Academic journal article International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences

Perceptions of Undergraduate Students on Criminology and Criminal Justice Education in the United States: An Empirical Analysis

Academic journal article International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences

Perceptions of Undergraduate Students on Criminology and Criminal Justice Education in the United States: An Empirical Analysis

Article excerpt

Introduction

The first criminology program for police officers was founded in 1916 at the University of California at Berkeley in the U.S. (Birzer & Palmiotto, 2002). Since then, the number of colleges and universities offering criminology or criminal justice (hereafter C&CJ) or closely related programs has increased nationwide, especially during the 1970s after the passage of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (Eigenberg & Baro, 1992). According to the most recent statistics from the Department of Education, in 2006 and 2007, 39,206 students earned bachelor's degrees in the field of security and protective services, including corrections, criminal justice and law enforcement administration, and corrections administration (The National Center for Education Statistics, 2009, p. 237).

However, a debate whether college education is necessary for criminal justice practitioners continues. Carlan (2006) wrote that "Criminal Justice educators are [still] accused of operating 'cop shops' or 'advanced training academies,' yet few efforts test these stereotypes against the experiences of police consumers" (p. 616). Along with the debate, studies have been conducted to examine the impact of college education on officers' job performance (e.g. Paoline & Terrill, 1997; Wimshurst & Ransley, 2007) or on their increased job satisfaction (e.g., Dantzker, 1994; Zhaoa, Thurmanb & He, 1999). The evaluation or assessment of C&CJ programs in higher education has been a popular topic in the literature since the 1970s. One way to evaluate programs is to incorporate student input by examining student opinions of program quality. However, little research specifically focuses on how C&CJ undergraduates perceive their C&CJ programs. The main goal of this study is to examine those perceptions. More specifically, the present study answers the following questions:

* How do students perceive C&CJ higher education in relation to their jobs and careers?

* What is students' main reason for pursuing a four-year college degree in C&CJ?

* What is C&CJ students' main obstacle to pursuing a four-year college degree?

* How are students' demographic and social variables related to their perception of their C&CJ program?

Due to the fact that few studies have examined how C&CJ majors perceive their program in higher education, this study is exploratory in nature. Learning about C&CJ programs from students' perspectives can yield many benefits. For example, as Benekos and his associates point out, "Data regarding student perceptions can help faculty develop teaching strategies that will better educate students about critical issues in the system" (Benekos, Merlo, Cook & Bagley, 2002, p. 203).

Literature review

College education and career seem to be closely related. After all, all college students will have to decide on a career path (Mobley, 2000). Some scholars (Blocher & Rapoza, 1981; Laanan, 2000; Payne & Sumter, 2005) have pointed out that career preparation has been recognized as a crucial mission of higher education. Although career preparation is one of the most important missions of higher education, some scholars (e.g., Birzer & Palmiotto, 2002) caution that the inclusion of technical and vocational classes in academic C&CJ programs may lower these programs' learning standards as well as the general perception of the degree program.

C&CJ programs in higher education have been the object of great concern among many scholars since the 1970s, and as such they have been consistently evaluated and criticized. Some of these scholars have focused on curriculum descriptions from various programs (e.g., Adams, 1976; Bennett, & Marshall, 1979; Birzer & Palmiotto, 2002; Fabianic, 1979a; Kuykendall, 1977; Lytle & Travis, 2008; Mijares & Blackburn, 1990; Pelfrey, 1982; Southerland, 1991, 2002). Other researchers have specifically analyzed the descriptions, quality, prestige, and evaluation mechanisms of C&CJ doctoral programs (e. …

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