Fifteen years ago I was parked next to another cop who told me he decided not to go back to college to finish his degree (even thought the agency paid him to do so), because in his words, "I'm gonna do this until I retire; I love it." He failed his probationary period, was fired, and had nothing to fall back on. Another officer questioned my sanity when he asked why I would pay someone to give me homework rather than work an extra job for overtime. I still recall waking up after a few hours of sleep having worked midnights only to start typing a midterm paper while watching my 18-month-old son outside playing in beautiful spring weather, wishing I were with him instead of what I was doing. It was a sacrifice I made and I am not sure it was ever worth the price. In the end though, that piece of paper that said I had accomplished something starting paying me back, slowly.
Face the facts you are getting older. At some point you won't be a cop anymore for a variety of reasons. It used to be, in my time, you stepped out of police-work when you were injured or had met the required age limit in order to collect your pension. In other words, you worked your tenure and your equipment showed its age. Today, cops are being involuntarily separated from service due to the economy in massive numbers and the hemorrhaging of blue uniforms isn't likely to stop anytime soon. The latest economic forecast touted by the White House indicates it will take another three to four years before local and state governments start collecting the revenue streams it did in 2007, which economists consider the beginning of the Great Recession. That means shrinking budgets until at least 2013, if all goes well, and more pink slips for cops.
If you do not possess that document saying you have attained a college degree, and a degree is needed, then where are you going to work? With the economy so bad you might wonder that even if you had a degree where would you find a job regardless? As my mentor told me once, "Having a college degree is like needing to wear a tie to get into a fancy restaurant; you have to have one to get in." If you are doing what you want to in life and know absolutely life will never change then why pursue a college degree? That's the problem. Life changes and nothing is guaranteed. A college degree will never be of true value until you need it, and you can't obtain it over night. It takes years. Anything you ever learned that is of value cost you something. You paid for it dearly either monetarily, with time or effort. Finishing your degree will take the same effort, but there are better ways of doing it today.
Work Smarter Not Harder
I'm not so sure I ever really learned that rule, but what I have found is that obtaining your degree is much more accessible now than ever before. I earned three degrees the hard way; sitting in class night after night for years. That's known as the brick and mortar way, however, just because someone has the title, "Professor" or "Assistant Professor" doesn't mean they earned the right to stand in front of you because they are the "Expert". On more than one occasion I learned that the "Professor" in front of me was only qualified to teach the topic because they earned a Doctorate. In other words they took classes from some other clueless individual for three more years than I did and wrote a book about it. In terms of operational experience they never did anything. As a matter of fact, they read about what I did on the street and then talked about it in class! It's what you have done that makes you knowledgeable; not what you have read or what someone has told you. A world-class fighter pilot doesn't learn best by reading about flying, or what they are told about it; they learn by having air pass under their seat at Mach 2.