Department of Educational Policy Studies’ PhD program developing graduates who can change the world

The ratings are eye-opening and outstanding.

According to the 2023 U.S. News & World Report Best Graduate Schools rankings, UW–Madison is home to the fifth-ranked school of education in the nation — marking the ninth straight year it has been rated among the top five. 

Those same Best Education Schools rankings put UW–Madison’s Department of Educational Policy Studies at No. 6 in the nation among all education policy programs.

But what does that all mean? And why should prospective students care?

Lesley Bartlett

“Rankings like this represent a team effort,” says Lesley Bartlett, a professor and chair of UW–Madison’s Department of Educational Policy Studies (EPS). “It’s a reflection of our years of quality scholarship and impactful research. It’s a recognition of our dedication to excellence in teaching and mentoring our students. It highlights our drive to help our communities and the world deepen and expand the understanding of educational policy and practice.”

Adds Bartlett: “It’s all of this, and more. I can’t overstate just how remarkable our faculty, staff, students, and alumni are.”

For those who are considering enrolling in a doctoral program within EPS, UW–Madison is a place that develops graduates who can change the world across a range of settings. That’s because its faculty members are examining educational policies, movements, outcomes, dilemmas, and controversies — as well as the forces shaping them — through the varied lenses of history, sociology, anthropology, political economy, philosophy, policy analysis, and international comparative education.

It’s this exposure to diverse ways of looking at issues that allows those who go through the program to become prepared for a range of future endeavors. Bartlett says that about half of the students who earn a PhD from the Department of Educational Policy Studies accept tenure-track academic roles in education policy. In fact, UW-Madison is one of the top-five producers of faculty across the United States, alongside Harvard University, Stanford University, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Michigan. EPS graduates have gone on to tenure track positions at Michigan State University, Stanford University, and the University of Kansas, to name only a few.

Others take different career paths, and are working in educational policy think tanks, at a range of research organizations, and at major foundations. Still others work with federal, state, and local educational units, and across higher education administration. Recent graduates have secured placements with: NORC at the University of Chicago; the Education Policy Initiative at Carolina (at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill); Socially Responsible Evaluation in Education at UW–Milwaukee; the United States Agency for International Development; Social Impact; Rotary International; and the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER), to name a few.

Members of the Department of Educational Policy Studies
Faculty, staff, and graduate students with the Department of Educational Policy Studies pose for a photo outside the Education Building earlier this fall.

When joining the EPS doctoral program, students specialize in a concentration of their choice — social sciences and education; history and humanities; and comparative, international, and global studies education. Concentrations are intended to embody the content knowledge and learning experiences within a field of study that students need to achieve proficiency within. While these levels of proficiency are acquired largely through coursework and other traditional academic activities, they may also be gained via work experiences, internships, independent studies, and similar activities.

Students work closely with a faculty advisor to develop an interdisciplinary, multi-methodological, critical, and empirical approach to understanding educational policy as a social practice by using quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methodologies.

In addition to learning alongside talented faculty, staff, and graduate students within EPS, those who enter the doctoral program will similarly be able to connect with a range of talented scholars and have access to resources located across the School of Education and UW–Madison. Students in EPS can benefit by taking advantage of joint degree programs and by building connections with other departments and schools across campus. There are also outstanding opportunities to partner with on-campus centers and programs like the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, the Global Engagement Office, the Institute for Research on Poverty, the Interdisciplinary Training Program in Education Sciences, and more.

“Students who study with us will conduct work that stretches beyond the classroom, across an ambitious research university, and even well past the boundaries of campus,” says Bartlett. “No matter what interests a student has, we probably have experts in that realm on campus. And unlike at many other institutions, they will likely have the opportunity to work with those people across campus.”

During their time at UW–Madison, PhD students receive comprehensive supports to make sure they succeed. All newly admitted students are guaranteed at least four years of support from a combination of fellowships and teaching/research assistantships. This includes a competitive living stipend, tuition remission, and access to health insurance. Many students also receive national and institutional fellowships that provide them with additional funding and support.

Posey-Maddox, Turner, and Odle.
(Left-to-right) Linn Posey-Maddox, Erica Turner, and Taylor Odle are faculty members with the Department of Educational Policy Studies.

“EPS explicitly prioritizes strong mentoring and a climate of collaboration, meaning students get the support they need to pursue their own work,” says Linn Posey-Maddox, a professor with EPS.

The department also shares a core focus on social justice in its teaching and research.

“While the contexts, methodologies and disciplinary groundings of our work may differ, EPS faculty, staff, and students share a belief that education should serve justice and we try to pursue that in everything we do,” says Erica Turner, an associate professor with EPS. “It is one of the things I value most about the department.”

Applications to begin the PhD program in fall 2023 are due Dec. 1. More information can be found here.

“It’s an exciting time to be in EPS at UW-Madison,” says Taylor Odle, an assistant professor who joined the faculty this fall. “Our programs are growing quickly, our faculty is expanding, and we’re eager to welcome a new cohort of graduate students who are committed to conducting rigorous research that will have wide-reaching impacts on educational policy and practice.”

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