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Concentration: Higher Education Opportunity, Equity, and Justice

Degree: Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Program: Educational Leadership, Policy, and Human Development (Ph.D.)
Delivery Method: On Campus

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The Ph.D. in Educational Leadership, Policy, and Human Development: Higher Education Opportunity, Equity, and Justice concentration is committed to creating just and equitable learning environments and opportunities that uplift, humanize, and empower all people to thrive in postsecondary educational settings.

The mission and goal of NC State’s Ph.D. in Educational Leadership, Policy, and Human Development: Higher Education Opportunity, Equity, and Justice concentration is to take transformative action to create equitable and just policies and practices that provide greater opportunities for success.

  • Using a variety of research methods, we will produce knowledge about the process of transforming systems to be more equitable and translate this knowledge for wider audiences, including key stakeholders and policymakers.
  • Through teaching and research, we will prepare future scholar-leaders to solve postsecondary problems from justice-oriented lenses, advocate for minoritized and marginalized populations, and influence the educational spheres of which they are a part.
  • In keeping with the land-grant mission of NC State, we seek to serve community and state needs with regard to furthering equitable higher education opportunities in North Carolina and beyond.

The focus of this concentration is aligned with the 2021-2030 NC State strategic plan, which recognizes the urgency to address racial inequities and civil unrest. Alongside the NC State University community, our concentration will “champion a culture of equity, diversity, inclusion, belonging, and well-being in all that we do” (NC State University 2021-2030 Strategic Plan, Goal #4).

Concentration Details


Given the change-making contributions of education in society, students and faculty in our concentration explore critical questions related to organizational and individual dynamics in higher education. These questions address how colleges and universities function and interface with other educational sectors and external communities, as well as how policies and practices within and beyond higher education influence (for better or worse) access, equity, success and thriving among students, faculty and staff of different social identities. We value research and practice geared toward justice, decolonization, systemic change, and inspiring our students, alumni and faculty to serve as scholars, practitioners, change agents and innovative leaders in colleges, universities, research and policy institutes, non-profit organizations, as well as in national and international postsecondary organizations. We aim to develop critical thinkers who have a broad perspective about how higher education can serve a justice-oriented purpose in society.

As a scholarly community, we are mindful of the personal and professional demands placed on higher education leaders in an ever-changing world. The challenges educators and leaders in higher education face are numerous, and our concentrations helps educators grapple with the imperatives to:

  • Confront threats to justice, equality, and human rights; economic disparities; and national and global tragedies and crises that shape higher education institutions and the experiences of students, faculty, and staff on and beyond campus;
  • Support access, equity, and success of marginalized and underserved populations while honoring the nuanced interplay of intersecting identity dimensions (e.g., race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexuality, social class, disability status, worldview, religion) that differentially bestow power and privilege and thereby shape learning and development;
  • Proactively manage campus crises that arise from a host of challenges, including (but not limited to) the COVID-19 pandemic, racial injustice, economic instability, sexual violence, and hostile campus climates; and
  • Responsibly engage increasingly diverse, complex, and interconnected local, regional, national, and international communities within and beyond education.

As a concentration, we are committed to:

  • Examining systemic inequities and advocating for justice, while honoring the unique theoretical, methodological, and practice-oriented approaches we each take in our scholarship, teaching, leadership, and service to create social change;
  • Pursuing cross-cutting, interdisciplinary partnerships that disrupt traditional boundaries between educational sectors given the complexity of current problems and questions in education and society;
  • Bridging gaps between theory, research, policy, and practice to ensure our collective work moves beyond knowledge generation to advancing educational and social change;
  • Mentoring the next generation of higher education leaders to confront challenges related to access, equity, and justice in an authentic, informed, responsible, and ethical manner; and
  • Cultivating a program culture that is generative, humanizing, communal, equitable, inspiring, and dynamic.

Please note: If you are currently enrolled in a master’s degree program in our College of Education and are interested in pursuing a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership, Policy, and Human Development, you must formally apply to the program through the Graduate School.

  • Personal statement of interest and desired career goals. Statement should be written in essay format, be no more than 750 words, and address the following questions:
    • Why do you wish to obtain a Ph.D.?
    • Why do you want to come to NC State?
    • What are your research interests and are there particular faculty with whom you want to work?
    • How do your interests connect with the mission of the Higher Education Opportunity, Equity, and Justice program area of study?
    • How is this degree going to help you pursue your career goals now and in the future?
  • Professional resume or CV
  • Transcripts from all institutions attended (except NC State)
  • Three academic/professional recommendations
  • TOEFL or IELTS scores for international students

All doctoral degrees in the College of Education require a minimum of 72 graduate credit hours beyond the bachelor’s degree. Most doctoral programs in the College of Education require a minimum of 60 graduate credit hours beyond an approved master’s degree.

Time to degree is typically 4–6 years depending on enrollment status.

Course descriptions can be found in the university course catalog. Please note: The course of study below is for doctoral students entering the Ph.D. in Educational Leadership, Policy, and Human Development higher education opportunity, equity, and justice program area of study in Fall 2021 or after.

School Leader Core Courses

ED 755 – Diversity and Equity in Schools and Communities (3 credits)

ED 756 – Systemic Change in Education (3 credits)

Research Methods

ED 710 – Applied Quantitative Methods in Education I (3 credits)

ED 730 – Introduction to Qualitative Research in Education (3 credits)

At Least One of the Following:

ED 711 – Applied Quantitative Methods in Education II

ED 731 – Advanced Qualitative Research and Data Analysis in Education

Advanced Research Methods Course 1 (3 credits)

Advanced Research Methods Course 2 (3 credits)

Concentration Core Courses

EAC 795 – Foundations of Higher Education Opportunity, Equity, and Justice Research (3 credits)

EAC 795 – Implementation of Higher Education Opportunity, Equity, and Justice Research (3 credits)

EAC 795 – Critical Theories in Higher Education Seminar (3 credits)

Opportunity, Equity, and Justice Elective (3 credits)

Higher Education Elective 1 (3 credits)

Higher Education Elective 2 (3 credits)

Interdisciplinary Elective 1 (3 credits)

Interdisciplinary Elective 2 (3 credits)

Advanced Research Methods Course 3 (3 credits)

Advanced Research Methods Course 4 (3 credits)

EAC 895 – Doctoral Dissertation Research (9 credits)

Transfer Credit From Master’s Program (18 credits)


Writing the dissertation requires a major commitment of time and effort on both the part of the doctoral student and the faculty advisor. There should be consultation between the student and the dissertation chair about what is expected to be accomplished, and how much time is to be invested before the student registers. The College of Education strongly recommends that students who are registering for dissertation research (895) or preparation (899) register for at least 3 semester hours per semester, when appropriate.

More information about our programs and student life in general may be found in our Student Handbook.

ACPA Directory of Graduate Programs
NASPA Graduate Program Directory

As a community, we value engaging in effective educational research and practice, and our students enact this value through coursework, graduate assistantships, research projects, and professional development opportunities.

Research, teaching, and practice-based experiences within our the Higher Education Opportunity, Equity, and Justice concentration take several forms: (1) assistantships, (2) research projects, (3) independent studies, (4) supervised teaching, and other independent projects. Graduate assistantships are paid opportunities for part-time employment (15-20 hours per week) and are generally contracted for a minimum of an academic year. Many of these opportunities are made possible through our strong partnership with the Division of Academic and Student Affairs at NC State.

Students in the Ph.D. in Educational Leadership, Policy, and Human Development: Higher Education Opportunity, Equity, and Justice concentration are not required to hold a graduate assistantship; however, most of our full-time students are interested and able to secure assistantships to help fund their graduate education while gaining valuable experience. There is not a separate application for obtaining a graduate assistantship; the program assists in the matching process for graduate students. Each year, we host an annual spring preview days where students are able to interview for various assistantships that will be available during the following academic year.

Assistantship/Employment contracts, tuition remission, and stipend amounts vary based upon the position and institution. In addition to assistantships at NC State, our program has longstanding partnerships with both Duke University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and in the past, we have had assistantships at North Carolina Central University and Meredith College. Below is a sampling of assistantships at NC State held by our students:

Faculty in the Ph.D. in Educational Leadership, Policy, and Human Development: Higher Education Opportunity, Equity, and Justice concentration:

Affiliate Faculty

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As a research powerhouse grounded in its land-grant mission, NC State’s College of Education leads the way in solving educational problems and increasing educational success for all.


ranked college of education in the U.S.

Top 5%

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in education research funding in North Carolina

Advancing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

The NC State College of Education’s land-grant vision is to lead the way in increasing educational opportunities for all and reducing achievement gaps. To fulfill this vision, we must confront racial injustices and build a more diverse, inclusive and supportive community — both within our college and in the field of education.

Students head from the Brickyard in the direction of Hillsborough Street.

Contact Us

Joy Gaston Gayles

Joy Gaston Gayles, Ph.D.
Professor, Senior Advisor for Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and Coordinator
President-Elect, Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE)