The field of criminal justice is one of the fastest growing areas in the United States. Future job growth remains positive due to the constant demand for educated professionals ranging from private companies to local, state and federal law enforcement. The key to unlocking such promising careers is through various levels of education. As the field of criminology continues to expand and evolve, it is vitally important, especially during an economic downturn, to remain competitive and up to date with technological advances through the numerous types of degrees, offered both online and on campus to both the traditional student and non-traditional student alike.
While a high school degree may be suitable for some entry level positions, a post-secondary criminology degree allows for a breadth of opportunities including career advancement, increased salary, and greater job satisfaction. Massachusetts’ Quinn Bill, which offers incentives like salary increases for police officers that attain their bachelors degree is just one example of the numerous benefits of a criminology degree. Other state and federal agencies offer similar college tuition reimbursement programs and educational incentive pay while paving the way for career advancement.
Before delving into the numerous educational opportunities available to the future criminologist, an important distinction must be made. While it may appear that the terms “criminology” and “criminal justice” are synonymous and used interchangeably, there is a critical difference. This distinction may be important depending on what an individual would like to do in the field of criminology.
Traditionally, criminology is regarded as a behavioral social science that examines the nature of crime, the origins of criminal behavior, society’s responses to crime and examining empirical research and theory while drawing from such fields as sociology and psychology. Criminal justice, on the other hand, focuses on the justice system including corrections, courts, policing and probation while dealing with the daily applications of the system. Many programs blend the 2 elements of criminology and criminal justice together to offer a complete degree that considers both aspects of the field.
Various programs may offer a range of degrees from the most basic associates degree, to bachelors, masters and doctorate degree programs. Certificates are available at both the undergraduate and graduate level. More opportunities become available as the sophistication of the degree level increases. These degrees may be completed either at traditional on campus schools or with online programs. No matter the degree, it is vitally important that the institution is regionally accredited. If it isn’t, the time and money spent may be for naught.
The technological boom allowed for the development of not only online courses but online degrees as well. While 1 does not need to be tech savvy, basic computer skills are needed. Online degrees have numerous advantages over their traditional counterparts. An online degree is ideal for an individual who is unable to attend a post-secondary education institution, whether due to location or a lack of time, all from the comfort of a person’s own home. It enables professionals who wish to remain working to study at their own pace. One must also consider the loss of the benefits of traditional school settings. Online degree programs lack face-to-face interaction with professors and offer fewer networking opportunities. While the debate over the legitimacy of online degrees continues, it has lessened in recent times as elite universities expand their online presence.
Top criminology schools, such as Pennsylvania State University and University of Cincinnati, have online degrees that may be completed without a student stepping on campus. While it is possible to receive an associates or bachelors degree online, most programs at the masters level such are offered through school such as University of California, Irvine. The future looks bright as more and more schools have started developing online bachelor degrees. Only Nova Southeastern University offers a doctorate that may be done completely online.
The most basic educational opportunities are the certificate and the associates degree, which can usually be earned at either a community college or a junior college as well as some 4-year colleges and universities. A certificate, the lowest available educational degree, is also the fastest to attain at roughly less than a year. While it may increase an individual’s job prospects, certificates are best suited for those who already have a higher degree and are looking to specialize in a particular field. Certificate programs are usually aimed at training individuals for the region’s specific needs.
The associates degree, which on average requires 2 years or roughly 20 courses, allows for 2 pathways: an occupationally focused degree and a transfer degree. The occupationally focused degree allows students to work immediately after completion in a specific career while the transfer degree prepares students for a bachelors degree, which requires on average 2 more years of school. Those who have an associates degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, have a significantly lower unemployment rate than those have only attained a high school degree.
The most common criminology degree is the bachelors degree. It often serves as the minimum educational degree for various jobs. However, one other distinction must be made. Various institutions may offer either a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree or a Bachelor of Sciences (BS) degree in criminology. The BA degree allows more flexibility for those with broad interests while still acquiring a strong foundation. This degree enables students to develop skills in other fields that may enhance their criminology degree such as law or psychology. The BS degree is a more rigorous and extensive course of study with an emphasis on the sciences and technology. Regardless of the type of degree, a bachelors degree usually requires 4 years or roughly 40 courses to complete.
For those interested in pursuing their education to specialize in a particular field beyond their bachelors degree, graduate certificates are a prime candidate. Certificates are designed to meet the diverse needs of criminal justice professionals while focusing on a specific niche. These may include domestic violence, victim studies, homeland security, and many more. Graduate certificates typically require a year though this may vary by program. These certificates are best suited for professionals who need or want more training without pursuing a masters degree.
Beyond the bachelors degree and certificate is the masters degree. Ranging from 1 to 2 years on average, a masters degree is highly specialized degree. Some positions in criminology require a masters degree. Most programs require a masters thesis to be written in the second year. A master’s degree will prepare an individual to pursue a doctoral degree while also allowing them to teach at universities and colleges.
The highest attainable criminology degree is the doctorate, which necessitates a substantial time commitment of no less than 3 years though it may take much longer. Roughly 30 educational institutions offer this degree, with University of Massachusetts, Lowell starting the most recent program in the fall of 2011. Most individuals earning their doctorate are fully funded, receiving a scholarships and a living stipend. In return, they may be expected to work as research or teaching assistants. The PhD is best suited and aimed at individuals who are interested in a life of academia, research and teaching. Anyone interested in pursuing a PhD should be dedicated and shouldn’t take it lightly; the majority of those who start do not finish. An individual must write and defend their dissertation, an original piece of research that is considered to be the most grueling part of the process.