Criminal Justice Education, Employment Destinations, and Graduate Satisfaction

Article excerpt

The article addresses the lack of sound empirical research both overseas and especially in Australia on the outcomes of criminal justice education. The very limited research on graduate outcomes is potentially problematic at a time when governments are increasingly calling for program accountability and evaluation in higher education. The article reports on an empirical study of one criminology/criminal justice program that investigated the employment destinations of graduates. Principal components analysis and regression analyses were used to explore graduate satisfaction with their degree. There was evidence that educational outcomes were important considerations when alumni evaluated their degree. However, findings indicated that satisfaction varied considerably between occupational groups and was influenced by employment experiences and perceived 'success' in the workforce. The article addresses various themes emerging from the findings and identifies the need for further research across other programs on the outcomes of criminal justice education and graduate destinations.

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Criminology and criminal justice represent a relatively new field of professional education in Australian universities. Among other things, these programs are designed to enhance employment opportunities in the criminal justice system. However, the boundaries of the criminal justice system are unclear and the components of the system diverse. These factors present a challenge for those designing criminal justice programs in higher education. To make matters more complicated, little is known about the employment destinations of criminal justice graduates and how they reach those destinations.

Research on graduate employment outcomes remains uncommon in Australia perhaps because of the recent origin of many criminal justice programs. Academic criminology programs still exist at some older universities, whereas criminal justice programs were usually established later in the 'new' universities which grew out of extensive institutional amalgamations of the late 1980s and early 1990s. However, even in the United States, which saw considerable growth in criminal justice education from the early 1970s, there remains uncertainty about the outcomes of such programs. Terry (1980) noted more than 25 years ago that criminal justice research had all but ignored the criminal justice student, while Henry and Hinkle (2001, p. xiii) 2 decades later noted that 'one of the major weaknesses of many criminal justice programs (was) the lack of attention they placed on outcome'. In both cases, commentators stressed that we should learn more about the employment and career outcomes of graduates, and how such outcomes were related to undergraduate education.

An understanding of the outcomes of criminal justice education and employment destinations is important for the broader field of criminology and its various audiences. Teachers and researchers benefit from a better understanding of the fit between the generation of professional knowledge and subsequent systems application by graduates. The disciplinary field of criminology is still professionalising and maturing in Australian universities and so it is important to examine the links between professional education and the ways graduates approach later challenges in the workplace. In this sense, understanding what graduates take from the university, and how they reflect on their education and employment, also assists criminologists in universities and justice agencies to reflect on their own research and teaching activities.

Given the paucity of empirical research on criminology/criminal justice education and graduate destinations, this article draws on data from a project that explored the employment outcomes of criminal justice graduates. We first summarise what is known about criminal justice education in Australia and overseas, and about the measurement of graduate satisfaction with their education. …