Last Updated: 9.29.2016
Jobs in the broad field of criminal justice are never far from the headlines of the news or the plot lines of TV shows and movies. And it’s true that people come to this field from a wide range of interests. Maybe you grew up watching police procedurals like NCIS or Law and Order, and you find the excitement and challenge of police work a compelling and attractive feature of the career. Maybe you’ve seen the many recent news stories about the relationship between the police and minority communities, and you want to make a difference for the better in your own city. Maybe you’re already a serving police officer, correctional officer, or sheriff’s deputy ready to take on a leadership role within your current department. Or, maybe, like many people involved in this field, police work is a long and proud family tradition. Regardless of how you first developed your interest, though, investigating your educational options in criminal justice is the next step in turning your career goals into reality.
According to Payscale.com, the average salaries for people in law enforcement vary widely based on the employer and the level of responsibility. Some examples are:
- FBI Agent: $63,233
- Police or Sheriff’s Patrol Officer: $49,824
- Police Detective: $59,560
- First-Line Supervisor/Manager of Correctional Operations: $42,833
- Correctional Officer/Jailer: $33,369
Of course, many of the career benefits of police work, typically including generous pension packages, are not reflected in salary reports. And the greatest benefit of all, knowing that you’re serving your neighbors and working for the common good, is intangible.
While not all police departments and correctional institutions require a bachelor’s degree for entry-level positions, having one will make you a more attractive candidate. And some positions, including those in federal law enforcement (FBI Special Agent, U.S. Marshal, etc.) require a college degree for all applicants.
We’ve ranked the most affordable online bachelor’s degree programs for those who would like to prepare for a law enforcement career while keeping your current job – and for current officers who want to add to your qualifications without leaving the organization you’re serving now. One final note: many of these programs have extra admissions requirements such as successfully passing a background check, so be sure to look into those stipulations before you apply and contact the program you’re applying to if you have any questions.
Cost per Credit Hour: $215
The most affordable online bachelor’s program in criminal justice we ranked is offered by Baker College, the largest independent, non-profit college in Michigan and one of the largest in the United States. Baker’s program is aligned with the standards of the Michigan Corrections Officers Training Council, and is thus especially appropriate for students interested in working in a state prison system or at a local jail. It emphasizes the ethical aspects of the profession, and seeks to inculcate a spirit of duty and commitment to service in all its students.
The 120-hour bachelor’s degree offers a number of courses in topics ranging from 911 telecommunications to substance abuse to cybercrime investigation. In addition, other courses will develop your professional skills including the following:
- Global and cultural perspectives
- Social problems
- Cultural diversity
- Workplace communication
In addition, a 120-hour internship with a criminal justice organization is required for graduation. Baker College is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
Cost per Credit Hour: $260
For current law enforcement professionals with an associate’s degree, Rasmussen College offers an 18-month accelerated bachelor’s degree completion program in criminal justice with a specialization in leadership and management. This makes it an excellent option for those looking to move into the higher ranks of local police work or embark on a federal career. You’ll study topics such as:
- Leadership philosophy, strategy and skills
- Leading and motivating teams
- Increasing morale
- Building upon and applying leadership strategies and skills to your specific career
For students who are just getting started in criminal justice, especially those who live in Minnesota, Rasmussen also offers an online associate’s degree that meets the standards of the Minnesota Peace Officer Standards and Training Board (MN POST) for those seeking employment in Minnesota as a peace officer. However, as the program website states, ‘Graduates of this program may need to successfully complete additional academic coursework, training, practical/skills, and fitness standards before becoming eligible to sit for the MN POST licensing exam. Some of this training cannot be completed online.’ For further information on either of these options, contact the program administrators for details on state licensing and check with your own state’s requirements. Rasmussen College is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
Colorado State University Global Campus
Cost per Credit Hour: $350
Based in Greenwood Village, CO, Colorado State University’s Global Campus offers 100% online classes backed by the resources and reputation of a major state university. CSU’s online bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and law enforcement administration offers students an opportunity to combine managerial skills with knowledge of law enforcement to ensure that departments and agencies continue to run smoothly and efficiently.
As the program description describes its learning outcomes, graduates of CSU’s program will be learn how to:
- Develop and apply basic statistical skills and quantitative reasoning for critical evaluation of quantitative information.
- Understand the roles, functions, and impacts of an effective criminal justice system.
- Examine ethical standards and issues in criminal justice processes and in professional decision making including the ever-present tension between effective crime control and appropriate civil liberties.
- Survey a range of theoretical approaches that explain crime and apply theoretical reasoning and concepts to observations of crime and control.
- Analyze, from a restorative justice perspective, the needs of victims and offenders as well as the involved community as an alternative to satisfying abstract legal principles or punishing the offender.
- Appreciate the investigative profession as a scientific field; sample and apply physical science methods to solve forensic problems.
In addition to the major in criminal justice and law enforcement administration, students can add a minor specialization in a number of related fields such as emergency management, forensics, and public and non-profit management. Colorado State University’s Global Campus is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
Cost per Credit Hour: $390
Not to be confused with Baker College in Michigan, Baker University in Baldwin City, Kansas offers an online bachelor’s degree in criminal justice at a very affordable cost per credit hour. This 124-credit-hour degree program includes 36 credits of general education requirements (which can be fulfilled by transfer or with an associate’s degree), 46 credits of general electives, and 42 credits in the major. Graduates of this program may go on to begin or continue professional careers in law enforcement, to graduate work in criminal justice, or to law school.
The 42 hours of coursework in the major will enable you to:
- Learn why and how the criminal justice system handles crime and offenders.
- Gain an understanding of both the theory and the practices of the criminal justice system.
- Explore and understand ethics within the criminal justice system.
- Gain an understanding of policing, the courts and corrections.
The program culminates with a criminal justice seminar where you will conduct an in-depth individual research project examining how selected theoretical viewpoints can be applied to both understanding and controlling crime. Baker University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
Cost per Credit Hour: $390
From its modest beginnings as Lynchburg Baptist College in 1971, Liberty University has grown its programs and expanded its reach to become the world’s largest Christian university and the fifth largest university of any kind in the United States. Much of that growth has come about due to its commitment to online education. And, among its many other online programs, Liberty offers a bachelor of science degree in criminal justice. Generous transfer policies – including the possibility of transfer credit for work experience or for military training – mean you could be finished in a much shorter time frame than four years.
Liberty’s program offers students a solid foundation in the basics of the criminal justice system on both the federal and local levels. You’ll learn the procedural, organizational, and constitutional aspects of those systems, and how they work to prevent and respond to different types of crime. In addition, Liberty will help you increase your leadership and management skills, as well as the forms of written and oral communication required for promotion in police work. Within the bachelor’s program, a number of specializations are available, including:
- Business administration and management
- Criminal psychology
- Crime scene investigation
- Homeland security
- Public administration
- Strategic intelligence
- Juvenile justice
Liberty University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Cost per Credit Hour: $395
Regent University, located in Virginia Beach, VA, is another evangelical Christian university that offers an online bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. For students who see law enforcement work as part of their Christian vocation, Regent’s program may be especially appropriate. As they describe the program, “Since the criminal justice field demands moral excellence and the careful application of laws, Regent’s online criminal justice degree program emphasizes a Christian worldview, strong academic content, critical thinking and analysis, and ethics. Through your coursework, you will learn about criminal investigation processes and ethics in criminal justice, criminal law, juvenile justice, and constitutional law. You will also have the option to take courses that explore public policy and administration; state and local government; homeland security; and domestic and international terrorism.”
This 120 credit hour program includes 49 credit hours of general education, 48 in criminal justice, and 23 in additional electives. A number of minors are also available through this program, including (but not limited to) Homeland and International Security, American Government and Politics, and Psychology. Regent University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
New England College
Cost per Credit Hour: $405
Located in Henniker, New Hampshire, New England College is a small, private, liberal arts college with a significant commitment to online education as well. New England College shapes its educational program around its commitment to nine core values:
- Imaginative, innovative, and creative approaches to all endeavors
- Respect for self in the development of personal, social, physical and intellectual abilities
- Caring and collaborative relationships among members of our community
- Respect for the varied qualities of individuals, communities, and the world
- An appreciation of beauty and elegance in the search for truth
- Inquiry into and the pursuit of social justice
- Ethical and responsible citizenship, including service to the community
- The pursuit of ecological sustainability
- Continuous learning and a lifetime of personal achievement
Guided by these values, NEC offers an online bachelor of arts degree in criminal justice. For students just getting started in the field, it also offers an associate’s degree delivered online.
The program offers a number of possible specialized concentrations, including cybersecurity and information assurance, homeland security and emergency management, human services, institutional and community-based corrections, and law enforcement. Depending on your specialty, you’ll be prepared for a career in law enforcement, corrections, social services, the justice system, or to apply to law school. New England College is regionally accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
Ohio Christian University
Cost per Credit Hour: $420
Another religious college offering degrees in criminal justice, Ohio Christian University’s program confers the bachelor of arts degree on both their traditional residential and online students. Regardless of the delivery format, students will be prepared to:
- Integrate Christian principles in critical thinking and decision-making.
- Demonstrate awareness and improvement of thinking and learning strategies.
- Apply current and historical justice principles and practices to real-life situations.
- Function within chosen area(s) of justice system with the insight of the functions and interdependencies of various areas.
- Apply procedural rules and statutes through the criminal process.
- Design alternatives to the conventional penal approaches through the lenses of transformative and restorative justice.
As the course website states, students in this 120-hour degree program will gain a foundational understanding of human behavior within criminal, transformative, and restorative justice systems. You will be prepared to serve society as an ethical, caring, service-minded professional in a number of fields including law enforcement, corrections, court-related positions, and security. Ohio Christian University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
Azusa Pacific University
Cost per Credit Hour: $425
From its founding in 1899 as the Training School for Christian Workers, Azusa Pacific became the first Bible college on the West Coast geared toward preparing men and women for ministry and service. It is now one of the largest Christian universities in the nation, with a number of online degrees offered in addition to its residential programs. Through University College, its online division, APU offers degrees in criminal justice, health sciences, leadership, liberal studies, management, and psychology.
The online bachelor of science degree in criminal justice is a 120 credit hour program with an average completion time of 2 to 4 years depending on how many credits you have that are approved for transfer. For a tailored program that suits your particular interests and career goals, Azusa Pacific offers the following areas of emphasis within the bachelor’s degree in criminal justice:
- Clinical Psychology
- Criminal Behavior
- Cultural Psychology
- Human Services
- Public Administration
Azusa Pacific University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
Saint Leo University
Cost per Credit Hour: $470
From its history as a military college, Saint Leo University has been involved in education for criminal justice professionals for more than three decades. As their website explains, “In the Catholic spirit, we base our criminal justice model on a steadfast moral consciousness that recognizes the dignity, value, and gifts of all people.” If you’re looking for a program that combines professional knowledge with a serious commitment to ethical service, Saint Leo may be right for you.
The 120-credit-hour bachelor of arts degree includes a 39-credit criminal justice core along with electives in philosophy and religion, the arts and literature, science, economics, and sociology. The core requirements include courses in:
- The law and legal system
- Substantive criminal law
- Criminal procedure
- Police organization and administration
- Criminal behavior
Graduates will be prepared to serve their communities as well-rounded and thoughtful citizens as well as law enforcement professionals. Saint Leo University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.