Sep 24, 2020  
2019-2020 Graduate Catalog 
2019-2020 Graduate Catalog [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Exceptional Learning, Ph.D.

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Ashley B. Akenson, Ph.D., Director

The Exceptional Learning Ph.D. (ELPhD) program focuses on the characteristics, strengths, and educational needs of individuals and groups whose learning potential and opportunities for success are frequently unrealized. Exceptional populations include people for whom social, economic, and physical characteristics may serve as a barrier to development and learning.

The ELPhD program offers robust academic preparation of professionals who serve their communities, public school systems, institutions of higher education, and nontraditional educational environments. Our graduates are leaders who work across local, regional, national, and international platforms to effect positive change in diverse populations of exceptional learners and educational contexts, addressing barriers to learning, primarily through research and service activities.

The ELPhD curriculum is organized around three areas of knowledge development-core, concentration, and research. Core knowledge includes an orientation to the program, theory, foundations for understanding exceptional populations, program planning and evaluation, and technology. Concentration knowledge helps students to deepen and hone their specific interests. The innovative research sequence grounds students in quantitative and qualitative research methodologies.

Five concentrations and two strands allowing students to focus on specific areas of professional and research interests:

Applied Behavior Analysis prepares professionals who can develop and deliver behavioral interventions and supports for individuals within educational and habilitative settings. There are two ABA strands:

Young Children and Families prepares professionals to provide support and interventions to young, at-risk children and families with emphasis on building relationships and advocating for children and families.  (Concentration leader - Dr. Jane Baker)
School-Aged Children and Adult Populations prepares professionals who will implement and provide empirical support for behavioral interventions for a range of populations and pursue board certification as a behavior analyst. The ABAS course sequence is approved by the national Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB).(Strand leader - Dr. Krystal Kennedy)

Health Behaviors and Wellness Education (HBWE) offers cutting-edge, hands-on experiential courses along with related pedagogical methods and theory.  HBWE research courses supply additional opportunities to research and address discipline-specific concerns.  This comprehensive and novel design supplies students with the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to succeed professionally and lead change in health sciences and wellness disciplines.  (Concentration leader - Dr. Christy Killman)

Literacy empowers educational innovators to develop cutting-edge, socially conscious approaches to multiliteracies and challenge narrow conceptions of learners, families, and worldviews. (Concentration leader – Dr. Janet Isbell)

Program Planning and Evaluation (PPE) prepares professionals for leadership roles in the field of PPE.  Program content includes the history of the field, influence in context and cultures in PPE design and methodology, quantitative and qualitative methods, and practical application of PPE skills through practicum experiences.  (Concentration leader – Dr. George Chitiyo)

STEM Education builds the capacity of innovative educational leaders to advance new ideas and to design/implement strategic innovations in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. (Concentration leader – Dr. Holly Anthony)


Admission Requirements

A multifaceted approach is taken in the application and admissions decisions process.  The applicant will be evaluated on the criteria listed below in order to determine the applicant’s overall potential for success in the ELPhD program.  Please note, however, that fulfillment of the minimum requirements does not guarantee admission.

  1. QPA–Consideration for admission to the program is based on the applicant’s grade point average (GPA) in the last graduate degree or the last 60 hours of undergraduate work if no graduate degree has been completed. If a student has successfully completed some graduate hours but not attained a graduate degree, the GPA for these courses may also be considered.  An average of 3.0 (on a 4.0 scale) or above from a recognized baccalaureate, graduate, or professional degree from an accredited college or university, or an international equivalent based on a four-year curriculum is required for admission.
  2. GRE–  valid GRE scores (score date within 5 years of application) must be submitted as part of the ELPhD application.
  3. Scholarly Writing–Students must demonstrate scholarly writing skill and mastery by submitting a reference-based paper, thesis, or other written document in which information from various sources has been synthesized. The applicant must be the sole author.
  4. Statement of Intent–One (1) to two (2) pages that address the following: intended enrollment (semester and year), intended concentration, autobiographical statement, educational and professional goals, and area of interest for future research.  Applicants to the ABA concentration must indicate the strand in which they wish to enroll:  School-Aged & Adult Populations (ABAS) or Young Children & Families (YCF).
  5. Three Letters of Recommendation–Recommendation letters should be from individuals, preferably professors, who are able to comment on the student’s qualifications and scholarly aptitude for doctoral study.  The letter should also address characteristics that will contribute to the student’s success as a doctoral student should you be accepted in the ELPhD program.  Consideration will be made based upon the content of these letters.  Please make certain the recommenders know they must submit a letter as well as evaluate the applicant on a series of qualities (done when submitting the letter).  Applications without three letters may not receive full consideration.
  6. Professional Curriculum Vitae (CV)/Resume
  7. Interviews - Applicants who pass the initial evaluation will be required to have an interview with the ELPhD program faculty and director of graduate programs.
  8. International Students must also meet the English Language Requirement by providing TOEFL test scores:  a minimum of 80 on the TOEFL iBT is required.  If you have taken another TOEFL version and the results are still valid (no more than 5 years old), the score requirements are: 213 on TOEFL CBT or 550 on TOEFL PBT.

Applicants who have citizenship in a country where English is a primary language or have been awarded a degree from a university in one of the following countries are exempt from the English Language requirement:  Australia, Belize, the British Caribbean and British West Indies, Canada (except Quebec), England, Guyana, Ireland, Liberia, New Zealand, Scotland, the United States, and Wales.

If a candidate does not have access to a TOEFL testing site, it may be possible to accept another language proficiency test score.  Candidates should inquire before submitting a test score other than the TOEFL.


*Please note the STEM Education concentration requires the following additional admission requirements:

  1. Three years of STEM teaching/outreach (P–16)
  2. Master’s Degree and
  3. One of the following:
    • A minimum of 18 semester hours of graduate credit in a STEM discipline;
    • Teacher Licensure in a STEM discipline (Grades 6-8, 6–12, or 7-12);
    • Teacher Licensure (K-5) with 24 semester hours in math/science; or
    • Teacher Licensure (K-5) with a passing score on the state-approved licensure exam for a STEM content area.

Degree Requirements

Effective Fall 2020

The student must maintain a cumulative point average of 3.25 and, in addition to adhering to the general regulations of the College of Graduate Studies, adhere to the specific regulations for the Ph.D. in Exceptional Learning program. These regulations, standards, and expectations include:

1. A minimum of 78-79 semester hours of course work, including 36 semester hours in the research component (21 semester hours) and dissertation requirements (15 semester hours) and built upon the student’s course of study (13 core, 6/7 elective, and 23/24 concentration semester hours). 

a.  A minimum of 51 semester hours of course work beyond the baccalaureate must be completed after admittance into the doctoral program, including a minimum of 12 semester hours at the 7000-level (excluding dissertation credit).

b.  No more than 27 semester hours of credit at the Master’s and Educational Specialist levels, excluding thesis and problems courses, may be accepted for transfer credit toward the doctorate. All graduate course credit transferred from other degree programs must be approved by the student’s Advisory Committee and the director of graduate programs prior to an assignment of credit in the student’s formal program of study.

2.  All requirements, including the dissertation, must be completed within a period of no more than eight (8) consecutive years.

3. As and Bs are required in coursework. A grade of C is considered a failing grade in doctoral programs.  The student is allowed to maintain a grade of C in only one (1) course completed toward the Ph.D. degree.  A student receiving two (2) Cs will be dismissed from the program.  If a second C is received, it may not be substituted or moved out of the student’s program of study in order to avoid dismissal.

4.  “Ds” and “Fs” are not acceptable in the Ph.D. in Exceptional Learning program. If a student receives a grade of D or F in a course, she/he will be dismissed from the program.

5.  If an Incomplete is granted, the student has one (1) academic year to complete the requirements. If the requirements have not been met in the allotted time period, the grade is converted to an IF and the student will be dismissed from the program.

6.  A maximum of twelve (12) credit hours may be taken in one (1) semester. Written approval from the student’s advisor/chair, department chair, and director of graduate programs is required to register and take more than 12 credit hours in one semester.

7.  Course repetition is not allowed in the ELPhD program.

8.  Course substitutions are allowed upon written approval from the advisor/graduate advisory committee, department chair, and director of graduate programs. 

9.  Students should complete their Comprehensive Examinations either a) following completion of all course work, excluding EDU 7920 and EDU 7990, or b) during the last semester during which such course work is to be completed.  Comprehensive Examinations should occur no later than the end of the semester in which the student completes EDU 7920.  

10.  Approval of the dissertation topic and a successful dissertation proposal presentation to the entire graduate advisory committee must precede any significant work on the dissertation.  Approval from the Institutional Review Committee for the Protection of Human Subjects (IRB) must be obtained for any research project initiated by a student (or faculty member).

11.  Satisfactory completion of the dissertation requires an oral defense.

12.  The 15 hours required for the dissertation may be completed in no fewer than two (2) semesters.

Requirements for Earning an en-route Master of Arts Degree in Curriculum and Instruction 

A student pursuing an Exceptional Learning Ph.D. may be awarded a Master of Arts degree in Curriculum and Instruction as the student successfully advances toward completion of the Ph.D..

The M.A. degree may be awarded when the student successfully completes 33 semester credit hours allocated to the en-route  M.A. degree, inclusive of nine (9) credit hours of either quantitative (EDU 7420, EDU 7430, and EDU 7300) or qualitative (EDU 7010, EDU 7330, and EDU 7340) research.  The M.A. will not be awarded without completion of these 9 research credit hours.

The M.A. degree may be awarded at any point during the program, given that:

  • the student meets both the M.A. and Ph.D. degree requirements as listed above; 
  • has received approval from the student’s advisory committee and direct of graduate programs; and
  • has satisfied all College of Graduate Studies General Degree Requirements policies.

Courses applied to the en-route M.A. must be completed within six years of enrollment.

Students who have already earned an M.A. before entering the ELPhD program may be eligible for a reduction in required credits for the M.A. portion of the ELPhD program.

Once the M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction has been awarded, the Ph.D. portion of the Program of Study must include a minimum of 46 semester credits of appropriate graduate-level coursework consisting of research, concentration, core, and elective credits at the 6000- and 7000-level, as approved by the student’s advisory committee, department chair, and the director of graduate programs.  A minimum of 15 semester credit hours of doctoral research and dissertation is required in no fewer than two (2) semesters.

Note: Only students admitted to the ELPhD program are permitted to enroll in these courses.


The Exceptional Learning Ph.D. requires 78-79 credit hours and is organized into three core areas: Core Knowledge, Research Knowledge, and Concentration Knowledge.  Credit hours are classified as follows:

Ph.D. Exceptional Learning Degree Requirements
Requirement Credit Hours
Core Coursework 13
Core Concentration Coursework 23-24
Advisor Guided Electives 6-7
Research Coursework 21
Dissertation  15+
Total Degree Requirements 78-79


Dissertation (15 Credit Hours)

Concentration Course Requirements

Applied Behavior Analysis Concentration

Health Behaviors and Wellness Education Concentration

The Health Behavior and Wellness Education (HBWE) concentration offers cutting-edge, hands-on experiential courses along with related pedagogical methods and theory. HBWE research courses supply additional opportunities to research and address discipline-specific concerns. This comprehensive and novel design supplies students with the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to succeed professionally and lead change in health sciences and wellness disciplines.

Literacy Concentration (Select 23/24 Credit Hours)

The Literacy concentration engages students in a continuum of exploration to develop well-rounded knowledge of literacy research, theory, and practice, as well as expand expertise in the student’s choice of topic.

Program Planning and Evaluation Concentration (Select 23/24 Credit Hours)

This concentration prepares professionals for leadership roles in program planning and evaluation in various settings. In addition to exposing students to different theories of evaluation, the program equips students with both qualitative and quantitative research/evaluation methods.

STEM Education Concentration (Select 23/24 Credit Hours)

The STEM education concentration provides students with the background and experience needed to assume leadership roles in the development, delivery, and assessment of STEM education programs.

Approved Substitutions for CUED 7430 or EDU 7440

The following are approved substitutions for CUED 7430 or EDU 7440.  Course selections below from the Literacy concentration may only be counted as a substitution core course for those student whom are NOT in the Literacy concentration.

Course Substitutions

Course Substitutions are allowed upon approval of the graduate advisory committee, department chair/director, and dean of the college.

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