Although a degree in criminal justice isn’t a prerequisite for all public safety positions, it’s a popular choice, especially for officers already on the job who want to further their careers. Studying criminal justice allows you to broaden your knowledge of the most important topics in law enforcement today or select a specialty such as management, corrections or forensics. Earning a degree can help build a strong foundation of up-to-date skills, open up administrative and leadership positions and demonstrate a competitive edge in the job market.
Education professionals are clear about the benefits. James Ness of University of Phoenix notes that higher education develops abilities that are invaluable to law enforcement success and valued by department leaders, including “written and verbal communications skills, learning to work in teams, developing critical thinking skills and working to solve problems.” Michael Benson of the University of Cincinnati says studying criminal justice “teaches students how to approach problems in an analytical manner and to use evidence-based thinking to make improvements in law enforcement as well as the criminal justice system in general.” American Military University’s Jeffrey Kuhn finds that officers with criminal justice degrees have “many more opportunities for advancement than those who do not fully comprehend the challenges associated with leadership in the law enforcement community,” while Barbara Schultz of Upper Iowa University sums up that a criminal justice program “prepares the learner for the important work of maintaining law, preventing crime and ensuring the safety of our communities.”
FOP members who have pursued criminal justice degrees confirm their value. “Having my degree in the master’s level has benefited me because I now feel that I possess the understanding of the entire spectrum of the criminal justice system and not just one area of it,” says Katherine Lawrence, a 2011 University of Phoenix graduate. Current Upper Iowa University student Todd Hirsch observes that his education has made him “a better communicator, critical thinker, problem solver and report writer, just to name a few of my sharpened traits.” And Anthony Easter, who earned his master’s from the University of Cincinnati in 2005, attests: “I have been able to gain experience by being selected at my department to investigative positions, specialized assignment and promotion due to my education and experience received through the online program at UC. It has benefited me and my career quite well.”
Thousands of schools across the U.S. now offer criminal justice programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. But how do you find the one that’s right for you, especially when you need to balance your educational pursuits with your work schedule? Take a look at these four options designed for law enforcement professionals.
Degrees offered: A.A., B.A. (general or concentrations in Organizational Law Enforcement Leadership and Maritime Law Enforcement), B.S. (concentration in Forensics) and M.A. (general or concentrations in Business Administration and Emergency and Disaster Management), plus a graduate certificate, all online.
Why choose it? Asynchronous course delivery means no specific logon times are required — students can download and complete assignments at their convenience. For further flexibility, courses begin monthly, many available in both 8- and 16-week sessions so students can select the intensity level that fits their schedules. AMU has received prestigious national awards for excellence and has unique partner relationships with major law enforcement organizations, including the FOP.
“Due to faculty and staff origins within the law enforcement community,” says Associate Vice President of Business Development Jeffrey Kuhn, “students find themselves in a like-minded setting in which their culture and challenges are uniquely understood and responded to in a uniquely informed manner.”
FOP members say: “I decided to complete my degree in criminal justice because the curriculum was challenging and had a real-life application to my career…. AMU has a Prior Learning Assessment program, which allows you to articulate college-level learning you’ve experienced in your career or personal life to academic credit. Because of my law enforcement experience, I was able to acquire six credits in a few months through the PLA…. I’ve found most of the professors have a great deal of real-life experience and education that can be expressed in their teaching. Most have accomplished more than just a thesis on the subjects they teach.”
Ryan Nelson, Idaho Lodge #6 President
B.A. Criminal Justice student
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Degrees offered: B.S., M.S. (concentrations in Analysis of Criminal Behavior, Law Enforcement and Crime Prevention or Corrections and Offender Rehabilitation) and Ph.D., with online options for B.S. and M.S.
Why choose it? UC is the third-ranked criminal justice program in the country, the top-ranked program in research productivity and the only highly ranked program offering an online M.S. degree. All courses in the online M.S. program are taught by full-time tenured or tenure-track professors, many nationally or internationally known experts in their fields.
“What makes our program particularly beneficial for law enforcement professionals is that we couple standard courses in policing and law enforcement with specialized courses on crime prevention,” says Michael Benson, a professor in the School of Criminal Justice. “This is a real strength, as it helps law enforcement professionals learn how to develop strategies and programs designed to prevent crime in the first place rather than simply cleaning up the mess afterwards. It can help law enforcement professionals take a proactive rather than reactive approach to their work.”
FOP members say: “The program was very flexible and accommodating for working adults…. UC has one of the best Criminal Justice faculties in the country. All the faculty members have terminal degrees in their respective areas of expertise and have been published. The research and academic reputations of the undergraduate and graduate criminal justice programs at the University of Cincinnati are exceptional and you can count on getting your money’s worth. It’s a great investment!”
Anthony Easter, Tennessee Lodge #22
M.S. Criminal Justice 2005
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Degrees offered: A.A. with Criminal Justice concentration, B.S. in Criminal Justice Administration (concentrations in Management, Human Services, Security, Cybercrimes or Institutional Health Care) and M.S. in Administration of Justice and Security (concentrations in Global and Homeland Security or Law Enforcement Organizations), all with online options.
Why choose it? The many course and concentration options allow students to customize their learning. Faculty members are active practitioners in their fields and bring real-life examples to the classroom based on their professional experiences, along with networking opportunities. The school is also a pioneer in online education.
“Since its founding over 35 years ago, University of Phoenix and its structure of delivering education to working adults has been perfectly suited to meet the needs of law enforcement professionals,” says James Ness, dean of the College of Criminal Justice and Security. “In fact, police officers were some of the very first students of the university and provided the inspiration for the university’s creation and structure. Understanding that working professionals, such as those in law enforcement, have a need to gain an education while not sacrificing their professional careers or personal responsibilities, the university offers a structure that meets all of these needs.”
FOP members say: “I have been allotted the opportunity to work in other areas of the criminal justice center for which I am currently employed since attaining my master’s. This has proved to be very beneficial to my career growth within the organization…. I would highly recommend University of Phoenix to anyone who is pursuing a criminal justice degree…and [would tell them] that their lives do not have to change drastically for them to do so.”
Katherine Lawrence, Texas Lodge #323
M.S. Administration of Justice and Security 2011
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Degrees offered: B.S., with an online option. In addition to required core courses, students have the flexibility to select courses on topics of their choice to customize their degree.
Why choose it? UIU offers two distance education choices, online courses and independent study, so students can choose the delivery method that best suits their learning style and career and family responsibilities. The school has progressive transfer policies for college credits, and students may also receive credit for law enforcement academy training and military experience. Tuition discounts are offered to FOP members and their spouses and dependent children.
“Our courses are taught by scholar practitioners who ensure that Upper Iowa combines theoretical principles with sound, real-life workplace applications,” says Barbara Schultz, Assistant Vice President of the Center for Distance Education. “Our students address contemporary management challenges in the classroom… Classes are offered on a regular basis through different learning experiences, allowing students to complete the requirements of their degree program within the targeted time frame.”
FOP members say: “When I first started attending the university, I was a police lieutenant with years of experience under my belt. I thought there was not very much that I had not already learned about policing from my own experiences. I must admit I was wrong. Many of the courses, especially those in my major, were instructed by accomplished professionals from the various fields of law enforcement. I learned many new creative approaches and concepts…. The flexibility and affordability that the online courses have to offer…have enabled me to achieve an important goal in life, which I otherwise might not have been able to achieve.”
Todd Hirsch, Pennsylvania Lodge #42
B.S. Criminal Justice student
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