The word “justice” often conjures images of spandex-clad superheroes saving the day from masked evil-doers. In reality, the field of criminal justice is full of everyday heroes, from police officers and forensic scientists to child welfare caseworkers. They keep our streets safe, keep our communities running, and stand up for what’s right when things go wrong.
So just what is criminal justice administration? The field of criminal justice applies to law enforcement, the judicial process, juvenile justice, corrections, and criminal law. From crime protection and law enforcement to defending civil liberties, the career opportunities are broad. You may choose to work in national security or become a public interest advocate. Perhaps your interest is in counterintelligence or diplomacy. Whatever avenue you choose, a career in criminal justice administration is a rewarding experience that can make a real difference in your local community, nationally, and abroad.
Why a Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice Administration?
While not all careers in criminal justice require a degree, a bachelor’s in criminal justice administration can open doors to opportunities and continuing education that can elevate your career. Most federal positions at agencies such as the FBI and CIA require a bachelor’s degree and additional training. Positions that need specialized technical knowledge, such as crime scene technicians, also require post-secondary credentials. And while having a bachelor’s degree or other advanced law enforcement education is not a requirement for police officers, a degree in criminal justice can give you a leg up at the police academy.
“A degree in criminal justice makes you more attractive to employers,” says Damon Martin, academic program director for the Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Administration. “Your chances of getting in with a good agency increase when you have a bachelor’s degree. Precincts are no longer looking for officers with the old-school, night-stick-and-pepper-spray philosophy of fighting crime. They are looking for well-rounded candidates who are going to make good decisions. They want officers out there who can interface with the public, who have skills in problem-solving and conflict resolution. Maybe you’re called to a domestic violence issue. They want to know, ‘How do you approach that? How do you solve that?’ We’re looking for officers who are prepared to deal with these realities.”
And while careers in law enforcement, in particular, may have traditionally been male-dominated, that’s no longer the case — women aren’t counting themselves out. “Criminal justice is definitely a profession where women can have success,” says Martin. “We’re seeing an uptick in women in law enforcement and in management positions in law enforcement. As a result, we’re seeing more women enroll in the program.”
Who Is the Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice Administration For?
Strong communities are built on the goodwill of their public servants. A desire to make a difference, a passion for justice, and previous public service are all great indicators of a successful career in criminal justice. If you’re interested in enforcing laws, defending civil liberties, helping past offenders rejoin society or preventing crime, a degree in criminal justice may be the path for you. A bachelor’s degree in criminal justice may also be especially interesting to:
Prospective Law Enforcement
Four-year degrees are becoming increasingly common among law enforcement. A November 2017 study from California State University-Fullerton and the Police Foundation found that just over 30 percent of sworn officers have at least a four-year degree, and 5.4 percent have a graduate degree. In California, which is one of the states with the highest percentage of officers with four-year degrees or higher, almost 40 percent of police officers have a bachelor’s degree.
Existing Law Enforcement
As many officers around the country approach retirement, younger officers are finding themselves with opportunities to be promoted earlier than in the past. “Your education can prepare you for that promotion in areas where maybe you don’t yet have that experience,” says Martin. “We have students who enroll because they’ve seen their colleagues get promoted, and they want those same opportunities.”
National University offers a 25 percent scholarship for existing law enforcement and offers up to seven hours of course credit for on-the-job experience. “We don’t want anyone to have to take a course they could essentially teach,” says Martin. “We offer certifications for certain skills and work with the registrar to give you program credit for transferable skills.”
Because of its rolling enrollment, NU can also bring the criminal justice administration program to interested precincts. Whether a police academy wants to boost its educational offerings or a precinct has a group of interested officers, a cohort of ten is all it takes. “It’s one of the benefits that makes us uniquely attractive,” says Martin. “In California, we can literally bring the education to you.”
Veterans and Servicemembers
While criminal justice attracts people from all walks of life, servicemembers often find that a career in criminal justice is a natural fit for their military training. A career in criminal justice can provide veterans with a real sense of purpose and opportunities for advancement when transitioning to civilian life.
“About 30 percent of students enrolled in the criminal justice program at National University are servicemembers,” says Martin. “As a Yellow Ribbon school, we offer tuition discounts to servicemembers and their dependents.
“The transition out of military life and into civilian life can be challenging,” he adds. “We want to support them in that transition and provide them with all that NU has to offer.”
Associate Degree Students
Much like the relationship with precincts and police academies, National University also partners with community colleges across California to give students the option to easily transition from an associate degree in criminal justice to a bachelor’s. “Students remain where they’re currently enrolled, using the same classrooms and the same instructors, but they’ll be working on an NU degree as students of NU,” Martin says.
Careers in Criminal Justice Administration
Whether you are a current or prospective criminal justice student or a servicemember, now is the time to consider a career in criminal justice. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for police and detectives are expected to grow by 7 percent by 2026. California leads the country in the number of law enforcement jobs, employing nearly 73,000 sheriffs and police patrol officers. There are also a number of career options in the many agencies that operate within law enforcement, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Agency.
When considering careers in the field of criminal justice, it’s important to know the difference between sworn and non-sworn positions. Non-sworn positions include correctional officers, dispatchers, crime scene technicians, and lab personnel. Sworn officers have a badge, carry a firearm, and have the ability to arrest suspects. Patrol officers, detectives, sheriffs, state troopers, and federal agents are sworn officers.
Entry-level positions in criminal justice administration include:
- Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officer
- Detective and Criminal Investigator
- Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists
- Paralegal and Legal Assistant
- Airline Security Representative
- Animal Cruelty Investigator
- Gaming Surveillance Officer
Wages and Benefits
The 2017 annual mean wage for law enforcement professionals in California was $100,090 and the hourly mean wage was $48.12. The median pay nationally in 2017 was $62,960. Higher education generally translates into higher pay. According to the same study from California State University-Fullerton, almost three-quarters of agencies pay officers anywhere from an extra 1 percent to almost 7.5 percent more for having a bachelor’s degree.
About the Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Administration at National University
The foundation of any career is built with a strong education, and criminal justice is no exception. National University offers fast, accessible learning opportunities for all students, including working students, non-traditional students, law enforcement, veterans, and servicemembers.
The Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Administration at National University prepares you for entry- and advanced-level positions in law enforcement, teaching, private security, and research. It also provides existing law enforcement professionals with an opportunity for skills development or career advancement.
As one of over 100 online degree programs at National University, the bachelor’s in criminal justice administration is available in a synchronous online program with set lecture times, or as an asynchronous program with self-paced courses. “The flexibility really allows you to fit your education into your lifestyle and schedule,” Martin says. With rolling admissions and courses lasting only one month, you can complete your degree faster and get working in your new career sooner, without compromising a quality education.
“The one course per month approach of the online criminal justice degree allows you to focus on one topic at a time, as opposed to juggling multiple courses in a traditional semester system,” Martin explains. “Instructors are easily accessible, and we encourage peer-to-peer learning and online class meetings to provide that traditional classroom feel.”
The program includes coursework in forensic science, research methods, juvenile justice, corrections, criminology, leadership and management, civil and criminal investigations, court systems, and criminal law. Elective courses in psychology, sociology, addictive disorders, behavioral science, and human resource management provide a broader perspective on human behavior.
“One of the strengths of our program is that we can use our elective offerings to create a program specifically tailored to your career goals,” says Martin. “We know what potential employers are looking for and the skills you’ll need to be attractive to that employer.”
The program culminates in a senior research project supervised by full-time, associate, and select core faculty. “You’re not just learning from police officers, you’re learning from judges and lawyers, people with different perspectives and different experiences within the field,” Martin says. “Our instructors don’t just have real-world experience, they also know how to teach those experiences and their knowledge in a way that is relevant and accessible.”
In criminal justice administration, your education doesn’t have to end at graduation. A bachelor’s in criminal justice can also prepare you for admission to law school or advanced degrees in forensic sciences, public administration, cybersecurity, homeland security, and juvenile justice.
Check out our Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Administration and our Certificate in Criminal Justice Administration program pages to learn more about this exciting field.