Are you considering going back to school? Many adults are doing just that. The National Center for Education (NCES) reports an increase in college enrollment for the last decade, with students who are 25 and older enrolling at a higher rate than younger ones. Through 2019, the NCES expects a rise of 23 percent of older students enrolling in college, and an increase of just 9 percent for younger students.
For those considering a different career, a criminal justice degree can offer more avenues to employment than you may think. A two-year associate degree can equip you to apply for a variety of entry-level positions in the field. A four-year bachelor degree can open even more options. Peterson’s, a comprehensive guide to colleges, cites criminal justice as one of the most popular majors in the country.
“The field is wide open in terms of what you can do,” says Christie Bergman, chair of the criminal justice department at Brown Mackie College – Tulsa. “Graduates can search for employment in law enforcement, corrections, and private or criminal investigations. While there is overlap in the fields that graduates with two-year and four-year degrees can enter, various positions require a bachelor’s degree. For instance, state and federal agencies typically require a bachelor’s degree.”
The associate degree offers generalized knowledge in terms of how the criminal justice system works. “Students learn how the system as a whole should operate, from the Supreme Court to state-level criminal and local courts,” Bergman says. Understanding the functions and processes is a necessary skill for employment.
The bachelor’s degree delves into the intricacies of how the system functions. “Students in the four-year degree program study the foundation of constitutional law and how it applies to the criminal justice system,” Bergman says. “Either degree opens doors to multiple career paths.”
Two-year associate degree options
Security is one growing sector in the criminal justice field. “Security is a big one for us here in Oklahoma,” says Bergman. “Geographically, we have Indian reservations with casinos that employ security guards, gaming surveillance guards and security for tribal towns.” Oklahoma Indian reservations include a network of individual townships, each with its own security force. The Native American Communications Office recognizes Indian tribes and villages well beyond Oklahoma that may offer opportunities.
Nationally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports an expected increase of 18 percent in security positions through 2020. “There is a whole host of other investigative type jobs,” Bergman says. These include fraud, computer forensics, loss prevention personnel for department stores, and corporate security, to name a few.
Even greater opportunities for employment can be found for detectives and investigators. Companies that hire investigators range from law offices to hotels and insurance companies.
Other job prospects can be found within the court system. Here, bailiffs maintain order in the courtroom, and correctional officers oversee people awaiting trial or sentencing. Courthouse security is another option to explore.
Four-year bachelor’s degree options
Law enforcement has traditionally been a common goal for criminal justice students.
The state-level court system and law enforcement agencies offer more options for those with a four-year degree. Like the FBI at the federal level, states have specialized law enforcement units. “Every state agency that has penalties associated with breaking rules will have investigators, including the state attorney’s office,” says Bergman.
Graduates may also find employment at correctional institutions. Think of all the local, city, and county jails, as well as state prisons. “It takes a lot of people to run these facilities. They serve as administrators, detention officers and guards,” Bergman says. Probation and parole positions, too, can be sought in any department of corrections.
Employment direction expands under the umbrella of criminal justice when you consider the separate systems for juveniles and adults. “The juvenile justice system has different offices, its own case workers and its own social services-based careers,” she says. “The emphasis here is on treatment rather than investigation.”
With the myriad of career directions one can take with a degree in criminal justice, it is no wonder this is a popular program. Those already employed can broaden their prospect for advancement with additional education, and those wishing to change career direction can choose a specific area to enter with a criminal justice degree.