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2020 Best Value Colleges For A Criminal Justice Degree

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Criminal Justice Degrees

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By Staff WritersPublished on January 29, 2020

What Are the Goals of a Bachelor’s Program in Criminal Justice?

The criminal justice field includes positions in law enforcement, corrections, legal studies, and forensic investigation. A bachelor’s in criminal justice can lead to roles in these areas and in other positions related to the judicial system.

Colleges and universities across the country offer four-year criminal justice programs on campus. Many schools also deliver online degrees in criminal justice, some of which require no campus visits. Associate degree-holders can often earn their bachelor’s in criminal justice in two years.

The first bachelor’s in criminal justice programs were intended to professionalize the police force. Today, the study of criminal justice is an indispensable tool in the fight against crime and injustice in the United States.

The information in this guide can help you decide whether earning a bachelor’s in criminal justice can help you achieve your professional goals. The following sections include a list of high-quality criminal justice programs, information on accrediting agencies, and statistics about career outlook for graduates.

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Featured Online Programs

Figuring out where to apply? These top, accredited schools offer a variety of online degrees. Consider one of these accredited programs, and discover their value today.

Frequently Asked Questions

WHAT IS CRIMINAL JUSTICE?Criminal justice students develop the skills and resources necessary to detect and deter crime. The criminal justice field comprises the law enforcement, court, and corrections systems.
WHAT CONCENTRATIONS ARE AVAILABLE IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE PROGRAMS?A concentration typically requires 18 upper-division credits. Popular criminal justice concentrations include forensics, cybercrime investigation, criminal psychology, and homeland security.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO EARN A CRIMINAL JUSTICE DEGREE?Most students earn their bachelor’s in criminal justice in four years. Some schools offer a criminal justice degree completion program, which transfer students can often complete in two years.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND CRIMINOLOGY?Criminology is the study of crime, including its roots, societal and personal costs, and consequences. Criminal justice refers to the system that detects crime, tries suspects, and punishes criminals.

Top 10 Online Bachelor’s Programs for Criminal Justice for 2020

Why Study Criminal Justice Online?

Students often cite affordability and flexibility as two main reasons for choosing online learning. Distance students often save on housing and transportation costs, and some schools charge all online learners in-state tuition rates. This can result in significant savings for out-of-state students.

Studying online can help busy learners balance academics with professional and personal responsibilities. Online students often work full time while earning their degree, which can help ease the financial burden of pursuing higher education.

Many online bachelor’s in criminal justice programs comprise asynchronous classes, allowing learners to complete course requirements at their convenience. Asynchronous courses typically follow a set schedule, with due dates for assignments, term papers, and exams. Students can also consider self-paced programs, which provide even greater flexibility.

Institutions typically deliver online courses through a learning management system such as Brightspace or Canvas. Online classes often include streamed lectures, recorded sessions, and forum discussions.

Accreditation for Online Criminal Justice Programs

Colleges and universities across the country can obtain voluntary accreditation to illustrate the quality of their academic programs. Accreditation also demonstrates the sustainability of an institution’s fiscal and operational standards. The U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation oversee the accreditation process and ensure accrediting agencies adhere to strict standards.

Accreditation assures students they will receive a quality education and that employers will recognize their degree after graduation. Additionally, many types of state and federal financial assistance are only available to learners at accredited schools.

The Distance Education Accrediting Commission accredits institutions that offer primarily online or distance programs, from the high school to doctoral levels. The Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences accredits criminal justice programs.

2020 Best Value Colleges for a Criminal Justice Degree

The list below includes institutions offering some of the best criminal justice degrees in the country. Criteria for the rankings include accreditation, graduation rates, and affordability. The following list can help you locate a criminal justice program that fits your educational and career goals.COLLAPSE ALLEXPANDED

  1. Arizona State University
    Location

    Phoenix, AZ

    Arizona State University's bachelor of science in criminology and criminal justice examines the root causes and social consequences of crime while drawing on concepts from sociology, psychology, and biology. Delivered through the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, the program offers a variety of hands-on learning opportunities through more than 200 partner agencies. Students can attend on-campus classes during the day or take advantage of blended formats that include online learning. The 120-credit program lets learners choose between 7.5-week and 15-week term options. Students on the accelerated track can graduate in as little as 30 months.

  2. University of Michigan-Dearborn
    Location

    Dearborn, MI

    The University of Michigan-Dearborn offers a bachelor's in criminology and criminal justice studies that draws on the social and behavioral sciences to examine interactions between criminality and law enforcement. Students explore policy and ethics in relation to the criminal justice system in an open democracy and learn how to apply theory and emerging best practices to make positive community impacts. Students complete foundational, intermediate, and advanced courses. Additionally, learners complete an internship at a criminal justice or social welfare agency and use it as the basis of a comprehensive research paper. The University of Dearborn-Michigan also offers a 4+1 criminology program, allowing students to earn a master's degree in the field with just one additional year of study.

  3. California State University - Long Beach
    Location

    Long Beach, CA

    Regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, California State University-Long Beach is located on a 322-acre campus in the beach suburbs of Los Angeles. The school's bachelor of science in criminology and criminal justice program prepares graduates for careers in law enforcement, social services, policy and government, and forensic sciences. Learners study the criminal justice system, policing, correctional theory, criminology theory, research methods, and academic writing. They also complete immersive field placements and internships, with experiential learning courses covering topics like crime analysis, criminal trials, forensic investigation techniques, and high-tech crime. In lieu of an internship, students can complete a six-credit senior thesis.

  4. Indiana University - Bloomington
    Location

    Bloomington, IN

    Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, Indiana University hosts more than 110,000 students through diverse undergraduate and graduate programs. The school offers a bachelor of arts in criminal justice that prepares students to work as law enforcement and corrections professionals and policymakers. Students explore leading theories and models of criminal behavior through courses on topics like private security, white-collar crime, and adolescents and the law. Learners can tailor the degree to their interests through electives like criminal justice psychology, crime and gender, and crime and race. This interdisciplinary program prepares students for entry-level jobs and advanced studies in criminology and criminal justice.

  5. University of Georgia
    Location

    Athens, GA

    The University of Georgia's bachelor of arts in criminal justice combines advanced instruction in criminal justice theory and research methodology with specialized criminology topics. The 120-credit program includes a semester-long internship with a partner criminal justice agency. Students use the internship to inform a self-designed independent research project. Courses cover topics in law and ethics, institutions of social control, and the human behavior-related elements of crime. Academic advisors help students tailor their studies to their goals and interests. The University of Georgia notes that its criminal justice program makes an excellent pre-law degree path for students interested in careers as criminal lawyers.

  6. Hertiage University
    Location

    Toppenish, WA

    Heritage University offers a bachelor of arts in criminal justice that prepares students to work as social advocates and public safety professionals. The 120-credit program includes classroom learning in addition to field components, including agency and workplace visits, research conferences and symposiums, crime labs, and internships. Students culminate the degree with a capstone course that integrates theoretical learning, practical experiences, and personal interests in an intensive research project. Based in Toppenish, Washington, Heritage University holds regional accreditation from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. Founded in 1907 and formerly known as Holy Names College and Fort Wright College, the private, nonprofit school offers small class sizes with plenty of opportunities to interact with peers and faculty.

  7. Indiana University - Purdue University - Indianapolis
    Location

    Indianapolis, IN

    Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis holds accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission and ranks among Indiana's largest higher education networks. IUPUI's bachelor of science in criminal justice examines law enforcement and criminal justice in relation to national security and the justice and correctional systems. The program explores criminal justice theory and practice, the court system, policing techniques, and research methods. Learners can supplement core courses with electives on topics, such as cybercrime, terrorism causes and prevention, homicide, and the juvenile justice system. Students who work as full-time police officers qualify for a 12-credit waiver.

  8. Truman State University
    Location

    Kirksville, MO

    Truman State University offers a 120-credit bachelor of science in justice systems that uses seminar courses to facilitate intimate, intensive learning experiences. The program also includes internship requirements that allow students to gain hands-on experience in settings like investigative units, forensics departments, law enforcement and corrections agencies, and victim advocacy agencies. Based in Kirksville, Missouri, Truman ranks among the leading institutions in the Midwest. About 89% of Truman students find a job or attend graduate school within six months of graduation. The school also boasts a graduation rate of 72%, outpacing the national average of 57.6%. Truman holds regional accreditation from the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

  9. California State University - Los Angeles
    Location

    Los Angeles, CA

    California State University-Los Angeles offers a bachelor of science in criminal justice that draws on the behavioral and social sciences to examine criminal justice theory and practice, research methods, and data analysis. This 120-credit program splits major requirements and electives equally, giving students the flexibility to customize the degree to their interests. Electives cover topics like hate crimes, gangs, courtroom interpretation of evidence, and the relationship between law enforcement and media. California State University's Los Angeles campus gives students abundant experiential learning opportunities in one of America's most diverse and dynamic cities. Learners can see the issues studied in class played out in professional scenarios, adding considerable value to their internship and field placement requirements.

  10. Holy Family University
    Location

    Philadelphia, PA

    Based in Philadelphia, Holy Family University is a private, nonprofit Catholic institution with accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. The school offers a bachelor's in criminology program that draws on ideas from sociology, psychology, and criminal justice to explore theoretical and practical models of criminology. Required courses cover topics like structures and functions of law enforcement, criminal court, corrections, and probation systems. In addition to coursework, students complete an internship to gain hands-on experience in the field. Holy Family University maintains dozens of partnerships that offer local internship placements. The school allows graduates to earn its master's in criminology with just one year of additional study.

Career and Salary Outlook for Criminal Justice Graduates

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects varying job growth rates for criminal justice professionals, depending on position. The BLS projects police and detective positions to increase 5% from 2018 to 2028, which is on par with the average for all occupations. However, the BLS projects employment for forensic science technicians to increase 14% during the same time frame.

Most positions for graduates of bachelor’s in criminal justice programs feature above-average earning potential. However several factors influence salary potential, including job location, experience, and academic achievement.

Career and Salary Outlook

POLICE AND DETECTIVESPolice officers protect life and property, serving as the first line of defense against crime. Some police officers work in a specific industry, such as transit and railroad. Others specialize in a certain type of crime, such as drug trafficking or arson. Police officers arrest criminals, patrol assigned areas, and respond to emergency calls. Detectives may perform work similar to that of police officers, depending on their rank. However, the responsibilities of detectives often include investigating crimes, collecting evidence, and interviewing witnesses and suspects.
PRIVATE DETECTIVES AND INVESTIGATORSAlthough private detectives and investigators do not have police authority, they perform an essential role in crime detection and prevention. Private detectives conduct background checks for employers, carry out surveillance missions to uncover possible unlawful activities, and collect evidence for law firms and private citizens. Private investigators must be familiar with federal and state laws to ensure that any evidence they collect will be admissible in court.
EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT DIRECTORSEmergency management directors prepare appropriate responses to natural disasters and coordinate with concerned stakeholders before, during, and after emergencies. They also assess conditions for potential hazards and apply for federal funding to mitigate the impact of disasters. Additionally, these directors regularly review and update emergency procedures to ensure their continued effectiveness and relevance.
PROBATION OFFICERS AND CORRECTIONAL TREATMENT SPECIALISTSThese professionals supervise parolees and individuals who are on probation. The responsibilities of probation officers and correctional treatment specialists often include conducting drug tests, identifying appropriate rehabilitation programs, making recommendations to probationary courts, and testifying during parole hearings.
JOB TITLEMEDIAN ANNUAL SALARYPROJECTED JOB OUTLOOK
Police and Detectives$65,1705%
Private Detectives and Investigators$50,5108%
Emergency Management Directors$74,5905%
Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists$54,2903%

Source: BLS

Criminal Justice Concentrations

Many bachelor’s in criminal justice degrees offer concentration options, which allow students to gain in-depth knowledge in a specific area of the field. Earning a bachelor’s in criminal justice degree with a concentration can help graduates secure positions in the concentration area.

  1. CORRECTIONS
    A bachelor’s in criminal justice with a concentration in corrections qualifies graduates to work in correctional facilities as prison guards, case managers, juvenile probation officers, and corrections officers. This concentration typically requires coursework in the criminal justice system, juvenile justice and delinquency theories, and constitutional issues in criminal procedures.
  2. CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION
    Students pursuing this concentration learn how to identify, collect, and organize evidence found at crime scenes. Learners study topics including fingerprint analysis, crime scene photography, toxicology, and forensic pathology. Students also learn how to preserve the chain of evidence to ensure their findings and conclusions are admissible in court.
  3. CYBERSECURITY
    This concentration trains students to protect sensitive and vital digital information. Learners prepare to keep computer networks safe from unlawful and malicious intrusion. Students explore topics such as network security, computer troubleshooting, and Linux system administration. Graduates with a cybersecurity concentration often work as security architects, ethical hackers, and cryptologists.
  4. LAW ENFORCEMENT
    This common criminal justice concentration prepares students to become police officers, detectives, and corrections specialists. Coursework typically covers the American court system, foundations in criminal law and procedure, constitutional issues in criminal proceedings, and investigation techniques. Graduates often pursue local, state, and federal law enforcement positions.
  5. SECURITY MANAGEMENT
    A specialization in security management prepares criminal justice students to safeguard the assets and employees of a business. Concentration coursework typically explores risk analysis, infrastructure security, and effective emergency planning. Security management specialists often manage a team of security guards and other security personnel.

Courses in Criminal Justice Programs

The curricula of criminal justice programs vary by institution. Some schools offer broad undergraduate criminal justice programs that allow students to explore a variety of prospective career paths. Learners in these programs typically choose a concentration area to study during their junior and senior years.

Students should examine each prospective program’s curriculum to ensure the available courses align with their career aspirations. The foundational courses below are common to many programs from the best criminal justice colleges.

  1. CRIME PREVENTION
    The course introduces students to various theories of crime prevention, detection, and reduction. Learners study traditional techniques currently used in the field, as well as emerging technologies and practices. Students also examine innovative community-based solutions and their applications to crime prevention.
  2. CRIMINOLOGY
    Students in this class examine criminality using the precepts of behavioral and social sciences. Learners explore the psychological and biological roots of criminal behavior and the impact of crime on individuals, communities, and society. The course presents a historical review of various crime-reduction practices, along with each method’s effectiveness and modern applicability.
  3. POLICING
    Students in this class explore the historical evolution of law enforcement to gain an understanding of its current function within the criminal justice system. Students also examine challenges related to modern policing. Learners discuss how cultivating positive community relationships can lead to fewer crimes and better detection.
  4. U.S. CORRECTIONAL SYSTEM
    Coursework focuses on key issues that impact the country’s correctional system, including socioeconomic factors, judicial policies, and racism. Students examine issues such as prison overcrowding, drug use among inmates, and prison-staff retention. Learners explore the role of criminal justice practitioners in seeking and implementing viable solutions to these ongoing challenges.
  5. U.S. JUDICIAL SYSTEM
    This course covers topics including the function and structure of the U.S. court system, the responsibilities of criminal justice practitioners, and the procedures and processes at various levels of the federal court. Students also learn about significant events in the history of the nation’s judicial system.

Scholarships for Criminal Justice Students

Many colleges and universities offer scholarships for criminal justice students. Some institutions administer state and federal grants, and learners can apply for financial assistance from private and special-interest organizations. Learners pursuing a criminal justice degree can explore the scholarship opportunities below.

Brian Terry Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Applicants must submit an essay and proof of enrollment in an accredited undergraduate criminal justice program. The foundation begins accepting applications in January of each year, until receiving 100 applications.

Amount: Varies

Apply for Scholarship

Edna R. Anthony Scholarship

Who Can Apply: This scholarship supports high school seniors who plan to pursue a criminal justice major at a historically black college or university. Recipients must maintain at least a 2.5 college GPA to remain eligible for funding.

Amount: $1,000

Apply for Scholarship

Ritchie-Jennings Memorial Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Applicants must demonstrate financial need and must have a minimum 3.8 GPA. The organization administers three scholarships, and applicants who are committed to pursuing a career in law enforcement receive preference.

Amount: $1,000 to $10,000

Apply for Scholarship

Women in Federal Law Enforcement Annual Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Applicants must be criminal justice majors who have completed at least one full year of college-level coursework. Applicants must have a minimum 3.0 GPA and must submit a 500-word essay demonstrating their commitment to pursuing a career in law.

Amount: $1,500

Apply for Scholarship

Financial Aid for Criminal Justice Students

Students can begin their search for financial assistance by completing the FAFSA. The information learners provide on the FAFSA form establishes their eligibility for federal and institutional financial aid. Additionally, some private organizations determine eligibility for funding using each applicant’s FAFSA form.

After applying for scholarships and grants, some students take out loans to cover remaining costs. Federal student loans typically offer lower tuition rates than private loans. Students with financial need may qualify for a subsidized federal loan, which does not begin accruing interest until after graduation.

Learn More…

Most Affordable Online Master’s in Criminal Justice
What Are Some Good Internships for Criminal Justice Majors
Can You Pursue a Degree in Criminal Justice If You Have Ever Been Charged With a Crime?

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