Doctor of Education in Adult Education

School of Behavioral Sciences and Education

The focus of a program leading to a doctoral degree in Adult Education is the facilitation of purposeful continuing learning by men and women–alone, in groups, in the community, or in institutional settings. Adult education extends through the life span from late adolescence to advanced age and takes place in a rich diversity of organizational as well as informal settings. The purpose of the Adult Education program is to increase the knowledge and competence of those who work with adult learners. Course work, reading assignments, projects, informal discussions, and the dissertation all provide opportunities for in-depth, mind-stretching, and challenging learning experiences. The program is interdisciplinary, and in addition to Adult Education core courses, students are required to take courses in supporting fields within the University.

The program is cohort–based, targeted toward working adults who can pursue doctoral study part time. Typically, students interested in Adult Education are engaged in or oriented toward careers as administrators, instructors of adults, staff developers, and program planners in learning environments such as business and industry, community development, staff development, professional continuing education, corrections education, literacy and adult basic education, religious education, human services, correspondence and distance education, higher education, and university extension.

Courses are typically scheduled on evenings and weekends to accommodate employed students. Entering students are encouraged to have a concept of their major interest and possible thesis subject, which may be developed during course work.

Degree Conferred: D.Ed.

Program Requirements for Admission

Requirements More Information
  • Minimum GPA (on a 4.0 scale):  3.0 for undergraduate; 3.5 for graduate.
Supporting Materials
  • Minimum test scores, from within the last five years: 1100 and above for GRE; 398 and above for MAT
  • A written statement of career goals and degree objectives
  • A résumé
  • Three written academic and professional references
  • A writing sample completed under timed conditions (Contact the program at 717-948-6059)
  • A personal interview may be required
The Penn State Adult Education program follows a selective admission policy. The best qualified applicants will be accepted up to the number of spaces available for new students at Penn State Harrisburg. The Program Admissions Committee considers academic aptitude, professional experience, life circumstance, and clarity of academic and professional goals of prospective students. In addition, compatibility of career goals and experience with the courses offered at Penn State Harrisburg, and compatibility and availability of adult education faculty with similar research interests are also considerations.

Application Deadline

Semester Deadline
Fall April 1*

* For those who are interested in graduate assistantship, application deadline is March 1

Admission decisions are typically announced by April 30.

Application Process

Gather supporting materials and begin the standard graduate application.


The Curriculum

The Adult Education program presumes that students have previous experience in adult education. The program requires the completion of a minimum of 60 credits beyond the master's degree, and a minimum of 24 credits must be taken in Adult Education core course work. Please note: Changes may be made at the discretion of the institution and program.

There are five milestones to the doctoral program:

Entry status: In this phase, the student must make up any deficiencies noted in the letter of acceptance, complete between 12 and 15 hours of approved course work in Adult Education core courses with an average of 3.5, and pass the candidacy exam.

Candidacy Exam: The candidacy exam is an oral exam with two or three members of the Adult Education faculty. Candidacy serves four purposes: (a) to determine the "fit" between the student’s aspirations and what the program offers; (b) to discuss the Adult Education content of core courses the student has attended; (c) to assess the student’s abilities in areas critical to completing the dissertation process: writing, critical thinking, and research; and (d) to focus on forming a research area that subsequently will lead to a specific dissertation research topic.

Comprehensive Exam: The comprehensive examination has two parts, written and oral. Following completion of core courses in Adult Education (with the exception of advanced research), the student, in dialogue with her or his adviser, puts together a doctoral committee of four faculty, with at least two coming from the Adult Education Doctoral Program. Administered by the committee, a written comprehensive exam assesses the depth and breadth of the student’s knowledge about the field of Adult Education. The doctoral committee (in dialogue with the student) prepares four questions, and the student is given four weeks to prepare a written response. After the committee members have read the response the student meets with the doctoral committee to take the oral part of the exam.

Dissertation Proposal Defense: The dissertation proposal consists of chapters 1, 2, and 3 of the student’s actual dissertation. The student prepares these chapters prior to the proposal hearing in dialogue with the doctoral committee members. At the proposal hearing the student orally presents a plan for research and addresses questions from the doctoral committee.

Final Oral Examination (Dissertation Defense): At the completion of the student’s dissertation the final oral examination is conducted by the doctoral committee and chaired by the thesis chair.

Course Requirements

Course requirements are distributed over three groups of courses: required core adult education courses, additional advanced research courses, and elective or minor studies courses:

Required Core Adult Education Courses At Penn State Harrisburg

(24 core credits)

  • ADTED 507 RESEARCH AND EVALUATION IN ADULT EDUCATION (3) Prerequisites: ADTED 460; introductory statistics course; introductory research design course. (Prerequisites at Penn State Harrisburg: ADTED 460, 505)
  • ADTED 510 SOCIAL AND HISTORICAL ISSUES OF ADULT EDUCATION (3) Prerequisite: ADTED 460. (Prerequisites at Penn State Harrisburg: ADTED 460, 505, 506, 507)
  • ADTED 542 PERSPECTIVES IN ADULT LEARNING (3) (Prerequisites at Penn State Harrisburg: ADTED 460, 505, 506, 507)
  • ADTED 580 RESEARCH SEMINAR (3) Prerequisites: ADTED 507, EDPSY 400, 475. (Prerequisites at Penn State Harrisburg: ADTED 460, 505, 506, 507, 510, 542, 550)
  • ADTED 594 RESEARCH TOPICS (3) (Prerequisite at Penn State Harrisburg: ADTED 460)
  • One 3-credit Adult Education Elective

Additional Advanced Research Course

Minimum of 6 credits, not counted as part of the core credits
  • ADTED 550 QUALITATIVE RESEARCH IN ADTED (3) (Prerequisites at Penn State Harrisburg: ADTED 460, 505, 507, 510, 542)
  • An additional quantitative research methods course (400-level or above) (3)

General Studies Electives or Minor Studies

Minimum of 15 credits
  • ADTED 610 THESIS RESEARCH (1-15) Thesis Research credits - minimum of 15 credits.

Course Load and Sequence

Students are expected to enroll for a minimum of six credits each semester for the first three years of their program of study. In addition, core courses are to be completed in a specific sequence as outlined in the adult education student handbook.

Transfer Credits

Credits for ADTED courses may be transferred into the doctoral program only if they have been obtained at institutions that have an adult education doctoral program and with the consent of the adviser. Students may request a transfer of up to 10 credits for course work taken beyond the master’s degree from another college/university only if the course work has been completed with at least a B average within the last five years. All credits must meet Graduate School regulations.

Grade-Point Average and Time Limit

Students must maintain a 3.0 average for graduation. Time limit for completing all work and dissertation defenses is eight years from the date of admittance to candidacy.

Graduate School Fellowships

Full-time incoming doctoral students starting in the fall semester who are interested in a graduate school fellowship should contact the program coordinator. Students must be nominated for a fellowship by their program coordinator.

Students applying for a graduate school fellowship should submit scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or similar examinations by January 30.

Graduate School Assistantships

Full-time graduate students who are interested in an assistantship should contact the graduate program coordinator. Students must be nominated for an assistantship by their program coordinator.

Students applying for an assistantship should submit scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or similar examinations by January 30.

Additional Courses


  • ADTED 501 FOUNDATIONS OF MEDICAL EDUCATION (3) Prerequisites: , ADTED 460 or Permission of Instructor
  • ADTED 506 PROGRAM PLANNING IN ADULT EDUCATION (3) Prerequisites: ADTED 460, 505. (Prerequisite at Penn State Harrisburg: ADTED 460)
  • ADTED 575 (EDADM) ADMINISTRATION OF ADULT EDUCATION (3) Prerequisite: ADTED 506 or EDADM 480. (Prerequisites at Penn State Harrisburg: ADTED 460, 506)
  • ADTED 588 PROFESSIONAL SEMINAR: RESEARCH AND ADULT EDUCATION (3) Prerequisites: ADTED 460, 507. (Prerequisite at Penn State Harrisburg: ADTED 460)
  • ADTED 590 COLLOQUIUM (1-3) (Prerequisite at Penn State Harrisburg: ADTED 460)
  • ADTED 596 INDIVIDUAL STUDIES (1-9) (Prerequisite at Penn State Harrisburg: ADTED 460)
  • ADTED 597 SPECIAL TOPICS (1-9) (Prerequisite at Penn State Harrisburg: ADTED 460)
  • ADTED 598 SPECIAL TOPICS (1-9) (Prerequisite at Penn State Harrisburg: ADTED 460)

Please review local campus information for program variability of course offerings and course prerequisites.

This page is not a part of the official Penn State University Bulletin.