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Educational Policy Studies

Administrative Unit:Educational Policy Studies
College/School: School of Education
Admitting Plans:M.A., Ph.D.
Degrees Offered:M.A., Ph.D.
Minors and Certificates:Ph.D. Minor

Faculty: Professors Fultz (chair), Lee, Nelson, Reese, Stambach; Associate Professors Goldrick-Rab, Kendall; Assistant Professors Johnson, Posey, Turner


The Department of Educational Policy Studies (EPS) offers an interdisciplinary program leading to both the M.A. and Ph.D. degrees. The department is dedicated to the study of educational policy in its various manifestations and to the study of traditionally defined fields such as history of education, philosophy of education, comparative and international education, and sociology and anthropology of education. The number of budgeted faculty in the department is 11. Twelve to 18 students enter the department each year. The department includes faculty with interests in education beyond the United States and has formed ties with institutions and scholars in other countries. Several faculty from the departments of Curriculum and Instruction, Sociology, and Philosophy hold joint appointments in EPS, and several EPS faculty members hold appointments in other departments (History, Sociology, Anthropology, and Philosophy) and in programs in African studies and women's studies.

Graduates of the department pursue a variety of academic, government, and private sector careers. They may be found across the United States in departments of educational policy studies and educational foundations, and other departments within schools of education; in organizations dedicated to educational research; in government and foundation work; and, in many other countries, in both higher education and ministries of education.

Beyond the department, other faculty at the University of Wisconsin–Madison study educational policy. They may be found, for example, in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, in the Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs, and in the Wisconsin Center For Education Research (WCER). Over the years, WCER projects have provided valuable research and employment opportunities to EPS students.

The department's graduate students are diverse. They come with a wide range of backgrounds in education and in the liberal arts. They vary in age, ethnicity, and social background, as well as prior practical and educational experience. Students thus provide a resource for one another's scholarly development. Some EPS courses are cross-listed in the College of Letters and Science; others are cross-listed with other departments in the School of Education. They consequently attract students who approach material with a broad range of intellectual perspectives and complementary knowledge.

Despite the variety structured into the program, the multidisciplinary backgrounds of faculty, and the diversity of students, the small size of the department often leads to closer ties between students and faculty than are possible in most larger departments. Doctoral students generally come to know several faculty well and have an opportunity to work closely with more than one.

Master's and Ph.D. Degrees 

The Department of Educational Policy Studies offers both master of arts (M.A.) and doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) degrees. Students who enroll with only a bachelor's degree and intend to pursue the Ph.D. degree are required to take the M.A. on the way to the Ph.D. Applicants already holding a master's degree will be admitted either into the EPS master's program or into the Ph.D. program, depending upon the recommendation of the admissions committee. Students for both the M.A. and Ph.D. degrees are expected to develop both depth and breadth in their studies. For the Ph.D. there are minimum credit requirements of 15 credits for the concentration and of 12 credits within educational policy studies for breadth. All candidates for the Ph.D. must take a minimum of 27 credits in EPS.

The cornerstone of the department's doctoral program is the concentration. The department offers concentrations in public policy and education, comparative and international education, history of education, philosophy of education, sociology of education, and anthropology of education. Concentrations are intended to embody the content knowledge and learning experiences that students need to achieve necessary levels of proficiency within a field of study. While these levels of proficiency are acquired largely through course work and other traditional academic activities, in appropriate fields they may also be based in work experiences, internships, independent studies, and similar activities.

Concentration in Public Policy and Education

Students who study policy in the Department of Educational Policy Studies include those aspiring to be policy scholars and researchers in academic, government, and research institute settings. They apply multidisciplinary perspectives, theories, and methodologies to the study of contemporary issues in education policy. Their primary goal is to inform public discourse and educational practice by investigating the origin, design, implementation, and effects of policy responses to important education problems. They examine current education policy problems in relation to political, economic, historical and social contexts, with particular concern for fundamental problems of equity, diversity, and power. They seek to understand both the content and technical aspects of policy, and the institutional and political contexts in which policy is developed, carried out, and supported. In examining the effects of education policy, they are concerned with broad societal consequences of policy, as well as with proximate effects. They learn methodological approaches to policy research, both quantitative and qualitative, and are expected to become expert in one methodology and critical readers of others.

Concentration in Comparative and International Education

Study in comparative and international education prepares researchers, teachers, and planners who are interested in education across nations and cultures. Various modes of inquiry and the intellectual orientations of several disciplines are used to investigate, from a comparative and/or cross-cultural perspective, the following aspects of education in one or more geographical regions of the world: educational change and modernization, the interaction between education and development (social, political, economic), the politics of educational reform, educational planning and institution building, and the interrelationships of particular aspects of schools, societies, and cultures.

Concentration in Philosophy of Education

Using analytic tools and perspectives associated with general philosophy, philosophy of education addresses fundamental moral, epistemological, and other questions concerning the nature of education; it is concerned with the illumination and critical examination of the basic conceptions, assumptions, and rationales that are at work in educational theories, policies, and practices. Students who concentrate in philosophy of education will be initiated into a multi-faceted tradition of philosophical inquiry and debate that is focused on education, and they will have the opportunity to acquire perspectives and analytic tools that make possible philosophically rich inquiries into such matters.

Concentration in Sociology of Education

Sociology of education examines the structure, practices, content, and outcomes of schooling primarily in light of their relationships to broader social contexts. It seeks by analyzing the connections across different levels of social organization (e.g., national, community, family, school, classroom) to understand the ways in which schools reproduce, challenge, and possibly transform prevailing social, economic, and political relationships. It addresses questions of social structure and culture, but also investigates how individuals alone and together negotiate their social contexts. Sociology of education encompasses a variety of theoretical perspectives and research methodologies. Doctoral students electing a concentration in sociology of education will follow a plan of study intended to give them a good grasp of relevant theory, controversies, major empirical findings, and past and present interpretations of social processes in education. Students will learn how to pose fruitful research questions and will be expected to develop proficiency in research methodologies relevant to the cluster of questions they choose to emphasize. They will be expected, as well, to develop the competence to be sophisticated consumers of the full range of methodologies used in the sociology of education.

Concentration in Anthropology of Education

The anthropological study of education applies inductive, participatory, and heuristic methods to the study of social belief and human behavior. Students who choose a concentration in the anthropology of education have the opportunity to specialize in a particular area (e.g., Africa, Southeast Asia, etc.) and/or topic (e.g., minority achievement, gender studies, area studies, policy development). Examples of recent and current research conducted by students and faculty in this concentration include: the study of Hmong, Lao, and Korean immigrant students' experiences in U.S. schools; an investigation of the democratizing ideals that underpin policies of parental and grassroots participation in schools located in various places, including U.S., Mexico, Tanzania, and Thailand; and the study of the gendered politics of parental participation in U.S. public and public charter schools.

Concentration in History of Education

The study of history helps us understand past educational policies and practices in the context of their times. It also often provides a unique perspective on modern developments. Students in the history of education usually study subjects from interdisciplinary angles, adapting theories and interpretative points of view from the humanities as well as the social sciences in their understanding of the past. In addition, great emphasis is placed in the program on the mastery of core knowledge in the field, the honing of analytical tools, and the improvement of writing skills, all of which are useful in a variety of academic and other settings. Students who choose a concentration in the history of education may specialize in the history of American education, African American education, the history of European education, comparative history of education, or any combination of these approved by the student's advisory committee.

Financial Aid 

The department has a small number of teaching assistantships. In addition, students in educational policy studies are frequently successful in competing for assistantships on professors' research grants through the Wisconsin Center for Education Research and other research organizations on campus, as well as for administrative assistantships and for teaching assistantships in related departments. University assistantships of at least one-third time routinely provide tuition remission (except for segregated fees), medical insurance, and a stipend.


Students may enter the department twice a year, in fall and spring. For enrollment in the fall, the deadline for applying is December 15, with applicants notified by letter before March 1. For enrollment in the spring, the deadline for applying is October 15, with applicants notified by November 15. All applicants must apply online. Accepted students must respond in writing by April 15 (fall) or December 15 (spring). The application is judged on the basis of previous academic record, other experience, letters of recommendation, personal statement, writing sample, and the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores.

The admissions process in the department is the responsibility of the Admissions Committee. The committee will direct applications from qualified candidates to a faculty member in the department whose interests are similar to the applicant's. A temporary advisor must be willing to accept temporary responsibility for the student's graduate program. If no temporary advisor can be found, the candidate cannot be admitted to graduate study. If a faculty member agrees to serve as temporary advisor and the applicant is judged qualified for admission, the student is notified that the department will recommend admission to the Graduate School. Formal notification of admission comes from the Graduate School.

All applications must include a substantial sample of academic writing. For applicants already having an approved master's thesis, the thesis must be submitted. For students holding an M.A. that did not require a thesis, and for applicants currently pursuing an M.A., a paper from a graduate-level course or seminar may be submitted. For students holding a B.A., the writing sample might include sections from an undergraduate thesis or seminar paper, or a course paper. Applicants who wish to submit an alternative writing sample (for example, solely authored published article, solely authored research report or section of a research report) should check first with the chair of the Admissions Committee.

For students who are admitted, the Admissions Committee will, in consultation with an applicant's prospective advisor, recommend admission to either the EPS masters program or the EPS doctoral program. See department website for application requirements.

For more information: Graduate Student Coordinator, Department of Educational Policy Studies, 235B Education Building, 1000 Bascom Mall, Madison, WI 53706; 608-262-1761; gessler@education.wisc.edu; www.education.wisc.edu/eps.