"A lot of courses have a substantial level of content in class discussion, which is important to understanding the complex issues," says Mayo. Many online courses, he adds, provide that class discussion element in which students are required to be online at a certain time where the instructor leads a discussion on the computer. "Class discussion, in my opinion, is essential," he says.
A common representation of online courses, LUO conducts eight-week sessions, with eight "start dates" throughout the year — three in the fall and spring and two in the summer. Morales explains that LUO professors conduct a voice-recorded presentation similar to what they would have done in a classroom setting, as well as host podcasts, and group projects to maximize student-student and student-teacher interaction. Students are able to take exams, interact in a discussion board and more all through the Internet.
Under APUS, the American Military University and the American Public University both offer the same education to military, law enforcement and the public alike.
Driscoll points out the courses in APUS are taught in an asynchronous format. "Students don't have to be [online] at any specific given time," she says. "It works really well when we have officers coming in who … can't be there at class at 9 in the morning."
Many online universities also incorporate a discussion board to supply the student interaction a physical class may provide, LUO and APUS also include this feature. "We try to post relevant topics throughout the day … it's amazing to see how well the students interact with each other and how they can still convey their facts and end up building friendships through the classrooms," notes Driscoll.
Certification & accreditation
Whether enrolling in a traditional brick-and-mortar institution or an online program to work around your schedule, the degree must be certified for it to "mean" anything for your goals. An accrediting organization, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, the Distance Education and Training Council and the Higher Learning Commission for example, works to recognize a school by assessing its mission, curricula, faculty, facilities, support services, program length and more.
Unfortunately the ugly truth remains that there are some unaccredited colleges offering a criminal justice degree. "Students should avoid those like the plague since their degree isn't worth much and cannot be used to transfer credits to accredited institutions," advises Mayo.
(For a list of accredited schools, visit ope.edu.gov/accreditation.)
"Since the economy has had a downturn, we're finding that a lot of municipalities and counties have declined or terminated their reimbursement programs," says Clay.
With this avenue lost, hopefully temporarily, officers find themselves with more responsibility to fund their own education. Most colleges and universities encourage their students to apply for federal financial aid, a large long-term loan. The College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007 recognized that this loan takes a substantial number of years to pay off.
The program provides for the cancellation or forgiveness of the remaining balance due on eligible federal student loans in the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program.
However, certain borrower eligibility requirements apply:
- Made 120 monthly payments beginning Oct. 1, 2007; cancellations of loan balances will not be granted until Oct. 2017 at the earliest;
- Employed, full time, in public service during the 120 payments;
- Employed, full time, in a public service job at the time of loan forgiveness application.
According to the program, the following public service jobs qualify:
- A federal, state, local or tribal government organization, agency, or entity;
- A public child or family service agency;
- A non-profit organization;
- A tribal college or university;
- A not-for-profit business, labor union, partisan political organization or an organization engaged in religious activities;
- Or organizations that provide emergency management, military service, public safety, law enforcement, public interest law services, early childhood education, public service for individuals with disabilities and the elderly, public heath, public education, public library services, and school library or other school-based services.