Specialization Overview

The doctoral specialization in Exceptional Education provides a program of advanced study of special education. The program emphasizes the study the socio-cultural context, educational policy, research-based practices and systems change and reform. Students in Exceptional Education take advanced coursework in special education and choose to focus on related areas such as administration, research, teacher education, curriculum design and development, and community-based supports and partnerships. In addition, students declare a minor area of interest.

Students work with their major professor to develop an individualized program which incorporates breadth as well as depth of study. 

For course descriptions in this area, visit the Exceptional Education section of this catalog.

Degree Overview

The School of Education offers an interdepartmental program of study leading to the PhD. Students must choose a specialization in either Adult, Continuing, and Higher Education Leadership, Art Education, Curriculum and Instruction, Educational Administration, Exceptional Education, Mathematics Education, Multicultural Studies, or Social Foundations of Education.

The program is designed to permit students to integrate their particular curricular areas of interest and specialization with a broader field of education, including urban education. Each specialization, with the exception of Multicultural Studies, is departmentally focused, and students must satisfy the admissions and curriculum requirements indicated for their particular specialization. Recognition of the specialization is acknowledged by official designation on the student’s transcript.

Each of the specializations offers the doctoral student an opportunity to pursue study in a specific program area. For example, Adult, Continuing, and Higher Education Leadership emphasizes governance and leadership issues within urban adult education organizations. Educational Administration explores governance and Leadership issues of urban schools. Curriculum and Instruction provides program emphasis in a content area (e.g., reading), education level (e.g., early childhood), a general area (e.g., curriculum theory) or special area (e.g., guiding instructional improvement). Exceptional Education provides program emphasis in departmental interest areas (e.g., handicapping condition), or a cross-disciplinary interest.

A separate PhD with specialization in Counseling Psychology, Learning and Development, Research Methodology, and School Psychology is offered through the Department of Educational Psychology. Multicultural Studies is a cross-department program allowing students to develop their own area of focus in collaboration with faculty in multicultural urban education. The Social Foundations of Education specialization provides students with the conceptual tools with which to examine the complex interrelationships between school and society, education and culture.

All graduates should have a broad understanding of the issues, problems and trends related to education, including urban education, and the application of these to their major.

The program requires each participant to develop research skills ranging from logic in inquiry to development of specific methodological skills in qualitative and quantitative methods. The PhD is a research degree and not only a professional preparation degree. Therefore research is an integral part of the program. Mastery of these skills is demonstrated through coursework, research projects and the dissertation. Graduates apply their skills, in institutions of higher education, public or private school settings, federal, state, or local governmental agencies, community organizations, and the private sector.

Cooperating Departments

  • Administrative Leadership
  • Educational Policy and Community Studies
  • Educational Psychology
  • Teaching and Learning
  • Information Studies (School of)

Admission Requirements 

Application Deadlines

Application deadlines vary by program, please review the application deadline chart for specific programs. Other important dates and deadlines can be found by using the One Stop calendars.


An applicant must meet Graduate School requirements plus the following program requirements to be considered for admission. Applicants must also complete the reason statement in the application.

Graduate Record Examination

GRE scores are not required for admission to program.

Grade Point Average

Applicants must have an undergraduate GPA of 2.75. 

Check with specializations that might have additional requirements.

Writing Sample

Applicants must submit a writing sample completed within the last five years. The writing sample must be single authored, at least 1500 words, and must be selected from one of the following options:

  1. Master’s Thesis
  2. Undergraduate Senior Thesis
  3. Technical Report
  4. Term Paper
  5. Publication
  6. Written Description of a Project
  7. Action Research Project
  8. Writing sample or written response showing evidence of analytical and argumentative writing and reasoning. The response should address the following: How would you conceptualize and analyze issues in urban education? The response to this question must show evidence of appropriate references to a knowledge base.

The writing sample must be submitted with the application.

Reasons Statement

A Reasons Statement is used to determine the appropriateness of your educational and professional goals and serves as an example of your ability to express yourself in writing. In the statement:

  • Explain your reasons for pursuing graduate study.
  • Describe specific interests and your background in the field.
  • List any relevant skills or training you have acquired.
  • List relevant academic awards or honors you have received.

Curriculum Vitae/Resume

All UEDP applicants are required to submit a current Curriculum Vitae/Resume.


The program requires 3 letters of recommendation. These letters must be submitted through the application’s electronic recommendation feature by the recommenders themselves. Letters uploaded or sent by the applicant will not be accepted. If possible, please provide your recommenders with a summary of your application materials. Feel free to encourage your recommenders to provide illustrations linking your experiences and abilities with the aims of the doctoral specialization.  


Applicants are required to articulate their urban and research interests and goals in application materials. An intended concentration within the PhD must be specified at time of application.

  1. Applicants who fail to satisfy these admission requirements will not be recommended for admission. However, satisfying these minima does not guarantee admission.
  2. Applicants who are not recommended for admission will be provided an opportunity to request a reconsideration.

Individual specializations may expect prior coursework in that area. Applicants may contact the Director for specific information. Openings in the program are limited.

Students should apply by December 1st of the year prior to entry, or earlier, if they plan to apply for University-wide fellowships. Applications completed after the priority deadline will be reviewed on a rolling basis up until April 1st for Fall admission of that calendar year.

Application materials MUST be submitted by April 1st in order to be admitted for the fall semester. 

Credits and Courses

Minimum degree requirement is 54 credits beyond the bachelor’s degree (although students ordinarily take more than 54), at least 27 of which must be earned in residence at UWM (i.e., on the UWM campus).

A minimum grade of B or better is required for all courses counting toward the Urban Education doctoral degree.  Students earning a B- or lower must consult with their advisor to fulfill the requirement within one semester.

In consultation with the major professor, the student designs a program of studies that enables the student to gain the knowledge and skills appropriate to the student’s goals.

The program of studies includes the following:

The Doctoral Seminars

All doctoral students must take three 3-credit seminar courses devoted to content involving education in an urban environment. 

EDUC 701Critical Issues in Urban Education3
EDUC 801Seminar in Urban Education3
EDUC 901Advanced Seminar in Urban Education3

Research Requirement

Department specialization requirements may exceed those specified here.

Choose one: 3-4
Educational Statistical Methods II (prerequisite is ED PSY 624)
Techniques of Educational Research (prerequisite is ED PSY 624)
CURRINS/AD LDSP 729Qualitative Research and Field Studies in Educational Settings3
Additional advanced-level (600 or above) coursework from either a qualitative track or quantitative track6
Approved research design course3
Total Credits15-16

All students must demonstrate knowledge in this area by completing the specialization equivalent to the preliminary exam and successfully defending a dissertation.

Designated Specialization

Students indicate a specific area of specialization by applying for one of the transcript-designated specializations in either Adult, Continuing, and Higher Education Leadership, Curriculum and Instruction, Exceptional Education, Mathematics Education, Multicultural Studies, or Social Foundations of Education. Students may be required to meet the specific admissions and program requirements for their intended specialization in addition to meeting the PhD admissions and program requirements. (Please see the accompanying explanation and requirements for each specialization.)


Residence requirements cannot be met at the master’s level, and must be fulfilled before you can achieve dissertator status. There are two types of doctoral residency that must be met:

Academic Year Requirement

You must complete 8 to 12 graduate credits in each of two consecutive semesters, or 6 or more graduate credits in each of three consecutive semesters, including summer sessions. This requirement is intended to provide immersion in the chosen discipline and foster participation in the community of scholars.

50% Requirement

At least 50% of the graduate credits required for your PhD program must be completed at UWM in doctoral status.

Exceptional Education Specialization

Subsequent to UEDP admission, the student must submit credentials and a program for concentration in Exceptional Education developed in conjunction with the student’s advisor in the Department of Exceptional Education. Students also must prepare a statement expressing their interests within Exceptional Education for the departmental admissions procedure.

The doctoral specialization in Exceptional Education provides a program of advanced study of special education. The program emphasizes the socio-cultural context, educational policy, research-based practices and systems change and reform. Students in Exceptional Education take advanced coursework in special education and choose to focus on related areas such as administration, research, teacher education, curriculum design and development, and community-based supports and partnerships. In addition, students declare a minor area of interest.

Students work with their major professor to develop an individualized program which incorporates breadth as well as depth of study. Building on faculty expertise and research interests, focus areas for study may include:

  • Teacher education
  • Cultural diversity in education
  • Early childhood intervention
  • Assistive technology
  • Curriculum accommodation & collaboration
  • Literacy
  • Transition to young adulthood
  • Deaf education
  • School reform and special education administration

In addition to advanced coursework, students participate in research and development projects, curriculum development, co-teaching, and other activities designed to prepare leaders for roles such as a college or university professor, curriculum leader, special education administrator, consultant, or project director.

The specialization requires a recent master’s degree in exceptional education or a related field (9 of these credits may be counted toward the specialization). If an applicant does not have this background, appropriate graduate coursework and field experiences will be outlined as a prerequisite to the doctoral specialization.

  • A minimum of 12 credits in Exceptional Education (800-level or above) focusing on research and practice related to teacher education, field-based practice and supervision, community programs and support for individuals with disabilities and special education research. Core courses are selected in consultation with doctoral advisor.
  • A minimum of 12 credits additional electives in an Exceptional Education focus area. Up to 9 credits of recent and relevant master’s degree coursework may be applied.
  • The student must meet all of the program requirements of the Urban Education Doctoral Program, including:
    • Urban education Doctoral Seminars (9 credits)
    • Research Design and Methodology (13-16 credits)
    • Minor area of study (9 credits)

Additionally, students must complete preliminary examinations and a dissertation, original research with an emphasis in Exceptional Education.

Additional Requirements

Major Professor

Upon admission to the doctoral program, the student is assigned an initial advisor from their intended specialization. This person is available to discuss initial course selection and provide general advice about the program and specialization. After beginning the program and before filing a Program of Studies, the student will seek a permanent major professor from their specialization who is eligible to serve in such a capacity. This permanent advisor may be the initial advisor if the student desires. The major professor is also chair of the student’s dissertation committee.

Selection of the major professor is by mutual consent between the student and the faculty member. The student must notify the UEDP in writing when the major professor has been selected.

Foreign Language Requirement

There is no foreign language requirement. However, individual students may be required to demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language if such proficiency is determined to be necessary by a student’s committee.

Doctoral Preliminary Examination

The student must pass a doctoral preliminary examination to qualify for formal admission to candidacy for the degree. The examination covers the area of specialization, urban education, the minor, and research methods.


The candidate must present a dissertation reporting the results of an original research study appropriate to the student’s program. Prior to beginning the research, the candidate must present an acceptable dissertation proposal and defend it at an oral hearing.

Dissertation Defense

The candidate must, as the final step toward the degree, pass an oral examination in defense of the dissertation.

Time Limit

Students who do not complete all degree requirements within seven years from the date of admission to the doctoral program will be recommended for dismissal to the Graduate School.

Other Requirements

This is only a summary of the doctoral program requirements. A complete list of requirements is available from the Office of Doctoral Studies. Doctoral Committees may specify course requirements which exceed the minima described here.

For additional information on the PhD, see the Graduate School Doctoral Requirements.

Urban Education PhD Learning Outcomes

Scholars graduating from the Urban Education Doctoral Program will be able to… 

  • study, research, and convey contemporary educational issues within complex urban settings. (Urban Education Researchers & Practitioners) 
  • explore and apply frameworks to examine urban educational issues. (Urban Issues) 
  • conceptualize, formulate and execute methods and models used with qualitative and quantitative data. (Qualitative & Quantitative Data) 
  • synthesize, communicate, and defend original research in an area of specialization. (Dissertation Research)