Literacy Program Leading to the Degree of Ph.D.

The Literacy PhD curriculum has been updated as of Fall 2024. The new program requirements are reflected below. Students who were admitted to the program as of Summer 2024 and prior should view the degree requirements available at the 2023 Literacy Program Leading to the Degree of Ph.D. page.

The program leading to the Ph.D. in Literacy prepares individuals for research and teaching positions in universities and colleges. It also serves those who have or seek positions in K-12 schools, government agencies, or educational foundations requiring a comprehensive understanding of literacy, the ability to conduct research, and/or the capacity to interpret or implement research findings.

The program of study requires a minimum of three academic years of full-time study or part-time study over a longer period.

Requirements for Admission

In addition to the general University requirements for admission to doctoral study, teacher certification and teaching experience are desirable; however, the program is open to college graduates with other appropriate professional backgrounds and experiences.

Application to the Ph.D. program involves submitting official transcripts of all undergraduate and graduate coursework, at least three letters of recommendation, Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores, an example of academic writing, and a written response to the program questionnaire, which replaces the Candidate's Statement of Goals on the university application form. At least one letter of recommendation (and preferably more) must address the candidate's academic abilities and potential for graduate study. Additional letters about candidate's teaching abilities and/or potential and other aspects of the candidate's experiences or traits will strengthen the application. Prior to applying to the program, the candidate might take a non-degree graduate course in a literacy-related program for evidence of recent academic success, such as a course in our campus-based or online program.

As part of the application process, applicants routinely meet with the department chair.

Program of Study (66 credits minimum, including up to 30 credits of applicable transfer courses approved for advanced standing, plus dissertation)

  1. Core Courses (24 credits)
    1. Foundational Core Courses (9 credits total):
      • Ltl 700 Proseminar in Theoretical Models and Frameworks in Literacy Teaching and Learning (3)
      • Ltl 702 Proseminar in Approaches to Literacy Research Methods (3)
      • Ltl 704 Introduction to Dissertation Literature Reviews (3)
    2. Selected Core Courses (15 credits total, minimum 12 credits in Ltl). Examples may include:
      • Ltl 732 Theory and Research in Teaching of Literature (3)
      • Ltl 740 PreK-12 Disciplinary Literacy Development: Potential in PreK-12 ELA, Science, &Soc Studies Standards (3)
      • Ltl 744 Teacher Leadership (3)
      • Ltl 746 Literacy Education: Research, Practice, Policy, and Politics (3)
      • Ltl 750 Early Literacy and Language Development (3)
      • Ltl 757 Research on Preparing Literacy Teachers to Cultivate Equitable & Diverse Learning Contexts (3)
      • As advised
  2. Research Methodology Courses (12 credits minimum). Examples may include:
    • Ltl 743 Practitioner and Participatory Action Research (3)
    • Ltl 775 Discourse Analysis (3)
    • Ltl 777 Qualitative Research Methods (3)
    • Ltl 779 Quantitative Methods Lit Rsrch (3)
    • Research courses in other departments as approved by advisor
  3. Graduate Education Courses (30 credits); as approved by advisor (transfer courses may apply).
  4. Dissertation (Ltl 899 Doctoral Dissertation; 1 load credit/semester) 

Qualifying Procedure: Comprehensive Exam

Through the comprehensive exam, doctoral students are expected to demonstrate a thoughtful and critical understanding of the broad field of literacy.

Prior to taking the Comprehensive Examination, students must have completed a minimum of 54 credits of coursework. Of these 54 credits, students must take 9 credits of Foundational Core Courses (Ltl 700, 702, and 704) and 15 credits of Selected Core Courses, 12 of which must be in Literacy. Following university guidelines, research methodology courses do not count toward the minimum of 54 credits needed to take the exam.

The format of the comprehensive exam is a literature review. The exam requires students to choose a significant issue within the literacy field, synthesize related research, identify a gap in existing literature, and make an argument for the need for future research.

Research Methodology

The Department of Literacy Teaching and Learning expects students to demonstrate a broad familiarity with the design and analysis of both quantitative and qualitative research. They must also demonstrate competency in the particular methodology(ies) appropriate to their dissertation topic. The research methodology requirement may be fulfilled through appropriate coursework (e.g., ELtl 743, 775, 777, 779; research courses in other departments as approved by the advisor). Students are required to submit a Research Tools Statement to the faculty, detailing how they have met this requirement. The research methodology requirement will not be officially met until the faculty approves the student's Research Tools Statement.

Dissertation Proposal

After approval of the comprehensive exam and research tools statement, the student prepares a dissertation research proposal to provide details on the focus and intent of the proposed dissertation study. Students develop the proposal with guidance provided by their dissertation committee. The proposal has two main components: a strong literature review providing a rationale for the study and a detailed methodology section. The literature review in the proposal should include an introduction to the problem or issue in the field that the study addresses, research questions, theoretical framework, and a coherent review of relevant literature that provides a rationale for the research questions and methodology. The methodology section should clearly state and provide details on the study’s research design and its data collection and analysis procedures.

After the dissertation committee approves a draft, students will present the proposed study to the dissertation committee for final approval, inviting other faculty members and students to attend the presentation.

The dissertation committee must approve the dissertation proposal before the student proceeds to proposal presentation and the dissertation itself.

Full Time Study in Residence

All students must satisfy the requirement of a period of sustained intellectual inquiry within the academic community of their department, the School of Education, and the University.

The residency requirement can be met in one of two ways:

The preferred method is to enroll full-time for at least a year, and participate in the intellectual community, either taking courses, or serving as a research or teaching assistant alongside the faculty, or conducting independent studies, or a combination of these.

An alternative method is to enroll part time, and participate in the intellectual community in one or more of the roles outlined above.

Students who seek to meet the residency requirements in a manner other than specified above may do so in writing to the department. The department will review the request, and decide if it will be approved.

Admission to Candidacy

Students are admitted to candidacy for the Ph.D. in Literacy degree upon the following:

  1. Completion of 60 graduate credits with an average of B or above;
  2. Completion of the departmental qualifying procedure (Comprehensive Exam);
  3. Completion of the Research Methodology requirement;
  4. Completion of the University residence requirement;
  5. Departmental approval of the dissertation proposal.


The dissertation is the culmination of a program of advanced study leading to a doctoral degree and as such must attest to the attainment of a high degree of scholarship. The dissertation must report in accepted scholarly style the investigation of a significant problem in the field of literacy. It must demonstrate that a candidate is capable of sophisticated, independent research and analysis and scholarly reporting in an academic discipline or professional field.

When the dissertation committee feels that the dissertation is ready to be considered for approval, the student makes a formal request to the Department for an oral examination and defense of the dissertation. The dissertation committee conducts the oral examination. After approval of the dissertation is obtained by a vote of the dissertation committee and ratified by the department, the student submits final copies to the Office of Graduate Education.

Please note: This program offers an internship, field experience, study abroad component, or clinical experience in the course listing as an option to fulfill course requirements. Students who have previously been convicted of a felony are advised that their prior criminal history may impede their ability to complete the requirements of certain academic programs and/or to meet licensure requirements for certain professions. If you have concerns about this matter please contact the Dean’s Office of your intended academic program.