Earning a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice (BSCJ) online from Lamar University can help law enforcement professionals pursue a wide variety of careers in the field. Graduates of this degree program are equipped with advanced knowledge and experience in many different areas. Topics of study range from law and criminal investigation to psychology and interpersonal communication, and many more.
Why should degree candidates study such a wide range of topics, including many not traditionally associated with criminal justice? The answer is that the breadth of such a degree program is the key to widening job prospects for graduates, preparing them to work in many different roles in law enforcement. Beyond basic law enforcement positions, criminal justice majors can pursue higher level and specialized jobs at the local, state and federal level, as well as in the private sector.
What Are Common Local Law Enforcement Jobs?
At the local level, many law enforcement professionals start off as police officers and sheriff’s patrol officers. A bachelor’s degree is not always required for application to an entry-level position, but it can help in the competitive hiring process. Of course, the advanced knowledge and skills gained through a BSCJ program are directly applicable to excelling on the job.
Promotion to higher level positions is based on job performance along with education, training, and written and practical exams — something that college graduates have extensive experience with. In local law enforcement, criminal justice majors commonly use their credentials and experience to become detectives, criminal investigators, forensic science specialists, supervisors, sheriffs and police chiefs.
Having a bachelor’s degree is actually a requirement for many of these specialized law enforcement and administrative positions. Pay is logically commensurate with education, experience and type of position.
For instance, PayScale reports that police officers make an average of $50,355 annually (August 2018). According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 2017 salaries for detectives and criminal investigators averaged around $80,000. And Salary.com places 2018 median salaries for police chiefs and sheriffs at more than $100,000. At the local level, education certainly pays off.
What Jobs Are Available at the State Level?
Many state law enforcement jobs are analogous to their local counterparts. State troopers or state police are common, as are the logical hierarchies of supervisory positions. Other state departments employ law enforcement professionals, such as fish and game wardens or environmental conservation police.
There are also many jobs available for criminal justice majors in state-run correctional facilities (as well as federally run correctional facilities). According to the BLS, more than 400,000 people work as correctional officers and jailers, and almost 100,000 more work as probation officers and correctional treatment specialists. At the administrative level, wardens of correctional facilities are among the high earners of state law enforcement professionals. According to PayScale, prison warden salaries average about $80,000, but some wardens make upwards of $130,000 annually.
Federal Law Enforcement Opportunities
There are many job opportunities for law enforcement professionals at the federal level. A bachelor’s degree is required of those applying to many, if not most, federal law enforcement jobs. Entry-level positions which do not require a bachelor’s degree often prioritize applicants who have earned one.
Those who set their law enforcement career aspirations high often look toward getting a job with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the United States Marshals Service, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or another of the best-known federal agencies. But there are actually 130 different federal agencies that employ law enforcement professionals.
Criminal justice majors can occupy many roles within these agencies. Ascending the ranks as an FBI agent, Secret Service agent, or U.S. deputy marshal is the dream of many law enforcement professionals. A criminal justice major with a penchant for the outdoors might pursue a job as a National Park Service law enforcement ranger. Those interested in border issues or immigration may wish to work with the Border Patrol or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). These are only a few of the federal job opportunities available in law enforcement.
Pay for federal jobs is complex and structured in exacting ways, based on job type, seniority and performance. Each position has a paygrade and a range of paygrade steps employees progress through, from base level to maximum. “Locality adjustments” are also taken into account, raising pay a percentage of base salary according to a locality’s higher cost of living. Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs) who are often required to work (or be available to work) extra hours as “unscheduled duty” are given extra “availability pay,” equal to 25 percent of their base salary.
Landing a federal job takes work, credentials and often a lot of training. The starting pay is reasonable, comparable to that for local police or detective work, or perhaps more considering the extra availability pay and locality adjustments. Persistence and performance are rewarded in a regular fashion, leading to dependable career growth and raises (and lateral mobility between departments). With enough time and effort, a $60,000/year FBI agent job could become a high-level administration job with far more responsibility, intrigue and more than twice the salary.
Working in criminal justice and law enforcement can be exciting, difficult, dangerous and gratifying. Whether you’re looking to work on the street as a criminal investigator, in the field as an FBI agent, or behind the scenes as an administrator, earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice can be a smart step toward finding rewarding work in this fascinating field.