The day I obtained my Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice, my mentor, Dr. William “Wild Bill” Heck, told me to immediately start a PhD program. In was 1998 and he saw a need for those in the Criminal Justice field to go into higher education. I remember the conversation like it was yesterday. Dr. Heck pressed me pretty hard. He told me to leave my profession in law enforcement, get the degree and begin making an impact on future law enforcement professionals as they flocked to school. Little did I know that “Wild Bill” was exactly right. In the last two decades, there has been a tremendous increase in Criminal Justice Programs and demands from both the public and agencies for law enforcement to get degrees.
I didn’t do what Dr. Heck advised. I was five years into my law enforcement career, newly married, and uprooting my family and my life to go to one of the few schools that offered the PhD in Criminal Justice did not resonate with me. I never forgot that conversation and the thought of pursuing that doctorate never left my mind so when I started doing research on schools a few years ago, I could not believe how everything had changed.
A Personal Decision
Making the decision to go back to school is a deeply personal one so I would never say “do what I do” but I will tell you how I made my decision and why it’s working for me. With a busy full time job, business and family, I needed two specific requirements when choosing a school. I needed a 100% online program and a school that was reasonable on cost. The third requirement made the first two tougher. With two other degrees in Criminal Justice and my career long interest in leadership, I wanted a doctoral program with a leadership focus. I often found one or two requirements present in a school but not all three.
Sticker Shock & Degree
I was blown away at the high cost of education today. With a Senior in High School, I am aware of what Undergraduate Degrees cost but Doctoral Degrees were on another level. A $60,000 price tag was the norm and that didn’t even include fees and books! I did find several leadership programs but most of them required an MBA or other classes before I began. Right or wrong, I had no interest in another graduate degree or entrance exam before getting started.
I had pretty much given up in finding a school that matched my tight requirements when the quarterback at my son’s school was recruited by Liberty University, which prompted me to take a look at the school. Located in Lynchburg, Virginia, the University offers over 550 degrees and while their campus is huge, it was apparent that they specialized in online learning, ranking in the top 5 out of 2100 online schools. They had just launched a Doctoral Degree in Strategic Leadership that seemed to be exactly what I wanted and there was just one more requirement needed….how much did it cost?
The regular price was the cheapest I had found but on top of that, Liberty University offers a 25% discount to law enforcement, fire and military personnel. Once admitted, I simply e-mailed my police identification to them and within 24 hours, the discount was applied. They enable you to make monthly payments without interest or they have several options on financial aid and loans that don’t have to be paid back until you graduate. From the application process to speaking with them to my first class and interaction with the professor, I have been very impressed. Most I speak to are not aware of Liberty University and if you have a thought about going back to school, I highly recommend them.
In Honor of Dr. “Wild Bill” Heck
I didn’t listen to Dr. Heck that day 20 years ago but I never forgot his encouragement and his words. “Wild Bill” was a constant source of knowledge, enthusiasm, passion and love for professional law enforcement. He railed about the corruption he had witnessed as a cop in Louisiana and he made sure that we all knew the importance of the Constitution, education and love for the common man. Dr. Heck introduced me to his Libertarian views and made sure I left my Graduate Degree with an appreciation of everyone’s thoughts and viewpoints and more importantly individual freedom to choose. It’s how “Wild Bill” lived and I’d like to think it’s how he died. Dr. Heck died in 2008 in a motorcycle accident, ironically in the city I patrolled in. When I got accepted at Liberty University, it was my late mother and Dr. Heck that came to mind. Doc, that is pretty good company sir……Godspeed!
Travis Yates is a writer and editor at Law Officer. An ILEETA Trainer of the Year, his Seminars in Risk Management & Officer Safety have been taught across the United States & Canada. Major Yates is a current Doctoral Student in Strategic Leadership and is a graduate of the FBI National Academy. He is the Director of Training for Law Officer (www.lawofficer.com) and the Founder of the Courageous Leadership Institute (www.courageousleader.org), providing leadership consulting and training to law enforcement around the world.