entering the program in Spring 2018 or prior, the program consists of 54 units.  Effective Summer 2018, the program consists of 57 Graduate Units.  Students should refer to their program handbook and the USD Graduate Catalog for the year they entered, to view their program requirements.

When are classes scheduled?

Each class typically meets once per week at 5:30 or 6:00 p.m. for 2 hours and 50 minutes. Summer and intersession classes typically hold more frequent class meetings. Students typically take 1-3 classes per semester and may take summer and intersession coursework.

Please note that electives taken in other departments may not follow this class schedule.

Can I work while completing this program?

Yes. Classes are scheduled in the evenings and occasionally on weekends. Many students work full-time or part-time while completing this program.

Is this program offered online?

Only for students seeking the specialization, Leadership for International School Leaders.  This specialization, launching summer 2018 will offer a hybrid model.  Students in all other specializations will attend classes on campus.