Law & Scholarship
Rauschart, Lisa, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
Byline: Lisa Rauschart
little more than 10 years ago, when the thriller "Silence of the Lambs" was first hitting movie screens, applications to the University of Maryland's criminal-justice program soared.
"Everybody wanted to be a profiler," Charles Wellford, chairman of the school's Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, says with a chuckle. The still-popular program is ranked among the top in the nation for the strength of its academics and faculty. Currently, 1,100 undergraduates are enrolled in what is one of the largest majors on the College Park campus.
"A criminal-justice major is somewhere between a professional degree and a liberal-arts degree," Mr. Wellford says. "Plus, the subject matter is inherently attractive. Students take an introductory course, and they're hooked."
Drawing on their proximity to such places as the FBI, CIA and other law enforcement agencies, area schools are able to offer an experience that combines a theoretical underpinning with practical, real-life applications.
"Let's face it, today the justice system is a growth industry," says professor Robert Johnson, chairman of the Department of Justice, Law and Society at American University. "People can go into so many fields - probation, parole, law enforcement or administration."
The variety of career options means that a wide range of courses is available to prepare students. Gone are the standards of the early 1970s, when most students in criminal-justice programs were law enforcement personnel.
"We are looking for a broader perspective," Mr. Wellford says. "So we offer classes not only in criminology and criminal justice, but also in policing, courts, corrections and social-science theory-based courses."
Nevertheless, programs differ from place to place. Some, like those at the University of Maryland and American University, offer broadly based curricula grounded in the basics but tailored to the particular needs and mission of the institution.
At American University, for example, students enrolled in the Department of Law, Justice and Society's undergraduate program can take courses on euthanasia, criminal psychology and public policy. Graduate students, most of whom go on to professional jobs, take an internship seminar that requires them to write papers analyzing their experiences with agencies such as the FBI, Secret Service, local law firms or prosecutors' offices.
"This department embraces students," says Anthony McMahon, a senior at American University who is working toward a degree in law and society. "There's a wide variety of topics that allow interaction between students and professors. I always look forward to the courses I take here."
Other programs, such as the master's degree program at George Washington University, narrow their focus to concentrate on a particular area. At GW, the emphasis is on forensics. Indeed, many students who received an undergraduate degree in criminal-justice-related fields from other area colleges and universities often turn to GW's master's degree program in the forensic sciences. The Department of Forensic Sciences there also offers graduate certificates in security management and computer fraud investigation.
What can you expect from a four-year broad-based undergraduate program in criminal justice similar to those offered at the University of Maryland and American University? For one thing, you'll get an education that can prepare you for any number of experiences. Both the University of Maryland and American University boast that about 30 percent of their undergraduate criminal-justice majors go on to law schools. Others end up in law enforcement, working for various federal agencies, or going on to do crime-based research and analysis.
Most area criminal-justice programs host job fairs to introduce students to the opportunities available to them. …