One of the fastest growing, most exciting career fields today is Criminal Justice. However, competition for positions is fierce, college degrees are expensive, and it’s a field where experience is valued as much or more as academic achievement, especially for front line enforcement positions.
This makes military experience in addition to the academic experience of college an extremely valuable asset for prospective candidates in the criminal justice field. Law enforcement has always had key components in common with the military services — police departments are organized along military rank structures, both types of services involve the bearing of arms and potential use of physical force, and uniforms and rank insignia exist for both types of groups. Many different agencies provide preference to those who have served in the military through adding points to test scores throughout the hiring process.
This leaves several options available to prospective candidates. They could serve in the military in an enlisted capacity and then attend college after their term of service has expired. They could get a degree first and then attend Officer Candidate School, completing that program and then serving their commitment to the military as an officer. But more and more often, students are opting to combine their academic and military careers through a Reserve Officers’ Training (ROTC) Program.
ROTC programs combine traditional college academics with military training. Students attend classes at the university they choose to attend and, in addition, attend specific ROTC courses throughout their college careers. They attend regular military drills while in school, with extended training provided over the summer. Scholarship contracts are signed, covering all or part of the college tuition in return for a term of service – usually four years for active duty and eight years for reserves or the National Guard — as an officer after graduation.
This experience provides a unique combination of advantages for prospective candidates. They will have both college and military experience prior to applying for a criminal justice job. The leadership experience of serving as a military officer will provide unique insight into the leadership roles they will often be expected to assume later in their careers. They will learn to work as a team under difficult circumstances and to make good decisions under pressure, which will translate remarkably well into the criminal justice field. And last (but certainly not least), the physical fitness training standards they will have to meet will put them in an excellent position when taking pre-service physical fitness tests for jobs in the criminal justice field.
So where are the best ROTC programs for prospective criminal justice students? Because the military aspect of an ROTC college experience is largely standardized through the Army, the best way is to determine this is to look at the overall ranking of Criminal Justice programs (as listed by U.S. News and World Report), the presence of the school on the list of Military Friendly Colleges, and the presence of an active ROTC Battalion at or very near a particular campus. Using the above criteria, the following schools shone through as examples of the best ROTC programs for Criminal Justice Students in America. (Phone numbers listed are for the ROTC Program for that particular school.)
10.) University of Nebraska- Omaha
Offering ROTC classes and programs through nearby Creighton University, this school is one of the top twenty criminal justice schools in the nation. Aside from its strong academic credentials in the field, UN-Omaha features a public partnership with the Consortium of Crime and Justice Research, which collaborates with local, state, and federal agencies to promote research and problem solving in the criminal justice system. The university also features a “Study Abroad” program which allows students to travel to London and spend time viewing aspects of the criminal justice system there, including the Metropolitan Police Force, Scotland Yard, and maximum security correctional institutions.
9.) George Mason University
The largest university in Virginia by enrollment, George Mason University boasts a top twenty ranking nationally for its criminal justice programs. The academic focus here is on both criminal justice as well as justice issues in civil matters. George Mason aims to prepare students to compete effectively and advance in the career of their choice. The university has an impressive array of institutes attached to it, including the Center for Advancing Correctional Excellence and the Center for Justice Leadership and Management.
8.) Arizona State University
The largest university in the United States by enrollment, Arizona State is ranked among the best schools in the country by U.S. News. Because the program is based in the downtown Phoenix campus, it has a close working relationship with numerous criminal justice agencies in the area which provide students with a wide variety of internship, research, and instruction opportunities. ROTC functions are held at the close by Tempe campus, but the proximity of the two campuses makes the separation marginal at best.
7.) Temple University
This university located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has an impressive 38,000 student total enrollment and a nationally recognized school for criminal justice. In addition to the top notch academics of this nearly 130 year old institution, Temple also is home to the Temple University Law Enforcement Academy. The academy provides front line training in criminal justice occupations, including state certified police academy training for both new law enforcement officers as well as required continuing education and in-service training for those currently employed in the field.
6.) John Jay College of Criminal Justice
This college is part of the City University of New York system. Named for the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, it originally held classes in the New York Police Department police academy. Currently, it is the only liberal arts college in the United States with a criminal justice program that has a focus on forensics. It is closely tied in with the City of New York and more than 100 of the casualties on 9/11 were alumni of the college — many of whom were firefighters responding to the scene. ROTC programs are not limited to this campus alone and are grouped together under the CUNY-wide ROTC program.
5.) Rutgers University- Newark
(732) 932-7313, ext.18
This satellite campus of Rutgers University has a small enrollment with just over 12,000 students enrolled, but that didn’t stop U.S. News from listing it among the ten best criminal justice programs in the nation last year. It features an innovative series of public partnerships in the form of several centers and institutes, including the Rutgers Center on Public Security, the Evidence Based Institute, and the Police Institute. These programs integrate the university students and faculty with local and state agencies to partner in order to solve problems, form exceellent practices, and provide technical and educational assistance to agencies.
4.) Michigan State University
Michigan State’s College of Criminal Justice is the oldest Criminal Justice degree granting program in the United States. The program is well known for research in the areas of policing, security and violence. The University as a whole is the ninth largest university in the country, with more than 47,000 students currently enrolled. They are listed as a “Public Ivy” School for their affordable but rigorous academic program. U.S. News and World Report listed Michigan State as the seventh-best criminal justice program in the nation in the most recent report.
3.) Florida State University
The College of Criminal Justice at Florida State University is the oldest program of its kind in the United States. Faculty members of the university lead the nation in funding for education and studies on delinquency. In addition, no other academic institution is cited more often for research on gun control. Florida State University also boasts an impressive eleven million dollars in externally funded research projects. The school’s criminal justice program is ranked seventh overall in the nation by U.S. News and World Reports, which rated the school as a whole to be the “Most Efficient” university in the country. The institution was also named to be a “Budget Ivy” university by the Fiske Guide to Getting into the Right College.
2.) University of Cincinnati
Founded more than forty years before the Civil War, the University of Cincinnati (originally Cincinnati College) has an annual enrollment of more than 40,000 students. U.S. News and World Report ranks it as the third most prestigious criminal justice program in the nation, and it has been considered a “Tier One” school since 2011. The Journal of Criminal Justice ranked the university as the number one criminal justice school in the nation for research productivity. The Center for Court Innovation did a research study which found that the Director of the Criminal Justice School was named as one of the most influential people in the field by his peers in 2013.
1.) University of Maryland at College Park
The University of Maryland at College Park is the largest university in the Washington, D.C. area. It is considered the flagship institution of the University of Maryland system with an enrolment of more than 37,000 students. It enjoys an extremely close relationship with many federal criminal justice agencies because of its proximity to the nation’s capital, with the college of criminal justice receiving research funding and institutional support from the Department of Homeland Security. It is a rigorous academic institution, and it is considered to be among the “Public Ivy League Schools” according to Howard and Matthew Greene. The University is able to boast a large number of prominent alumni, including Lt. Gen. Julius Becton, Jr. (former FEMA director) and James Clapper, the current Director of National Intelligence.