Online Doctorate Degree in Public Safety Administration

An online public safety administration degree can prepare you for leadership roles in law enforcement, corrections, emergency management, and other careers in public safety administration. In addition to providing you with the opportunity to serve and protect your community, these jobs offer lucrative salaries. For example, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for emergency management directors reached $72,760 in 2017 -- nearly twice the median pay for all other occupations that year.

A doctorate in this area expands on the education learners receive while earning an online public safety administration bachelor's degree. Through advanced coursework in organizational behavior, human resource management, and public finance, public safety administration doctoral programs help students develop the skills and knowledge needed to succeed as police chiefs, prison wardens, policymakers, or city administrators. With a focus on research methods and analysis, some programs can also open up opportunities to teach at colleges and universities.

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Many online public safety administration doctorate programs allow you to customize your educational experience by choosing a specialization. For example, you may want to concentrate in emergency management and take courses in risk assessment and disaster response and recovery. Alternatively, you may hope to work in law enforcement and study topics such as advanced criminology or working with public sector unions. Make sure to choose a program with concentrations and courses that align with your professional goals.

Similarly, some programs require you to complete a research-based dissertation to graduate. If you do not plan to teach or work in academia, you may elect a more practice-oriented program. Rather than writing a dissertation, these programs require you to complete a capstone project in which you apply your learning to a real-world problem faced by a public safety organization.

Finally, cost serves as a major consideration when selecting a doctoral program. Public schools generally cost less, and you may qualify for in-state tuition discounts. Additionally, remember to factor in other education-related expenses, such as room, board, and books. Earning an online public safety administration doctorate can help you save money by allowing you to study from home.

Sample Courses for a Doctorate in Public Safety Administration

As mentioned above, the courses you take while earning your online public safety administration degree vary depending on your program and area of specialization. The list below includes courses commonly offered in these programs.

Example Courses

Finance and Budgeting for the Public Sector Financial management serves as a key component of virtually all high-level careers in public safety administration. This course introduces you to the fundamentals of public revenue streams, budgeting, auditing, and financial reporting.
Leadership and Organizational Change In this course, students explore the characteristics, qualities, and skills of effective public sector leaders, as well as various theories and models of leadership and organizational change.
Governance and Public Policy Public safety administration professionals must actively collaborate with governing bodies, including city councils, parole boards, and relevant state agencies. This class provides an overview of democratic governance related to public safety.
Professional Ethics Leaders invariably face ethical questions and difficult decisions. By studying the philosophy of ethics and applying it to social and political challenges, students prepare for the professional realities of public sector leadership.
Research Theory, Design, and Methods In preparation for writing a dissertation, many programs offer coursework in quantitative and qualitative research methods. These classes help students develop an understanding of data collection, analysis, and interpretation.

How Long Does It Take to Earn an Online Doctorate in Public Safety Administration?

Most students complete online public safety administration doctorate programs in four to seven years. However, the time it takes to earn your degree can vary depending on several factors.

For example, will you study full time or part time? Most programs require students to earn approximately 90 credits to graduate, and those who study full time complete their degrees faster. Does your program require a dissertation? If so, you will need to conduct original research, write a lengthy paper on your findings, and defend your dissertation before a faculty committee. The dissertation process can take several years.

Is your program self-paced, or will you learn alongside a cohort of other students? In self-paced programs, you can advance through your coursework after mastering the material. In cohort-based programs, you cover subjects at the pace established by your program. Self-paced programs serve as an appealing option for students looking to earn their degree as quickly as possible, but they require discipline and offer less support than group-learning experiences.

Finally, do you possess any relevant transfer credits? You might earn your degree faster if you can apply credits from a previous degree, such as an online master's degree in public safety administration.

Most graduates of online public safety administration doctorate programs find jobs with local, state, or federal government agencies. However, some seek employment outside of the public sector, instead choosing to work for private prison companies, security agencies, or consulting firms.

A doctorate in public safety administration can help position you for leadership roles in both the public and private sectors. For example, in Massachusetts, taking on a management position in the state's Department of Corrections as superintendent of a prison requires a minimum of four years of relevant experience. Individuals with a doctorate in public safety administration, however, only need one year of experience to qualify for these jobs.

You may also need a doctorate if you plan to teach criminal justice or public safety at a college or university. According to the BLS, most postsecondary education teachers hold a Ph.D. or its equivalent in their field.

What Can You Do with a Degree in Public Safety Administration?

Whether you work as an emergency management director or a high-ranking official in a state law enforcement agency, careers in public safety administration demand exceptional communication, decision-making, critical-thinking, interpersonal, and leadership skills. The list below includes five career paths that you might choose after earning an online public safety administration degree.

Chief of Police

Police chiefs oversee all law enforcement operations within their jurisdiction. They manage personnel and budgets, create and implement policy, and work with community leaders to reduce crime and improve services. You may substitute an advanced degree for experience when applying to become a chief of police.

Prison Warden

Prison wardens serve as the senior administration official of a correctional facility. They foster prisoner rehabilitation and ensure the safety and well-being of the inmates under their supervision. Education requirements vary from state to state, but a doctorate can help better position you for these roles.

College Professor

Professors conduct research and instruct students at colleges, universities, and professional schools. To find work as a postsecondary teacher in public safety administration, you will likely need a Ph.D. or a related doctoral degree.

Emergency Management Specialist

Individuals working in emergency management create plans to respond to natural disasters and other large-scale emergencies. When a disaster occurs, these specialists coordinate the actions of law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics, and other first-responders. Working as the emergency management director of a large city or state may require an advanced degree.

Town Manager

In addition to hiring personnel and creating budgets, town managers oversee the day-to-day operations of municipalities. In smaller towns, they may play a role in coordinating law enforcement activities and emergency response. In more urban areas, they typically hire and supervise department heads who lead this work. Town managers usually hold a degree in public administration or a related field.

How Much Money Do You Make in Public Safety Administration?

Occupations and Salary for Online Master’s in Criminal Justice Graduates
Job Title Overall Median Salary Entry-Level Employees Mid-Career Employees Late-Career Employees
Chief of Police $71,049 $52,000 $56,000 $86,000
Prison Warden $79,377 N/A N/A N/A
College Professor $87,401 $60,000 $71,000 $99,000
Emergency Management Specialist $57,907 $48,000 $57,000 $73,000
Town Manager $69,199 $57,000 $59,000 $108,000
Source: PayScale

Licensure and Certification

If you plan to work in law enforcement or corrections, the state must authorize you to do so. Licensure requirements vary, but they typically include completing a training program and passing a set of exams.

In addition, voluntary certification can help you demonstrate expertise in a particular area, improving your job prospects and increasing your earnings potential. Relevant certifications vary depending on the focus of your position. For example, emergency management directors may seek out the certified emergency manager credential offered by the International Association of Emergency Managers or the certified business continuity professional credential offered by the Disaster Recovery Institute International.

Attending an accredited school proves essential. Accreditation ensures that a school or program meets the minimum educational requirements for preparing graduates for jobs in their respective fields. If your school does not hold accreditation, you may not qualify for all forms of financial aid, and accredited schools will not allow your credits to transfer in.

Schools boast one of three types of accreditation: regional, national, or specialized. Most nonprofit colleges and universities receive regional accreditation, the most prestigious accreditation type. For-profit and vocational schools, on the other hand, often receive national accreditation. The Distance Education Accrediting Commission, a national accreditor, oversees accreditation for many online schools.

Finally, some specialized accreditors work within a particular field or with certain kinds of schools. For example, the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration accredits a large number of schools around the world in the field of public administration.

Check the Department of Education's database of accredited postsecondary institutions and programs to see if your school holds regional, national, or specialized accreditation.

Students should first complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Filling out the FAFSA allows you to qualify for a variety of forms of financial support, including federal grants, loans, and work-study opportunities. You do not need to pay back grant money you receive or wages you earn in a work-study position. You typically do need to pay back student loans, though you may qualify for loan forgiveness if you work for the government or a nonprofit organization.

In addition, many states and private organizations offer scholarships based on academic performance, community service, and financial need. Some groups even provide awards based on your major as a way of encouraging more students to enter a particular high-need field. Take a close look at the list of public safety administration scholarships below, and remember that you need to individually apply for each scholarship.

Finally, private lenders offer student loans to make up the difference between your scholarships and grants and the total cost of your education. Lenders do not forgive these loans, and private loans often come with higher interest rates than federal loans. As such, you should consider these to your final option.

Public Safety Administration Scholarships

Scholarships represent one of the best ways to pay for your online public safety administration doctorate. You do not need to pay back scholarship money you receive, though you may need to meet certain academic standards to continue to qualify for these awards. The list below includes five scholarships available to graduate students in this field.

Online Doctorate in Public Safety Administration Scholarships

International Association of Emergency Managers Scholarship $1,000

Undergraduate or graduate students in emergency management or a related field may qualify. View Scholarship

National Forum for Black Public Administrators Scholarship $1,000-$10,000

African-American or minority students pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree in a public service field may qualify. View Scholarship

Pi Gamma Mu Scholarships $1,000-$2,000

Pi Gamma Mu members pursuing a graduate degree in criminal justice, public administration, or a related field may qualify. View Scholarship

Ruth D. Peterson Fellowships for Racial and Ethnic Diversity $6,000

Students of color accepted into a doctoral program in criminal justice or a related field may qualify. View Scholarship

Alpha Phi Sigma (The Criminal Justice Honor Society) Scholarships $1,500

Alpha Phi Sigma members pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree in criminal justice or a closely-related field may qualify. View Scholarship