Starting in spring of 2013, the Weber State University criminal justice graduate program will move to a fully online format, becoming the first graduate program at the university to do so. The move was undertaken in order to further the program’s regional reach and make the program more flexible for students who are pursuing, or would like to pursue, a master’s in criminal justice.

Bruce Bayley is an associate professor and the director of the master’s program of criminal justice. He said the change’s outcome is win-win, benefiting both students and the program.

“It just increases the flexibility,” Bayley said. “(Students) can still continue on with their coursework, but now they don’t have to drive up from Salt Lake, they don’t have to pay for parking, they don’t have to fight the traffic — they can do their work at 2 o’clock in the morning if they want to. Before, you had to be here on campus at a certain time, on a certain day. Now, for our current students, we’ve expanded the flexibility. They’re still getting the quality education, but now it meets their schedule, not ours.”

Stacie Smith, a senior and criminal justice major at WSU, reflected this sentiment. Smith said she thinks a graduate program for criminal justice completely online would be great.

“I love taking undergraduate classes online, especially with work,” Smith said. “When I work during the day, I can do my homework whenever I need to. Online, I think, works really well.”

Bayley said flexibility is especially important to criminal justice master’s students, because many are working professionals in a field that lends itself to a degree of instability, citing mandatory overtime and shift work. Whether students want a master’s degree to help them professionally or are aiming to continue on to a doctorate, Bayley said the program is set up to satisfy those needs.

Rico Ontiveros is also a senior and criminal justice major. He said he’s not planning on graduate school, but expressed reservations many students might share when it comes to online classes.

“I just don’t like the idea of online classes,” Ontiveros said. “I’m the type of guy that has to sit in a class and interact to get the most out of it. It keeps me motivated. I like being there more.”

Bayley said he understands the hesitancy, but also said they hope to combat this. Their hopes are to have all the program’s professors certified as online instructors within the next year. A number of the faculty are already certified in addition to having criminal justice field experience; some professors are former prosecutors, defense attorneys and corrections officers, just to name a few.

“It’s not just taking a face-to-face class and slapping it online,” Bayley said. “You’re dealing with people that have actually been trained on how to properly instruct in an online format, because it is a different way of doing things when you compare an online education to a face-to-face education. We wanted to make sure that the program we’re putting together is a quality program.”

The program is currently able to offer at least $30,000 in scholarships to students per year over at least the next three years, including some funding reserved exclusively for professionals currently working in the criminal justice field, such as officers, probation officers and court clerks. Bayley said that offering such a large pool of scholarship money to graduate students is rare, especially in online degrees.

Speaking of how the changes will benefit the university and program also, Bayley said that moving to an online-only format allows students from a wider geographic area to enroll.

“You can take your classes anywhere you’re at. If you’re military and you get deployed, you can still take your classes; it’s not going to interfere with getting your degree.”

The program accepts all majors and degrees, and can be completed in as few as 12-16 months. More information on the program can be found at www.wsumasterscj.com.

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