Photo: Mark W. Clark
It's never been easier to get a college degree. Unfortunately, it's never been more expensive to get a college degree.
That means the prospective student is making a major investment in time and money to earn a diploma. And as with any investment, return on that money is in no way guaranteed.
A law enforcement officer who is considering the pursuit of a degree through an online university needs to know the answers to the following questions before enrolling. Knowing these things in advance will help you determine if online education is right for you, help you successfully complete the program, and give you a better chance of achieving your career goals through education.
1. Why Do I Want This Degree?
There are several issues to consider under this question. If your goal is promotion within your department, you need to make sure that the program you are considering is accepted by your agency. If your goal is to establish a second career, talk to people in that field and ask them if they think this degree will help you achieve that goal. Unless you are going to school just for your own edification, focus on what you want to do with the degree and make sure it will give you a leg up before spending your money.
2. Does Online Education Fit You and Your Schedule?
Don't think for a minute that online classes are easier. Most students find them to be as challenging as, if not more challenging than, traditional classes. "Online is not for everybody," says Gregory Allen, director of the security management department at Bellevue University. "It's a good alternative to in-class for police officers, but it's not easy." You need to be really disciplined to succeed in these programs. You also need to make sure that you have the time for them. You are going to have to put in the hours. Some students think they will breeze right through these programs with very little time commitment. Don't tell yourself that lie. You are about to sacrifice most of your free time to this program. There's a reason why the graduate criminology program offered by California University of Pennsylvania limits students to two courses per term. "We don't want them to be overwhelmed," says Professor Aref Al Khattar.
3. Is This School Being Straight With You?
Jeff Kuhn, director of public safety outreach for American Military University, calls this "transparency." You're a cop, you have a strong sense of when someone is BSing you. Make sure that sense is honed and engaged when talking to colleges. Also, speak with fellow officers who have experience with your prospective school and ask them what they think before signing up. You can easily accomplish this on Facebook. "The majority of our students come to us because of word-of-mouth referrals from other people in their fields," says Kuhn.
4. Is This School Accredited?
You want your prospective alma mater to be regionally accredited, not nationally accredited. Regional accreditation means the classes and faculty have been vetted by a regional office of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and found to meet standards. This is very important if you want to take your 4.0 bachelor's degree from Online University and apply for a graduate program at another school. Even if you think a bachelor's degree is the end of your higher education, choose a regionally accredited university. You will get a quality education that will serve you better than some diploma mill.
5. How Much Will It Cost?
It's not going to be cheap; you can bet the farm on that. Make sure that you know how much it's going to cost before you enroll. Also, know the refund policies and ask if you can pay as you go. These can be very important for police officers who may be injured on the job or assigned to a special detail that will force them to delay their educational aspirations.