Laptop on wooden desk with mug of coffer and tablet of paper.

Dr. Stephenie Slahor

Your personal betterment, your career and your confidence can all be enhanced through education, but your first step is to determine what focus you want in your learning and which schools will best meet that goal.

An associate two year degree program in law enforcement is a foundation for basic instruction. The coursework at that level will likely be cataloged by the school as 100 and 200 level courses. The associate degree is offered at community/junior colleges, technical colleges, vocational schools, and a few colleges. Most of the study will be completed in one or two years, depending on the amount of general college level liberal arts and sciences courses which will be required before the more specialized courses in law enforcement.

Associate degrees are usually accepted toward transfer to some of the requirements for a bachelor’s degree four year program at a college or university, but such a transfer will depend on the college or university requirements, the courses taken, and the grades earned in those courses.    

A bachelor’s (or baccalaureate) degree is usually a four year program which not only includes the arts and sciences curriculum offered by a community/junior college, but more advanced courses usually cataloged as upper division courses and numbered at the 300 and 400 levels. Although the vast majority of colleges and universities grant a bachelor’s degree after successful completion of coursework, a few will also require a senior level thesis. The degree is usually titled a Bachelor of Science (BS) or Bachelor of Arts (BA), depending on the college’s classification system and the curriculum of the specific program of studies. 

If you already have completed some undergraduate level coursework and want to complete your bachelor’s degree, some universities offer degree completion programs or transfer of your completed credits.

A master’s degree is an advanced degree focusing on a specific field of study. Although most master’s courses are cataloged at the 400 and 500 level, additional coursework at a lower level may be required if some foundation courses were not completed or if the bachelor’s degree was in a different area of study. Most colleges and universities require that candidates applying for entrance to a master’s degree program take one or more standardized tests, such as the Graduate Record Examination or the Graduate Management Admission Test – tests which appraise grammar, vocabulary, mathematics, English, comprehension, analysis, reasoning, synthesizing skill, and critical thinking. Colleges set a specified point over which the candidate must score on the standardized test(s) in order to be admitted to the master’s degree program.

The typical master’s degree curriculum includes both theoretical and practical aspects of the field of study and so includes deeper work in analysis, evaluation and practical applications. A thesis is usually required to demonstrate these abilities by means of an independent report by the student which considers a complex question or problem and seeks the question’s or problem’s analysis or solution. Typically, a committee of faculty members oversees the progress of the thesis and has the final word about whether the thesis is approved or disapproved. However, with the increasing number of professionals who are pursuing their master’s degrees, some universities allow a practical project-based capstone instead of a research-based thesis. This allows professionals to research and develop projects which may be directly related to their workplace.

The master’s degree is usually designated as a Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MS) or a specialization such as Master of Education (MEd) and will probably take two to three years to complete. Among the master’s level offerings pertinent to law enforcement are specializations in criminology, corrections, alternatives to incarceration, law, cybersecurity, forensics, terrorism, technology and data analytics, social and behavioral psychology, sociological aspects of criminal justice, juvenile delinquency, public finance, urban/intercultural sociology, criminal justice policy, drug policy, statistics in criminal justice, courts/criminal procedure, Homeland Security, emergency/crisis management, and organizational leadership.

Be sure to ask your prospective university if they offer a combined bachelor’s and master’s degree option which will shorten the time it takes you to complete both programs.

A doctoral degree in the United States is typically denoted as a Doctor of Philosophy or PhD program, even though the actual study of philosophy is not a major part of the curriculum. This is the highest academic degree awarded by universities and bestows the successful PhD graduate with the entitlement to use “Doctor” before his/her name, or use the post-nominal letters “PhD” after his/her name.

The typical PhD program will be highly selective of its candidates. Coursework is at the 500 level and above and may involve more than two years to complete. Most universities require a doctoral dissertation – a study far more complex and thorough than a master’s degree thesis. The dissertation must be original and academic and worthy of publication in a professional, peer-reviewed publication. Again, faculty members will make up the student’s committee to oversee the candidate’s individual program and the progress and completion of the dissertation. Rigorous discussions and examinations of the dissertation occur at the completion of the dissertation, but also along its way from inception. The final approval (or disapproval) of the dissertation is often called “oral examinations” or “orals” and is conducted by all the members of the candidate’s committee over a number of hours or, even, days. (The dissertation can be hundreds of pages.)

Certificate Programs

More than a few colleges and universities are now offering certificate programs which focus on a specific topic. For the fields of law enforcement and security, certificates might be concentrated on intelligence, analysis, applied psychology, report writing, specific communication skills, or judgmental skills. Certificate programs can usually be pursued either while the student is enrolled in a degree program or while he/she is seeking professional development and career enhancement. Many certificate programs involve four to six courses.

Deciding on which college or university to attend means examining programs, course descriptions, retention (how many students continue a program after beginning it), graduation rates, admission policies, costs, quality of faculty, and whether to attend on campus or online. You can seek help from education counselors, other students, teachers or professors, or the Internet.    

One Web-based starting point is which has information concerning programs for both law enforcement and security, and the colleges and universities offering certificate, associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD programs. Over 1800 schools have been researched for the Web site. It provides a directory of more than 6800 certificate and degree programs. 

“College Navigator” is a service of the Institute of Education Sciences and the National Center for Education Statistics. It includes data for over 7600 colleges and universities. Log onto Extended search options allow examining tuition and fees, accreditation, student enrollment, campus type, extended learning opportunities and online learning, weekend/evening classes, credit for life experiences, religious affiliation, student outcomes, and other specific inquiries.

The US Department of Education “College Scorecard” functions similarly to College Navigator. Log on to to find and compare schools by programs, degrees, geographic location, size, or name. You can also do advanced searches in the type of school, its specialized mission (religious affiliation, men’s, women’s, Asian, Hispanic, Black, etc.). Other portions of the Web site describe financial aid, calculating aid, GI Bill benefits, schools with lower tuition costs, graduation rates, and other data. 

The US Department of Veterans Affairs has a college-related Web page at Enter your military status; which GI Bill you are considering using for your education; your cumulative post 9-11 active duty service; whether you will be taking classes online or in class; and the name of a school you are considering. Other pages and links include how to choose a school, the degree you want, how well the school supports veterans, and financing your education Funding

Affording education is a major part of your decision-making and an investment in yourself. Higher education can be costly, even at a public college or university, but there are financial helps available, most of which depend on your income, the college you choose, and the type of coursework you’re pursuing. Personal eligibility for public colleges generally depends upon your legal residency within the state or jurisdiction served by the college. Loans, grants and scholarships can help with financing to cover some, or all, of the tuition, lab fees, books, and E-books. Some programs defer interest on the loan until later when you’ve attained or returned to a job. If you cannot afford to go to school full-time, you must juggle your work obligations with your studies, so be sure the schools and programs you are considering allow flexibility in your time spent online. Be sure to look at the school’s “student financial aid” pages to learn about financial assistance and the terms regarding how much the money will cover, repayment and any income tax concessions. 

Merit-based aid – mostly scholarships – may be available, based on the criteria of the scholarship such as an excellent grade point average, outstanding work experience, or special talent or leadership abilities. There is usually no “rule” against applying for as many scholarships for which you’re qualified. (Be wary of any “scholarship” which asks you to pay an application or other fee. It may be a scam.)

Regardless of the source of your financial aid, whatever comes your way requires your discipline to borrow only what you need and to economize on your personal/family budget to keep your personal expenses as low as possible. 

Discipline is necessary to your success in the online learning environment. To help determine if you have the wherewithal to apply yourself to online learning, use the self-assessment test at

Online learning is independent of the campus and classroom, but support resources can assist with access to your course instructor during office hours; direct communications with faculty and/or administration; information from academic advisors and counselors; writing and language skills centers; and online tutors.     

Current Conditions

COVID has forced many, if not nearly all, schools to forego in-class programs and, instead, offer programs and courses online. While this eliminates the personal contacts one makes being on campus with faculty and peers, it does give the option of earning a degree or certificate without missing work, income and family time. Your online program demands your personal discipline in setting aside time for study, following a strict schedule of courses and progress in a program, and overcoming the lack of interaction which in-class programs usually provide quite easily. But, yet another benefit of online learning is that you don’t lose time commuting to a campus for classes!

While many schools offered online programs even before COVID, the bans on in-person interaction on a campus have led to even more innovative procedures and technology to deliver lectures, assignments, group projects, individual research, and contact with professors. Online programs use Internet connected computer delivery of the course, usually at your convenience, and let you “pause” the lecture when you must. You may also be able to listen to lectures downloaded to your MP3 or other devices for study or review.     

College and program accreditation is a voluntary process not usually overseen by government agencies. Colleges and universities pledge to honor standards set by accrediting organizations and allow periodic reviews of curricula, faculty, library, administration, financial status, student services, and courses of study. The college must demonstrate its programs and accomplishments and the quality of its curricula.                             

Accrediting Associations

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the US Department of Education recognize specific accrediting associations, including the following: The Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges; the New England Association of Schools and Colleges; The North Central Association of Colleges and Schools; The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities; The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools; and The Western Association of Schools and Colleges. So, examine the school’s status and whether it is affiliated with an accrediting organization, a state’s department of higher education, or is a part of a university system within a state. That helps assure that your degree will be transferable to another college or university if you are seeking a school where you must relocate, or if you later seek another higher level degree. 

If you are part of a union, see if it participates in an online college degree offering and whether you can apply for federal aid, a grant, employer education grant, or tuition reimbursement for the money (or “last dollar” expense) you will spend on your tuition fees, books, E-books, or laboratory/research work associated with your degree and the curriculum of your program. (You may even be able to have previous college work, military experience or work experience count toward some of your degree requirements which helps save money.) 

An example of such a program is offered through Union Plus ( in partnership with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and Eastern Gateway Community College (part of the University System of Ohio). The program has offerings in associate of arts degrees in such fields as social work, management, cybersecurity, human resources management, programming, data science, and criminal justice. Students must complete an average of 60 credits which usually takes about two years to achieve. (Students using the “Free College Benefit” are not required to attend full-time and can even take just one class per term.) More specifically, the associate degree in criminal justice is formatted to support transfer to a four year college or university. Its topics include criminal investigation, crisis intervention and Homeland Security. In addition, those students who have completed peace officer training or corrections certificates may receive college credit toward their degree. 

The Union Plus program of “Free College Benefit” fills the gap between any federal, state, military, or employer grants received and the costs of tuition, fees, E-books, etc. for the online degree programs of the Eastern Gateway Community College. Over 25,000 students representing all 50 states have already participated in the program since its start in 2015.

What to Expect

For the best progress through a course or program, you should have a high-speed Internet connection and a recent model of computer or laptop and software. Determine whether your smartphone may be able to communicate with the instructor and students, and to participate in course work or discussions, receive alerts and check class materials. Figure on approximately 10 to 12 hours of study per week, per three credit hour course. The instructor will provide you with the course requirements, activities and examinations, but motivation and discipline are up to you to stay with the weekly regimen of expected student performance. Have a schedule. Have a physical setting which is conducive to study – good lighting, access to electrical outlets and no distractions. You won’t succeed in online study if you procrastinate or wait until the last minute. Because online courses usually do updates during the week for text readings, resource books, assignments, writing, and discussion, log in daily to be sure that you are keeping up with changes, additions and modifications. Psychologically, be aware that your motivation will be high at the start of a course, but might wane near the midpoint of the course. Just remain determined to work through that plateau because your instructor or fellow students won’t maintain your motivation for you. Be self-directed. 

Instructors will grade you on your progress – not only on assignments, but also your participation in discussion boards, responding to topics or questions, and interacting with other students and the instructor. And, your instructor and the college will have plagiarism detection software which makes sure what you write is your own intellectual analysis and evaluation, not something which was “cut and pasted” into a written assignment, so do your research and write your own responses and reports.

Your education and continued learning are tools for a better job, a career change, or a specialization, but education and continued learning go far beyond that. They challenge you to develop more abilities and to expand your knowledge and processes. Manage your time, apply yourself and you can achieve success in your higher education.   

Stephenie Slahor, PhD, JD, is a writer in the fields of law enforcement and security. She can be reached at

Program Highlights

Fairleigh Dickinson University, School of Public and Global Affairs

This graduate school attracts students on four campuses in Canada, the UK, and the US and over 30 off-site locations in New Jersey. The School reaches the working professional with part-time cohorts during evening and weekend hours, using in-person, online and blended formats. Their programs offer specialization and certificate options which allow interdisciplinary study from five graduate degree programs.

The Master of Administrative Science (MAS)(30 credits) is structured to enhance the administrative and leadership skills of adult learners, primarily with five or more years of relevant administrative and professional experience in the private sector, government agencies, and not-for-profit organizations. Industry-focused specializations include Global Leadership, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and many more.

The Master of Public Administration (MPA)(39-42-credits) is a management degree for career advancement in the public and nonprofit sectors. The program emphasizes a project-based curriculum which emphasizes group work led by accomplished practitioners and academics. Areas of specialization include Public Management, Public Policy, Public Finance, Healthcare Management, Global Affairs, Global Transportation Management, and more. 

The Master of Science in Cyber and Homeland Security Administration (MSCHSA) (36 credits) focuses on the practical and theoretical aspects of enforcing and ensuring cyber and homeland security. Areas of specialization include Terrorism and Security Studies, Emergency Management, and Leadership.

Also offered are the Master of Arts in Global Affairs for diplomats and the Master of Student Services Administration.   

Contact Christie Innes at or 201-692-2741 for more information.

University of Cincinnati Online

Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice; Master of Sci­ence in Criminal Justice

The UC Online Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice pro­gram is for those who want a career in criminal justice or crime prevention. The bachelor’s program is 100% online and features a comprehensive curriculum with classes spanning the breadth of criminal justice and criminology to help students prepare for a career in law enforcement, corrections, supervision, security, loss prevention, and public safety by gaining expertise in communication, criminal and civil law, ethics, and leadership.

The online Master of Science in Criminal Justice program approaches the study of criminal justice and crime from an interdisciplinary perspective, drawing in­sight from sociology, criminology, psychology, and law. Designed to achieve core objectives such as learning research skills; knowledge of social science and human behavior; and criminal justice theory, the program was ranked 12th best in the country for 2020 and the School of Justice is consistently ranked among the top 15 Best Criminal Justice Schools by U.S. News and World Report.

Upper Iowa University

Criminal Justice; Master of Public Administration

The UIU Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminal Justice not only provides studies in law enforcement, courts, and corrections, but the University’s multidisciplinary education also provides a focus on communication, politics, psychology, and sociology. Students learn from faculty who have real-world experience and are experts in the fields they teach. The program prepares students for many careers in the criminal justice field, such as corrections officer; court and prison administration; juvenile court officer; prosecution/defense attorneys; paralegal/legal assistant; victim/witness coordinator; and municipal, county, state, or federal law enforcement, including patrol investigations, civil service, border patrol, immigration and customs, FBI, and DEA.

The Master of Public Administration degree provides students with the practical knowledge and skills necessary to excel at leading and managing government and nonprofit organizations. Practitioner oriented and suitable for a variety of occupational fields, this graduate degree helps students navigate the unique political and legal challenges which surround public organizations. Core courses include subject matter such as writing in the profession, public policy, program evaluation, and public finance. UIU’s MPA students can choose from the following areas of emphasis: Emergency Management and Homeland Security, Government Administration, Healthcare Management, Nonprofit Management, and Public Management.