HELENA – Beginning this fall, graduates of the Montana Law Enforcement Academy will be able to earn 18 credits toward a new associate of arts police science degree program at the Missoula College UM.
The Academy, which is part of the Montana Department of Justice, along with college and Montana University System officials have been working on this effort for two years. The University of Montana Missoula College, College of Arts and Sciences, and College of Education and Human Services created a new degree path – fundamentals of police science – in which the MLEA credits represent the first semester of a new four-semester associate of arts degree path.
The Montana Board of Regents gave the final approval to the degree path – and the MLEA credit transfer piece – in May and students or cadets enrolling this fall may pursue it.
“The collaboration between the academy and the University of Montana-Missoula is exciting and has opened doors for students who might otherwise not seek higher education,” said Lynn Stocking, associate dean for Missoula College UM, formerly called the University of Montana College of Technology.
The program is designed so Missoula College graduates can enroll in a University of Montana-Missoula’s bachelor degree program and their credits will transfer seamlessly.
Kevin Olson, administrator of MLEA, said the program may prove especially appealing to military veterans, who now make up about 50 percent of MLEA graduates, and can use their G.I. Bill benefits to pay for their continuing college education.
“Higher education is increasingly important for law enforcement,” Olson said. “Not just for the individual officer, but for the profession as a whole. We encourage our graduates to continue with their learning.”
The program works this way: MLEA graduates wanting to participate in the program would have to co-enroll in the college – or enroll after graduation from MLEA. After graduating from the academy, students would need an additional three semesters to earn the 60 credits necessary to complete their associate of arts degree. Those 60 credits would transfer to the main campus of the University of Montana-Missoula for students interested in earning a bachelor’s degree.
The Academy is Montana’s premier educational and training institution for law enforcement officers in many areas, including state, city, county and tribal officers. Located just north of Helena, the Academy is open only to employed law enforcement officers. Typically, Olson said, an agency hires someone as an officer under the condition that he or she graduate from the Academy. Members of the public are not allowed to enroll in the Academy.
Attorney General Steve Bullock, who oversees the Academy, lauded the announcement as a practical, real step toward making higher education more accessible and affordable for Montanans, particularly veterans.
“This is a great way for people interested in law enforcement to advance their own careers – and their industry. But for too many Montanans, the cost of higher education is a road block. This partnership makes college more affordable for law enforcement – especially returning veterans, who have so much to offer Montana,” Bullock said. “I am proud of the Academy and the Montana University System for believing in this and making it happen.”