Criminal Justice Degree programs are an ever-growing area of study in today’s crime-ridden world. But with so many schools offering two- to six-year degrees, choosing a program that stands out to future employers and prepares you for a competitive career can be a daunting task. How do you choose a school whose program stays current with the significant changes in criminal justice systems?
Accreditation is the first step in locating a college or university that has taken an effort to meet certain program quality levels. The Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS) accredits only those programs that have shown evidence they meet or exceed the ACJS Certification Standards. These standards include “Program Quality and Effectiveness”; for a program to be effective, it must keep up with the newest trends.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Post-secondary Education has established a database of schools with accredited programs. You can search a school’s accreditation status or download the accreditation data for all listed U.S. institutions. New database files are created every three months.
Real World Experience
Depending on your desired area of expertise (prison system, law enforcement, private security, investigations, et cetera), an underutilized research tool is reviewing real world experience in person. Contact your local agency of interest and speak to their recruiting officer. These individuals can usually share what methodologies their agency employs. A more direct source is USA JOBS. Job descriptions and application questions highlight knowledge that agency or position desires.
For example, a metropolitan police department with substantial crime rates may use the COMSTAT method of crime analysis. If desire to work in a similar agency, then seek out programs where COMSTAT is figured heavily into their course descriptions. A program that stays current with real world needs will offer courses in what the real world is currently using.
Professional Associations and Organizations
Most career fields have at least one professional organization established to further its profession. Check out the association’s website; review their forums. Officers, security specialists, special agents and analysts “talk shop” in these forums: concerns, training and the realities of that profession. Many discuss from what schools their best new hires have graduated.
If possible, join an association in your area of interest. Membership typically allows you access to additional resources. Attend their seminars and conventions; they are filled with experts willing to share years of knowledge and experience, offering insight into what is important enough to affect your choice of programs.
Catch the News
Though CNN or Fox News is not going to recommend a program to you, regularly review their Justice-related stories. When criminal events draw national attention, their stories include field experts. These experts are often published professors and up-to-date on the changes in the criminal justice system. That same attention is brought back into their classrooms.
With all the changes in the criminal justice system, it is important to find a degree program that continually updates to reflect the real world, thus offering you the most effective education possible. Use these sources to bring the real world to you.