College degrees a growing trend for firefighters

In today’s fire service, there is a growing trend towards firefighters acquiring a college degree. As a firefighter moves upward in the organization, not only does the competition become fiercer but, academics and college degrees are becoming the norm not the exception. As little as five years ago, one could become a fire chief without a degree but today in a large metropolitan community the requirements are stating, “minimum qualifications must include a Master’s Degree.”


In conversation with a city manager, current fire chief, former fire chief, administrative fire battalion chief, metropolitan emergency medical advisor, human resource manager, professional development/fire training officer, former dean of educational administration, and numerous others regarding the recruitment, selection and training firefighters to local, state and federal standards that are required for the certification of firefighter a common thread has become very vital to the overall success of the candidate and the organization. The common thread is that if an applicant/candidate is to be considered for that ideal position and a degree is among the resources being put up for discussion, it must be from a Regionally Accredited institution.

Regional Accreditation is the “Gold Standard” in the field of education. In looking at accreditation, we are looking for quality and value that it not only offers the student but, also what it means to an organization. In the organization, it lets the employer know that a student has met the rigors established by a school and the accrediting agency and the student knows that they have met the requirements and expected outcomes of the course. In the education field, we need to understand the difference between regional and national accreditation and what are the benefits or consequences of each accreditation process. In national accreditation, the degree may not be recognized by an organization, municipality and even another college. In the simplest terms, credits do not transfer national to regional institutions. With this, a student can be totally mislead into a degree path and when program is complete and they “graduate” the student discovers the degree is not recognized for graduate school let alone they can’t teach at a college or university when they retire from public service.

In summary, if a firefighter wants a college degree they must have “buyer beware” when looking for degree programs. If you need to search for schools accreditation recognition, you might be looking at the wrong school. Accreditation is obviously a critical element in any institution and if you are going to offer a degree path, make it very easy to find your accreditation and don’t be intimidated by schools that are not regionally accredited. Time will tell on the schools that are best at delivering a quality program at a competitive price. Don’t ever discount costs when looking at how to compete as this isn’t in the equation. Its quality, value, credibility and integrity that any school needs to offer to be successful. Graduates of a good program are the best voices for the institution regardless of the price. Labor Department statistics indicate the profitability of college degrees and this can be included in advertising for a school. 

Dr. Mark Rivero is Site Coordinator at Southern Illinois University.

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