Educational Culture, Policy and Society, PhD

Our doctoral program in educational culture, policy and society is for you if you are interested in the links between educational institutions (P–16+) and broader social, cultural, political and economic forces and consequences. We examine the roles of social forces such as race, class, gender, (im)migration and economic restructuring in shaping differential trajectories and outcomes for varying learning communities. We also engage multidisciplinary perspectives in reimagining the possibilities of schooling and education to nurture more inclusive and just societies. Our program emphasizes three main areas: (1) institutions, policies and practices that facilitate or limit individuals' well-being, and social and economic equity; (2) sociological, anthropological and comparative modes of inquiry, in order to examine the interplay among policy, practice, discourse and educational reforms; and (3) cross-national comparisons of educational policies, practices and outcomes central to policymakers and school leaders around the world. Students are trained in multiple theoretical and methodological traditions to conduct critical educational research across a wide range of settings.

On this page:

Why Educational Culture, Policy and Society (ECPS) at UB?

The features of our program include:

  • learning how to conceptualize, conduct, analyze and communicate scholarly research 
  • opportunity to pursue research design certificates as part of your coursework, including certificates in applied statistical analysis, international education data analysis and qualitative research methods
  • providing professional development workshops to enhance your research capabilities and facilitate transition from coursework to dissertation and the job market
  • receiving individualized attention from a core group of highly accomplished research-focused faculty members
  • researching underserved populations (related to gender, national origin, race/ethnicity, second language and socioeconomic status) in educational and social environments nationally and cross-nationally
  • valuing mixed methods research (quantitative and qualitative) in the service of broad-based research projects, with you gaining in-depth expertise in one methodology and fluency in the other methodology

Program Overview

Academic credential granted Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Credits required for completion 72
Time to completion 4 to 5+ years
Course delivery On campus
  • Colleges/Universities — as administrators and staff at programs such as Upward Bound, Educational Opportunity Program and McNair Scholars
  • Colleges/Universities — as faculty/scholars of educational policy studies, global studies and related areas
  • International development or human service agencies — as analysts, program officers or administrators
  • Ministries of education — as policy makers and analysts
  • Schools — as teachers or administrators
Application deadline Jan. 1

To fulfill our ECPS program goals, we have designed the program requirements below.

The first experiential block is comprised of substantive courses designed to introduce students to relevant bodies of scholarly literature.

The second experiential block is comprised of courses in research methods. Students learn the methods, quantitative and qualitative, which scholars use to actually produce research in the field.

The third experiential block is comprised of courses specifically designed to further strengthen academic writing.

For the fourth experiential block, ECPS offers a Professional Development Brown Bag series for Graduate Students.

The fifth experiential block is related to the preliminary examination, dissertation proposal and the dissertation itself.

Program Coursework

Required Courses (26 credits)

ELP 566 Comparative and Global Studies in Education
ELP 575 Education and Globalization
ELP 585 Sociological Bases in Education
ELP 589 Education and Socialization
ELP 590 Education and Social Stratification
ELP 593 Qualitative Research Methods Part I
ELP 594 Qualitative Research Methods Part II
ELP 599 Writing Dissertation Proposals
ELP 700 Guidance of the Project (2 credits during the Preliminary Examination Paper year; 1 credit per semester)

Quantitative/Statistical Methods Courses (minimum 6 credits)

CEP 500 Fundamentals of Educational Research
CEP 512 Seminar in Survival Analysis
CEP 522 Statistical Methods: Inference I
CEP 523 Statistical Methods: Inference II
CEP 526 Linear Structural Models
CEP 527 Large Database Analysis
CEP 528 Hierarchical Linear Modeling: Multilevel and Longitudinal Data Analysis
CEP 529 Applied Regression Analysis
CEP 532 Understanding Statistical Research 

Recommended Electives (minimum 33 credits)

CEP 533 Topical Doctoral Seminar on Current Policy Issues in Education
ELP 510 College Access and Choice in US
ELP 511 Comparative Higher Education
ELP 574 Education in Asia
ELP 580 Contemporary Social Theory & Education
ELP 586 Reading Urban Ethnographies
ELP 591 Academic Writing
ELP 592 American Education for International Students
ELP 624 Problems and Paradigms in Educational Administration
ELP 629 Case Study Research Methods
ELP 643 Reforming Teacher Compensation
ELP 686 Educational Transitions P–20
ELP 687 Sociology of Higher Education 

Dissertation Research (minimum 9 credits)

ELP 702 Dissertation Guidance 

You are encouraged to seek external support for your dissertation research: Information for Funding Your Dissertation

Program Faculty

Core Faculty

Seong Won Han  (PhD, Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Madison) is an associate professor of educational culture, policy and society. Her research focuses on between-country differences in educational outcomes and policies, with particular focus on teacher quality and inequality in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education in a wide range of nations, including the United States. Using large-scale international surveys and student achievement data, her current project focuses on cross-national differences in occupational expectations for the teaching profession among students in a wide range of nations. Using nationally representative high school cohorts data, her current project examines effects of state policy on high school STEM opportunities and outcomes for low-income underrepresented minorities. Her research has been published in a notable number of top journals in the field of education, including the American Educational Research Journal, Teaching and Teacher Education, School Effectiveness and School Improvement, International Journal of Educational Development, Educational Policy and Teachers College Record, among others. Seong Won Han received the Thomas J. Alexander (TJA) Fellowship from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). This fellowship aims to support quantitative research so as to provide evidence-based analysis relating to improvements in educational quality and equity. She has received research grants from the OECD, American Educational Research Association (AERA) and National Science Foundation.

Lois Weis (PhD, Educational Policy Studies, University of Wisconsin- Madison) is State University of New York Distinguished Professor and a member of the program in educational culture, policy and society. She has written extensively about the current predicament of White, African-American, Latinx and Southeast Asian working class and poor youth and young adults, and the complex role gender and race play in their lives in light of contemporary dynamics associated with the global knowledge economy, new patterns of emigration, and the movement of cultural and economic capital across national boundaries. More recently, she has turned her attention to the mechanisms through which low-income and historically underrepresented minoritized youth are denied access to opportunities for high-level STEM courses and associated college majors. She is the author and/or editor of numerous books and articles relating to race, class, gender, education and the economy, including her most recent book, Class Warfare: Class, race, and college admissions in top-tier secondary schools (with Kristin Cipollone and Heather Jenkins, University of Chicago Press) and Education and Social Class: Global Perspectives (with Nadine Dolby). Her articles appear in a wide range of journals, including American Educational Research Journal, Review of Educational Research, Harvard Educational Review, Signs, and Anthropology and Education Quarterly, among others. She is a winner of the outstanding book award from the Gustavus Meyers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights in North America, and past Editor of the American Educational Research Journal-Social and Institutional Analysis section. Lois Weis is member of the National Academy of Education (NAEd), and an Honorary Fellow of the American Educational Research Association. She has received research grants from the Spencer Foundation, Carnegie Foundation, National Science Foundation, and Association for Institutional Research.

Jinting Wu (PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison) is assistant professor of educational culture, policy and society. She received her PhD with a joint degree in educational policy studies and curriculum and instruction, and a minor in cultural anthropology. Prior to joining the GSE faculty, she worked as assistant professor of education policy at the University of Macau and was a postdoctoral fellow of educational sciences at the University of Luxembourg. Her research interests include anthropology of education, comparative and global studies of education, transnational curriculum inquiry, and schooling and social change in contemporary China and Chinese diaspora. She conducts research in the areas of rural minority education, disability and special education, immigrant youth and families, and educational meritocracy on the global stage. Jinting Wu’s research has appeared in Harvard Educational Review, Anthropology & Education Quarterly, Compare, Curriculum Inquiry, Discourse, Educational Philosophy and Theory, among others. She is the author of Fabricating an Educational Miracle: Compulsory Schooling Meets Ethnic Rural Development in Southwest China (2016, State University of New York Press), which received the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Division B Outstanding Book Recognition Award, and the Society of Professors of Education Outstanding Book Award. Her research has been funded by the Social Science Research Council, Spencer Foundation, Morgridge Family Foundation, and Fonds National de la Recherche Luxembourg. She is the recipient of the 2013 Gail P. Kelly Outstanding Dissertation Award in Comparative Education, and the 2018 AERA Critical Issues in Curriculum and Cultural Studies Special Interest Group Early Career Award.

Associated Faculty

Jeremy D. Finn (PhD, The University of Chicago) is a member of the program in Educational Culture, Policy and Society and Director of Programs in Educational Psychology and Quantitative Methods. He has been a Visiting Professor at Stanford University and the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, held fellowships with the National Research Council, Educational Testing Service, National Center for Education Statistics, and the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement in Stockholm. Finn’s research spans a number of policy areas. He was a lead evaluator for Project STAR, the four-year study of the effects of class-size reduction in the elementary grades (K-3), and continues to analyze STAR data to understand the impact of small classes on students through young adulthood. Other areas in which he has made major contributions include the study of gender differences in educational outcomes, academic resilience among students at risk, school discipline and security measures, and student engagement and dropping out. His work on engagement and dropping out began with publication of the now-classic paper “Withdrawing from School” (Review of Educational Research, 1989). The article explains how dropping out and other forms of withdrawal from school have their roots in the earliest grades and result from myriad interactions between students and their schools. His papers have been published in a wide array of venues, including Journal of Applied Psychology, Harvard Educational Review, the 2006 government report “The Adult Lives of At-Risk Students: The Roles of Attainment and Engagement in High School”), and the Handbook of Research on Student Engagement. He was a member of the six-person panel to produce the recent U.S. Department of Education’s Dropout Prevention, and has received research grants from the U.S. Department of Education, the Spencer Foundation, and the William T. Grant Foundation.

Jaekyung Lee (PhD, University of Chicago) is former dean of the Graduate School of Education and a member of the program in educational culture, policy and society as well as the program in educational psychology and quantitative methods. Lee’s research focuses on issues of educational equity and accountability, including high-stakes testing and achievement gaps among racial and socioeconomic groups. He specializes in education policy analysis and program evaluation using large-scale national databases. He also conducts research in the area of international and comparative education, with focus on the comparison of American vs. Asian education systems. His primary research interests focus on addressing pressing social issues in the areas of educational accountability and equity, high-stakes testing, and educational achievement gaps. His work has been supported by grants from the American Educational Research Association, the U.S. Department of Education, and the National Science Foundation, and has been published in numerous scholarly journals. He also is the author of the book “The Testing Gap: Scientific Trials of Test-Driven School Accountability Systems for Excellence and Equity.” Jaekyung Lee is an AERA Fellow, a Fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, and a Fellow of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado-Boulder. He is the recipient of the 2007 AERA Early Career Award.

Preliminary Examination Paper

The ECPS preliminary examination is comprised of a scholarly empirical paper undertaken over the course of one year. In most cases, you will continue to take coursework during this time period. To join the preliminary group, you must complete all required courses and obtain IRB approval for the preliminary project (unless the project is exempt from IRB review, which might be the case in some quantitative studies).

The preliminary examination paper in ECPS is designed to help you transition from student to researcher. The purpose of the preliminary examination paper is to demonstrate that you can conduct a rigorous, independent empirical study that employs the techniques of qualitative and/or quantitative methodology to answer a question embedded in the contemporary research literature. As such, the paper is intended to assess your ability to identify a research question in education that is rooted in ongoing scholarly debate, apply an appropriate method to the question at hand, collect additional data (as relevant), analyze data pertinent to their research question, and write up the results of the study in a compelling and appropriately scholarly manner. 

This examination paper is expected to be based on or be an extension of a required final paper for a course, but substantial additional work is required towards this end. As the dissertation follows the preliminary examination, the dissertation topic may be either linked to or substantially different from the question posed in the examination paper. In either case, skills developed in coursework are expected to scaffold the preliminary examination paper. In subsequent manner, the paper can can usefully scaffold dissertation projects. Data and analysis embedded within the paper cannot necessarily be folded into the dissertation research itself, although such pilot data and analysis can set the stage for your dissertation proposal.

During the full-year experience, you will be part of a collective writing workshop with core faculty. Workshop sessions will be held once per semester for a full year, during which time participating faculty and students provide specific and constructive verbal feedback on student drafts. Such feedback is designed to make the paper stronger. You are expected to substantially revise your paper in light of feedback from each of the two sessions. You may not contact faculty about these papers outside of these two sessions, although participating students are encouraged to read one another’s work and provide ongoing feedback throughout the year. Students must sign up for 1 credit hour each semester under the course number ELP 700.

The preliminary examination paper will normally be undertaken during your third year of full-time coursework, after you complete enough relevant methodology course requirements (qualitative and/or quantitative) as well as substantive courses that cover the knowledge and skills necessary to understand the social issues that impact education (formal and informal) on the national and/or international level. We anticipate that the first draft of the preliminary examination paper will be linked to a paper completed in a course. The final examination paper, however, must go well beyond original coursework papers and represent substantial revision. The final preliminary examination paper must be an original scholarly paper that is judged to be suitable for presentation at a high-impact, peer-reviewed national conference (e.g., AERA, ASA, CIES, AAA) and is expected to be the basis for an article that is potentially publishable in a peer-reviewed scholarly journal. Manuscripts should run between 30 to 35 pages, including all tables, figures, notes and references, typed on 8½" by 11" paper with 1" margins on all sides, double-spaced using 12-point font.

You must receive a “pass” in order to advance to candidacy. If you receive an unsatisfactory evaluation, you should revise and resubmit the paper to the qualifying examination committee within 6 weeks from the date of receiving notification that the exam must be revised. You have one opportunity to revise the examination paper.

Application to Candidacy

Upon completion of most of the coursework, students will file a PhD application to candidacy. The advisor, tentative dissertation committee, and the department chair must approve the application.

As noted above, you will advance to candidacy only upon satisfactory completion of the preliminary exam paper.

Application Requirements

Submit your completed online application, which includes:

  • Application fee: A $50 non-refundable application fee, submitted electronically through UB's ePayment system.
  • Test scores: Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores from tests taken within the last five years. Please use institution code 2925 and department code 3001.
  • Contact information for at least three individuals who will each be asked to provide an electronic recommendation letter.
  • Unofficial transcripts from all colleges attended. (UB transcripts are automatically submitted for current UB students and alumni.)
  • Sample of academic writing: A sample of your academic writing at least 10 pages long.
  • Statement of interest: Statement of your career goals and objectives.

Former/Maiden Name: Please provide us with your former/maiden name if you have one. When requesting transcripts, please ask the sending institution to indicate your current name and former/maiden name.

Admission Decision: The admission decision will be communicated to you as soon as review is complete. The decision is based on a number of factors and is the result of a thorough and deliberate process. All decisions are final and cannot be appealed.

International Applicant Additional Requirements
  • Official original proof of your degree
  • A copy of your passport biographical page
  • Official test scores for either the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) or PTE (Pearson Test of English) Academic. Test scores must be dated within two years of submitting your application.
    • TOEFL minimum score is a 250 for a computer based test, 600 for a paper based test and 79 for the Internet based test
    • IELTS minimum score is 6.5 overall
    • PTE minimum score is 55 overall
  • Financial documentation — International graduate applicants must document their ability to pay for all costs incurred while studying in the U.S.
  • An official bank statement

All financial forms and supporting documentation with required signatures must be uploaded with your application, and must be dated within one year of your intended enrollment date.

Are you in China and unable to take the IELTS, PTE or TOEFL?

If you currently in China and unable to take the IELTS, PTE or TOEFL tests because they are cancelled due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19), the University at Buffalo will accept the Duolingo English Test (DET) for proof of English proficiency. This test can be taken online, in your own home. More information can be found on the Graduate School’s website.

Learn More

University Computing Standards

You are required to have daily access to a reliable broadband connection and a computer that meets university computing standards. You are also expected to have basic computer competency before beginning your coursework.