Law Enforcement
Degree Programs

Law Enforcement & Degree Programs

Article Sources
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  • School pages, accessed November 23, 2016: Associate Law Enforcement Technology, Ohio University, https://www.ohio.edu/southern/academics/degrees/associate-law-enforcement-technology.cfm; Law Enforcement Associate Degree, Mississippi Southern State University, http://mssu.edu/academics/arts-sciences/criminal-justice-administration/degree-law-enforcement.php; Associates Degree in Law Enforcement, Thomas University, http://www.thomasu.edu/Content/Default/4/1618/488/academics/criminal-justice/associates-degree-in-law-enforcement.html; Online Criminal Justice Degree Program, Penn Foster College, https://www.pennfoster.edu/programs-and-degrees/law-enforcement/criminal-justice-associate-degree; Criminal Justice - Law Enforcement Specialist Option, Ferris State University, http://catalog.ferris.edu/program/529; Bachelor in Police & Law Enforcement, Baker College, https://www.baker.edu/programs-degrees/human-services/law-enforcement-academy-police-bachelor-of-science/#courseinformation; Criminal Justice Bachelor's Degree Program Online, Colorado State University - Global Campus, https://csuglobal.edu/undergraduate/programs/bachelors-degrees/criminal-justice-and-law-enforcement-administration; Online Undergraduate Program in Law Enforcement Leadership, American Military University, http://www.amu.apus.edu/academic/schools/security-and-global-studies/certificate-ug/law-enforcement-leadership.html; Law Enforcement Certificate, Minnesota State University, Mankato, https://www.mnsu.edu/ext/offerings/programs/LEC.html; Law Enforcement Certificate Online, Southern New Hampshire University, http://www.snhu.edu/online-degrees/certificates/justice-studies-police-and-law-enforcement; MS in Criminal Justice - Law Enforcement, Grand Canyon University, https://www.gcu.edu/degree-programs/master-science-criminal-justice-law-enforcement; Online Master's Degree - Law Enforcement and Public Safety Leadership, University of San Diego, https://onlinedegrees.sandiego.edu/programs/master-of-science-in-law-enforcement-and-public-safety-leadership/; Master's Degree in Law Enforcement Intelligence and Analysis, Michigan State University, http://cj.msu.edu/programs/leia-masters-degree/; Online Master's in Criminal Justice - Law Enforcement Management, Aspen University, http://www.aspen.edu/degrees/masters-degree/master-of-science-in-criminal-justice-law-enforcement-management; PhD in Criminology, Law and Society, George Mason University, http://www.aspen.edu/degrees/masters-degree/master-of-science-in-criminal-justice-law-enforcement-management; PhD, School of Criminal Justice, Rutgers University, http://rscj.newark.rutgers.edu/prospective-students/phd/; Law Enforcement Career Advancement, online JD Degree, Abraham Lincoln University, http://www.alu.edu/blog/2012/01/law-enforcement-career-advancement-and-the-jd-degree/; Law and Justice: JD/MS, American University, https://www.wcl.american.edu/admiss/jdms.cfm; Online Graduate Certificate in Executive Law Enforcement Leadership, American Military University, http://www.amu.apus.edu/lp2/law-enforcement-leadership/graduate-certificate.htm; Law Enforcement Intelligence Graduate Certificate, Florida State University, https://distance.fsu.edu/students/law-enforcement-intelligence-graduate-certificate; Executive Police Leadership, Graduate Certificate, Northern Arizona University, http://yuma.nau.edu/DegreeInfo.aspx?DegreeId=252;
  • Law Enforcement Salaries and Opportunities Spike with a Master's Degree, University of San Diego, accessed November 23, 2016, https://onlinedegrees.sandiego.edu/law-enforcement-salaries-spike-with-a-masters-degree/
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  • How Education Impacts Police Performance, Mark Bond, American Military University, accessed November 25, 2016, http://inpublicsafety.com/2014/07/how-education-impacts-police-performance/
  • Interview, Nicholas Sewitch, conducted November 16, 2016
  • Interview, Coy Johnston, conducted November 16, 2016

Law enforcement occupations are in the spotlight these days, and the importance of being thoroughly trained to handle the special challenges of the profession can't be understated. Nearly 800 traditional and online law enforcement schools and colleges exist to help you gain the skills and knowledge necessary to be a fair and effective arm of the law, even when the pressure's on.

Schools with law enforcement degree programs can be found all over the nation, according to data reports released by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Here's a table that shows how many campus-based and online law enforcement schools and colleges can be found in each region of the U.S.:

RegionNo. of schools with law enforcement degree programsNo. of schools offering law enforcement degree programs online
Far West (CA. OR, WA, NV, AK, HI) 57 23
Rocky Mountains (ID, MT, UT, WY, CO) 37 19
Southwest (AZ, NM, TX, OK) 75 24
Plains (MO, KS, IA, NE, MN, ND, SD) 72 35
Southeast (AR, LA, MS, AL, FL, GA, SC, NC, TN, KY, VA, WV) 265 114
Great Lakes (IL, IN, OH, MI, WI) 105 28
Mideast (PA, NY, NJ, DE, MD, D.C.) 125 33
New England (CT, MA, RI, VT, NH, ME) 48 15
Total (all 50 states) 784 291

Entry-level law enforcement degrees

Different careers in law enforcement require different levels of formal education from their candidates. Here's a brief rundown of the entry-level study plans available at campus-based and online law enforcement schools and colleges around the country:

  • Associate degrees - Two-year degrees in law enforcement are typically designed to give you a solid understanding of the history and basic procedures of the profession, along with some study of communication, sociology, government, law and other larger concepts that are relevant to the practice of justice and policing. Curriculum requirements vary from program to program, but many study plans include such concepts as criminology, ethics in criminal justice, essentials of psychology, information literacy and unarmed self-defense.
  • Bachelor's degrees - A bachelor's degree in law enforcement or criminal justice is required by many employers at the federal level, as well as incentivized among candidates for several state and local police agencies. Skills and concepts taught in four-year degree programs often go far beyond that available to associate degree students, and may include such courses as principles of leadership, evidence law, security management, organized crime, firearms use and safety, precision driving, physical fitness conditioning, techniques of criminal investigation and more.
  • Non-degree study - Certain institutions also offer certificate programs for entry-level officers or working law enforcement personnel looking to strengthen their grasp of the nuances of their profession. Despite offering a major-subject curriculum that's similar to those used in associate degree programs, non-degree study plans typically require far less general education coursework and can therefore often be completed in just one or two semesters of full-time study. Aspiring law enforcement managers and supervisors can also find certificates designed to boost their administrative and leadership skills.

Particularly if you're looking to change from your existing job into an enforcement career, online law enforcement colleges and schools with hybrid or other alternative programs can help take some of the pressure off of your schedule. If you've wanted to learn to enforce the law but your amount of available money or time has been an obstacle, online law enforcement degree programs can be a way to make it happen.

Advanced-degree law enforcement programs

Earning a degree beyond the bachelor's takes a good amount of initiative, commitment and effort, but it can pay dividends in terms of career advancement and salary potential. Here's some info on advanced degrees available on campus and online at law enforcement colleges and schools:

  • Master's degree programs - Graduate degrees in law enforcement often take an expanded view of the profession, typically adding such disciplines as administration, intelligence analysis, criminal justice theory or departmental leadership into a program's coursework. The number of credits required for graduation may vary, but most law enforcement master's degree programs can be completed in 18 to 36 months of full-time study. At this level, you may also choose to pivot out of strictly enforcement-based programs and into those that focus on management, criminal psychology and other vital auxiliary skills.
  • Doctoral and professional degree programs - Terminal credentials like the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or Juris Doctor (J.D.) degrees are somewhat uncommon at the direct enforcement level, but broader disciplines such as law, criminal justice and criminology can provide paths to a doctoral or professional degree. Enforcement personnel who discover a passion for the law or a desire to deeply understand their field are most likely to find satisfaction in the doctoral route — Ph.D. holders tend to find work as professors, academics and other professional scholars — while graduates of J.D. programs often move into careers as lawyers, judges or politicians.
  • Graduate certificates - Certificate programs for students who already hold bachelor's degrees tend to lean toward law enforcement intelligence, executive leadership and other specializations that may be required for career moves within your department. Most graduate certificates require at least 12 credit hours of coursework to complete, although they may be spread out over a period of as long as two years if you choose to pace the program gradually.

Degrees and certificates at the graduate and post-graduate level are perhaps more common in the virtual classroom than their undergraduate counterparts, if only because they're typically designed for students who already work full-time in enforcement professions. What's more, programs for tuition reimbursement or other assistance measures may be available from your employer, so remember to look into the possibility if you're shopping around for law enforcement graduate degree programs.

Q&A with experts

Nicholas Sewitch
Professor and career advisor for the Department of Criminal Justice at Monmouth University

What are the most common educational paths for law enforcement professionals? Are there certain college majors that are more likely to lead to success than others?


Many law enforcement professionals prefer to hire individuals with a degree in criminal justice, but depending on the state or department, degrees in related fields such as psychology, political science, sociology, science, accounting and business are also preferred. Most law enforcement agencies will hire highly qualified candidates regardless of their major. The key is for students to get good grades. Academic achievement regardless of major will be rewarded.


What's some advice you would give to a student who's thinking about enrolling in a criminal justice or law enforcement degree program?


The best advice I give to students is to keep an open mind. You career goal may change as you are exposed to various disciplines inside and outside of the classroom. A criminal justice degree does not only prepare you for careers in a police department or courtroom, as there are also opportunities in probation, parole, corrections, victim advocacy and rehabilitative services, just to name a few.

Coy Johnston, lecturer in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University
Coy Johnston
Lecturer in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University

Why would you encourage someone to consider a degree in law enforcement or criminal justice?


For those students interested in law enforcement, there are three reasons to consider a degree in criminal justice. Very few municipal and state police agencies require more than a high school education or GED to be hired as a police recruit. However, when all other qualifications are equal between two candidates, a criminal justice degree gives one a huge advantage.


What are some educational steps that law enforcement agents can take to advance their careers once they're already employed?


Most agencies will pay the tuition for their employees to continue their education. It is generally a two-year wait before employees can take advantage of this benefit. It is best for a new recruit to be patient and not attempt to jump back into school too soon. For one reason, the new recruit will have plenty to be learning as it is. Another reason is to give enough time to look around before making a decision on what degree would be best.


What are some positions in law enforcement where candidates with bachelor's degree or higher might have an advantage in the hiring process?


Specialty positions that require higher levels of education, such as chief, legal advisor, crime analyst, victim services coordinator, or lab technician. Most federal law enforcement agencies require a minimum of a bachelor's degree.

Types of law enforcement careers

Police officers are probably what come most readily to mind when most people think of law enforcement careers, but the field is far more than just beat cops and sergeants. Take a look at this table of positions available to graduates of online law enforcement schools and colleges, with salary and employment data provided by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):

Employment (2016)
Average Salary
Expected Job Growth
Police and Sheriff's Patrol Officers657,690$59,6805%
First-Line Supervisors of Police and Detectives100,200$84,8404.2%
Correctional Officers and Jailers431,600$42,8203.7%
Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists87,500$50,1603.6%
Source: 2016 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2014-24 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

Common misconceptions about law enforcement degrees

Most of us learn about law enforcement officers fairly early on in life, but many people have less than a complete understanding of the profession itself and the training it takes to become a part of it. Take a look at these corrections for a few common misconceptions that are out there:

Misconception: People with academic degrees are overeducated for the work done in local and state police departments.

  • Fact: A 2010 study done at Michigan State University found that a college degree significantly increases problem-solving and communication skills as they relate to policing, and other recent studies have shown that degree-holding officers receive fewer citizen complaints and experience fewer departmental disciplinary actions than their counterparts with no college experience. A degree doesn't overeducate you to work in law enforcement, necessarily; it teaches you to do the job more effectively.

Misconception: Online courses and degrees are an easy way to qualify for a promotion.

  • Fact: Law enforcement degree programs delivered online may be typically easier to fit into your daily schedule, but the readings and assignments given in such courses are essentially identical to those required in traditional, campus-based environments. Add to that the challenge of staying on task without regular classroom attendance to keep you motivated, and you end up with a fairly challenging endeavor that can catch students who hold this misconception by surprise.

Misconception: Only criminal justice degrees are valuable to law enforcement agencies.

  • Fact: Several of the experts we talked to emphasized that most state, county and local agencies pay closer attention to the dedication and initiative required to earn a degree than they do to the specific subject you studied. Certain specialized law enforcement careers, however, such as forensic science, profiling or criminalistics, may in fact require that you study a branch of criminal justice before you can be recognized as qualified.

How can I enroll in an online law enforcement degree program?

Campus-based and online law enforcement schools each set their own admission standards and enrollment requirements, so the best thing to do if you're getting ready to commit to a program is get in touch with the schools you're considering and learn more first-hand. Browse the listings we've included below to get you started, then call or email to find out how you can get on the path to a rewarding career.

Article Sources
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