Criminal justice programs growing throughout WBU system

Dr. Dick DeLung loves his job. After nine years, the associate professor of sociology and criminal justice at Wayland Baptist University in Plainview has seen the fruits of an intense makeover to the criminal justice program at WBU.

“The criminal justice program here has grown a great deal over the past few years,” DeLung said. “Each semester it’s grown a little more, and we had 75 students last semester in the program, with 10 graduates in April.”

More than the numbers, DeLung said he is most proud of the employability of his students, and he believes the wide array of careers available helps attract students to the criminal justice field.

“Most degrees open doors for you,” DeLung said. “The nice thing about a criminal justice degree is that it opens up a corridor that’s full of doors, with jobs available with police, courts and corrections.”

DeLung said most people think criminal justice leads to a career as a police officer, but the reality is that few really take that road. And that’s OK with DeLung, who notes, “It takes a special animal to be a cop.” Students often lean toward careers with crisis centers, mental health/mental retardation, parole or probation departments, child protective services and other social welfare departments or correctional facilities. Still others pursue graduate work in sociology or psychology with aims at private practice or licensing for higher administrative positions.

The only thing that matters to DeLung is that they’re studying the field, working in it and are passionate about what they do. The scenario is a far cry from his early days on the job, when the program was barely breathing.

“When I first came, we had about five students and weren’t offering a major in criminal justice (but had at one point in time),” he said. “We looked over the program and eliminated some classes, wrote curriculum for several new classes, revised the numbering system and made the courses work better for students. We added a semester internship as a core requirement, and the students have to put in 15-20 hours each week of hands-on work, keep a journal and have their supervisor sign off on it daily.”

Internships are geared toward the area of interest for the students, and some work with the local police or sheriff’s department, parole and probation or the corrections facilities. DeLung maintains a strong partnership with local law enforcement and other entities to get students that experience, and the efforts have paid off.

“One recent graduate interned with the Hale County Crisis Center and so enjoyed working with the children and families that he applied to work at CPS in Big Spring and got the job,” DeLung explained. “He had originally thought he’d attend the police academy but fell in love with this.”

A former police officer and academy trainer himself, DeLung said he’s proud of his students and the program, which continues to grow by 3-5 students each year. But he’s not the only one. Several of Wayland’s other campuses boast large numbers of students in the criminal justice major, most of whom are working toward the Bachelor of Science in Occupational Education.

In Phoenix, Ariz., David Wilson serves as assistant to the campus and is academic advisor to the many students there who are pursuing degrees in public service, including criminal justice and human services. After retiring from the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department with 27 years under his belt, Wilson came to Wayland in 2000 to work specifically with criminal justice students, which comprise about one-third of the campus enrollment. He was hired full-time in 2003.

Wilson also serves as an instructor in many of the criminal justice classes, and while his job involves some recruitment, he said not much is really necessary thanks to positive word of mouth.

“I think a lot of (the growth) is from police officers who are in classes who talk to others,” Wilson said. “I think Wayland is recommended because of the credits we accept, such as hours for completing the Police Academy and for job experience, compared to our competitors.”

Wilson has also helped to nurture the strong partnership between the county sheriff’s department and WBU-Phoenix. Starting in 2000 when he came on board, Wilson helped pilot a program where core courses for the criminal justice major could be offered on-site at the sheriff’s department. The initial cohort of around 20 students started that year, with others cycling in and out as they started or completed coursework.

“Convenience is a very big factor for these folks,” Wilson said. “Law enforcement can be a transient population at times, and that can make going to school difficult. Also, officers like to be in classes with those having common interests, so they enjoy the classes more.

“It’s been very positive for the agency and for Wayland. We’re the only one I know of that’s actually taken the program to the students,” Wilson added.

In Albuquerque, N.M., law enforcement is one of the more populated majors, and the trend is expected to continue. With around 50 officers from the Albuquerque Police Department currently enrolled in the BSOE program, the Wayland campus there has developed an edge over the many competitors in the area, namely because of affordability and their naturally conservative bent, which relates well to police officers.

“The attraction to Wayland is that it’s once a week, very affordable and the ease of parking,” said John Corvino, a recently retired APD patrolman who is now working 10 hours each week as a recruiter at the Albuquerque campus, primarily in the area of law enforcement. “When you sign up, you see that person every day and it’s easy to talk to them and get things done. There’s hardly any red tape.”

The campus maintains a good relationship with local law enforcement entities, inviting the Bernalillo County Sheriff to speak at a past commencement ceremony and allowing one of the police precincts to hold daily briefings in the WBU classrooms while their building was being renovated. Like Phoenix, the Albuquerque campus has also offered courses at other locations to make it more convenient for officers to attend classes and hopes to build on those possibilities.

Building on his own experience as a Wayland student (he’ll graduate in August), Corvino said he’s already been able to recruit 15 people to work toward their degrees at WBU, including his patrol partner. He is excited to see even more fruit from his labor.

Though he only works 10 hours each week, Corvino is able to use his connections to law enforcement entities in the area to promote the convenience and affordability of Wayland to prospective students in uniform.

One thing that sets the external campus students apart from the more traditional students in Plainview is work experience. While Plainview students very often are just starting out in their careers, criminal justice students in Albuquerque and Phoenix (as well as other campuses) are often career officers with several years under their belts. For them, the degree opens doors to career advancement and more opportunities.

That reflects a trend that has just come about in the past few years, Wilson said.

“When I started, the degree didn’t really make a difference. There didn’t seem to be near the emphasis in education in law enforcement as they have now,” Wilson said. “One of the things we’re seeing now is the requirements for additional education in order to get promotions. That’s encouraging a lot of personnel within those departments to pursue an education. Many departments have also started tuition reimbursement programs, which helps their employees as well.”

Salary incentives for degrees and the chance to move into management roles have helped to feed the growth of the criminal justice program in several areas, Wilson added. Corvino echoes much of those sentiments, adding that salary incentives and the desire to plan ahead for their future after retirement are major reasons Albuquerque area officers pursue their degree at Wayland.