The Benefits of an Online Public Service Bachelor's Degree

A police officer sitting in the driver's seat of a police car

When crisis strikes, people know they can count on public safety professionals to protect their communities. The professionals who work within the five major departments of public safety – fire service, law enforcement, corrections, emergency medical service (EMS), and emergency management – ensure that our communities remain safe and peaceful places to live. Through their work, they make a truly lifesaving impact.

Whether you’re an experienced public safety professional or you’re interested in entering this rewarding field, there are many benefits to earning a public service degree.  

Rise Up the Ranks

One of the greatest benefits of earning a public service degree is that it will position you to earn promotions and enter leadership positions within your field. While you may not need a degree to begin your career in the public safety field, you will often need one to advance to leadership positions.

A degree not only showcases advanced knowledge and skillsets, but also demonstrates that you are committed to lifelong learning and professional advancement. No matter what sector of public safety you’re in, if you want to make a lifelong career in the field and excel in your profession, a degree will help you advance.

David Emanuel, MPA, is a UNH College of Professional Studies faculty member and the Fire Chief of the Durham, New Hampshire Fire Department. He has contributed to the fire service in many ways, including as an instructor for the NH Fire Academy. He encourages first responders to pursue higher education and lifelong learning.

“I encourage our team to continue their professional development and education because our entire organization benefits from their learning and experience by utilizing information and data to make better decisions and to provide services aligned with best management practices in the industry.”

Law Enforcement and Corrections

Law enforcement professionals protect our communities through community policing, crime prevention, and active crime response. Corrections professionals supervise prison inmates while incarcerated and, upon release, during their transition back into society.

Within the fields of law enforcement and corrections, a college degree will help open the door to more advanced roles. Common degree options include a B.S. in Criminal Justice or B.S. in Public Administration. A degree can help you advance to roles such as a probation officer, sergeant, lieutenant, or even police chief. It also opens the door to other areas within law enforcement and corrections, such as working as a federal agent, crime analyst, or forensic psychologist.

If you’re already an experienced law enforcement professional, make sure you look for a degree program that will offer credit for your prior learning experiences. Transfer-friendly colleges will count prior police training as credit towards your degree, allowing you to complete your program even faster.

Fire Service

Fire service professionals respond to a large variety of emergency situations, such as building and forest fires, vehicle accidents, chemical spills, and general fire alarm alerts. Their responsibilities also include search and rescue, initiating and maintaining controlled fires for future wildfire prevention, and the general protection of forests, wetlands, wildlife, and communities.

While the fire service field offers entry-level opportunities, a college degree can help open doors to seriously rewarding roles. A common degree pathway is a B.S. in Fire Service Administration. Fire service administration programs build upon your experience and teach essential administrative skills and the knowledge to manage the ethical, social, and moral challenges of emergency response professionals. If you have already completed an associate degree in fire science, then this is a natural next step for you!

A degree can position you to advance to roles such as fire safety officer, shift commander, or even fire chief.

Emergency Management

Emergency management professionals plan and execute response plans to deal with dangerous situations that threaten the safety of the public. This includes natural disasters, pandemics, acts of terrorism, biohazard exposure in the community, and other emergencies.

Most emergency management roles require a bachelor’s degree or even a master’s degree. Common degree options include a B.S. in Public Administration or a B.S. in Emergency Management. Since some emergency management positions require an advanced degree, some professionals go on to earn a M.S. in Leadership or a Graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Leadership.

Earning an online public service degree not only opens the door for you to pursue a career in this field, but also positions you for a leadership position within a variety of careers in the emergency management field. For example, a few possible career paths are: disaster recovery manager, environmental health officer, or emergency management director.  

Greater Earning Potential

One of the key benefits of a public service degree is the potential for a higher salary. A degree program helps you develop more advanced professional skills, which boosts your earning potential. For example, a police officer with operations management skills can increase their salary by 11%. Even having strong oral and verbal communication skills could increase salary earnings by five percent. These are just two examples of a huge array of skills you can develop to increase your earning potential.

Regardless of career path, professionals with a bachelor’s degree earn an average of 60% more per week than those with a high school diploma. No matter what sector of public safety you’re in, it’s likely that you’ll earn a higher salary with a degree under your belt.

Become a More Competitive Candidate

Another key benefit of a public service degree is that it will make you a more competitive job candidate. Those with a public service degree have a significant competitive advantage over other candidates because they have skills and knowledge that employers desire.

There’s a reason that possessing more developed skills – such as operations management, or strong oral and verbal communication – lead to higher salary potential; it’s because they’re highly desirable professional skills. Degree programs help you develop and hone these skills. No matter the career path you choose, potential employers place high value on degree-holders and the skills they possess.

Hard skills and knowledge are important, but choosing to pursue a degree also demonstrates a commitment to personal and professional development. Earning a degree often requires a lot of time and hard work and thus demonstrates your dedication to continual improvement and growth. These traits are highly valued by leadership both for your potential as a team member, and as a budding future leader.

The Benefits of a Public Service Degree for Seasoned Professionals

Even if you’re a seasoned professional in the public safety field, there are still numerous benefits to pursuing a public service degree. It can provide you with a competitive advantage to move on to the next stage of your career, or even open the possibility for you to change fields. Many advanced roles require a bachelor’s degree in addition to years of experience.

Take a look at the chart below to see some of the ways a public service degree can help you naturally shift careers:

  • Public Safety Field
  • Degree
  • Potential Future Careers
  • Fire Services
  • B.S. Fire Service Administration
  • Labor relations specialist, environmental health and safety manager, insurance agent
  • Emergency Management 
  • B.S. Public Administration
  • Social and community service manager, operations manager, city manager, political scientist
  • Law Enforcement
  • B.S. Criminal Justice
  • Victim advocate, intelligence analyst, criminal justice teacher, paralegal
  • Emergency Medical Services
  • B.S. Health and Wellness
  • Healthcare social worker, fitness and wellness coordinator, community health worker, health education specialist

The Benefits of Earning a Public Service Degree Online

Professionals who work in the public safety field live busy lives with often high-stress careers, so going back to school may not always seem like a feasible option. But earning a public service degree online is an excellent, flexible option for busy professionals in any industry. Online courses allow you to fit your degree program around a demanding work schedule, so you can earn your degree on a timeline that works best for you.

Additionally, choosing a transfer-friendly college can fast track earning your degree, because they offer course credit for professional training programs and experience. This means you can earn your degree faster, cheaper, and with fewer courses.

There’s no question that a degree is an investment. You will commit your time, energy, and money when pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree. But the benefits of an online public service degree make it a worthy, valuable investment at any stage of your career.


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