Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice
Many people are looking for ways they can help keep our country as safe as possible. Many find pursuing a career in criminal justice the ideal way to contribute to society, work at an exciting career and provide citizens with more effective law enforcement. Individuals with an interest in law enforcement can begin their career in only two years by completing an associate’s degree in criminal justice.
What is Criminal Justice?
Criminal justice is a system that involves dealing with criminals and crime. Criminal justice is made up of three parts:
- Law enforcement – This is where the criminal justice system gets its start. It involves investigating crime, searching for and arresting suspects.
- The court system –This part of the criminal justice system takes place in the courts and is where suspects face their charges and are found to be either guilty or innocent.
- Corrections – This is the final part of the criminal justice system. It involves punishment or restitution for the guilty criminal. It could result in probation or incarceration.
With the field of criminal justice being so vast, it offers a variety of career options. Many careers can be obtained with an associate’s degree in criminal justice. Associate degree criminal justice programs can be found at a variety of colleges including universities and technical schools, and generally take two years to complete.
Although the associate’s degree in criminal justice program is typically a two-year program, it can be completed in less or more time depending on the program and the student’s time and commitment. Some colleges offer acceleration programs that can be completed in 18 months if the student completes summer courses. Criminal justice programs can also be completed through distance learning. Online programs allow students to complete many of the courses online and complete a supervised internship through a local law enforcement agency.
Online students can complete the program in less than two years or may stretch it out longer if they need additional time. Graduates of a criminal justice associate’s degree program are qualified to seek entry-level jobs in criminal justice. The credits earned in the associate’s degree program may also be transferred into a bachelor’s degree program if the candidate decides to pursue an advanced degree.
A high school diploma or equivalent is generally all that’s required for entry into an associate’s degree program. Applicants may also be required to undergo a background check. Because the associate’s degree program includes such a wide choice of courses, it prepares students for careers in various areas of criminal justice. It’s also an ideal choice for candidates who are currently working in law enforcement but wish to advance their skills and knowledge of criminal justice. Students who have completed a basic law enforcement training may get credits that can be used towards the degree.
Another highlight of the associate’s in criminal justice program is that it offers areas of concentration for students who want to specialize in a specific area of criminal justice. Depending on the school, students may have the following choices in concentrations.
- Law enforcement
- Private security
- Criminal justice
- Terrorism operations
- Computer forensics
- Medicolegal death investigation
Potential Job Titles
One of the features of the associate’s in criminal justice program that makes it so popular is that it prepares students for so many different careers in this field. Some of the careers can be obtained right after graduation while others may also include training at an academy. Some of the possible job titles for graduates of the associate’s in criminal justice program include:
- Police officer
- Paralegal and legal assistants
- Private detectives and investigators
- Fire inspectors
- Crime scene technician
- Police dispatch
This is just a short list of the many potential careers that can be obtained by graduates of an associate’s in criminal justice program. Other potential job titles include corrections officer, criminal investigator, homicide detective, security guard, fish and game warden, bailiff, fingerprint examiner, classification officer, crime prevention specialist and court reporter.
Career and Salary Outlook
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, criminal justice is a field that offers positive job growth in almost any occupation a graduate might choose. Many of these criminal justice positions also offer good wages.
- Police officers and sheriff’s patrol officers are projected to experience a 7% increase in jobs during the 2016-2026 decade. The average wage for police officers and sheriff’s patrol officers as of May 2017 was $64,490 with wages going from $35,020 to $100,610.
- Paralegals, who should see a job growth of 15%, earn average wages of $35,180 with their salaries ranging from $31,070 to $80,260.
- Private detectives and investigators can expect am 11% job growth by 2026. These professionals earned wages from $28,780 to $86,730 or more in 2017 with the average wage at $55,080.
- Fire inspectors, who should see a 10% jump in job opportunities, earned an average wage of $62,260, and their wages range from as low as $34,800 to more than $95,960.
- Crime scene technicians, also known as forensic science technicians, should see an employment growth of 17%. These criminal justice specialists earn wages ranging from $33,880 to $95,600 with an average yearly wage of $61,220.
- Police dispatch should see an 8% job growth. Their annual wages are about $42,020, but wages ranged from $25,920 to $62,680 in 2017.
There are various factors that can affect the earning potential of criminal justice specialists. Level of training, education, experience, employer and geographic location can all affect earnings. Location is probably the biggest factor. For instance, the average wage for police officers in California in 2017 was $100,090 while the average wage in Kentucky was $45,010 as reported by the bureau.
Students in the criminal justice associate’s degree program will complete a blended curriculum of general education courses, major-related courses and a possible internship. General education courses might include English composition, applied statistics, applied mathematics, humanities, applied natural sciences and social science. Major courses in the program might include:
- Introduction to Criminal Justice
- Ethics in Criminal Justice
- Constitutional Law
- Criminal Investigation
- International Criminal Justice
- Correctional Systems
- Criminal Law
- American Policing
- Juvenile Justice System
- Research Methods for Criminal Justice
Students who are focusing on a specific concentration will also take courses specific to that concentration. During the second year, students typically complete an internship or externship that involves working in a criminal justice or law enforcement setting to obtain hands-on training. The required time for the externship varies from school to school, but most programs require the student to complete a minimum number of hours in the externship or internship.