Public safety agencies around the country rely on highly skilled administrators to oversee programs at the local, state, and federal levels. A master's degree in public safety administration provides learners with the theoretical and practical knowledge necessary to manage law enforcement, emergency management, and other crucial public safety services. Many colleges address the needs of those who already work in public safety and would like to advance their careers. Schools also provide master's programs for individuals seeking to change careers and learners with no work experience.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasts promising job prospects for many public safety administration careers. For instance, the BLS projects a 7% growth in job openings for police officers and detectives by 2026. These professionals earned an annual median wage of $62,960 in 2017. Emergency management directors earn an annual median salary of $81,140. The BLS projects an 8% job growth for this occupation.
Should I Get a Master's in Public Safety Administration?
Master's in public safety administration programs hone skills in effective decision-making, communication, management, conflict resolution, and policy-making. These degrees train students for careers in public safety, fire services administration, police administration, or public health. While in the program, learners have the opportunity to network with faculty, peers, and experts. Many students participate in internships in order to acquire hands-on experience from skilled public safety professionals. Many colleges provide students with the help they need to secure employment. Career advisers conduct mock interviews, improve resumes, discuss career options, and help with job placement.
Students who pursue a master's degree in public safety administration often come from different backgrounds. Some already work as first responders or administrators at public safety agencies. Others come straight from an undergraduate program and have little work experience. Many students come from an unrelated background and hope to switch careers. Working students often opt for online programs, while students with little work experience usually chose on-campus options. Online learning offers the flexibility to juggle family, work, and other responsibilities. On-campus programs, by contrast, may offer more networking events or internship opportunities.
What Can I Do With a Master's in Public Safety Administration?
Professionals with a master's degree in public safety administration may pursue a variety of career paths in local, state, and federal agencies. Candidates may become law enforcement officials who respond at crime scenes, terrorist attacks, and natural disasters; alternately, they may become administrators who work behind the scenes to ensure a community's safety. Graduates with a public safety administration degree often work with governmental organizations such as FEMA and the EPA.
Careers in public safety administration require a desire to serve the greater good. Candidates must have competencies in areas such as first responding, strategic planning, public sector management, and budgeting. While administrative jobs tend to keep a traditional work schedule, first responders often work irregular hours or night shifts.
- Police Officers and Detectives
Police officers and detectives work for municipalities, state agencies, and federal law enforcement. They protect lives and property by gathering facts and evidence for criminal investigations. Most must graduate from their agency's training academy and complete additional on-the-job training. While many positions require a high school diploma or bachelor's degree, a master's degree can help officers advance into administrative roles such as police or fire chief.
Median Annual Salary: $62,960*
- Emergency Management Director
These directors work for local, state, or federal governments. They develop plans and procedures to ensure an efficient response to emergencies such as terrorism or natural disasters. Directors work in tandem with public safety officials, governmental agencies, nonprofits, and other stakeholders. They usually hold at least a bachelor's degree and experience in areas such as emergency response, public administration, and disaster planning.
Median Annual Salary: $72,760*
- Executive Director
These professionals create long-term strategic plans and keep track of an organization's activities. They also motivate managers and work closely with the professionals in the organization. Executive directors may work for government agencies, hospitals, or other public safety organizations. Public safety administration master's programs can help prepare candidates for upper-level management tasks.
Median Annual Salary: $76,030*
- Operations Manager
Operations managers create policies, organize daily operations, and direct staff. They may work in public safety agencies, law enforcement offices, public works departments, or other related organizations. A master's degree may help candidates advance into managerial roles.
Median Annual Salary: $100,410*
- Program Manager
Program managers often work for nonprofits, including organizations that assist with emergency care and disaster relief. These managers train volunteers, manage budgets, and coordinate programming. Candidates should have at least a bachelor's degree.
Median Annual Salary: $52,004*
Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics and PayScale
How to Choose a Master's Program in Public Safety Administration
A master's degree in public safety administration usually requires 30-40 credits, which takes about two years of full-time study. Part-time students often take three years or more to complete the degree, depending on course load. Colleges increasingly offer online programs designed for working professionals who need the flexibility to create their own schedules. Undergraduates planning to enter graduate school straight out of college often choose an on-campus degree. Prospective students should think about their personal preferences and learning style in order to choose which mode of delivery best suits them.
Students should think about several aspects when considering which school to attend, including academic and career goals, the school's reputation, admission requirements, location, and affordability. Curriculum requirements vary, but faculty usually require a comprehensive exam or thesis. Students should also consider how to pay for tuition, as well as other related costs such as accommodation, transportation, and living expenses. Students should always review each program's accreditation before making a commitment.
Once enrolled, learners can expect to acquire advanced theoretical and practical knowledge in areas such as law enforcement, public health preparedness, emergency response, and disaster preparedness. Some schools allow students to specialize in an area such as police or fire administration. Many employers value hands-on experience such as an internship or practicum. Once students have acquired classroom knowledge, many gain the opportunity to apply their learning in real-work contexts through supervised experiences at local law enforcement offices or emergency services agencies.
Programmatic Accreditation for Master's Programs in Public Safety Administration
Accreditation certifies that a program meets certain standards established by an agency or organization. Accreditation may be institutional or programmatic. Students should always attend schools with regional accreditation, which is the most widely accepted form of institutional accreditation. Students at regionally accredited schools can access federal financial aid and transfer credits to other colleges. Employers may also take a school's accreditation into consideration as they review job applicants.
Currently, no programmatic accreditation agencies review public safety administration degree programs.
Master's in Public Safety Administration Program Admissions
When applying to master's in public safety administration programs, students must submit materials such as transcripts, standardized test scores, and references. Some schools require essays, while others ask for prior work experience. Online and on-campus programs usually follow the same process, though the admissions schedule may differ.
Students should apply to a few different schools, including a reach school and a safety school. In order to keep the process manageable and affordable, candidates should only apply to programs they would seriously attend.
- Bachelor's Degree: Unless the college offers a dual bachelor's and master's program in public safety administration, applicants must have a bachelor's degree. Some schools prefer an undergraduate major such as public safety or criminology, while others have no specific requirements for the undergraduate major.
- Professional Experience: Some public safety administration programs are designed specifically for professionals who already have experience in areas such as law enforcement, public safety, the military, or a related field. Many others do not require experience. Make sure to research this requirement before applying.
- Minimum GPA: Many schools require students to have a minimum GPA of 2.75 or 3.0. However, students may be able to offset a lower GPA with high scores on standardized tests or years of relevant work experience.
- Application: Students should begin the application process about a year before they plan to attend graduate school. While some schools accept applications at specific times of the year, others accept them year-round.
- Transcripts: Candidates should supply transcripts from all previous colleges attended. Graduate schools pay particular attention to the last 60 credits of applicants' undergraduate program. In some cases, graduate schools may contact undergraduate colleges directly. Many schools provide transcripts at no cost.
- Letters of Recommendation: Most schools require two to four letters of recommendation. Students should request letters from faculty, advisers, and employers. Give referees six to eight weeks to fulfill your request.
- Test Scores: Each program asks for different standardized tests and minimum scores. Many require the GRE, but some also accept MAT, GMAT, or LSAT. Applicants should contact the school or admissions department to find out the average test scores for admitted students.
- Application Fee: Applicants should budget $50-$100 for each application. Some schools may offer fee waivers to help make the process more affordable.
What Else Can I Expect From a Master's Program in Public Safety Administration?
The content of a master's degree in public safety administration varies for each school. Some colleges offer concentrations that allow learners to specialize their degree, while others take a generalized approach. Each school provides different student support and resources for both experienced professionals and those new to the field. When looking into schools, make sure to research specific curricula and support options.
Courses in a Master's in Public Safety Administration Program
Although each program varies, most master's in public safety administration programs offer common core courses. These classes cover topics such as law enforcement leadership, public safety administration, and management. The following list describes a few sample courses students might encounter.
- Public Safety Administration and Management
This course provides learners with an overview of the responsibilities and tasks of public safety managers. Students examine the structure of various public sector organizations and discuss management strategies for these organizations. The class also provides leadership development training.
- Emergency Management
Students in this course evaluate the theories and practices of contemporary emergency management, including preparedness, response, and recovery. Learners acquire advanced skills such as effective decision-making and information management.
- Administrative Law
Public safety administrators must know the state and federal laws that governmental agencies follow. For example, many versions of this course examine the Administrative Procedure Act of 1946, which guides the operations of federal agencies. Students also receive an introduction to state laws such as the Model State Administrative Procedures Act.
- Homeland Security
In this class, students analyze homeland security threats, including terrorism, biochemical attacks, and border security. Learners also assess how laws, politics, media, governmental organizations, and nongovernmental organizations shape homeland security policies and practices.
- Public Policy and Ethics
In this class, students learn how to examine public safety challenges and related policies. Learners also discuss ethical issues such as moral obligations, where to help during a crisis, and public safety for different populations. Students then analyze the costs, consequences, and implications of public policies.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Public Safety Administration?
Most master's in public safety administration programs require 30-40 credits, the equivalent of two years of full-time study. Depending on their schedules, part-time students may take two-and-a-half to four years to complete a graduate degree.
Some schools provide accelerated learning options that allow students to complete the program in as few as 16 months. Participants can also graduate more quickly by taking heavier course loads during the fall and spring semesters or enrolling in summer school. Some programs allow students to use prior learning assessments to earn credit for military experience, prior coursework, and work experience. Working professionals should consider programs that allow them to study at their own pace when necessary.
How Much Is a Master's in Public Safety Administration?
Students should expect to pay an average of $600 per credit, based on a sampling of master's in public safety administration programs. However, this number varies greatly between schools.
A number of factors influence the cost of a master's degree in public safety administration. For instance, in-state tuition at public colleges costs significantly less than out-of-state tuition. Private colleges and universities often charge even more. Whether you decide to choose an on-campus or online program also impacts the cost of the degree. Students who plan to take classes on campus should consider the cost of accommodation, transportation, and other related expenses. By contrast, online programs often offer reduced rates or in-state tuition for out-of-state students. However, online students usually have to pay technology fees or distance learning fees.
Learners should research their financial aid options, including federal loans and scholarships. Some colleges offer reduced tuition for professionals already working in law enforcement or public safety. Additionally, students who plan to enroll full time may apply for graduate assistantships. Graduate assistants receive a stipend in exchange for helping professors with research, teaching, research, and administration. Certain employers also maintain scholarships and reimbursement programs for employees.
Certifications and Licenses for Master's in Public Safety Administration Graduates
- Certified Emergency Manager
This certification from the International Association of Emergency Managers acknowledges professionals that work in areas such as preparedness, response, and recovery. Applicants must have a four-year degree, prior emergency management training, and work experience. To receive the designation, candidates must complete an essay and pass a multiple choice exam.
- Certified Public-Safety Executive
This certificate from the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials requires candidates to complete a series of courses through the Registered Public-Safety Leader program. These classes develop management and supervisory skills in public safety operations. Graduates qualify for the Certified Public-Safety Executive Program. Candidates must be APCO members with experience in public safety and a history of service to the organization.
- Certified Public Manager
Offered by the National Certified Public Manager Consortium, the CPM program helps broaden intergovernmental networks, enhance leadership skills, and foster mastery of innovative solutions. Candidates must complete a minimum of 300 hours of learning activities, a capstone project, and an exam. Graduates qualify for certified public manager designation.
Resources for Graduate Public Safety Administration Students
Founded in 1942, Alpha Phi Sigma is the only national criminal justice honor society. The organization recognizes top-performing students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Members enjoy access to scholarships and grants, career development, and networking opportunities.
Also known as the Global Honor Society for Public Affairs and Administration, Pi Alpha Alpha recognizes academic excellence in the field. Pi Alpha Alpha offers opportunities for direct service, and students can apply what they have learned through volunteerism. The organization also hosts job search and networking resources.
An international organization, ASC promotes scientific, scholarly, and professional knowledge about how to prevent, control, and treat delinquency and crime. The organization's membership includes practitioners and students in criminal justice and criminology. Members benefit from an annual meeting, publications and research, and networking opportunities.
Students in public safety administration programs may access non-classified documents from the government through FOIA.gov. The site, a result of the Freedom of Information Act, includes an at-a-glance section that provides the most recent searches for reports from the departments of Homeland Security, Justice, Defense, and State.
Founded in 1987, NAGPS works to improve the lives of graduate and professional students. In addition to advocacy, the organization offers thesis/dissertation assistance, financial aid information, a job bank, and opportunities for networking.
Professional Organizations in Public Safety Administration
Professional organizations provide members with information and resources about best practices, professional opportunities, and new research in the field. Members can also access continuing education opportunities and publications. Professional organizations provide members with ways to connect with one another through in-person events, virtual meetings, and annual conferences. Many also offer job boards and career services.
The top nonprofit organization for emergency management professionals, IAEM represents about 6,000 members worldwide. Members may access student scholarships, certifications, publications, and a jobs board.
APCO International is the oldest and largest organization for professionals in public safety communications. The organization offers training and certifications, publications, advocacy, networking, and technical assistance. APCO International offers individual and group membership options.
IALEP serves criminal justice professionals working in areas such as planning, policy-making, performance, and research. Members receive benefits such as an invitation to IALEP's annual conference, a quarterly newsletter, certification programming, and networking opportunities.
IPSA represents professionals in all disciplines of public safety, including EMS, law enforcement, fire service, and public works. IPSA offers both individual and group membership. Member benefits include newsletters, discounts for in-person events, technical assistance, and online multi-discipline training.
DERA's membership is comprised of organizations, professionals, and volunteers that handle disaster preparedness and emergency management. Members receive professional support, access to publications, networking opportunities, and equipment and reference materials.