Exams and Dissertation Requirements

First Examination

Upon completion of the four core courses students will be expected to pass the First Examination. They must take all parts of the examination before completing 30 credits in the program (excluding transfer credits) and may not continue in the program beyond 45 credits until they have passed all parts of the First Exam. The First Examination covers the same general topics as the required core courses, including an announced list of specific readings drawn from the core course bibliographies.

Second Examination

The second examination will consist of:

  1. a two hour oral examination taken during the final semester of course work and
  2. a written document that demonstrates the student’s line of inquiry and a deep knowledge of the scholarship related to the topic. 

The oral examination is an opportunity for the student and exam committee to discuss and evaluate the written document. The exact form of the document is developed in consultation with the student’s advisor and can take multiple forms, but should include the following: a relevant literature review situating the student’s research topic; a discussion of relevant theories that are germane to the topic; in some cases, preliminary analysis from piloting some research instruments or methods; and a clear statement of the student’s positionality.  The oral examination should also include a dialogue about the salient values, ethics and morals associated with the doing research the particular topic and with human subjects to provide participants with a sense of autonomy, beneficence, and social justice.

Procedurally, the student names a faculty advisor and they discuss the choice of two other members for the oral examination committee. The student and advisor meet to develop reading lists in concert with those faculty members, and together agree on the parameters of the written document and the oral examination. They also set a tentative date for the oral examination and establish any deadlines and conditions. The date for the exam is submitted to the APO who arranges for a room. The deadline for committee members to receive the written document must be at least two weeks prior to the oral examination. Any change in this deadline must be documented in writing on a form obtained from the APO.

Second Examination Committee  

The advisor (which is also the tentative dissertation advisor) must be an appointed Urban Education faculty member. One additional member of the committee must be an appointed Urban Education faculty member. The third member of the committee need not be a member of the Urban Education faculty, though he or she must be an appointed member of the doctoral faculty.  According to Graduate Center rules, “…at least three members of the dissertation defense committee must be members of The Graduate Center doctoral faculty” (p.34). Additional members beyond the first three may come from faculty not appointed to The Graduate Center or who teach outside CUNY, but they must possess a Ph.D. and submit a c.v. for approval. Approval of committee rests with the EO with questionable cases brought to Executive Committee for a vote.


The student is advanced to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree after completing:

  • all  program requirements
  • passing all parts of the Second Examination

Examples of anticipated areas of research for student dissertations include:

  1. systemic renewal of urban education,
  2. including teacher education,
  3. new information and communication technologies in education,
  4. issues of language, representational media, and cultural diversity in urban education, and
  5. mobilization of urban resources to prepare all students for full participation in global society.

Dissertation Oral Examination

The Ph.D. is awarded after the dissertation has been approved by the committee and has been successfully defended by the student in an oral examination.