Students in Blue: Inaugural Police Cohort at SNL

FOP students in the first cohort. Photo credit: Jim Summaria

The School for New Learning (SNL) is once again leading innovation in adult learning. In collaboration with the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), the college has launched its first cohort of Chicago police in a bachelor’s degree completion program with a concentration in public safety and security management. The first cohort began their coursework in fall 2016.

Initial conversations between DePaul and the FOP began a couple of years ago. According to Suzanne Depeder, associate vice president of DePaul’s graduate and adult admission, the president of the FOP was interested in figuring out how the FOP could work with DePaul because of the strength of the university’s reputation.

Depeder’s team held focus groups with Chicago officers, sergeants and lieutenants to learn more about what degree programs interested them. Discussion centered on their schedules, the location of classes, the duration of the degree program, their ability to take classes with their colleagues and previously attained college credits. “Just in order to get into the police academy, officers have to have a minimum of an associate’s degree or the equivalent credit hours,” Depeder explains. “In order to move up in the academy, officers have to have a bachelor’s degree.”

From there, Depeder met with DePaul’s deans, including then-SNL Dean Marisa Alicea, to create programs designed to meet the needs identified in the focus group sessions. “We decided that one of the programs we would offer initially would be the SNL competence-based program, because so many who were coming from the police academy already had an associate’s or equivalent. All they needed was their junior and senior year in order to earn their degree,” Depeder says.

According to Dean Alicea, SNL’s competence-based program made it possible for faculty to develop a curriculum specifically designed for the cohort, allowing them to earn their degree in two years. “Given that they’ve got a good portion of the degree already completed, what we’ve done is create an eight-quarter program they will go through together as a cohort,” explains Lori Neblung (SNL ’06), SNL academic advisor, faculty member and the cohort’s faculty mentor. “The courses are designed specifically with them in mind. These are not courses that we offer to other students with the exception of maybe one or two,” Neblung adds. Because SNL is able to award credit for prior experiential learning, faculty were also able to assess the learning outcomes of police academy trainings and award credit for those trainings as well.

FOP students in the first cohort. Photo credit: Jim Summaria

SNL was able to schedule classes and class locations to fit the cohort’s demanding and constantly changing work schedules. “They meet for class on Wednesdays. We offer the same content in the mornings on DePaul’s Loop Campus and evenings at the police academy,” Neblung says. “Someone might come to the morning class one week and if their shift changes, they’ll come to the night class the following week. Some come to class right off of their shift. They get off at eight in the morning, grab a cup of coffee and come to class at nine. They’ll be here for a couple of hours, go home, get some sleep and go back to work.”

For Neblung, teaching the cohort’s first class and getting to know them was a wonderful experience. “I’ve been teaching here for eight years, and these folks have just blown me away,” she says. “They’re well-read, very smart and well-educated. I’ve never had a group of students who’ve been more consistently on time with assignments. They’re very authentic and reflective in their essay writing. The two takeaways I got from most of their writing are that family is huge and community is critical.” While Neblung will remain as their faculty mentor throughout the cohort’s program, she misses having class with them.

A second police cohort launched in spring 2017. DePaul is also offering other FOP cohort programs throughout the university: a Master of Jurisprudence with a focus in criminal justice in the College of Law, a Master of Public Administration in the School of Public Service and a Doctorate in Educational Leadership in the College of Education.

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