Traveling the Road of Higher Education

Police woman holding diploma

P&SN Staff

Improving yourself, advancing your career, and boosting your confidence are all attainable through higher education. However, your first task is to identify the specific area of focus for your learning and pinpoint the schools which align best with your goals.

Scholarly Degrees

A two year associate degree program in law enforcement serves as a fundamental platform for basic instruction. Courses at this level are typically categorized by the school as 100 and 200 level courses. This degree is available at community/junior colleges, technical colleges and some universities. The duration of the program is generally one to two years, contingent on the completion of general college level liberal arts and sciences courses required before delving into more specialized law enforcement courses.

Associate degrees are often transferable and meet some requirements of a four year bachelor’s degree program at a college or university. However, the feasibility of such a transfer depends on the specific requirements of the institution, the courses taken and the grades achieved in those courses.

A bachelor’s (or baccalaureate) degree typically spans four years, encompassing not only the arts and sciences curriculum offered, but also more advanced courses cataloged as upper division courses at the 300 and 400 levels. While successful completion of coursework is the primary criterion for earning a bachelor’s degree, some institutions may require a senior level thesis. The title of the degree, whether Bachelor of Science (BS) or Bachelor of Arts (BA), depends on the college’s classification system and the program of study.

A master’s degree represents an advanced level of study focused on a specific field. Most master’s courses are cataloged at the 400 and 500 levels, with additional lower level coursework required in certain cases. Entrance to a master’s degree program often necessitates one or more standardized tests, such as the Graduate Record Examination or the Graduate Management Admission Test. These tests evaluate skills such as grammar, vocabulary, mathematics, English comprehension, analysis, reasoning, synthesizing ability, and critical thinking.

The master’s degree curriculum typically includes theoretical and practical aspects of the field, involving in-depth work in analysis, evaluation and practical applications. A thesis is usually required as an independent report by the student addressing a complex question or problem. A faculty committee oversees the thesis’s progress and has the final say on its approval or disapproval. The master’s degree, designated as Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MS) or a specialization like Master of Education (MEd), typically takes two to three years to complete.

Specializations in law enforcement at this level include criminology, corrections, 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.

In the United States, a doctoral degree is commonly denoted as a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) program. This is the highest academic degree conferred by universities. PhD programs are highly selective, with coursework at the 500 level and above, often taking more than two years to complete. A doctoral dissertation, more complex and thorough than a master’s degree thesis, is a requirement. The dissertation must be original, academic and worthy of publication in a professional, peer reviewed publication. A faculty committee oversees the candidate’s individual program, progress and completion of the dissertation. Rigorous discussions and examinations, known as “oral examinations” or “orals,” are conducted by all committee members, culminating in final approval or disapproval of the dissertation. This process may span several hours or days due to the extensive nature of the dissertation which can be hundreds of pages long.

Certificate Programs

Many colleges and universities now provide certificate programs centered around specific subjects. In the realm of law enforcement, these certificates may focus on intelligence, analysis, applied psychology, report writing, specific communication skills, or judgmental skills. Typically, certificate programs can be pursued either concurrently with enrollment in a degree program or during the pursuit of professional development and career enhancement. Many certificate programs involve completing four to six courses.

To explore certificate programs aligned with your interests, you can begin your search at This Web site also offers tabs dedicated to bachelor, master and doctoral programs across various universities, encompassing areas such as criminal justice, corrections, technology, administration, and specialized fields.

Other universities offer short-term training programs in very specific fields. One example is Fairleigh Dickinson University. Their five day School/Campus Safety and Security Crisis Management & Leadership training program is geared to campus and school safety officers and security managers; it also includes online content and exercises.

It focuses on best practices in planning, implementing and managing safety, security and emergency preparedness in the 21st century threat environment and covers topics such as risk assessment, legal responsibilities and effective crisis communications, among others. You can get more information by contacting

What to Expect from Online Learning

Success in the online course(s) you are enrolled in hinges on your ability to exercise self-discipline. While it’s challenging to make sweeping generalizations, most three credit hour online courses typically demand around ten to twelve hours, if not more, of weekly study. In the realm of online learning, there won’t be someone overseeing your progress; the responsibility rests entirely on your shoulders. Contrary to a “self-study” approach, online learning mirrors on campus study, complete with interactions and assignments. The instructor outlines the course requirements, activities and examinations, but the impetus to engage is entirely yours. Maintaining motivation to adhere to the weekly performance expectations is crucial. This necessitates establishing a consistent, stringent study schedule in an environment conducive to learning – free from interruptions, distractions and procrastination. Success in online study is unlikely if tasks are deferred until the last minute or time is mismanaged. Since online courses often feature updates throughout the week, including text readings, resource materials, assignments, subfolders, writing, and discussions, it’s advisable to log in daily to stay abreast of changes, additions and modifications.

You are responsible for completing every assignment, participating in discussions, engaging in messaging interactions with the instructor and fellow students, and other activities integral to the course. Frequently, coursework includes assignments with weekly deadlines which cannot be postponed until the weekend. Staying current with the course schedule is paramount. Establish a systematic approach to organize your course timelines, college policies and procedures, enabling quick reference when needed.

While learning styles vary, it’s not uncommon to experience a surge in personal motivation at the course’s outset, followed by a dip around the midpoint. It’s crucial to remain disciplined and resolute through this plateau, as your instructor or peers won’t sustain your motivation for you. Online education places the responsibility on you as a self-directed learner, rather than being instructor-directed. Additionally, you may notice the course progressing swiftly, reinforcing the importance of avoiding the temptation to tackle all the work simultaneously.

Instructors evaluate your progress not only based on assignments, but also on your participation in discussion boards, responses to topics or questions, and interactions with other students and the instructor him/herself. It’s essential to note that your instructor and the college utilize plagiarism detection software to ensure that your written assignments reflect your own intellectual analysis and evaluation, rather than content “cut and pasted” from external sources.

Additional Resources

“College Navigator” ( offers data for over 7600 colleges and universities. This includes extended search options for exploring tuition and fees, accreditation, student enrollment, campus type, learning opportunities, online classes, weekend/evening classes, credit for life experiences, religious affiliation, student outcomes, and other specific inquiries.

The US Department of Education’s “College Scorecard” functions similarly to College Navigator, allowing users to find and compare schools by programs, degrees, geographic location, size, or name. Advanced searches can be conducted based on the type of school, its specialized mission and other criteria. The site also provides information on financial aid, calculating aid, GI Bill benefits, schools with lower tuition costs, graduation rates, and other relevant data.

The US Department of Veterans Affairs has a dedicated Web page at to help veterans compare schools based on military status, GI Bill options, service history, and education preferences.

Financing an education is a significant aspect of decision-making and self-investment. Higher education expenses can be substantial, but financial assistance options such as loans, grants and scholarships are available and based on factors such as income, chosen college and coursework. Public college eligibility often depends on legal residency in the college’s jurisdiction.

Merit-based aid, primarily scholarships, may be awarded based on criteria such as a high grade point average, work experience, special talents, or leadership abilities. Applying for multiple scholarships for which you qualify is generally encouraged, with caution advised against any scholarship which requires an application fee or other fees.

Regardless of the financial aid source, discipline is crucial to borrow only what is needed and to manage personal and family budgets efficiently. Students must balance work obligations with studies, so flexibility in online program schedules is essential. Reviewing the school’s “student financial aid” pages is recommended to understand financial assistance terms, repayment conditions and any tax concessions.

Accreditation Top of Form

College and program accreditation are 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 that its programs and accomplishments and the quality of its curricula meets those standards.          

Accrediting Associations

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the US Department of Education recognize specific accrediting associations, including 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; an 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 ( 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.