Protective Services Degrees: Associate, Bachelor's & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in a protective services program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of an associate and bachelor's degree and potential careers.
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Protective Services Associate and Bachelor's Degrees at a Glance

Protective services is a broad career field that covers several different areas of study. What ties them together is that they are all careers that provide support for people in crisis situations. Specifically, protective services programs include pre-professional training for law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency services technicians (EMT). While these programs are separate from one another, they are sometimes run by the same colleges and may form a single department.

In these fields, an associate degree is usually considered sufficient training for consideration for most entry-level positions. Bachelor's programs are often designed for mid-career professionals looking to earn a degree as part of professional development.

Associate Bachelor's
Who are these degrees for? Individuals interested in working in protective services, interacting with the public to prevent or diffuse crisis situations People looking to enter protective services careers or gain the education necessary for promotion in a current role
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Police officer ($54,000)*
- Firefighter ($45,000)*
- Emergency medical technician (EMT) ($31,000)*
Same as associate degree, plus:
- Police detective ($72,000)*
- Police supervisor ($78,000)*
- Fire chief ($69,000)*
Time to Completion 2 years full time 2 years full time after the associate degree
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 20-24 courses - Approximately 20-24 additional courses beyond the associate degree
Prerequisites - Age limits vary by field:
18 for firefighters and EMTs
21 for police officers
- U.S. citizenship and clean legal record required for police officers
- Professional degree and relevant work experience
Online Availability EMS continuing education Law Enforcement, Fire Science

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Associate Degrees in Protective Services Specializations

Associate degrees are available for all fields in protective services, and students specialize by field. Future police officers earn their degrees in criminal justice or similar programs. These programs are usually followed by police academy training. Those wishing to become firefighters may enter programs in fire science. These courses are designed to prepare firefighters for licensure. Aspiring emergency medical services (EMS) professionals take EMT technology courses; an associate degree may not be required for all positions. Whether the associate degree is completed or not, EMS licensure will be required. Some individuals complete licensure with only a certificate.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), positions for police officers and firefighters are expected to grow more slowly than average in the years 2010-2020. In the same period, EMS positions are expected to grow much more quickly than average, though these positions offer lower pay relative to other protective services careers.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Protective services roles often allow people to help others in concrete and meaningful ways.
  • These demanding roles can be exciting.
  • These pre-professional associate degree programs are usually considered sufficient training.

Cons

  • Protection services careers tend to be stressful and can be dangerous.
  • These careers are dependent on government funding for services, which may vary with economic and political climate.
  • Professionals in these careers often interact with people in times of stress, when they are not at their best.

Courses and Requirements

The course requirements for training for these various roles are quite different from one another, but all require a high level of ethics, maturity and decision-making capability. They also all require excellent physical fitness and a certain level of physical courage. Law enforcement coursework includes an understanding of constitutional law, policing strategy, interrogation techniques and communication skills. Fire science programs prepare students for firefighting licensure, including fire suppression strategies and safety concerns, but also covering scientific aspects of firefighting and fire investigation. EMT training covers a certain amount of medical knowledge, including some pharmacology, but also anatomy and physiology, safety and business-related aspects of the field.

Online Degree Options

These pre-professional degrees require a certain amount of hands-on training. Law enforcement training and most fire science training are done in face-to-face environments. While there are online course offerings for EMS, they are generally non-degree or certificate, and targeted at those rising in the ranks toward the paramedic title.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

For all protective services degrees, taking advantage of both the coursework and opportunities to be active in the field are the first two steps. Developing professional mentors among the teaching professionals may assist in the career search. Seeking out further opportunities for hands-on learning, and proving yourself in challenging situations through first-responder training and internships may improve your application process. For EMS and firefighter positions, seeking out volunteer opportunities to increase your experience and prove your value may be beneficial as well.

Bachelor's Degrees in the Protective Services Field

While an associate's degree will suffice for most entry-level positions, a bachelor's degree may be necessary for supervisory positions and other positions of increased responsibility. Bachelor's degrees in law enforcement may specifically focus on leadership roles and responsibilities, while bachelor's programs for fire science may address both investigative and managerial skills. Some programs for EMS leadership are available as well.

Bachelor's degrees in these fields are designed to fulfill the educational requirements of those seeking leadership positions and to provide advanced training and background theory to assist in sound decision-making.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • These programs are often designed to prepare students for leadership positions.
  • Students in these programs are usually mid-career professionals, so programs are designed around their needs.
  • Programs provide opportunities for networking and increased standing in the field.

Cons

  • Coursework may provide additional challenges above and beyond normal career concerns.
  • Programs are career-specific, providing few opportunities for development outside of the chosen career path.
  • Education is just one of the requirements of protective services leadership roles, and these programs cannot guarantee promotion.

Courses and Requirements

Coursework for these bachelor's-level programs cover a combination of topics including more advanced classes similar to those at the associate level and courses designed to improve leadership skills and advanced decision-making. Coursework addresses business-related topics to assist future leaders in managing funds and budgets, personnel and ethical issues that may arise in the course of work. It also addresses problems on a larger scope, training students in such topics as disaster planning and media relations.

Online Degree Options

Unlike the pre-professional associate programs, many schools offer bachelor's degrees in law enforcement online, as do some for fire science bachelor's degrees. These programs are meant for career professionals looking to fulfill educational requirements for promotion. As all protective services careers work on a 24/7 basis, the asynchronous scheduling of online courses can be particularly useful. EMS bachelor's degree programs are significantly rarer, and there are no online programs at this time.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

In order to take advantage of this degree, students should be clear what their career goals and options are, and find a program that offers them coursework and internship opportunities that meet their needs. Because completing a bachelor's degree requires a significant investment of both time and money, students must balance the desire for education against the investment that they will need to make. These programs can provide an opportunity for students to develop relationships with mentors and expand their protective services career contacts outside of their local area.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Undergraduate Specialization - Criminal Forensics
      • BS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
  • Online Programs Available
    2. American InterContinental University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Corrections and Case Management
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Generalist
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Forensic Science
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Homeland Security and Crisis Management
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS - Criminal Justice
      • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice - Cybercrime and Security
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Regent University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Applied Science in Criminal Justice
      • Bachelor of Arts in Law and National Security
      • Bachelor of Arts in Leadership Studies - Criminal Justice
      • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice
      • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice - Corrections
      • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice - Homeland Security
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor: Public Safety and Emergency Management
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Utica College

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS in Cybersecurity - Cybercrime and Fraud Investigation
      • Bachelor of Science in Fraud and Financial Crime Investigation
      • Online Bachelor of Science in Fraud and Financial Crime Investigation - Financial Investigation
      • Online Bachelor of Science in Fraud and Financial Crime Investigation - Fraud Prevention and Detection
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Excelsior College

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS in Criminal Justice (Criminal Justice Administration)
      • BS in Criminal Justice (Homeland Security)
      • BS in Criminal Justice (Without Concentration)
      • BS in Criminal Justice (Investigative Forensics)
      • BS in Criminal Justice (Law Enforcement and Public Safety)
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Thomas Edison State University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS in Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness
  • Winfield, KS

    Southwestern College

  • Richmond, VA

    Virginia Commonwealth University

Featured Schools

Colorado State University Global

  • Undergraduate Specialization - Criminal Forensics
  • BS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin

What is your highest level of education?

American InterContinental University

  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Corrections and Case Management
  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Generalist

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Colorado Technical University

  • BS - Criminal Justice
  • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice - Cybercrime and Security

Are you a US citizen?

Regent University

  • Bachelor of Applied Science in Criminal Justice
  • Bachelor of Arts in Law and National Security
  • Bachelor of Arts in Leadership Studies - Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education completed?

Grand Canyon University

  • Bachelor: Public Safety and Emergency Management

What is your highest level of education?

Utica College

  • BS in Cybersecurity - Cybercrime and Fraud Investigation
  • Bachelor of Science in Fraud and Financial Crime Investigation
  • Online Bachelor of Science in Fraud and Financial Crime Investigation - Financial Investigation

What is your highest level of education completed?

Excelsior College

  • BS in Criminal Justice (Criminal Justice Administration)
  • BS in Criminal Justice (Homeland Security)
  • BS in Criminal Justice (Without Concentration)

What is your highest level of education completed?

Thomas Edison State University

  • BS in Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness

What is your highest level of education completed?