Joseph Libowsky,
former Special Agent

There are a great variety of law enforcement college programs in the US which prepare you for many careers in law enforcement. In addition to the on-campus programs, many universities now offer the possibility to get a degree online, which is of no lesser quality.  

There number of jobs that you can get with a law enforcement degree makes it worth investing in getting your degree. The question whether to pursue an on-campus or an online program depends on several factors that include your personal preferences, free time, finances, and program availability. 

The guide below will help you see the differences between on-campus and online education and debunk some myths that are still associated with online programs.  

Main differences between on-campus and online programs 

Whether you are going to choose an on-campus or online law enforcement degree, depends on your personal preferences and ideas about learning as well as on several external factors like availability or budget. If you are still in doubt which option is the better one for you, take a look at some of the main differences between the two types of programs and decide which one fits better your goals.  

  • Location 

The first and most obvious difference between on-campus and online programs is the location. With on-campus learning you need to physically visit the university in order to get a degree. This may be included with travel or relocation in case you have chosen a university in another state. Such a step is often includes additional costs and may make the degree a bit more expensive. 

Online programs, on the other hand, offer the possibility to get a degree from the comfort of your home. You can enroll in one of the well-known and preferred universities from the US or from abroad and get a diploma that will open many doors to your career development. All you need to achieve that is a good computer with the necessary software and hardware, so that you can follow your online classes, participate in virtual classrooms, chats and other forms of communication.  

  • Flexibility 

On-campus programs tend to be less flexible than online ones. When you physically visit a university, you have a schedule that you need to follow in order to graduate. There is, of course, the option to change some classes or choose which courses to include in your program. You also have the option to stop your studies if need be and then return to them but still there is a stricter framework that you need to follow. 

The online law enforcement program gives you more flexibility. The best part is that you can already work in the field while getting a degree. Studying online means that you can follow a more flexible program and graduate faster by taking more courses or slow down your studies in case you need to.  

  • Variety of skills acquired  

Generally, the skills that you acquire from both an on-campus and an online law enforcement degree are the same. There is a difference in the way you acquire them, though. If you need more face-to-face interaction or hands-on demonstration, then online programs are not the best for you. On the other hand, if you work in law enforcement while following an online program, you will have the benefit of real-life experience, combined with theory from the university that can help you in better completing the assignments you have.  

  • Specialization options  

Law enforcement and criminal justice programs offer a great variety of specialization options. Most of them, however, are provided by the on-campus programs. The reason is that many specializations require hands-on work, which cannot be provided by an online course. This is particularly true for programs like forensics.  

  • Level of realization   

While several years ago, online programs were not accepted with the same level of seriousness and respect by employers, now the attitude has changed. Many law enforcement agencies even prefer hiring candidates who have graduated online or are currently studying. Some employers even offer some additional benefits to such employees – like the possibility for additional leave if need be. Online programs provide more individuals with the possibility to finish or upgrade their education and find better realization.  


Benefits of online law enforcement programs 

There are several benefits of choosing to complete your law enforcement degree online. In addition to the possibility to work part-time or even-full time while studying and as a result advance in your career, you can enjoy a few more advantage by choosing to complete an online program. 

As a starter, many colleges and universities offer tuition discounts for students living outside the state, who have decided to study online. In addition to that, you have access to the same means for financing your study as on-campus students. Add to that the fact that you do not need to travel to the college or relocate and you see how much money you can save.  

Online programs are also quite flexible with the duration of the program. You can opt for an accelerated class schedule that will allow you to get your bachelor’s degree much quicker. You can finish a course in eight weeks rather than in half a semester for example. There is also the option to study during the summer months, which also shortens the period in which you can complete your bachelor’s degree.  

The possibility of asynchronous learning is also one of the most preferred benefits of online programs. Basically, this means that the classes are available as pre-recorded lectures or webinars that the students can listen to whenever they have time. This is particularly valuable for those who work full time or on shifts. Besides, with some complex topics related to law enforcement, it means that the student can go over the material as many times as they need. 

The possibility of credit transfer is yet another benefit that we should acknowledge. If you have an associate’s degree or you have earned college credits from another accredited institution, many online programs will allow you to transfer them so that they count towards the current degree that you are pursuing.  

On-campus or online master degree: Which is better? 

In case you are already a law enforcement officer and you want to increase your chances for career advancement, it is a good idea to consider adding a master’s degree to your qualifications. Before you enroll, however, there are a few decisions that you need to make. 

The first thing to decide on is the type of specialization you would like to receive. There is a great variety of master’s degree programs in law enforcement and you need to choose the one that will have the most positive impact on your career development and help you achieve your goals. Some of the most popular ones are in: 

  • Criminal Justice 
  • Criminology 
  • Forensic Science 
  • Law Enforcement Leadership 
  • Homeland Security 
  • Public Safety Administration 

Once you decide on your specialization, you need to determine whether you can attend an on-campus program or an online course will be a better option for you. One of the leading factors for this decision should be to choose an academically rigorous program that will provide you with the necessary skills and knowledge for your career advancement. It is also good to give you the possibility to successfully combine work engagements, family life and studies. 

As a result, many law enforcement professionals prefer to choose an online master’s degree as it gives them more flexibility. The good news is that many universities do offer such programs that are often even better than their on-campus counterparts. They allow law enforcement specialist from all over the country to meet online and share their ideas and expertise. A lot of writing is also involved, which is a good exercise for anyone aspiring for managerial positions in the field. 

Many universities also offer blended programs – the main focus is on online learning, however there are certain occasions when on-campus training is also required. This increases the in-person cooperation and gives opportunity for hands-on experience. 

Accreditation matters 

When choosing your law enforcement programs there is one important factor that you need to keep in mind – accreditation. No matter if you choose and online or on-campus degree, make sure that it is offered by an accredited institution. 

There are two types of accreditation in the US – national and regional. There is a great difference between the two of them and you need to have that in mind when selecting your program. 

  • Regionally-accredited educational institutions are the most reputable ones as they are considered to be degree-oriented and trusted. These are usually non-profit or state-owned universities that also accept and facilitate credit transfer. They often participate in employer tuition assistance programs. 
  • Nationally-accredited educational institutions are usually for-profit or religious schools. In most of the cases they offer vocational or technical training.  

Note that many agencies or departments will not recognize a degree acquired in a nationally-accredited institution or will not offer tuition assistance or pay increase for a law enforcement program in such a university. Hence, especially if you are currently employed in a law enforcement agency, check if the program you have chosen will actually bring you the benefits you hoe for prior to enrolling.  

Popular myths about online degrees  

There are certain myths associated with getting an online law enforcement degree that still stop some people from enrolling. Here are a few examples that you should know that are simply myths and there is nothing right about them: 

  • Online programs are more expensive 

This belief comes from the fact that in earlier years there weren’t so many options to finance your online tuition as they were for on-campus programs. Now this has changed. As a matter of fact, some online programs are even more affordable. Keep in mind that you do not have to pay for travel or accommodation and that you can work while studying online. 

  • Online studies are harder 

Some people perceive online programs as much harder than the traditional ones due to the fact that you lack personal interaction. It is not correct, since modern technologies allow you to keep in connection both with your instructors and peers. On top of that, many online programs offer asynchronous classes, which means you can attend when you have time and repeat the lecture as many times as you need. In addition to that, most of the lectures come in writing so you can back to them whenever you need.  

  • Online degrees have a different curriculum 

Many universities offer online and on-campus law enforcement programs, which have absolutely the same curriculum regardless of the form of study. Students still need to hand our course paper on a given date, do tests and sit exams. The information provided is of the same high quality. There can be a difference between the programs offered by different universities and in this case, you need to choose the one that best meets your needs.  

In general, the level of online education is the same as that of on-campus programs. It is the self-motivation and discipline that make the difference.  

At the end of the day, there is not much difference whether you will complete an online or on-campus program to earn your law enforcement degree. Keep in mind that choosing an online program requires more self-discipline and focus while a regular program takes up most of your time. As long as you are determined to acquire the necessary skills and knowledge and you are able to show them to your future employer, you will be a preferred candidate during the hiring process regardless of the way you have acquired your degree.  Make sure to invest sufficient time for getting ready for the written test and the board interview as well.