In 1997, the University of Wisconsin-Platteville started its multidisciplinary Master of Science in Criminal Justice degree program. Now in its 23rd year, the program has proven to be a vital and essential part of graduate education at UW-Platteville, with more than 400 students graduates and counting. There are a plethora of reasons for the program’s success, but a defining factor has been its dedication to serving nontraditional and online students.
Having been recently ranked within the top ten of “Best Online Master Programs in Criminal Justice” lists from both bestvalueschools.com and gradschoolhub.com, along with consistently ranking highly in others, the program’s focus on student success is widely recognized. Students who enroll in the online program are often full-time employees with families, with many choosing to pursue their studies part-time—averaging 2.5 years to complete their degree. The staff behind the MSCJ program at UW-Platteville understand students have responsibilities outside of the virtual classroom, and they strive to create a learning experience that works with busy schedules, not against them.
Clint Nemitz, an admissions specialist for the program, states that while the program isn’t easy, it offers additional flexibility to those up for the challenge.
“The criminal justice profession comes with long, odd hours,” he said. “It also comes with a dedicated group of men and women looking to better themselves. Many people I speak with choose our program because of the flexibility. Not having to be in a classroom alleviates some stress of going back to school. Although it doesn’t make earning your degree any easier, it does give you a way to plan your week and fit everything in.”
Students may find that fitting everything in could be a fun problem to have, however, as the program’s offerings are so many. Integrating criminal justice, psychology, business, and political science courses, the program provides students with an in-depth knowledge of theoretical criminal justice and criminology, equipping them with the skills needed to thrive at both the organizational and community level.
Graduates of the program will also obtain advanced knowledge and skill in one of three emphasis areas, which include Criminal Justice Theory, Criminal Justice Management, and Victim and Offender Services. Whether it’s preparing students for the Ph.D. track, advancing them into supervisory positions in a variety of criminal justice settings, or matching them with work benefitting crime victims and parole clients, the emphasis areas—along with the core coursework—prepares learners to make the most of their chosen careers.
Outside of a degree, the online program also offers the Child Advocacy Studies (CAST) certificate, which is unique to the program. The certificate is designed to serve the needs of students who are specifically interested in professions working directly with or among maltreated children. Better yet, the certificate is earned after completing only nine graduate credits. Earning the degree is not required for obtaining the certificate.
Whichever pathway a student decides to pursue, all of the program’s curriculum is upheld and reviewed by UW-Platteville’s Criminal Justice Advisory Board. The board meets every year or two to ensure the program meets the needs of criminal justice agencies, as well as to discuss any necessary developments to meet the evolving needs in the field over time.
This continuous evaluation and adherence to improvement remains as relevant and important as ever, states Dr. Cheryl Banachowski-Fuller, Platteville’s criminal justice program coordinator.
“The federal and state governments are requiring higher standards to work as a police officer and correctional officer,” she said. “UW-Platteville’s online Criminal Justice master’s program has the capacity and capability of meeting the requirements and needs for those professionals in the field.”
It’s not only police work that graduates of the program enter into, however. As of 2019, of the more than 400 students who’ve graduated, an estimated 75-80% are working in supervisory and management positions in criminal justice agencies, teaching at universities and online institutions, or pursuing doctoral or law degrees. This unbridled success is both a testament to the hard work of the graduates and the program faculty who have assisted in achieving their goals.
“The instructors in the criminal justice program are true scholar-practitioners,” said Joseph Roy, a program alumnus. “The beauty of distance learning is that your professors can be anywhere. I learned from the best, from people actually in the field. They made my input feel important to the class. They were just as dedicated to my education as I was.”
This sentiment is reinforced by the instructors, who fully realize the value of what an online education and master’s degree can do for one’s education and career.
“What I really like about distance education is that it serves working adults, people who are already working in the profession,” said Patrick Solar, a professor in the program. “The master’s program is a great way to acquire the skills and knowledge that are necessary for the real-life aspects of a management position. A degree says something about us. Our willingness to advance ourselves, our willingness to work, our ability to meet deadlines, or to engage in self-initiated activities. All of those are positive attributes if you’re going to advance to supervisory and upper management.”
For more information on UW-Platteville’s Master of Science in Criminal Justice degree, check out the program’s webpage. Admission specialists are also standing by to discuss how the online program can help undergraduates achieve their desired personal and professional goals.