This is one of the most common inquiries we receive. The simple answer is no, but it depends…
Unlike other professions, there is no national education standard or requirement for police officers. Over the years, there have been a few efforts to change this, notably, the 1967 President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice and the 1973 National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals. But to this day, every state and agency is different, each with its own education requirements.
Only two states mandate higher education for officers: Minnesota and Wisconsin both require associate’s degrees. Other states require a minimum of a high school diploma or GED. It’s up to the individual agency to meet or exceed that requirement – which many do. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1% of all local police departments require a 4-year college degree; 15% require a 2-year college degree or some college.
The Police Association for College Education tracks departments requiring four-year degrees and offers a listing on their website. A sample of agencies include:
- Arlington Police Department- TX
- Centerville Police Department- OH
- Lakewood Police Department- CO
- Tulsa Police Department- OK
- Gaston County Police Department- NC
- Redlands Police Department- CA
- Smithfield Police Department- RI
- Flint Township Police Department- MI
The pros and cons of college education requirements and their effect on professionalism in policing is an interesting debate … perhaps one for a future blog post. For now, if you’re a jobseeker considering a career in law enforcement, here’s your takeaway: You cannot go wrong with more education. Most departments, regardless of their requirements, give higher pay to recruits with four-year degrees.
Furthermore, if you want to advance in the profession (i.e., get promoted), in many cases a degree – or even an advanced degree – will be required. And some agencies will even help you pay for it – something else to consider when looking for the department that is right for you.