Law Enforcement Officers Realize the Benefits of a College Degree

Millions of Americans go into public service as firefighters and law enforcement officers, often directly out of high school, and many times with only specialized training for the job. However, like other traditional career paths, law enforcement officers are finding there are many benefits in a college degree. Two examples are Sergeants David Clifton of the NC State Highway Patrol and Ronnie Dorn of the Jacksonville Police Department, both students in the business management program at University of Mount Olive.
Sergeant Dorn entered law enforcement 17 years ago via the traditional route, joining the police force right out of high school. “It was the only job I ever wanted,” he says.  He soon found himself taking on bigger and more challenging roles, but realized he lacked the skills and education needed to advance in his chosen career.
After eight years as a police officer he left Jacksonville to join the NC Law and Alcohol Enforcement agency where he helped usher in the new state lottery.  In 2009 he returned to Jacksonville and shortly thereafter took a leadership class through the police academy.  The class opened his eyes. “I sat there and realized that this is what I wanted to know more about, how to motivate others and be a good supervisor.”
Dorn enrolled in the business management program at University of Mount Olive in Jacksonville.  “Being in the management program has changed the way I look at things. I think I would have been a more reactive supervisor without this experience,” he said.   Each of the members of Dorn’s team has an area of expertise, and he is conscious of the need to utilize their skills – both for the benefit of the individual and the entire police force. “The primary reason I chose management was to make sure I could motivate my team and manage the job situation. After all, a leader is only as good as his employees.”
Sergeant Clifton started his career with a two-year criminal justice degree 16 years ago.  After spending time as a trooper in Craven County, Clifton taught Basic Law Enforcement classes for 7 years.  He had always wanted to return to college, but circumstances stood in the way.  Then, in 2009 when he was promoted to sergeant, he made the goal of earning a degree a priority.  He chose to enter the business management program at University of Mount Olive in New Bern to learn how to better plan, organize, motivate, and manage the work and people who reported to him. Clifton now realizes that leadership theory, management practices, and organizational structure apply to any and all organizations despite their differences in mission. “The hardest thing for me to learn was to let subordinates figure things out for themselves and develop at their own pace. I’m a get-it-done kind of person and I didn’t have the patience at first.”
Management and leadership classes helped Clifton see how his role had changed from getting the work done to guiding and motivating others to success.   “I’ve learned a lot in the program,” he says. “I’m able to apply what I learn and connect the theory to practice. I understand better why people act the way they do, about work ethics and generational differences in expectations.”
Both Clifton and Dorn admit that the biggest challenge to returning to college as an adult learner is juggling job, family, and school.  Clifton says the experience has helped him be a better time manager. “As an adult learner, I’ve got my work, family, and other responsibilities. I try to avoid saying I don’t have time for something. Instead, I give a little bit of my time around so nobody feels left out.” They both have spouses who work in family businesses and are able to arrange schedules around the demands of college responsibilities. Clifton says, “My wife and I trade child care duties. I work nights and am off on the days she is busiest at her job. We don’t exactly have a normal 9 to 5 family schedule,” he laughs. “I think that is all just a fantasy anyway.”
Clifton and Dorn look forward to graduating, advancing their careers, and someday completing graduate degrees so they can teach. Clifton says he has a strong desire to help others the way he has been helped in his career development. I’ve been there. I know it’s hard to stay on top of it all and do everything else, but it’s worth it. I know I’m a better supervisor as a result of coming to University of Mount Olive.”
University of Mount Olive is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values. The College, sponsored by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists, has locations in Mount Olive, New Bern, Wilmington, Goldsboro, Research Triangle Park, Washington and Jacksonville.  For more information, visit