Earlier this summer, a police officer in New York was discharged because his college diploma didn't meet agency standards. Hey, wait a minute! All colleges are the same, right? Wrong. There are vast differences that you as an applicant must know.

First and foremost, if you're applying for a job with an agency that has an educational bonus pay program, read and fully understand their stated requirements. Granted, there are many agencies that require only a high school or GED. Since the employment market is getting so competitive, many are seeking higher education as a resume foundation. Make sure you're getting what you need to earn the position.

College accreditation is a mixed bag; I won't go into too much depth about this area. It can be confusing trying to separate "recognized" verses "accredited." To further confuse matters, national and regional panels weigh in on the matter. Determine what measure your agency recognizes and go to that panel's database to determine if your college or university meets their requirements. Colleges can have several different certifications; distance learning has created new frontiers. Most mainstream universities have online programs that usually meet the same requirements.

Some oversight is provided by the government, yet the U.S. Department of Education doesn't accredit educational institutions or programs.

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) database lists more than 7,800 degree-granting and non-degree-granting institutions and more than 19,700 programs that are accredited by organizations in the U.S. that have been recognized either by CHEA or by the Department of Education (USDE).

Traditional vocational schools and several religious certification programs spanning into new areas have convoluted the mix. In some cases, their trade or certification programs don't meet the requirements of an institution of higher learning. I'd be wary of any program that can certify you with a welding, ministry, and criminal justice degree in the same course load.

Granted, there are ever-present diploma mills that will accept your money and issue you a piece of paper. I once was involved in a promotional process where one applicant presented a bachelors and master's degree that he obtained in the same month! That's an aggressive educational track that immediately brought the board's scrutiny. When asked about this rapid achievement, he replied that if these diplomas weren't good enough he could get a doctoral degree if that would help him. We didn't promote this lad, and don't recommend his methodology of paying for a worthless diploma. 

Education is a self-perpetuating science. If you get one degree, then you need another, and so forth. Academia has always created its own job security in creating more degree programs to beget more future students. However, the criminal justice system we've had since the 1970s has encouraged rising educational requirements for officers in the quest of making this a true profession. Most professions have an academic standard they rest upon; we are no different.

There are always those who try to circumvent the system and purchase their degrees. For me, this is an integrity issue. If you took the low road on one requirement, what else have you shortchanged us on?

If you have your degree, I congratulate you. If you're seeking a degree, fully research and fully ensure that what you are seeking is a quality program. Do the research to be sure that your department will accept your credential. Don't try to buy your way in. You're only cheating yourself and wasting money.

Related: N.Y. Recruit Terminated for Non-Accredited Degree

Author

William Harvey

William "Bill" Harvey is currently serving as chief of police in south central Pennsylvania. He retired from the Savannah (Ga.) Police Department where he worked assignments in training, patrol, and CID. Harvey has more than 25 years of experience working with recruits, rookies, and FTOs.

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William "Bill" Harvey is currently serving as chief of police in south central Pennsylvania. He retired from the Savannah (Ga.) Police Department where he worked assignments in training, patrol, and CID. Harvey has more than 25 years of experience working with recruits, rookies, and FTOs.

View Bio
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