From the TSA agent who waves passengers through the metal detector at the airport to the police officer who pulls drivers over for a speeding ticket, public safety personnel are everywhere. The field encompasses both protection from man-made and natural events that endanger the lives of individuals or the public as well as the prevention of such events, if possible.
Degrees and career paths
Public safety offices can be found on at the local, state and federal levels. Most divisions include individuals conducting a wide variety of work, including firefighters, police officers, homeland security, emergency medical services, public transportation officials, public safety managers and more.
Browsing some of the field's most common careers at O*Net OnLine, a career website run by the U.S. Department of Labor, suggests that individuals best-suited for a job in public safety have strong leadership abilities and are highly organized. They can multi-task, find creative ways to solve problems and consistently plan ahead. Strong communication skills are also essential.
Since the range of jobs available is so varied, numerous degree paths can take you there. Many students focus on education that interests them, such as degrees in criminal justice, law enforcement, corrections, fire protection or public administration. No matter the degree level, there are at least seven key courses that pertain to public safety education, including:
- Cultural studies
- Administrative law
- Organizational behavior
- Advanced accounting
- Public administration
Earning an online health care degree degree in public safety can start at the associate level, though many choose to earn a bachelor's degree in order to qualify for entry-level jobs that offer advancement opportunities. A master's degree in public safety is available for those who want to move into administration or otherwise further their career horizons.
Traditional and online degrees in public safety
Online degrees in public safety can lead to an associate, bachelor's or master's degree or even a doctorate for those who seek the highest leadership positions. In some cases, earning a diploma or certificate in a related field can help those who already have a position enhance their chances for advancement.
The flexibility of online degrees can benefit students who are already working full-time by allowing them to better juggle work and family obligations while pursuing their education. In addition, many public safety positions require continuing education to keep employees abreast of new technology and trends. Continuing education can often be taken online, which helps fit the requirements into a busy schedule.
In the 2009-2010 school year, degrees in criminal justice and safety studies were the most popular, resulting in 22,137 bachelor degrees, 2,024 master degrees and 75 doctoral degrees, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Other popular educational paths included law enforcement administration, corrections and police science.
Salaries for public safety graduates
The varied occupations available for those with related degrees means a wide range of salaries are found in public safety professions. Some of the more popular positions are included here, along with 2010 mean annual wages are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
- Detective or criminal investigator: $73,010
- Firefighter: $47,730
- Emergency medical technician: $33,300
- Correctional officer: $42,780
- Fish and game warden: $55,650
- Emergency management specialist: $56,900
With a focus on prevention and protection from everything from hurricanes to terrorist attacks, positions on the local, state and federal levels should continue be in high demand. Whether earned through traditional colleges or online, public safety degrees can open the door to a new occupation or enhance an already established career.
Public safety at a glance
- Degree levels offered: All, from certificate to PhD
- Largest employer: U.S. government (BLS, 2010)
- Most popular degree focus: criminal justice
- Important skill: good communication