Correctional Officer Degrees: Associate, Bachelor & Online Training Info

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What will you learn in a correctional science undergraduate degree program? Read about program requirements, the pros and cons of an associate's and bachelor's degree and potential careers.
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Studying Correctional Science: Degrees at a Glance

Correctional science studies are designed to give students the necessary analytical, problem-solving and communication skills needed to work in a variety of correctional and rehabilitation settings. Correctional science at the associate's level may be found as a standalone program or as a specialization within criminal justice. An associate's degree could lead to a position as a security guard or a correctional officer. A bachelor's degree is usually required if you wish to work as a correctional officer at the federal level.

Job prospects may vary depending on the career; for example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that probation officers would see an 18% increase in jobs from 2010-2020, while correctional officers were projected to only see a 5% increase in job openings for the same time frame. If you're interested in becoming a security guard, keep in mind that you may need to get a state license before you can begin working.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals seeking entry-level correctional positions Individuals who want to work as a correctional officer at the federal level or pursue a mid-level career in corrections
Common Career Paths (with approximate median salary) - Correctional officer ($40,000)*
- Bailiff ($39,000)**
- Security Guard ($24,000)**
- Probation officer ($48,000)**
- Federal correctional officer (salary unavailable)
- Correctional administrator (salary unavailable)
Time to Completion 2 years, full-time 4 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - About 10-15 courses related to correctional science
- Practicum/co-op experience
- Roughly 7-10 core criminal justice courses
- About 4-8 courses focused in correctional studies
- Internship/work experience
- Seminar
Prerequisites High school diploma or equivalent High school diploma or equivalent
Online Availability No Yes

Sources: *Salary.com (figures as of September 2012), **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2011 figures).

Associate in Correctional Science

The associate's program is generally geared towards individuals who wish to become correctional officers, although you may find additional entry-level law enforcement opportunities at police stations or courtrooms. This program generally takes about 2 years to complete and covers topics in criminal law, correctional systems and probation. Although an associate's degree in correctional science is rarely required for most entry-level positions as a correctional officer, students who finish these programs can gain a foundational education of the procedures and operations used in today's correctional facilities and get ahead of other aspiring officers who only have a high school diploma.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Can give you an advantage over candidates who only have a high school diploma
  • What you learn can be applied to a number of different law enforcement settings (police stations, jails, courtrooms)
  • Course credit can usually count towards a bachelor's degree in criminal justice if you wish to continue your education
  • Can reduce the amount of experience needed to qualify for certain certifications

Cons

  • An associate's degree is rarely a hard requirement for the positions you're qualified for
  • Federal correctional officer positions require a bachelor's degree
  • Skills you can learn from the program are very specific and are not easily transferrable to industries outside of law enforcement

Courses and Requirements

The associate's degree program in correctional science includes a couple general education courses followed by at least 10 courses covering correctional sciences. Some of the typical required courses include correctional law, probation concepts and introduction to corrections. Towards the end of the program you may need to complete a practicum or a cooperative work experience, but the exact requirements vary between programs. While elective course options may vary between schools, some of your options may include:

  • Law and community relations
  • Juvenile corrections
  • Police systems
  • Street gangs
  • Violence in the U.S.
  • Justice system procedures

Online Options

The associate's program in correctional science is not currently available in an online format. However, correctional science is a fairly common program that can usually be found at a community college, so you may be able to find a nearby program that does not require extensive travel.

Standing out with This Degree

The American Correctional Association (ACA) offers a number of certifications for various corrections specialties. For example, the Certified Corrections Officer designation may be a great choice for entry-level officers who work with adults or juveniles. You'll need at least a year of relevant work experience before you can take the exam. If you're looking for a more advanced certification, the Certified Corrections Supervisor is available to associate's degree holders who have a year of corrections work experience (5 years of experience is required if you don't have an associate's degree).

If you're not interested in becoming certified, ACA offers online training courses in a number of specialty areas. ACA also publishes correctional journals, books and magazines that may be of interest to you.

Bachelor's in Correctional Science

Studies in correctional science at the bachelor's level are generally found as a specialization or concentration within a criminal justice program. The bachelor's degree program can give you a solid understanding of the criminal justice system in the U.S. and open up opportunities to work for the federal government. Most of the program is based on coursework, but you'll usually have multiple opportunities to take part in more hands-on learning experiences than you would at the associate's level. You may also have the opportunity to take part in an internship, giving you practical work experience that can be useful after you graduate.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Degree is required if you wish to work in corrections at the federal level
  • Typically offers more practical learning opportunities than an associate's program (workshops, internships, field experiences)
  • Can reduce the amount of experience needed to obtain some certifications

Cons

  • Many of the jobs you're qualified for don't require a degree
  • The skills you can learn from the program have a narrow focus and aren't usually applicable to careers outside of law enforcement
  • You may have 4 fewer years of experience than corrections professionals who started working right after high school, which could make it harder to get a job

Program Requirements

You'll typically begin the program with general education and prerequisite courses. In about your second year, you'll jump into some core criminal justice courses, such as research in criminal justice, criminal law, juvenile justice and crime in America. Some of the corrections concentration courses may include:

  • Crime prevention
  • White collar crime
  • Community corrections
  • Corrections management
  • Civil rights law

At some point in your junior or senior years, you'll probably complete an internship and a seminar. Your internship is somewhat flexible, so you may have the opportunity to get some experience in the exact line of work you hope to pursue after you graduate. Some schools may also include a couple workshops covering minorities or women in the criminal justice system.

Online Options

Unlike the associate's program, the bachelor's program is available in a distance learning format. An online program is nearly identical to an on-campus program and even includes an internship opportunity and a capstone course. The course selection is comparable to an on-campus program, so you won't have to worry about missing out on specific topics because of the program being administered online.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

You may be able to get an edge over other applicants by joining a professional organization, such as the American Jail Association (AJA) or the American Correctional Association (ACA). If you join AJA, you could have access to a bi-monthly magazine that keeps you up-to-date on recent occurrences in jails and you could get discounts on education opportunities. The ACA offers a variety of online training and certification options. With a bachelor's degree, you only need a year of high-level corrections experience (as opposed to 10 years without one) to qualify for the Certified Corrections Executive credential.

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