Specialization in Higher Education Leadership​

​In the changing landscape of higher education today, the importance of forward-thinking leaders cannot be underestimated.

The PhD in Leadership Studies with a specialization in Higher Education Leadership prepares students to meet the new leadership challenges facing colleges and universities in the United States and worldwide.

Students in the program develop the skills to conduct original research and use empirical evidence to improve their practice and lead innovation. Students benefit from close relationships with faculty with real-world experience in student affairs and higher education administration and policy. Graduates of this specialization work as higher education administrators, researchers, policy-makers and faculty.

Program Overview

The PhD in Leadership Studies in the Department of Leadership Studies offers students an outstanding foundation in leadership theory and practice, as well as in research methodology. Students also specialize in a particular area of leadership through elective coursework and research.

The Higher Education Specialization encompasses coursework that may include courses focused on student development, administration, policy, and the application of leadership theory in educational settings. Students work closely with their faculty advisers to design a course of study that will serve their personal and professional growth needs. The departments nationally recognized faculty are key contributors to cutting-edge research on higher education leadership, policy, and practice.

Distinguishing Features

  • Personalized faculty advising to tailor course selection to student needs
  • In-depth coverage of emerging trends in higher education, including the implications of those trends on practice and research
  • Opportunity for short-term coursework abroad, taught by Leadership Studies faculty
  • Training in conducting original research in higher education using a variety of methodologies
  • Interaction with students in other leadership disciplines, such as organizational leadership, nonprofit, and education, for a broader learning experience


Paige Haber"The opportunities I was provided through the PhD in Leadership Studies were endless. I apply what I learned on a daily basis - both professionally and personally."

- Paige Haber-Curran '11

While she was a doctoral student at SOLES, alumna Paige Haber-Curran balanced many roles: as a graduate assistant coordinating USD's Leadership Minor, a leadership program facilitator with LeaderShape, and an instructor in Organizational Leadership at Brandman University. She is now an Assistant Professor of Student Affairs in Higher Education at Texas State University, San Marcos.

Other alumni job titles include:

  • Assistant Dean
  • Associate Vice President of Student Life
  • Associate Vice President of Student Academic Support Services
  • College President
  • Dean, College of Continuing and Professional Studies
  • Dean of Enrollment Services
  • Dean of Counseling Services and Matriculation
  • Dean of Students
  • Dean of Student Development
  • Director of Community Service Learning
  • Professor
  • Vice Chancellor


In addition to the core leadership and research courses included in the doctoral program of study, students select electives, which may include:

Course Number Course Title Graduate Units
COUN 515 Multicultural Counseling 3
LEAD 535i Models of Participatory Leadership 3
LEAD 565 Dynamics of Race, Culture and Gender in Higher Education 3
LEAD 568i Global Perspectives in Higher Education 3
LEAD 569 Making Meaning and the Collegiate Experience 3
LEAD 571 History, Theories and Philosophies of Higher Education 3
LEAD 573 The Economics of Education 3
LEAD 576 Community College Leadership 3
LEAD 577 Higher Education Policy 3
LEAD 578 Higher Education Administration 3
LEAD 585 Leadership for Change 3
LEAD 600 Integral Leadership Theory 3
LEAD 640 Contemporary Issues in Higher Education Leadership 3
LEAD 698 Internship 1-3

This list is not exhaustive.  This list reprsents classes in the catalog, but you must check with the department about offering frequency.   New course are developed often.  Talk to your faculty advisor.

Students preparing for research careers are advised to take additional upper level research methodology courses. Other electives may be drawn from SOLES, or coursework in other graduate divisions of USD such as the School of Business, School of Law, and Joan. B. Kroc School of Peace Studies.



View all doctoral faculty biographies


For information on how to apply to the PhD in Leadership Studies with a specialization in Higher Education Leadership, visit the main PhD program page