All new police officers will have to be educated to degree level in future under sweeping changes to recruitment.
A paid three-year "degree apprenticeship" is among three options open to people wanting to join one of the 43 forces in England and Wales under changes unveiled by the College of Policing.
Would-be police officers can alternatively do an unfunded degree in policing or a funded postgraduate conversion course if they already have a degree in a different discipline, the professional body said.
Chief Constable Alex Marshall, the college's chief executive, said the changes would ensure forces were better placed to address changes to crime-fighting.
He said: "At the moment, it is very lopsided and we don't do a lot of professional development in policing.
"If you compare it to medicine or the military (where) there is massive investment in training and development, in policing there is a tiny investment.
"The nature of police work is getting quite complex and it is quite contentious and the public expectation is that you'll be patrolling in my street, and by the way you'll (also) be patrolling online.
"We don't think the investment has been made in policing in terms of professional development and this is one of the ways that we start to address that."
Mr Marshall said the college would use its powers to force through the changes, which would mean "the public should receive the same level of service regardless of where they live". The current recruitment system varies from force to force.
The apprenticeship, due to be introduced next year, will see recruits undertake a three-year course, while receiving a salary and having the university academic component funded by their respective force.
The postgraduate conversion course would last six months and would also be funded by police.
In contrast, the policing degree would have to be self-funded and the student would still have to successfully apply to become a police officer after completing it.
Mr Marshall said the college was in discussions with 12 universities about the new system.
The money for the apprenticeships is expected to come from the apprenticeship levy due to come into force in April. This forces employers with an annual salary and pay bill of more than £3 million to spend the equivalent of 0.5% of it on apprenticeships.
The announcement comes following a two-month public consultation, which received more than 3,000 responses, almost 80% of them from police officers.
Mr Marshall said: "One of the big things we got back from the public and people in policing was be careful not to exclude good people who couldn't afford to go and get a degree because their parents can't help them, or whatever it will be."
Almost three quarters of responses from police said they were interested in gaining accreditation for their existing skills, he said.
More than a third (38%) of those coming into policing currently have a degree or postgraduate qualification.
Other changes that will be introduced include a national set of qualifications for officers following promotion, including a requirement that all applicants for the rank of assistant chief constable or above have a master's degree.
A higher-paid "advanced practitioner" position will also be created to entice people to remain in specialist areas such as cyber crime, instead of seeking a promotion that would take them to a different area.
Andy Fittes, general secretary of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said it generally supported the apprenticeship plan, but added: "The most fundamental and important question that must be answered though, is how does this proposal benefit the public the police serve?
"What is the benefit to the public, in terms of policing delivery, to have officers hold pre-joining qualifications, or serving officers becoming accredited?"
He added: "There is a balance to be struck around encouraging people to have a certain level of education before joining the force, and marginalising and excluding good quality candidates from all communities by limiting the pool of potential candidates if they are unable to afford it."
Chief Constable Giles York, the National Police Chiefs' Council lead for workforce, said: "As crime and demand change, so must policing. Our workforce is our most valuable resource, so police officers and staff need the right skills, knowledge and attributes to prevent harm and keep people safe in the 21st century.
"The changes announced today will help modernise the service and improve our ability to attract and retain really good people. It is also fair and right that police officers, as professionals, receive the recognition and accreditation they deserve, meaning the public will continue to get the high quality service they need."