PhD in Leadership Studies

Department of Leadership Studies

Program of Study


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.


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.

Doctoral Program

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 received approval to offer the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Leadership Studies. 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:

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. Curriculum

Leadership Core Curriculum (18 units)

This component offers an interdisciplinary and multicultural opportunity to study leadership. The six courses (18 units) 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 and LEAD 602 at the outset of the program.

LEAD 600 Integral Leadership and Practice
LEAD 601 Organizational Theory and Change
LEAD 602 Leadership, Inquiry and Research I
LEAD 603 Ethics and Leadership
LEAD 604 The Policy-Making Process
LEAD 605 Adult Development

Research and Evaluation (15 units)

The purpose of the research and evaluation component is to enable the student to develop research knowledge and skills and apply these to a successful completion of a doctoral dissertation.

LEAD 606 Leadership, Inquiry and Research II
LEAD 607 Applied Statistics and Quantitative Research Methods
LEAD 608 Qualitative Research Methods

Advanced Research (3 units)

Students must take one of the below advanced research courses as part of their research component.

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

Research Elective (3 units)

Students may choose one of the below courses to complete their research requirement. Additional courses may be approved by the department.

LEAD 612 Advanced Qualitative Research Methods
LEAD 613 Advanced Quantitative Research Methods
LEAD 614 Special Topics in Advanced Research
LEAD 615 Action Research Methods II
LEAD 616 Survey Research Methods

Area of Specialization (18 units)

An important aspect of the doctorate in Leadership Studies is the Area of Specialization requirement which enables each student to design an 18-unit sequence of courses that will help the student develop knowledge and skills in a specific area of interest. Students are encouraged to take an Internship (LEAD 698) as part of their Area of Specialization Component.

Listed below are pages detailing each of our four areas of specialization. Please note that the lists of coursework for each specialization are neither prescriptive nor exhaustive. Students select their specialization coursework in consultation with their faculty advisor and may choose to pursue an individualized specialization by selecting coursework in multiple areas of specialization.

Dissertation (12 units)

LEAD 610 Dissertation Seminar
LEAD 695 Dissertation

Program Planning Forms

Current students can find resourses for program planning on the Current Student Gateway Handbooks, Forms and Policies page.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long will the program take me?

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

How many units are included?

This program consists of 63 Graduate Units.

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?

No, this program is offered on campus at the University of San Diego only. There is no online, hybrid, or distance learning option available.