2019 Best Online Colleges for Criminal Justice Degrees
Online criminal justice degrees are available at the associate, bachelor's, master's, doctoral, and certificate levels. Among the 991 accredited online criminal justice programs on our comprehensive list, you will find a variety of subject focuses, including forensic science, criminology, and corrections. We also offer a list of the best online colleges offering bachelor's degrees and a list of the best online master's programs in criminal justice, where programs are ranked by tuition rates and average alumni salaries provided by PayScale. Browse these lists to find the best degree for you, or read more below about accreditation and popular degree specializations.
Prospective criminal justice students are encouraged to choose an online degree program that is offered by a regionally or nationally accredited institution. Accreditation helps ensure that schools meet acceptable standards with regard to their educational programs and student outcomes. Legitimate regional and national accrediting agencies should be recognized by the US Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
Comprehensive List of Accredited Online Schools - Criminal Justice Degrees (279)
Annual Tuition: $10,632 - $13,400
|Full List||Accreditation||Annual Tuition||Recommend Rate|
|Full List (276)|
20 Programs, 4 in Criminal Justice
2019 Best Online Colleges Offering Bachelor's in Criminal Justice Degrees
Listed below are the 25 colleges offering the combined lowest tuition rates and highest alumni salaries for their online bachelor's degrees in criminal justice. The #1 spot goes to Missouri State University, with a very low tuition of $8,850 and an average alumni salary of $126,200. The lowest tuition on the list, $5,742 per year, goes to California State University-Sacramento, ranked #12. Criminal justice graduates of California State University-Sacramento reported an average mid-career salary of $78,100.
|Rank||School||Annual Tuition||Median Salary|
- Annual Tuition: $8,850
- Median Salary: $126,200
Missouri State University offers an online Bachelor of Science in Criminology and Criminal Justice. This 45 credit major requires an exit exam and a capstone project. Freshman admission requires a high school diploma and ACT or SAT scores; the GPA is flexible. Transfer students need a 2.0 GPA. There is no limit on transfer credit, but there is a minimum MSU residency. The degree itself is 120 credits and tuition is $295 per credit unit. The program focuses on understanding the criminal justice system and the need for developing solutions. Typical classes include Criminological Theory, Difference and Diversity in Criminology, and Current Issues in Policy.
- Annual Tuition: $14,640
- Median Salary: $100,800
DeSales University offers an online Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice. The program has two tracks, Intelligence and Rehabilitation. The Intelligence track focuses on criminal investigation, while the Rehabilitation track focuses on corrective rehabilitation. The program is designed for working adults and other nontraditional students. Most students have been out of secondary school for five or more years. The school has open admission and they allow up to 75 credits to be transferred in, though at least 45 credits must be earned while enrolled at Desales. Courses include Drugs and Crime, Child Abuse and Neglect, and Ethics in Criminal Justice. Tuition is $488 per credit. DeSales is affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church and is located in Center Valley, Pennsylvania.
- Annual Tuition: $11,329
- Median Salary: $95,000
Washington State University features an online Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice and an online Bachelor of Arts in Social Science with a specialization in Criminal Justice. Freshman admission requires a diploma and ACT or SAT scores. Alternative criteria may be used for students over 25. Transfer students need a 2.0 GPA and may transfer in up to 90 credits. The Criminal Justice program is highly ranked, and is the oldest in the country. The focus is on the causes of crime, the system, and the law. The Social Science degree has an emphasis in the social science programs. Among the courses in the program are Crime Control Policy, Criminal Courts in America and Ethics in Criminal Justice. Tuition is $507 per credit for Washington residents, and $565 per credit for nonresidents.
- Annual Tuition: $29,200
- Median Salary: $97,100
Pfeiffer University offers a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice, with four options: General Emphasis, Pre-Law, Homeland Security and Financial Fraud and Fraud Examination. These are degree completion programs designed to prepare students for a law enforcement or criminology career. Transfer students need a 2.0 GPA and can transfer in up to 75 credits. At least 45 credits must be earned while enrolled at Pfeiffer. Credit may be awarded for previous work or life experience. The major takes 51 credits and sample courses include Introduction to Criminal Justice, Law Enforcement Operations and White Collar Crime Investigation. Tuition for online courses is $679 per credit. Pfeiffer is located in Misenheimer, North Carolina.
- Annual Tuition: $25,374
- Median Salary: $96,000
Chaminade University of Honolulu features an online Bachelor of Science in Criminology and Criminal Justice. The program is administered by the Professional and Continuing Education (PACE) program. Admission requires a high school diploma and ACT or SAT scores, along with a 2.0 GPA. Transfer students need a 2.0 GPA and may transfer in up to 90 credits. The overall degree is 120 credits and credit may be awarded for past experience. The focus is on examining the criminal justice system from multiple points of view. Online courses have four, 10-week terms per year. Among the program courses are Juvenile Deviancy and Juvenile Justice, and Society and Mental Disorders. Tuition in the PACE program is $500 per credit, or $250 per credit for active military. The school is associated with the Catholic Church's Marianist order.
- Annual Tuition: $16,350
- Median Salary: $90,900
Union Institute and University offers an online Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Management. The program is designed for working adults, and particularly for people without a degree who work in corrections, justice or policing. Admission is flexible. Up to 90 credits are transferable, and extensive credit may be rewarded for life, employment and military experience. The program focus is on management. Courses include Criminal Incident Investigation, Gangs and Gang Subculture, and Supervision in the Criminal Justice Field. Two certificates are available that can be added to the degree: Homeland Security and Forensic Science Management. Tuition is $545 per credit. Union is located in Cincinnati, Ohio, and has other centers in California, Florida and Vermont. The school is very military friendly.
- Annual Tuition: $18,400
- Median Salary: $90,400
Mercy College features an online Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice. The overall degree is 120 credits, and the major requires 36 credits. Admission is holistic and tests are optional. Transfer students need a 2.0 GPA and can transfer in up to 90 credits. The focus is on preparing students for both career positions and graduate study. Among the courses in the program are Policing, Introduction to Corrections, Psychology of Crisis, and Sociology of Violence. Online tuition is $774 per credit unit. Note that some courses may require an on-campus residency. Mercy College is non denominational and is located in Dobbs Ferry, New York.
- Annual Tuition: $11,815
- Median Salary: $84,000
Southern Illinois University- Carbondale offers an online Bachelor of Arts in Criminology and Criminal Justice. Freshman admission is holistic and on an individual basis. Transfer students need a 2.0 GPA and may transfer in up to 78 credits. At least 42 of the 120 credits required for the degree must be earned while enrolled at SIUC. The major itself is 42 credits. The program provides a wide view of crime and criminal justice. Students are encouraged to experience a field internship. For students wishing more advanced study, SIUC also offers an MA and PhD in Criminal Justice. Among the program courses are Introduction to Criminal Justice Statistics, Law and Social Control, and Crime, Justice and Social Diversity. Online tuition is $396.18 per credit.
- Annual Tuition: $15,300
- Median Salary: $84,300
Excelsior College offers an online Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice and an online Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice with a concentration in Homeland Security. This is a degree completion program designed for working adults, particularly those working in law enforcement and related fields. There is no special admission criteria. Credit is offered for prior training in corrections or law enforcement. The degree is 120 credits, with 33 credits in the specialization. Core required courses include Introduction to Criminal Justice, and Research Methods in Criminal Justice. More than 80% of students in the program are employed, and 50% are active military or veterans. The school is exceptionally military friendly. Tuition is $510 per credit. Excelsior is located in Albany, New York.
- Annual Tuition: $11,250
- Median Salary: $80,700
Norwich University features an online Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice. This is a degree completion program and applicants must already have at least 30 credits. Up to 90 credits may be transferred. Prior military and learning experiences are evaluated for credit. The school is on a trimester system. A capstone project explores a set of criminal justice issues in depth. Courses offered in the program include Data Analysis and Writing, Public Safety in a Diverse Society, and Emergency and Disaster Relief Operations. Tuition is $375 per credit hour, or $250 per credit hour for active military. Norwich is very military friendly and the school is located in Northfield, Vermont.
- Annual Tuition: $9,200
- Median Salary: $79,100
The University of Massachusetts- Lowell offers an online Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice. The major requires a minimum of 36 credits and the degree is a total of 120 credits. Freshman admission requires a diploma or GED. Transfer students need a 2.0 GPA and may transfer in up to 90 credits. At least 30 credits must be completed while enrolled at UML. The major requires 15 core credits, and 21 credits in Criminal Justice electives. A new requirement consists of 12 credits in computer skills, with courses such as Crime Mapping. Other courses in the program include Criminal Law, Violence in America, and The Criminal Mind and Behavior. UML has one of the largest online programs of any traditional university. Online undergraduate tuition is $380 per credit unit.
- Annual Tuition: $5,742
- Median Salary: $78,100
California State University-Sacramento features an online Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice. This is a degree completion program designed primarily for graduates of California community colleges. Admission requires a minimum GPA of 2.6. The major is 60 credits of the total 120 credits required for the degree. The focus is a multidisciplinary examination of the entire justice system. Courses in the program include Crime and Punishment, Structure and Function of the American Courts, Contemporary Issues in Criminal Justice, and Comparative Criminal Justice Systems. CSUS is not authorized to offer online programs in several states. Interested students should check their state’s status on the CSUS site before applying.
- Annual Tuition: $10,800
- Median Salary: $78,500
The University of Wisconsin- Oshkosh offers three online degree programs in Criminal Justice. The programs are a BA or BS in Criminal Justice, and a Bachelor of Applied Science in Criminal Justice. These programs are degree completion programs for people with at least two years of experience in criminal justice, or an associate degree in the field. The BA and BS have similar requirements, with the difference being that the BA requires foreign language classes and the BS requires more science and math classes. The BAS is for students with an associate degree in criminal justice, asset protection or related field. Courses in the program include Introduction to Criminal Law, Police in Modern Society, and Adjudication Processes in American Justice. Online tuition is $360 per credit.
- Annual Tuition: $10,104
- Median Salary: $77,600
Arizona State University offers three online Bachelor of Science degrees in Criminal Justice. These programs are in Criminal Justice, Justice Studies, and Public Service and Public Policy--Emergency Management and Homeland Security. Freshman admission requirements include a high school diploma and a minimum GPA of 2.5. Transfer students need a 2.5 GPA and may transfer in up to 90 credits. Both Criminal Justice and Justice Studies programs focus on rights, social and economic justice, and analysis and solution of problems. The Emergency Management program focuses on responding to and managing emergency situations. Among the courses offered in the programs are Introduction to Emergency Management and Gender, Crime and Criminal Justice. Online tuition for these programs varies slightly, from $615 to $618 per credit hour.
#15 Utica College
- Annual Tuition: $13,500
- Median Salary: $77,800
#15 Utica College
Utica College offers eleven online degree programs in criminal justice fields. All of them are Bachelor of Science degrees, with two in Fraud and Financial Crime, four in Cybersecurity and five in Criminal Justice. These are degree completion programs. Admission requires either an associate degree or equivalent credits from a 4-year college. Applicants with experience in law enforcement are encouraged to apply. Courses in these programs include Economic Online Investigation, Cyber Technologies for Criminal Justice, and Assessing Evidence in Criminal Justice. Tuition is $450 per credit for the Criminal Justice programs, $400 per credit for the Fraud programs, and $475 per credit for the Cybersecurity options. Utica College is located in Utica, New York. The school is very military and law enforcement friendly.
- Annual Tuition: $14,970
- Median Salary: $77,200
The University of Maryland University College features an online Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice. The program focuses on theory and practice of the justice system, including criminal behavior, investigation, and solutions. Admission is holistic with no required tests, diploma or GED. Up to 90 credits may be transferred in and credits may be awarded for prior experience or workplace learning. The major requires 33 credits and the degree is a total of 120 credits. This degree is designed to advance student's careers into leadership in law enforcement and criminal justice. Program courses include Correctional Administration, Criminal Law in Action, and Victimology. Tuition is $294 per credit for in-state residents, $499 per credit for nonresidents, and $250 per credit for military members.
- Annual Tuition: $10,633
- Median Salary: $76,500
SUNY Empire State College offers six online degrees in Criminal Justice. They include a Bachelor of Arts, a Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Professional Studies in Public Affairs- Criminal Justice, and a BA, BS and BPS in Community Affairs and Human Services-Criminal Justice Services. Both the Community Affairs and Public Affairs programs focus on preparation for public service careers relating to criminal justice, such as a parole officer. The programs require a minimum 124 credits. Freshman admission requires a high school diploma. There are no specific admission requirements for transfer students, who may transfer in up to 93 credits. Online tuition is $286 per credit for New York Residents and $694 per credit for out-of-state residents. ESC is located in Saratoga Springs, New York.
- Annual Tuition: $11,100
- Median Salary: $76,500
The University of Wisconsin-Platteville offers an online Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice. The program is designed for career development in law enforcement or corrections. Students may choose from three emphases: Police Administration, Police Ethics, and Community Based Corrections. Admission requires a high school diploma or GED, and transfer students need a 2.0 GPA. The major requires 54 credits and credits may be awarded for prior life experience, police or other trainings, and by examination. Core courses include Introduction to Criminal Justice, Crime and Delinquency, and Criminal Law. Online tuition is $370 per credit for all students. UW-Platteville is a pioneer in online education.
- Annual Tuition: $29,348
- Median Salary: $78,800
The University of Texas at Arlington offers an online Bachelor of Criminal Justice in Criminology and Criminal Justice. The program is designed for people working in law enforcement, corrections and related fields. Freshman admission requires a high school diploma and SAT or ACT scores, or the GED. Transfer students need a 2.25 GPA and may transfer in up to 60 credits. The major is 66 credits and the program provides a thorough grounding in the criminal justice system. Courses include Race, Crime and Justice, Criminal Careers and Behavior Systems, and Police and the Community. This program is highly ranked.
- Annual Tuition: $8,520
- Median Salary: $76,000
Southeast Missouri State University offers an online Bachelor of Arts in Social Science- Criminal Justice and an online Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice. The programs prepare students for careers in criminal justice agencies. The 45 credit BS in Criminal Justice focuses on crime prevention, protection and rehabilitation. It has two tracks, Law Enforcement, and Academic/ University. The first focuses on careers in law enforcement, the second on theoretical understanding. The 39 credit Social Science program places criminal justice in the social science context. Freshman admission requires a high school diploma and SAT or ACT scores. Transfer students need a 2.0 GPA. Tuition for SE online courses is $272.25 per credit.
- Annual Tuition: $13,200
- Median Salary: $75,300
The University of Nebraska Kearney offers an online Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice. The degree has two tracks, Criminal Justice and Criminal Justice Comprehensive. The Criminal Justice program is a 36 credit major that requires a minor. Its focus is on current trends in the justice field. The Comprehensive track is a 58-61 credit program that does not include a minor, and offers a broader view of the field. This is a degree completion program designed for working adults and professionals wishing to enhance their credentials. Their transfer credit policy is generous. Program courses include Corrective Services and Systems, The Police Service, and Criminal Evidence, Procedure and the Courts. Online tuition is $255 per credit for Nebraska residents and $387 per credit for nonresidents.
- Annual Tuition: $20,100
- Median Salary: $76,100
Loyola University Chicago offers two online programs in criminal justice: a Bachelor of Arts in Applied Criminal Justice Leadership and a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice and Criminology. The 30 credit Leadership program focuses on developing leadership skills for criminal justice professions. The 36 credit Criminal Justice program provides a thorough introduction to the field, in the context of the liberal arts. The focus is on communication, technical skills, teamwork and other aspects of the system. Freshman admission requires a high school diploma or GED, and transfer students need a 2.0 GPA. Credit is offered for police training. Among the courses offered are Policing, Criminal Courts, and Popular Culture and the Criminal Justice System. Online tuition is $660 per credit.
- Annual Tuition: $14,940
- Median Salary: $75,000
The University of Colorado Denver features an online Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice. The program is interdisciplinary and focuses on developing analytical skills and a broad knowledge of criminal justice. Freshman admission requires a high school diploma or GED, and ACT or SAT scores. Transfer students need a 2.0 GPA. The Criminal Justice program is 36 credits and the overall degree requires 120 credits. A dual Bachelor/Master program in Criminal Justice is also available. Sample courses in the program include Domestic Violence and Crime, Families and Intergenerational Crime, and Courts and Judicial Process. Online tuition is $330 per credit for Colorado residents and $498 per credit for out-of-state residents.
- Annual Tuition: $23,190
- Median Salary: $75,800
The University of Alaska Fairbanks offers an online Bachelor of Arts in Justice. This program is designed for professionals in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. The program is unique in its focus, which is to examine issues concerning Native Americans on the state and federal level. The program also focuses on restorative justice, and working with victims, offenders and community to fix any harm done by crime. Freshman admission requires a high school diploma with a 2.5 GPA and ACT or SAT scores. Transfer students must have a 2.0 GPA. Among the courses offered are Introduction to Addictive Processes, Gender and Crime, and Rural Justice in Alaska. Online tuition is $256 per credit.
- Annual Tuition: $12,600
- Median Salary: $71,400
Madonna University, located in Livonia, Michigan, offers an online Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice. The program focus is on 21st-century best practice and general knowledge of the justice field. The program offers a variety of certificates that enhance the degree. These include Homeland Security, Forensic Accounting, and Spanish for Law Enforcement. Freshman admission requires a high school diploma and 2.75 GPA, or the GED. Transfer students must have a 2.0 GPA. MU will accept up to 60 units of military credit. The major is 25 credits and the overall degree is 120 credits. Among the courses in the program are Police Process and Community Relations, Homicide Investigation, and Ethics in Criminal Justice. Tuition is $420 per credit. Madonna is associated with the Catholic Franciscan order.
Online Criminal Justice Degree Overview & Career Information
Undergraduate students enrolled in an online criminal justice degree are introduced to the three arms of criminal justice in the United States: the courts, the correctional system, and law enforcement. Students in criminal justice certificate, associate, and bachelor's degree programs also commonly learn about police procedures and the techniques for collecting evidence at a crime scene. Classes in criminology and human behavior provide a background in the psychology of crime. Students in the online bachelor's degree typically take a greater number of general education topics in areas like communication, humanities, English, and math.
Criminal justice graduate certificates and master's degrees can provide a brief overview of general justice topics or a survey of a specialized justice area. Some possible specializations include law enforcement, administration, and corrections. These programs can be useful for current criminal justice professionals who would like to enter administrative or supervisory roles. Some master's programs require a thesis or a capstone project in the student's criminal justice area.
Online doctoral degrees in criminal justice require an in-depth research project into a particular aspect of criminal justice and the completion of a dissertation. Students take a core of classes in quantitative and qualitative analysis, research skills, and criminal justice topics. These intense programs are suited to individuals that are interested in teaching criminal justice at the postsecondary level, doing advanced research, or holding high-level criminal justice positions in settings such as federal agencies.
If you have an investigative mind and enjoy helping people, an associate degree in criminal justice might be a good option for you. The two-year degree program is offered at various online institutions, as well as community colleges, junior colleges, and vocational-technical schools. Most programs require students to fulfill about 60 credit hours. The standard educational requirements vary, but most schools deem it mandatory for applicants to have a high school diploma or equivalent.
The associate degree program in criminal justice helps students build problem-solving skills and address a variety of societal issues. Students are given basic information about police laws, investigative policies, and a number of research techniques that will benefit them in their potential careers. Common courses include juvenile delinquency, corrections, constitutional law, criminal investigations, criminology, and police systems and practices.
Career choices are abundant among associate degree holders in criminal justice. Graduates are often qualified to become correctional officers, criminal investigators, law clerks, police officers, security personnel, detectives, or probation officers. Those who eventually want to be promoted in their careers or who want to join the FBI are encouraged to seek a bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree in the field.
Criminal justice degrees often lead people toward careers in law and order. Applicants to a bachelor's degree program in criminal justice must possess a high school diploma or its equivalent and meet other college entrance requirements. Students typically take four years to complete the 128-180 credits required to earn a bachelor's degree.
The bachelor's-level criminal justice curriculum will feature both broad and focused topics in the field. Students may take various specific course paths depending on the career they are pursuing. Specializations include white collar crime, family law, crime scene investigation, and more. Students typically take general courses in ethics, research methods, legal studies, crime and diversity, administration of justice, sociology, and government and politics. More focused courses may also be available, such as psychology of policing, comparative criminal justice systems, terrorism, criminal profiling, philosophy of law, intercultural communications, gender and nation, and history of law and economics.
There are many types of jobs available in the field of criminal justice. Graduates often become probation officers or correctional treatment specialists for detention facilities. Some become police officers, but these jobs require special criminal justice schooling in addition to a college degree. Others continue their education and earn master's degrees in criminal justice to become qualified to work as detectives or seek employment with the FBI or CIA.
Online criminal justice master's degrees prepare students to act as effective agents of change in the criminal justice system. Students gain the expertise essential for middle- to top-level positions in the criminal justice system. Applicants should hold a bachelor’s degree in criminology or a related field in the social sciences. Master's programs require completion of 36-40 credits, which takes two years. To learn more about online master's programs in criminal justice, see our master's overview which includes a list of the best programs.
The online doctoral degree program in criminal justice is a research and theory based degree, designed to provide students with an advanced understanding of a specific justice area and the skills of independent inquiry. These intensive degree programs typically take three to five years to complete. Students are expected to take between six and 10 advanced courses and spend several years pursuing the dissertation project. Applicants need a bachelor’s degree or master's degree with a high GPA and demonstrated interest in criminal justice.
The coursework in the criminal justice doctorate explores the structure and function of the courts, law enforcement, and corrections systems. Students take advanced classes and graduate seminars during the first one to two years of the program, which look at criminology, drug abuse, justice administration, race and ethnicity in criminal justice, and more. Other pertinent courses discuss research methods and statistics used in criminal justice research. Students then embark on a research project with the intent to develop new knowledge on justice theory or practices. This project becomes the basis of the dissertation. Some programs require a comprehensive examination either after the initial year of courses or prior to graduation.
The doctorate in criminal justice can be good preparation for an academic career at a college or university, or for a role in justice administration or policy. Most faculty positions require a doctoral degree, putting graduates in the best possible position to land a coveted assistant professor job. Students with previous professional experience in law enforcement or criminal justice could seek out administrative roles such as police chief, director of social services, or emergency response administrator. Others go on to work in state or federal government agencies as experts on criminal behavior or policy.
The online certificate in criminal justice can provide an overview of the three branches of criminal justice in the United States or a specialized understanding of a particular aspect of the justice system. These certificates are more commonly offered at the graduate level and can be appropriate for those with a bachelor’s degree looking to enter the justice system or for seasoned professionals. Criminal justice certificates are available through a variety of colleges and universities and require three to 10 courses. Most can be completed in a year or less.
The curriculum in the criminal justice certificate depends largely on the program’s focus. Broad programs aimed at those new to the field are more likely to provide a survey of various topics. Students take courses in the history of the criminal justice system, law enforcement procedures, corrections, criminology, and justice processes. Other certificates focus on a particular justice area such as homeland security, administration, intelligence, or information assurance. Some programs offer for-credit certificates, making the program a good introduction to graduate-level study for individuals considering the master's degree.
The certificate in criminal justice can be used to seek out entry-level roles in criminal justice or to cement one’s specialization in a particular justice area. Those new to the field could use the certificate to enter careers in probation, corrections, non-licensed social work, or administration. Current administrators can use the certificate to support advancement to supervisory positions in various criminal justice branches, such as law enforcement or intelligence.
Accreditation is an important characteristic of any online criminal justice degree program. It is granted to schools and degree programs that meet high academic standards, and it can help ensure that students are provided a valuable education. Because schools must renew their accreditation every few years, the schools and programs are periodically re-evaluated, ensuring that schools stay on top of all curricular and service requirements.
Institutional accreditation is bestowed by national and regional accrediting bodies and applies to all the academic programs within a school. Programmatic accreditation is granted by trade-oriented accrediting agencies and applies to a specific degree program within a larger institution. Both types of accrediting agencies should be recognized by the US Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Legitimate institutional accreditation is important for students that want to apply federal financial aid funds to their tuition or transfer their earned credits to other accredited schools; it is also desirable to most employers.
While there is not currently a USDE- or CHEA-recognized programmatic accrediting agency for criminal justice programs, the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences does provide what it considers "certification" for degree programs that it considers worthy. The ACJS bases its certification standards on several of the same standards as recognized accrediting agencies, such as curricula, faculty, student services, and program quality.
The courses required during your criminal justice degree program will depend on your educational path, career goals, and the school you choose to attend. However, there are some foundational topics that are typically part of every program. Here are some examples of the general criminal justice courses you may encounter:
Alternatives to Incarceration: Not every crime is punished through time in jail. Some crimes require probation, civil service, therapy or many other forms of punishment. Many people believe that incarcerating people isn't the most effective way to ensure they don't commit their crime again, but rather, they need to be educated or helped psychologically. This class will give an overview of these types of methods and give you an idea of how the justice system works outside of correctional facilities.
Correctional Facilities: You can expect to take a class in correctional facilities that will explore the ways in which jails and prisons work and what to expect when you're in them. You'll learn how prisoners are brought in, what the rules are, what options are available to prisoners, the differences between security levels, and much more. These classes are also aimed at teaching you the inner workings of these facilities, including staff schedules and the risks involved in working here.
Criminal Justice Systems: Be prepared to take a number of courses in criminal justice systems. Depending on where you plan on working, you'll likely take a course that describes your state's justice system as well as one that describes the US federal system. You'll learn about mandatory steps, trials, rights, and much more.
Juvenile Corrections: Because all criminal justice systems treat juvenile-age children (under 18 years old) differently than they do adults in the way of crimes and punishment, you will learn about these differences as well as ways in which these criminals must be treated. You'll also learn about juvenile correction facilities and the rights, rules, and regulations involved.
Legal Rights: As a criminal justice professional, you'll need to understand the rights that each offender has when they are being accused of committing a crime. This will be one of the most important courses you are required to take, and it should be one you use on a daily basis once you are in the workforce.
Psychology: To be successful in a criminal justice profession, you need to be able to examine why people do the things they do. Of course, these psychology courses can't prepare you for all of the crimes you will run into, but it will give you some insight into why people break rules and how to deal with them in the most effective way possible. Psychology courses will also help you to work better with colleagues and hopefully give you a sense of understanding of people in this field as well.
Safety: Almost every job in the criminal justice field involves an element of danger. These courses will teach you the best and most effective ways to protect yourself and your coworkers, as well as teach you how to respond to emergency situations. Depending on the job you take, you'll get training specific to your role in the way of safety.
Technology: Technology plays a large role in the criminal justice field, as suspects are often found through computer software and other technological means. There are also computer crimes which are emerging every day that must be treated and punished appropriately. In these courses, you'll learn about the ways in which technology is used in the criminal justice system as well as ways in which you'll use technology on the job.
Types of Crime: Although these will likely be divided into more specific categories such as white-collar crime, computer crime, terrorism, etc., you can be sure that you'll learn about the types of crime that are out there. This course can also help you decide which area of criminal justice you are most interested in pursuing as a career. These courses will help you to understand what constitutes each crime and how common or rare they are in different areas of the nation.
There are a variety of degree topics within the criminal justice category. Popular degrees include cyber security and forensic science. Other possible degrees include the following:
Online emergency/security management degrees educate students on communication strategies, security breach management, mitigation tactics and allocation of resources in case of natural or man-made disasters. The curriculum in an emergency/security management program typically involves organizational theory, emergency planning, psychology of disaster, bioterrorism, hazard risk assessment, and crisis communication.
Online homeland security programs prepare students to safeguard communities and fill positions in corporate, military and national environments throughout the country. To become a professional involved in border security, students must hold a degree in law, criminal justice or public administration, and the curriculum involves classes in national law, immigration law, statutory authority, criminal law, police training and Spanish language.
Online computer or digital forensic degrees train students to search computer data for legal evidence to help ongoing investigations. They recover encrypted and deleted data, emails and passwords. The information is then analyzed and presented in court as necessary. Presently, licensure is not mandated by any state but a certification of completion is highly regarded during the hiring process. The topics include current issues in cyber law, network security, mobile forensic security, computer ethics, database design, information systems and computer forensics.
Online corrections degrees prepare students to work in retaining institutions enforcing the rules and regulations for people who have been arrested and are awaiting a trial or people who have been sentenced to prison. Correction officer duties also include preventing assaults, escapes, and disturbances as well as regular jail cell inspections for drugs or weapons. Correctional officers are required to have a high school diploma, as well as complete the training academy and on-the-job practice. For careers in county jails or state prisons, some college credits are required. The curriculum usually includes English and math, investigative report writing, emergency planning, personal and physical security, and psychology.
Crime Scene Investigation
Individuals with a crime scene investigations degree are prepared to pursue justice and safety in their communities and are involved in numerous crime scenarios that require evidence collection and the use of spectrometry, genetics, and chemistry. The most frequent path to become a crime scene investigator is to obtain a two-year associate degree or four-year bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. The studies should be centered on crime scene investigations. A large part of the education curriculum is focused on the practice and hands-on training. Curriculum also includes upper-level math (statistics and calculus), chemistry, biology, anatomy, legal instruction and crime lab practice.
Online criminology degrees teach students about compiling data, analyzing all aspects of crime and finding methods of prevention. A criminologist works with law enforcement agencies, and their work is research driven with a focus on statistics and crime pattern identification. Typical curriculum is composed of classes on culture and crime, theories of social order, victimology, drugs and crime, psychology of criminal behavior, crime analysis, constitutional law, police and society and economics of crime, among others. In order to become a criminologist, either a bachelor’s or a master’s degree is required along with proper licensing in some states. All programs require completing hands-on training under the supervision of an experienced criminologist and a submission of a research thesis.
An online degree in law enforcement opens many doors for graduates who are considering a career as a police officer, a sheriff, a park ranger or a correction officer. Upon completion of a law enforcement degree, students are prepared to enter the police academy or a boot camp as mandated by the rules and regulations specific to each state. Although possible to obtain a position in the law enforcement specialty with a high school diploma in some states, individuals with a bachelor’s degree are given preference and higher paying positions. Some states, such as New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois, require as many as 60 college credits before attending a police academy. A minimum of an associate degree is mandated, in addition to age and minimum fitness specifications. The curriculum encompasses courses in the introduction to criminal justice, corrections and psychology, sociology, investigative principles, criminology, modern policing, victimology, and criminal law.
Online safety studies degrees cover the entire system of criminal justice, legal policies, public contexts and administration of justice. The typical curriculum includes public safety administration, public safety training and leadership, multicultural diversity, fiscal management, and organizational behavior.
- ACJS Certification Standards. Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences. Accessed March 1, 2018. http://www.acjs.org.
- Correctional Officers. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the US Department of Labor. Accessed March 1, 2018. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/correctional-officers.htm.
- Police and Detectives. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the US Department of Labor. Accessed March 1, 2018. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/police-and-detectives.htm.
- Private Detectives and Investigators. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the US Department of Labor. Accessed March 1, 2018. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/private-detectives-and-investigators.htm.