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What is Criminal Justice?

Are you considering enrollment in a criminal justice degrees program in Kansas? Degrees of this kind can lead to a wide variety of employment opportunities in law enforcement and legal advocacy. The field is quite expansive, which generally results in graduates developing a plethora of useful skills that can be transferred into almost any work setting related to individual and group safety.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in protective service occupations is expected to increase by 8% from 2020 to 2030. This is about as fast as the average for all other professions and is likely to account for about 286,400 new jobs. Growth rates will be faster for some in-demand career fields such as fire inspectors, security guards, and private detectives.

While protective and criminal justice services are not considered large industries in Kansas, professions under these designations are essential for the state. Additionally, the need for qualified criminal justice professionals in the state is not going to diminish any time soon. This is especially true because companies and organizations of all kinds benefit from hiring workers with these skills. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, these occupations accounted for local 27,940 jobs in 2020. The annual mean wage for professionals in this field was $43,820, which is higher than the national median.

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Criminal Justice Education in Kansas

While not always required, many criminal justice professionals benefit from completing some level of formal education. Because career options in this field are expansive, it’s up to you to determine which degree is most appropriate. Knowing your ultimate career goals ahead of time can help ensure your success in the profession and allow you to gain promotions as you move upward in your career.

Students can choose from criminal justice programs at every academic level, from associate degrees to doctorates. Some jobs, however, require only high school diplomas or GEDs. Each option has its own benefits and drawbacks, making it essential to base enrollment on your preferences and aspirations.

Prospective students who intend to work in Kansas should strongly consider enrolling in college and university degree programs offered in the state. While remote learning options make it easy to take classes from anywhere with readily-available internet access, opting for a local institution is often beneficial. These schools tend to understand the needs of their area far better and many have established relationships with potential employers, making it even easier to find work after graduation.

Criminal justice degrees prepare graduates for a wide variety of employment opportunities. Most careers in this field relate to creating and upholding societal regulations and laws, as well as ensuring that people are held accountable for harmful actions they take. It’s important for prospective students to realize, however, that there is no single criminal system in the country. Instead, states have established criminal justice systems that work in tandem with other states and the United States Government as a whole. This is one reason why workers in this field have such varied job prospects, allowing professionals to generally pursue jobs that align with their personal interests and/or passions. Some of the most prominent career types include law enforcement, the court system, politics, advocacy, and corrections.

As a result, however, it can be difficult to compile a list of daily tasks and responsibilities for individuals involved in this field. Jobs can differ significantly, even within the same state systems. To ensure the success of their graduates, most colleges and universities focus instruction on the development of easily transferrable skills such as communication, empathy, and leadership.

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The most successful criminal justice professionals have good judgement and are highly perceptive. They are also generally lauded for their abilities to determine the best ways to solve a wide array of problems quickly. It’s worth noting that some level of physical strength and stamina is often required for jobs in this field, especially within frontline law enforcement roles.

Some of the most notable career paths in criminal justice include:

  • Criminology
  • Cyber Security
  • Emergency Management
  • Forensic Science
  • Fire Science
  • Homeland Security

Associate Degree in Criminal Justice (AS)

Associate degrees in criminal justice are generally meant to provide students with a basic introduction to the field. Graduates can typically qualify for entry-level employment opportunities such as police officer, correctional officer, or private investigator. They may also be able to find work as security guards, surveillance specialists, fire inspectors, paralegals, or legal assistants.

Instead of seeking employment right away, graduates at this level can transfer the credits they earned to four-year institutions when enrolling in bachelor’s programs. This is often a less expensive option, as community colleges tend to charge less per credit hour than larger schools.

Most associate degrees in criminal justice consist of 60 credit hours of coursework and take full-time students approximately two years to complete. Accelerated options do exist, condensing instruction down to as few as 18 months. Course offerings vary by institution, but instruction often covers American government, law enforcement, judicial processes, and critical thinking.

Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice (BS)

For higher level jobs in criminal justice a BS degrees is typically required, but of equal significance, is the fact that many employers give preference to candidates with this level of education during the hiring process. This means that graduates of bachelor’s programs do tend to find employment more easily than those with high school diplomas, GEDs, and associate degrees. The most common careers available to those with bachelor’s degrees include guidance counselor, child safety advocate, social worker, crime scene investigator, and homeland security specialist. Graduates may also be able to apply for federal positions with the FBI and/or CIA.

Most bachelor’s degree programs in criminal justice consist of 120 credit hours of coursework and take full-time students approximately four years to complete. Every program is different, but students should expect coursework related to criminology, judicial administration, and legal traditions. Many colleges and universities also place a strong emphasis on research guidelines and writing.

Graduates can also choose to pursue advanced degrees in criminal justice. Professionals with graduate degrees usually have more employment opportunities, promote quicker, and earn higher salaries.

Master's Degree in Criminal Justice (MS or MC)

MS degrees in criminal justice are most appropriate for those interested in obtaining leadership roles in the field. These degrees also help current professionals advance their careers, as graduates are often qualified to apply for supervisory roles. While this generally means taking on additional responsibilities, the result tends to be higher earning potential and faster promotions.

Program specifics can vary quite a bit, but many criminal justice master’s degrees range from 30 to 60 credit hours of coursework. Full-time students can complete requirements in two years, but part-time students will need three to five years. Unlike previous degree levels, the master’s curriculum tends to focus more on management, data analytics, organizational strategies, and decision-making. Students are also often given opportunities to pursue career-related electives, internships, and research projects.

PhD Degree in Criminal Justice (PhD)

While not required for most jobs in the field, PhD and doctoral degrees in criminal justice are ideal for those who want to conduct research, publish findings, and/or seek positions as academic professors. Programs typically consist of between 50 and 75 credit hours and take full-time students about five years to complete. Prior to graduation, those enrolled will be expected to conduct independent studies and present dissertations.

Another option is earning a doctorate in business administration (DBA). This degree is sometimes optimal for students interested in obtaining leadership roles within the criminal justice system. Instruction focuses more on leadership theory, strategic thinking, consulting, and intervention practices.

Both options result in advanced mastery over theory and practice within the field, giving graduates access to some of the best criminal justice jobs available. The most common employment opportunities include postsecondary criminal justice professor, social service director, information systems manager, forensic scientist, and police chief.

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Become a Criminal Justice Professional in Kansas

Those who want to become criminal justice professionals in Kansas should begin by determining which part of the field is most interesting to them. There are many possible career options available to graduates, making it important to identify your ultimate goals early. Whether you are seeking to work in law enforcement or are drawn more to victim advocacy, however, you will likely require some amount of formal education. Knowing your specific aspirations will make it easier to find an appropriate academic program.

It’s also important to consider concentrations that may be offered through academic programs. Most colleges and universities give students the opportunity to designate a specialization, which often helps to tailor portions graduation requirements to further fit specific career goals. Taking advantage of this option can allow you to explore similar areas of interest on a much deeper level.

Some of the most common options for criminal justice majors include:

Additionally, many criminal justice programs require students to participate in internships. This is particularly relevant for those seeking bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Internships are often unpaid, but they do offer students opportunities to gain hands-on experience working in the field. They also look good on resumes and can sometimes even lead directly into paid positions at the host companies.

Some criminal justice professionals are also required to be licensed to work in their chosen jobs. While not always necessary, it’s not uncommon to need some sort of credential prior to or shortly after attaining employment. Private investigators in Kansas, for example, are required to be licensed through the Kansas Attorney General. The process involves completing the Private Detective Licensing Act Exam and obtaining an optional Firearm Permit. Kansas PIs must also provide $100,000 in corporate surety bonds, general insurance liability, or cash deposit with the State Treasurer. Even unarmed security guards must pass a state certified training course, although requirements do vary according to city regulation.

There are also many opportunities for criminal justice professionals to earn certifications from field-specific organizations. Research your particular area of interest to find out which credentials will prove most useful.

In addition to academic programs, licenses, and certifications, individuals in this field can benefit from joining professional organizations. Every organization is different, but most provide members with ample opportunities to network, access field-related resources, buy discounted tickets to conferences, and participate in continuing education classes.

Some of the most prominent criminal justice associations, societies, and organizations include:

  • Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences
  • American Academy of Forensic Sciences
  • American Correctional Association
  • American Society of Criminology
  • International Association of Law Enforcement Planners
  • International Association for Correctional and Forensic Psychology
  • National Criminal Justice Association

Careers for Criminal Justice Graduates

After earning a criminal justice degree and acquiring the necessary or preferred certifications, you will be qualified to apply for a wide variety of positions in Kansas.

Here are just some.

  • Social Worker
    Social workers help their patients and patient families work through a wide variety of emotional and social problems. They do this by making referrals to the most appropriate resources so that patients are better prepared to successfully deal with the issue(s) in question. These professionals also function as advocates and facilitate numerous educational opportunities and support programs. According to PayScale, social workers make an average base salary of $48,900 per year.
  • Paralegal
    Paralegals perform various types of research for lawyers they work with. This job may also require providing legal support services for attorneys, which can include meeting with clients, filing paperwork, and appearing in court. These professionals are also trained to conduct interviews, edit pleadings, and help review legal documents related to assigned cases. According to PayScale, paralegals make an average base salary of $49,100 per year.
  • Crime Prevention Specialist
    Crime prevention specialists strive to develop community-based programs designed to help prevent crime in the area. They are also responsible for educating citizens on how to protect themselves from various threats. These professionals accomplish these goals by assessing community needs and creating targeted educational opportunities.

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  • Crime Scene Investigator (CSI)
    Crime scene investigators secure areas after crimes are committed and perform thorough examinations in order to find relevant evidence related to unattended natural deaths, accidents, suicides, and homicide cases. They are responsible for determining what evidence to examine further. These professionals also supervise and monitor the work of forensic investigators. According to PayScale, crime scene investigators make an average base salary of $48,300 per year.
  • Probation Officer
    Probation officers provide help and support to prior criminal offenders to keep them from committing further misconduct. They accomplish this by working with local law enforcement, the courts, sentencing judges, accused suspects, and convicts to identify the safest and fairest outcomes. These professionals also ensure dangerous criminals remain in prison. According to PayScale, probation officers make an average base salary of $44,450 per year.
  • Substance Abuse Counselor
    Substance abuse counselors diagnose and treat people who use and abuse substances, such as various drugs and alcohol. They do this by helping their patients develop individualized treatment plans, which often includes identifying and eliminating possible substance abuse triggers. These professionals may meet with patients one-on-one or in groups. According to PayScale, substance abuse counselors make an average base hourly rate of $17.72, or $40,250 per year.
  • State Trooper
    State troopers perform many of the same duties as police officers including, but not limited to, taking suspects into custody and completing all necessary paperwork. They are qualified to perform searches and make formal arrests. These professionals spend a lot of time patrolling assigned areas and working to obtain information about alleged crimes. According to PayScale, state troopers make an average base salary of $56,150 per year.

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