Education 101: Criminal Justice vs. Homeland Security

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Choosing the Right Program Is Key to Achieving Your Career Goals

Rebecca Waters

Once you’ve decided to pursue higher education, the decision-making process has just begun. Which degree is most likely to help you reach your objectives? Which school should you attend?

“Before deciding to pursue my doctorate degree in criminal justice, I first spoke with the admissions representative, a current student in the program that I was considering, and a graduate of the program,” says Dr. Michael Pittaro, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at American Military University. “I then spoke with friends in intelligence, criminal justice and homeland security before finally deciding that criminal justice was the best fit for me based on my background and what I planned to do with the degree – teach criminal justice. A degree in homeland security did not exist in the 1980s when I pursued my undergraduate degree. For those already connected to homeland security in some capacity, whether military or civilian, they must decide if a related degree would benefit them in advancing their career goals.”

Speaking with friends and colleagues already working at your dream job is a great way to make sure you are picking the right program. They can help you identify the courses which are most appropriate to your desired field; the programs which are most respected; and the degrees for which employers are looking.

Prospective students should consider the quality of the program; the cost of the program; and, for those considering attending school while working, the flexibility of the program and whether work experience can be applied toward their degree. In terms of quality, it is advisable to check if the school is accredited and consider the reputation of the program and the quality of the instructors. If considering an online program, a brick and mortar school with an online presence is more likely to be a quality program which will be around for years in the future. Choosing a public school or one which is at least partially publicly funded can also ensure the longevity of the program, as well as save you money on tuition.

“The online world of teaching has changed adult learning in many positive ways. Unfortunately, there are also a number of schools which have popped up looking to earn a profit without the same regard for the quality of education,” says Brian Kohlhepp, Assistant Professor at California University of Pennsylvania. “Students should make sure that the institution they are considering is regionally accredited and look at the regional accrediting body where they school is located.”

Criminal Justice vs. Homeland Security

When selecting a degree program, you must consider your ultimate career goals. “Criminal justice degrees have a wider appeal as they can be applied in many different ways,” Kohlhepp explains. “Homeland security degrees are more focused, but that is a field which requires said focus. So, if a student is in, or wants to be in, that specific field, then a homeland security degree is likely the right choice. If they are simply in the criminal justice realm and are unsure of where they want to go, then that is probably a better fit.”

“I like to talk with each prospective student to make sure that they choose the right path for what they want to accomplish with their degree,” he adds.

“A bachelor of arts in criminal justice provides students with knowledge in the areas of US law enforcement, criminology, investigations, law, and community relations,” adds Dr. Chuck Russo, Program Director for Criminal Justice at American Military University. “A bachelor of arts degree in homeland security provides students with knowledge in the areas of terrorism, counterterrorism, hazard management, intelligence, and other components of national security.”

These distinctions may be more pronounced at the graduate level, Pittaro explains. “A BA/BS in criminal justice can provide versatile opportunities at the local, state and federal levels of government, as well as opportunities within the military, private and nonprofit sectors. A homeland security degree provides the same general opportunities as a criminal justice degree at the baccalaureate level, but, at the graduate level, it might limit some opportunities whereas a criminal justice graduate degree would not.”

“A master’s degree in criminal justice is great for students who want to advance or begin a career in the criminal justice system. Aspiring post-secondary instructors and prospective or current civil servants will thrive in a master’s in criminal justice degree program,” says Heather Bradley, Content Director for Enrollment Management at Liberty University.

“For experienced law enforcement professionals, a Ph.D. in criminal justice can prepare them for senior leadership roles in criminal justice organizations at all levels of government. Through advanced research and analysis of criminal justice practices, students will learn how to assess and improve government and law enforcement organizations while mastering techniques in teaching and leadership,” she adds.

Homeland Security

The Department of Homeland Security was created through the integration of 22 different departments and agencies following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Because of this, students studying homeland security will share the same foundational courses as criminal justice students, but will take courses in additional topics.

Homeland security degrees include the basics of criminal justice, as well as courses in topics such as infrastructure protection, emergency planning, terrorism and counterterrorism, and threat analysis. The most common entry-level homeland security careers fall within these types of roles: disaster preparedness and response, infrastructure protection and intelligence activities, in both public and private sector work environments.

Completing homeland security courses in legal issues and homeland security organization and administration will help students understand the legal framework from which national policies and priorities are derived. Graduates should become professionals with the skill set necessary to serve in security, disaster response, antiterrorism, and intelligence communities.

“For those pursuing an advanced degree like a Ph.D., students will receive advanced knowledge and skills in a wide range of topics, including cybersecurity, counterterrorism and counterintelligence strategies, and vulnerability analysis and protection of critical infrastructure. In addition, they will prepare for dealing with international crime rings and terrorism,” Bradley says.


American Military University

Criminal Justice (A.A., B.A., B.S., M.A., Graduate Certificate)

Homeland Security (B.A., M.A., Undergraduate and Graduate Certificate)

“Most of our instructors hold doctorate degrees and have extensive real-world experience, with many also holding leadership positions in the profession,” says Pittaro. “Most of my colleagues also have military experience and pursued their degrees while working full-time and caring for their families, so we, as a faculty, can better relate to our students, especially on a personal level.”

California University of Pennsylvania

Master of Science in Legal Studies; Concentrations in Either Homeland Security, Criminal Justice or Law and Public Policy

CalU’s programs have a strong basis in law and policy. A large number of the students are active police or military who are either seeking to climb the internal ranks, look to a second career, or perhaps teach on the side or in their retirement.

“The number one thing I hear from our students after beginning to take courses toward their degree is that they were only looking to check the box that they had a masters’ degree. They did not expect to actually learn much, let alone things which they could apply right away to their daily work. They are pleasantly surprised that the CalU legal studies program is giving them skills which can be used immediately in what they are doing in addition to accomplishing the goal of a graduate degree,” Kohlhepp says.

George Washington University
Police and Security Studies (B.S.)

       Developed in consultation with DC-area law enforcement experts and police specialists, and drawn from faculty expertise from six of GW’s schools, the police and security studies bachelor’s degree completion program aims to create more effective professionals, developing problem-solving approaches, as well as communication and leadership skills. Taught fully online by law enforcement and criminal justice experts, this innovative curriculum will empower students to confront crime and rise up the ranks. The program is fully online so the content and schedule are designed to meet the needs of full-time law enforcement professionals who are balancing a demanding job and family obligations. The program can be completed in just over two years.

Liberty University   

Criminal Justice (A.A. to Ph.D.), Concentrations in Leadership, Criminal Psychology, Strategic Intelligence, Crime Scene Investigation, Juvenile Justice, Public Administration, and Forensic Psychology

MBA in Criminal Justice

Liberty’s criminal justice and homeland security degree programs place an emphasis on integrity and ethical leadership. Courses are taught by seasoned professionals, many with years of experience in criminal justice, legal and homeland security. Students currently working as a police officer or as a first responder or in the military are eligible for special tuition rates and can have their work experience evaluated for course credit.

Formerly the Editor-in-Chief for Forensic Magazine, Rebecca Waters is a freelance writer and editor.


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