Literacy Program Leading to the Degree of Ph.D.

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 in a literacy-related program for evidence of recent academic success, such as a course in our campus-based or online program.


Often, applicants will interview with the Department faculty as an integral part of the application process (either in person or via the internet).

Program of Study (66 credits minimum, plus dissertation)

Students, in consultation with their program advisor, develop an appropriate course of study. The distribution of courses is:

  1. Core Literacy Content Courses (24 credits minimum, 700 or 800 level courses)
  2. Research Methodology (12 credits minimum)
  3. Elective Courses (27 credits, including MS level transfer courses)
  4. Dissertation Preparation (3 credits minimum)
  5. Dissertation (1 load credit/semester) 

Qualifying Procedure: Comprehensive Exam

In the Comprehensive Exam doctoral students must demonstrate thoughtful and critical understanding of the broad field of literacy, in three domains: Literacy and Society, Literacy and Schooling, and the Nature and Acquisition of Literacy.

Prior to taking the Comprehensive Examination you must have completed a minimum of 54 hours of coursework, including the 24 Core Literacy Content courses.  The student selects one of three options, in consultation with his/her program advisor:

  1. A six-hour written closed-book examination; or
  2. A portfolio of learning, including a reflective essay describing the significance of the contents for the student's academic development. The portfolio can include anything the student considers relevant for a demonstration of competence in each of the three domains; or
  3. Three essays, one for each domain. 

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 715, 743, 762, 779, 891; EPsy 530, 630, 750, 756; ETap 777, 778; EAps 614). Students are required to submit a Research Tool 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 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 or the dissertation itself.

Full Time Study in Residence

All students in 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, but 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 in (2) 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.