Degrees of Distinction

At the end of 2018, leaders from law enforcement agencies across the country gathered in Washington, D.C., to discuss the status of staffing. The consensus going in was that recruitment and retention of officers is more challenging than ever, for a variety of reasons. But the meeting’s end purpose was to share ideas for practices that have proven successful in attracting and retaining staff.

“The Workforce Crisis, and What Police Agencies Are Doing About It” report, released last September by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), represents the culmination of that meeting. Its extensive analysis identifies 12 key actions that departments can take to improve staffing, including emphasizing the need for law enforcement professionals to develop diverse skill sets. Attendees agreed that today’s officers are expected to understand societal concerns, such as mental health and addiction, on top of maintaining peace and solving crimes. That complexity demands above-average oral and written communication abilities, problem-solving strategies and a sense of empathy.

Not coincidentally, these also are some of the key elements emphasized in today’s criminal justice education programs. While universities continue to cover core subjects related to crime, courts and corrections, many have incorporated instruction on victimology, racial and cultural context, and terrorism to provide students with a well-rounded assessment of current trends and topics in policing. Here’s a selection of degrees designed to meet the needs of the changing world of law enforcement.

American Military University
Degree: Bachelor of Science, Criminal Justice
Overview: The criminal justice undergraduate program at American Military University examines the discipline from a scientific analysis approach. Classes apply a forensic philosophy, not just to evidence evaluation, but also to studying crime trends, investigation strategies and adjudication processes. In addition to the bachelor’s degree, AMU offers multiple educational certification opportunities for concentrated subject studies.
Course examples: Research Design and Methods; Criminal Profiling; Ethics in Criminal Justice
Faculty insight: “This increased exposure can aid the learner in transfer and promotional opportunities as the knowledge gained can demonstrate the individual’s understanding of advanced aspects of the topics, above and beyond what those exposed to training have received.” — Chuck Russo, Ph.D., professor and program director

Arizona State University
Degree: Master of Arts, Criminal Justice
Overview: Arizona State University has assembled a faculty of nationally recognized subject-matter experts with extensive research experience, along with criminal justice professionals with years of field experience, to present an in-depth study of modern law enforcement. Enrollees delve into research methods as well as learning about administrative functions, including program planning and evaluation.
Course examples: Seminar in Criminology; Seminar in Courts and Sentencing; Seminar on Race/Ethnicity, Crime and Justice
Faculty insight: “We attract the most promising students in the field and value having working professionals learn from each other. They impart what they learn in class to their departments or agencies so the public can benefit, too.” — Jesenia Pizarro-Terrill, associate professor and program director

Maryville University
Degree: Bachelor, Criminal Justice
Overview: Maryville University has created an interdisciplinary structure for its bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. Faculty challenge students to assess crime from multiple angles — law enforcement, social impact and even with empirical data — to gain an understanding of the imprint left on victims, families and communities. Applicants may gain credit for training from select police academies.
Course examples: Murder to Trial; Sexual Violence and Aggression; Cultural Relativism and Social Deviance

Union Institute & University
Degree: Bachelor of Science, Criminal Justice Management
Overview: In addition to assessing current issues impacting law enforcement, students in the criminal justice management undergraduate program at Union Institute & University compare and contrast supervision techniques, leadership practices, and policy development and implementation. Students may earn credits for certified training evaluation. The degree program also offers certificates in homeland security and forensic science management.
Course examples: Critical Incident Management; Supervision in the Criminal Justice Field; Criminal Justice Management Information Systems
Faculty insight: “We’re bringing ideas to students of first-line supervision, about middle management and upper management, so they get a better understanding of why their agencies make some decisions and what they do moving forward.” — Paul Brugman, program chair

Eastern Kentucky University
Degree: Bachelor of Science, Criminal Justice
Overview: With six start dates throughout the year, enrollees in Eastern Kentucky University’s undergraduate criminal justice program have flexibility to fit school into their schedule for the most convenient timing. The university also accepts up to 90 transfer credits and awards graduates of the Kentucky Department of Criminal Justice Training program with nine credit hours. In terms of curriculum, there’s a blend of traditional academic instruction with practical professional development tools through leadership skills and competency-based elements.
Course examples: Perspectives on Crime and Delinquency; Multi-Culturalism and Policing; Applied Criminal Justice Analysis
Faculty insight: “Each of our programs provides a solid set of core courses and at the same time builds in a considerable amount of elective credit that allows students to take courses that interest them or benefit them the most.” — Scott A. Hunt, professor and chair, School of Justice Studies, College of Justice & Safety

Penn State World Campus
Degree: Bachelor of Science, Criminal Justice
Overview: Penn State has long been regarded as a prestigious traditional institution, and the Penn State World Campus’s bachelor’s program in criminal justice builds off that renowned history to offer a well-rounded experience in the online environment. All courses are taught by on-campus faculty who have received additional training on how to translate their instructional methods to the virtual classroom. Upper-level criminal justice subjects explore multiple aspects of law enforcement, including the humanistic element through a study of sociology and psychology.
Course examples: Courts and the Prosecution Process; Policing in America; Victimology

College of St. Elizabeth
Degree: Combined Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice to Master of Arts in Justice Administration and Public Service
Overview: The combined undergraduate-to-graduate program at the College of St. Elizabeth empowers students to tackle two degrees in an expedited manner while preparing them to take on duties and challenges associated with management and executive positions. Undergraduate students may apply to the combined program after completing their junior year, and must achieve a 3.0 or higher grade point average to qualify. Plus, law enforcement officers receive substantial tuition discounts.
Course examples: Public Policy & Administration; Justice Administration; Legal and Critical Issues
Faculty insight: “College of St. Elizabeth’s tradition of small classes that encourage student interaction also has resulted in many students from the school’s undergraduate criminal justice program moving into the graduate program.” — James F. Ford Jr., Ph.D., professor, chair of the Criminal Justice Program and director of the Graduate Program in Justice Administration and Public Service


Rowan University
Degree: Master of Arts, Criminal Justice
Overview: Rowan University offers a fully online criminal justice graduate program that covers the impact of law and policy on society, the causes of crime and contemporary issues in policing, courts and corrections. The program, ranked as one of the best in the country, is taught by established, full-time faculty with experience in the criminal justice system and expertise in policing.
Course examples: Seminar in Criminal Justice Planning; Management of Criminal Justice Organizations; Criminal Justice Policy Analysis
Faculty insight: “A master’s degree in criminal justice can make officers more competitive when seeking promotions and new positions. It also can enhance their expertise by increasing their awareness of evidence-based approaches to allocating resources, implementing policies and evaluating the effectiveness of programs.” — Wanda D. Foglia, J.D., Ph.D., professor and program coordinator

For insights from FOP members on the career benefits of pursuing an advanced degree, check out “Mastering Criminal Justice.”

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