Online Master's Degree in Law Enforcement

Law enforcement offers an array of career possibilities for police officers, forensic investigators, federal agents, and criminologists. Earning a degree in law enforcement online is especially valuable with a continued demand in security and protection fields. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), police officers, detectives, and criminal investigators will experience a 7% employment increase between 2016 and 2026. Professionals with an online master's degree in law enforcement can pursue promotions or advance into state or federal agency positions.

Students with an online master's degree in law enforcement gain valuable experience in criminal justice, law enforcement administration, and homeland security as well as legal studies and ethics. Online law enforcement programs provide students with invaluable critical thinking and decision-making skills.

An online master's degree in law enforcement may be offered through applied sciences, intelligence, management, or judicial studies programs. Students earning criminal justice degrees in law enforcement online may also specialize in crime prevention, corrections, offender rehabilitation, and criminal behavior analysis. Department faculty, often with members of law enforcement agencies, organizations, and groups, lead students through theoretical and practical coursework.

Earning a degree in law enforcement online includes 30 to 36 hours of coursework, including a capstone or final project taken during a student's final semester. Some programs also require an internship or field experience. Capstone and project courses include research and production of an individual paper or a portfolio of cumulative coursework. Full-time students can complete online law enforcement degree programs in as few as 12 months while part-time students can take one or two classes at a time and finish their degree at their own pace.

The flexibility of an online law enforcement degree allows professionals to continue their education while working. The same is true for on-campus and hybrid programs that bring students together on the weekends or in the evenings.

Sample Courses for a Master's Degree in Law Enforcement

Coursework for an online law enforcement degree varies by school, department, and emphasis, but some classes remain common across the curriculum. Students in graduate-level programs receive a solid background in theory and research methods as well as concentration coursework in intelligence, ethics, administration, and management. The sample class descriptions below offer insights into what classes a program might offer.

Example Courses

Ethics Students explore theories, methodologies, and frameworks of ethics to criminal processes and law enforcement actions. An ethics class may provide case studies and other real-world examples to give students an opportunity to directly apply what they learn.
Research Methods In Criminal Justice Learners explore scientific and investigative practices, and gain tools to design research projects, collect samples, and analyze crime-related data.
Criminological Theory Degree seekers learn schools of thought related to crime, including psychology, biology, and sociology. Students apply the ideas to specific examples.
Applied Intelligence Students work with tools of intelligence gathering in law enforcement and learn about strategies, techniques, and processes of using cybersecurity systems.
Issues in Law Enforcement Students assess contemporary challenges facing law enforcement professionals, policies, and development in the U.S. Specific issues such as narcotics, homeland security, and terrorism may be emphasized.

How Long Does It Take to Earn an Online Master's in Law Enforcement?

A degree in law enforcement online may be completed in as little as one year. Full-time students can complete a 30-credit-hour program in 12 months while part-time students may take a few classes each year, pacing their degrees out over two or three years. Programs with a cohort structure allow students to begin the degree together and progress through the curriculum as a group. Individual pacing allows students to take classes at their convenience.

An online law enforcement degree can be as few as 30 credit hours, but some programs require 36 hours. Coursework varies depending upon capstone, internship, field placement, or final project requirements, as well as a student's experience. Some degrees may not require an internship if students already have experience or concurrently work in the field. Most degrees take two years to complete.

Local law enforcement groups, investigation and security service firms, and state and national criminal justice and legal entities employ the most graduates with online master's degrees in law enforcement. An online master's degree in law enforcement prepares current law enforcement professionals to advance to administrative and leadership positions, such as chief of police, senior investigator, and federal agent. An online law enforcement degree is also an option for individuals working in the field who want to become an expert in cybersecurity, criminal profiling, or any highly specialized area.

An advanced degree in law enforcement often emphasizes law enforcement administration, providing students with business, economics, and management coursework. This prepares degree earners to assume additional responsibilities and work in a supervisory capacity. By earning a master's degree in law enforcement, students become ideal candidates for higher-paying positions within criminal justice institutions, law enforcement agencies, and private security providers.

Online Master's in Law Enforcement Careers

The advanced courses offered in an online master's degree in law enforcement program give students the foundation to work as supervisors, administrators, and leaders. Law enforcement professionals with a master's degree learn about theory, methods, policies, and practices of criminal justice, public safety, and law enforcement. Students also develop budgetary, managerial, and organizational skills.

Criminologist

These professionals work for law enforcement agencies and assess criminals and crimes, often examining trends. By using data and evidence, criminologists investigate why crime occurs. They often work with law enforcement professionals to create plans to heighten public safety and security.

Police Chief

A chief of police is the highest position within a police department, often coordinating budgets, implementing public safety plans, and directing staff. Officers and detectives usually make their way through the ranks of a department or law enforcement agency to attain this position.

FBI Agent

These professionals investigate federal crimes for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, usually in a field office. They follow up on leads, make arrests, detain criminals, and undergo extensive physical and psychological training. Most work happens in an office, but travel, field work, and undercover actions may be necessary.
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Detective or Criminal Investigator

These professionals investigate specific law enforcement infractions, interview witnesses, interrogate suspects, undertake surveillance, and analyze evidence. They may make arrests and work irregular hours. They also prepare reports and can be called to testify in court.

Border Patrol Agent

These professionals possess in-depth information about laws and procedures related to immigration, travel, and transportation across U.S. borders. They monitor people and goods entering and exiting the country, and often patrol the border.
Occupations and Salary for Online Master’s in Law Enforcement Graduates
Job Title Overall Median Salary Entry-Level Employees Mid-Career Employees Late-Career Employees
Police Chief $71,049 $52,000 $45,000 $86,000
FBI Agent $63,510 $61,000 $65,000 $97,000
Detective or Criminal Investigator $58,171 $50,000 $52,000 $68,000
Border Patrol Agent $56,021 $41,000 $71,000 $93,000
Source: PayScale

Licensure and Certification

Licensure and certification for law enforcement professionals varies by state or employment level. Public safety and law enforcement officers who carry firearms must be trained and pass certification. Additional certifications in firearms such as those offered by the National Rifle Association may help professionals become firearms instructors. Educational requirements for state police officers often include board exams on state law enforcement standards. Federal agencies require law enforcement professionals, such as homeland security and border control officers, to undergo extensive training and background checks.

Online master's degree programs in law enforcement are offered through regionally accredited schools throughout the country. Regional accreditation involves assessment of institutional quality and standards by a regulatory body that oversees schools in several states. National accreditation can be degree or discipline specific but also extends to for-profit and religion-affiliated schools or to individual certifications and vocational or technical training.

Regional accreditation is preferred to national accreditation because it includes a higher level of standardization, oversight, and academic focus. The type of accreditation held by a school may influence credit transfers and student eligibility for federal financial aid. It is important for students to check the accreditation status of a school and program before applying.

There are no specific accrediting agencies for master's degrees in law enforcement, but programs may be endorsed by local, state, and regional law enforcement agencies.

Most students pursuing an online master's degree in law enforcement qualify for federal financial aid through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This annual application assesses students for grants, loans, and work-study programs.

Students may qualify for national and state financial aid or grants and scholarships through their school. State police departments and state law enforcement associations provide scholarships for students based on ethnic background, gender, or some comparable circumstances. Schools that provide law enforcement degrees also offer scholarships through their criminal justice and sociology departments. Students pursuing a degree in a law enforcement speciality, such as female corrections, may also apply for funding.

Law enforcement agencies may offer private scholarship and other financial programs to support students who are enrolled in programs in the field. Employers sometimes offer scholarships to working law enforcement professionals, and some associations and unions offer reduced-tuition programs.

Law Enforcement Scholarships

Scholarships for master's degree law enforcement students do not need to be repaid. They are awarded based on need, academic excellence, and resource availability. Students must maintain certain GPAs or a specific number of credit hours to qualify for the award.

Online Master’s in Law Enforcement Scholarships

Association of State Correctional Administrators Susan M. Hunter Scholarship $1,500

This award is offered annually to children of current, retired, or deceased corrections workers who are employed by an ASCA agency. Graduate students must be pursuing a degree in criminal justice and should submit a statement of career goals. View Scholarship

Women in Federal Law Enforcement (WIFLE) Scholarships $2,000

Female graduate students from an undergraduate, graduate, or postgraduate program in criminal justice or a related field may apply, with awards given based on academic excellence and achievement as well as commitment to law enforcement and community. Students must be endorsed by a community leader. View Scholarship

Fraternal Order of Police Auxiliary Tuition Reimbursement Scholarship Varies

The national FOP offers tuition reimbursement to students enrolled in participating colleges and universities of the consortium formed by the Order. National Fraternal Order of Police University schools offer degrees online, provide reduced tuition, or award academic credit for career experience. The scholarship is available to all FOP members. View Scholarship

Disabled Police Officers Association Scholarship Fund Varies

The DPOA scholarship is open to disabled or retired police officers who are newly enrolled or returning to an academic program. View Scholarship

Association of Certified Fraud Examiners Richie-Jennings Memorial Scholarship Fund $10,000

This annual scholarship awards students enrolled in a field of study related to fraud examination, including criminal justice. Students must submit a formal application, transcript information, and have a letter of support from one certified fraud examiner. View Scholarship
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