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Education Policy Doctoral Program

Frequently Asked Questions

Transfer of Course Credit

Yes, if a student's Guidance Committee approves the course's relevance to the student's Ph.D. program plan. A student can count up to 9 credits originally counted toward the student's MSU Masters Degree. The student must have passed the course with a minimum 2.0 GPA for the course. It is important to note that, the student's clock toward degree completion begins with the first course taken on a Ph.D. program plan. There is an eight year time limit to degree allowed for a Ph.D.

There is no fixed limit to the number of graduate level transfer courses a student can transfer from other institutions, but the institution must be a postsecondary institution of comparable academic quality. All transfer credits must be approved as part of the student's program plan by his or her guidance committee and confirmed by the program coordinator and assistant dean for student affairs. This means that the question of whether transfer courses will count cannot be firmly resolved until the second year of a student's enrollment, when the program planning process occurs within a guidance committee. The central question is always: what courses will best serve the student's program needs. Realistically, students should not expect to transfer in a large number of courses from another institution, since they will need to construct a course of study that reflects MSU's concentrations and strengths in Education Policy. There is one set of requirements that is more often open to transfer proposals: the inquiry and research methods requirement. It is difficult, nevertheless, to imagine an appropriate program plan that would include more than three transfer courses or a maximum of 9 credits. A course may only be transferred if a 3.0 or higher was achieved in the course. A course may not be transferred if it was taken outside of the eight year window for degree completion. It is important to keep in mind that the university also has a residency requirement that must be met.

In order to count toward the Ph.D. degree, a course must be less than eight years old at the time when the student's Ph.D. degree is to be conferred. That means, for example, that if a student took courses in fall 2008, then entered the doctoral program here in fall 2013, was here for six years and was getting the degree in 2019, credit for the pre-admission courses cannot be count since they were taken more than eight years prior to graduation.

(Typically this arises in cases where the student took doctoral courses prior to enrollment in the doctoral program.)

Yes, but only as part of an approved program plan. The procedure is this: First, the student and guidance committee develop an appropriate program plan that includes one or more Graduate Lifelong Education courses. Then, once this plan has received approval, the advisor needs to file an Administrative Action form. According to the Academic Programs book, "No more than 9 credits earned while under the Lifelong Education status may be applied to the graduate degree program. Courses earned under the Undergraduate Lifelong Education status may not be applied to a graduate degree program." A College of Education student may request approval of up to 12 credits for transfer from Lifelong status, with the approval of the Assistant Dean for Student Affairs.

Course-Taking Options

Yes, you can even take undergraduate courses for Ph.D. credit. However, only a very limited number of such courses are generally appropriate, and they must be approved as part of a program plan by the guidance committee, program coordinator, and assistant dean for student affairs. Most master's courses in education focus on meeting the professional development needs of educational practitioners and are not well suited to a research-oriented, academic doctoral program. But, as in the case of transfer credit, the central question is what classes a guidance committee feels are appropriate for a student's doctoral program. The same holds true for independent studies.

Yes. We encourage students to draw widely from the resources in the college and university when planning their programs. In addition you can take courses, through the "traveling scholars" program, at any of the Big Ten universities. Check out the Graduate School's website description of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) program.

The first-year policy core serves essentially as a prerequisite to advanced or other graduate courses and as the course content needed to successfully pass part I of Comprehensive Exams. Beyond that consideration, it is worth asking course instructors if they think prior and particular coursework is assumed for their course. While prerequisites may not appear in the schedule of courses, it may be that the instructor in some cases is assuming that students in the class will have a particular kind of academic background. One way of getting such insight is to examine the syllabus to see if some prior reading would be necessary for the course.

The Education Policy core and the required inquiry course are often used as background for subsequent courses.

Independent Studies

There are two steps required in signing up for an independent study. First, the student and professor need to fill out the college's independent study "Project Agreement" form. This requires both parties to agree to a title and brief description of the project, including whatever requirements must be fulfilled in order to complete the project (such as submitting a 20-page paper on a particular topic, for example). This form must be signed by the student, the professor directing the project, and the student's academic advisor/guidance committee chairperson. Once completed, the form should be delivered to the Graduate Records Office, 204 Erickson Hall. The Graduate Records Office will submit the form, once approved by the Assistant Dean for Student Affairs, to the appropriate department personnel. A section must be created for the faculty directing the project, after which the appropriate department personnel will enroll the student in the appropriate number of 990 credits. The student needs to monitor their STUINFO account to ensure the course is added to their semester schedule.

If the amount of effort involved, for both student and professor, is similar to what might be expected in a regular course, then the 990 should be treated as such and recorded at three credits. If the effort is more or less than this amount, then the number of credits should be adjusted accordingly.

There is no fixed limit on the number of these that a student can take at the doctoral level. However, these 990 courses should be limited to specialized pursuits that cannot be carried out within an existing university course and must be part of an approved program plan. It is difficult to imagine circumstances that would require more than three 990s in a particular program plan.

Doctoral Dissertation Credits (i.e., CEP/EAD/TE999)

Yes, and this occasionally makes sense. For example, there are times when a student's graduate assistantship or fellowship will pay for more credits than he or she is either willing or able to take during a semester. In that case it is worthwhile to use that support for dissertation credits rather than losing it, since students will need to buy a minimum of 24 credits at some point in order to graduate. It is not a good idea, however, to accumulate a large number of 999 credits before taking comprehensive exams. A student can gain approval for a dissertation proposal only after passing the examinations. In general, the university expects that students will purchase dissertation credits at the time they are consuming faculty and facility resources to complete the dissertation. A student must be enrolled in at least one credit, many times 999s, during the semester they take and pass part two of their comprehensive exam and orally defend their dissertation.

Yes. A maximum of 30 dissertation credits (999s) may be taken by a student during their Ph.D. program. If a student will be disadvantaged by the 30 credit limit (such as for Visa purposes), they may request a waiver to the maximum by preparing a waiver request and submitting it to their academic advisor and the associate dean for academic affairs.

Deferred and Incomplete Grades

A deferred grade gives a student six months from the last day of class to complete the work for the course, with the option of one six month extension. Work needs to be presented to the faculty member in time to evaluate it and make a grade change for the student before the six-month deadline is up. Changing a "DF" to a regular grade is done with an Administrative Action form, requiring only the faculty member's signature. If a "DF" grade is not made up during the six-month period (or one year with an extension), it automatically converts to the grade of "DF/U" on the student's transcript. This grade is not counted in a student's grade point average. The DF to DF/U conversion does not apply to dissertation (999) credits.

An incomplete grade lasts only until the mid-point of the next semester the student attends (if that semester is within one calendar year following receipt of the Incomplete). If work is not complete within the required time, the grade turns to 0.0, which counts towards a student's grade point average. Summer semester is not counted when determining due date. Work needs to be presented to the faculty member in time to evaluate it and make a grade change before this deadline. The midpoint of the semester is announced as part of the university calendar each year. Changing an "I" to a regular grade is done with an Administrative Action form, requiring only the faculty member's signature.

Yes, but only under extraordinary circumstances. The reasons must be spelled out on an Administrative Action form and must be approved by both the program coordinator and the assistant dean for student affairs.

The university, college and program want to see students make steady progress through their academic program. A DF or I grade on your record is a sign that you are having trouble making such progress. If you accumulate more than one, you will come under the program's policy for tracking students who are not making adequate progress in their programs. Such a record will also work against you if you seek a waiver in order to take on a graduate assistantship of more than half-time or after more than five years in the program, or if you seek to extend the time required for completion of degree. It will also make it difficult to qualify for many of the competitive awards available to doctoral students (such as a Dissertation Completion Fellowship). In short, it is best to avoid deferred or incomplete grades, if at all possible, and to give top priority to completing these obligations before taking on new responsibilities.

Academic Progress

Very few students know enough faculty members or enough about the possibilities inherent in the program to assemble a guidance committee and develop a program plan during their first year of doctoral study. However, by the start of the second year in the program, they can and should begin this process in earnest. Waiting longer than this leaves both the student and the guidance committee in a difficult position. Students who wait until the third year have usually already made most of the significant decisions about their program, leaving the guidance committee with little remaining space for giving guidance. The risks for the student are high, since the guidance committee may determine that some of the courses already taken are not appropriate for the student's program of study.

GradPlan is an online submission program created for a Ph.D. student to enter his/her program plan. GradPlan replaces the need for paper Guidance Committee Membership and Report of the Guidance Committee (Program Plan) forms. Once a student has selected their guidance committee and met with them to develop an appropriate program plan, the student logs into the GradPlan program ( and enters the courses they intend to take to satisfy their doctoral program requirements. The plan is circulated electronically to the student's guidance committee and other college approvers, who are responsible for reviewing the student's program plan (contract) and approving it as a formal agreement between the student and the university.

Students have eight years to complete the program – including courses, examinations, dissertation, defense, and graduation - that means eight years from the first course taken and applied to this degree all the way through to the day they graduate, no matter what the reasons for delay along the way. If additional time is needed beyond the eight years, the Graduate School requires that students request an extension. Extensions are handled through the assistant dean for student affairs, who makes a recommendation to the dean of the Graduate School. The student needs to fill out a request for time extension form, and submit it to their advisor, who will complete their portion and write an accompanying letter requesting the extension. In this letter, the advisor has to make a case that the student is now making satisfactory progress, laying out a timeline for completing the remaining work (with appropriate benchmarks all the way through to graduation), and providing reasons for confidence that the student will achieve the benchmarked goals.

If a student leaves the program for longer then three consecutive semesters for any reason, they must complete an application for readmission to the program request on the Registrar's Office website. The readmission request must be approved by the program director or coordinator and the assistant dean for student affairs. If a student is returning beyond the eight-year limitation to degree, they must request a time extension and retake their comprehensive exams.

Residency Requirement

The university's Academic Programs book says the following: "One year of residence on the campus after first enrollment for doctoral degree credit is required to permit the student to work with and under the direction of the faculty, and to engage in independent and cooperative research utilizing University facilities. A year of residence will be made up of two consecutive semesters, involving the completion of at least six credits of graduate work each semester." In practice this means that sometime prior to graduation a doctoral student must enroll for at least 6 credits during each of two consecutive semesters. This can include a summer semester (for example, six credits in the summer and six more the following fall).

Defining Terms

Very little. An advisor also becomes a committee chair at the point when a student forms a guidance committee. At that point, the two titles are interchangeable. A dissertation director is the primary guide for a student writing a dissertation. This may be the same person as the advisor/chairperson, or the student may elect to have different faculty member occupy these two positions.

It's all a matter of timing. The committee is called a guidance committee during the period when the student is forming a program, taking courses, and completing comprehensive examinations. The dissertation committee is the group that helps the student through the dissertation stage. A guidance committee may simply evolve into a dissertation committee, if the student wishes to continue working with the same group of faculty members. Or the student may wish to replace some or all of the members (including the advisor/chair) at the point when he/she begins working on a dissertation proposal. It all depends on which faculty members can be most helpful at particular stages of a student's academic career in the program.

None. These are two names for the same thing. They both refer to the meeting of the dissertation committee at the end of the dissertation process at which the candidate defends his or her dissertation draft.

General Questions

While space in Erickson Hall is limited, every effort is made to provide shared office space for Ed Policy students in the building. Students with graduate assistantships, in most cases, will be provided space by their appointing department or project. Ed Policy space will include a desk, bookcase shelf, and file cabinet drawer. Each office has at least one shared computer and printer. Printers are wireless, so that students can use them to connect to personal laptops. Students are expected to provide their own paper for printing. Very basic office supplies are provided, like a hole punch and stapler. All other supplies a student needs must purchased by the student, unless it is for their assistantship, which the appointing department is required to supply. Office assignments are made by the Ed Policy program secretary, before the fall semester begins.

Graduate students holding a graduate assistantship, are eligible to purchase a campus parking permit. The student must take their appointment papers, vehicle registration, and drivers' license to the Department of Police and Public Safety (DPPS) to purchase a permit. Please go to the DPPS parking page for further details and cost. is a website for students to access their Academic Information (enrollment appointment date, grades, major, credits, GPA, transcript requests, and class schedule), Personal Information (address maintenance, parent information, and for international students – complete their check-in process), Financial Information (billing history, account details, financial aid, loan information, refund status and 1098-T tax forms), and Financial Services (sign up guests to view your bill, pay a bill electronically, set-up direct deposit for your student account, and get bill stubs). Note: direct deposit of payroll checks must be set up separately using the EBS website,

When a student is granted a fellowship, an electronic form is initiated by the department providing the fellowship. The form routes for signatures electronically and is then posted to your student account. When a fellowship is ready to disburse, the system will send the student an e-mail notifying them that a refund has been processed. The refund is disbursed either as a check to the student or is direct deposited into the student's bank account, if they set up direct deposit in STUINFO. If a student is given a fellowship, no employment/work is required to receive the funds. Students with account balances will have their fellowship refund reduced by the balance due. If the balance is greater than the fellowship, the student is responsible for paying the balance due. It can take up to four weeks for a fellowship to fully process, so it is important to monitor your student account if you are expecting a fellowship.

Yes. Students receiving Federal financial aid in the form of a loan (especially Stafford), will likely have their fellowship funds used to pay back the loan and the student's cost of attendance may be recalculated. The assumption is that a student would prefer the "free" money of a fellowship versus having a student loan. With federal loans, a student cannot receive support in excess of the cost of attendance. It is the student's responsibility to contact a financial aid officer to see how a fellowship will impact their financial aid package. Students receiving a fellowship for specific items (purchase of a laptop, travel to a conference, research data collection costs and supplies, etc.), can request a letter from Dr. Sedlak's Office, stating that the fellowship is intended to cover expenses above the cost of attendance. Although the fellowship will not be reduced to pay back a loan, if a student has an account balance (a debt to MSU), the refund will be still be reduced by the balance due.