Ph.D. in OLPD
Education Policy and Leadership—Executive Cohort Program

This doctoral program focuses on leadership of educational systems and is specially designed to meet the needs of mid-career educational leaders. The curriculum establishes foundational understandings of educational systems, leadership dynamics and the realities of power and politics in schools, as well as the role of research in educational innovation and improvement. Students will learn to examine multiple dimensions of PK-12 educational systems, including their cultural and historical contexts, policies and mandates that shape practice, and strategies to build consensus among diverse stakeholders.

  • Course content is relevant to the needs of experienced educational leaders.
  • Courses are taught by OLPD faculty and faculty from across the University who are experts in educational policy and research, educational politics, leadership, organizational theory and practice, systems thinking, and research methods. They are widely recognized for their scholarly work and are excellent and committed teachers and advisors.
  • A cohort-based program comprised of diverse education professionals provides a robust learning community in which members support and learn from each other.
  • Courses are offered on the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities campus during a 3-4 week summer session and in full-day meetings held twice a month during the academic year.
  • It is possible to remain fully employed while completing requirements for this degree.

Melissa Schaller photo

"This program provided professional growth that elevated the way I practice as a school administrator. It challenged me academically, required me to think differently and more critically, and provided me with a cohort of other learners that expanded my network outside of those I typically interact with. The program has made me a better administrator and created significant opportunities to contribute to the field of education."

Melissa Schaller, Ph.D. (2020 graduate)
Executive Director of Student Services, ISD 917

Cedrick Baker photo

"I am in the second year of this program, and it's an amazing experience. I've enjoyed the great teaching, meaningful discussions from cohort members, and the level of rigor in assignments intended to assist me in my dissertation journey. I feel that this program understands the demands of a working professional and receives feedback to enhance the course offerings. I continue to believe that I made the right decision in applying for this program."

Cedrick Baker
Chief of Staff, McKnight Foundation (and current student)

Coursework and Curriculum

70 credits completed in 3-5 years for full time students. 48 of these credits consist of coursework examining system leadership and focusing on:

  • Systems thinking and the interdependent structures of organizational systems
  • Theory and practice of leading complex learning systems
  • Organizational culture and change
  • Analysis of education policy and practices and their influence on student learning
  • Politics of decision making and communication
  • Public engagement and cross-sector partnerships
  • Global innovations in educational leadership and school effectiveness
  • Evaluation of program effectiveness
  • Analysis and application of research

Students also take courses in quantitative, qualitative, and mixed/complementary research methods. For the culminating Ph.D. dissertation, students identify a researchable problem, process, or topic of interest, carry out original research, and disseminate findings to relevant audiences.


  • Department of education executive level superintendent
  • School district director of human resources, special education, community education, or equity
  • Director of curriculum, teaching and learning, or staff development
  • Philanthropic of non-profit executive leader or education program officer
  • Superintendent or assistant, associate, area, or deputy superintendent
  • Non-profit or philanthropic executive leader
  • Assistant, associate, area, deputy superintendent
  • Chief of schools
  • District administrator

Peter Olson-Skog photo

"This program is rigorous and engaging. It is designed from the bottom up for working professionals. While still holding a demanding job, the program's schedule, caring and knowledgeable faculty, and embedded networking all work together to create a path to achieving your Ph.D. that actually works."

Peter Olson-Skog, Ph.D. (2022 graduate)
Superintendent, ISD 197

Nasreen Fynewever photo

"The program experience meaningfully interlocks everyday practitioners with becoming scholarly leaders; distinctly bringing together a unique and diverse community of encouragers, leaders, and researchers to contribute to education and liberation."

Nasreen Fynewever, M.Ed.
K8 Administrator, Roseville Area Schools (and current student)

How to apply

Application deadline: March 1, 2023 for a Fall 2023 semester start.

Fall semester start only. Cohorts begin every other year; the next cohort will begin in Fall 2025 with a likely application deadline of March 2025.

Applicants may only apply to one OLPD track.

Applications are not complete until ALL required materials and fees have been received. If anything is missing, your application may not be considered. It is strongly recommended to apply at least two weeks before any submission deadlines.

Applications are processed by the Graduate School. A decision for admission notice will be emailed to you once your application is carefully reviewed by the department's admission committee and your transcripts and any credentials (test reports, diploma copies, etc.) are authenticated by Graduate School officials.

Detailed guide for online application [PDF]

Apply here

Admission requirements

Degree: Master's degree or equivalent

GPA: Undergraduate 3.0; Graduate 3.5

Note: Applicants should not submit GRE scores, as they will not be considered in the review process.

TOEFL/IELTS Scores (Not required for U.S. students):

  • TOEFL: Internet based = 79 or above
    (21 writing/19 reading)
  • IELTS = 6.5

Experience: At least 3 years of experience working in education or related organizations

Readmission: OLPD students who have become inactive must follow the readmission procedures.

Tuition and funding

Tuition information: CEHD | OneStop
Financial aid: CEHD | OneStop


We’re here to help. Simply complete this form or reach out directly to Dr. Katie Pekel, Faculty Coordinator of the EPL Executive Cohort program.

Katie Pekel headshot.

Dr. Katie Pekel
Executive Director of Educational Leadership