Date of Award

Fall 9-18-2023

Degree Type


Degree Name

EdS Education Leadership Management and Policy


Education Leadership, Management and Policy


Manuel Gonzalez, PhD

Committee Member

Katie Smith, PhD

Committee Member

Christopher Zimmerman, EdD


Experiential Learning Theory, Student Development Theory, law enforcement, generic qualitative inquiry


This generic qualitative inquiry (GQI) explores experiential learning in higher education for students interested in law enforcement careers. Through interviews and focus group discussions, the study aimed to uncover insights into the perceptions and experiences of students engaging in a university student security program (USSP). The USSP allows full-time students to work as uniformed, unarmed paid employees of the university’s police department providing various law enforcement type functions. The research identified five themes that emerged from the data analysis: exposure, career development, training, leadership, and personal growth.

The theme of exposure highlighted the importance of hands-on learning, allowing students to gain practical knowledge, experience, and skills directly applicable to law enforcement careers. Career development emerged as a crucial aspect, as experiential learning offered students a pathway to explore policing and enhancing their employability prospects. The training theme underscored the significance that practical opportunities provided participants through training workshops, specialized courses, and hands-on experiences. Leadership emerged as a notable theme, with experiential learning fostering the development of leadership qualities, particularly leadership within law enforcement. Finally, the personal growth theme highlighted the transformative impact of experiential learning on students' personal development, self-confidence, and resilience.

This study contributes to the understanding of how experiential learning in higher education can effectively support students interested in law enforcement careers. The findings highlight the importance of integrating experiential learning opportunities within the criminal justice (or similar) curriculum to provide students with practical, hands-on experiences. These programs should provide participants opportunities to wear specific uniforms and perform work functions replicating law enforcement, such as security and traffic enforcement. This research can guide higher education institutions in designing and implementing effective experiential learning programs to prepare students for successful careers in law enforcement.