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Criminal justice workers do more than walk patrol beats and keep watch on cell blocks. Well-trained and educated members of the criminal justice community are essential to effective offender assessment, rehabilitation and other complex aspects of the profession.
Completing a bachelor's-level program can give you a firm background in the concepts, theoretical perspectives and key institutional roles of criminal justice, as well as teaching the legal and ethical principles that helped bring the field into its modern state. Many programs also dive into the behavior patterns of offenders and the root causes of crime.
Online criminal justice degrees are also available at many institutions and can be a great option for working professionals who don't have space in their schedule to earn a full-time degree on a traditional campus. Online degrees for criminal justice students feature nearly identical coursework to their campus-based counterparts and, depending on the institution, may also be more affordable.
Best Colleges for Criminal Justice Degree Programs
We analyzed hundreds of institutions based on data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and ranked the top schools for criminal justice based on their total scores in eight categories. Check out how we did it by clicking the Methodology button, and read on to learn more about the best colleges for criminal justice degree programs.
CUNY's John Jay College is an institution dedicated to criminal justice education, so it's not surprising that it reported the largest percentage of field-focused graduates among our top schools for criminal justice. More than 47 percent of students who finished their degrees at John Jay in 2015 left school with some level of criminal justice degree.
Degree programs here consist of a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in crime control and prevention, a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in institutional theory and practice, and another B.S. in criminal justice management. Criminal justice undergraduates with academic leanings can study criminology or correctional studies, both on a B.S. curriculum.
Our No. 2 school took the top spot for tuition and fees affordability among schools that made our list. Students at Missouri Southern State University paid an annual average of less than $6,000 for their basic college expenses in 2015-16.
Along with its bachelor's degree in criminal justice administration, MSSU offers a four-year study plan in computational forensics that aims to teach tech-savvy criminal justice students to analyze, understand and prevent computer-based criminal activity. Associate degrees in law enforcement are also available, as well as minor concentrations in corrections, juvenile justice and crime scene investigation.
The criminal justice program at Lake Superior State University places a firm emphasis on critical thinking and introduces students to a range of perspectives on the criminal justice field. Available concentrations for criminal justice students include corrections, homeland security, law enforcement, criminalistics and public safety. A general criminal justice degree is also available.
Students at this institution on Michigan's Upper Peninsula can also earn an associate degree in corrections, homeland security or law enforcement on the way to completing their bachelor's, allowing them to effectively specialize in two separate branches of the field and expand their criminal justice skillset beyond the single concentration taken in a typical four-year program.
Founded in 1866 as a teacher education academy, the University of Wisconsin-Platteville has grown into a comprehensive institution of higher learning. Just two other schools on our list had higher graduation rates than UW-Platteville, and students can take advantage of career counseling and placement services offered through the college during and after their time in school.
Criminal justice students hoping to study crime scene science can earn a hands-on degree in forensic investigation at UW-Platteville. Not only does the school offer a comprehensive plan of classroom study in criminal forensics, the campus is home to a forensic investigation laboratory and a research facility that includes a high-tech "crime scene house" where you can put your skills to the test.
Grantham University took a spot among the best schools for online criminal justice degrees, reporting that fully 100 percent of its students earned their degrees via distance education in 2015. The criminal justice degree plan at Grantham requires 121 credit hours of study, which full-time students should be able to complete in 38 months. Transfer credits or temporary part-time status could affect that estimate.
Two concentrations are available for Grantham's criminal justice students -- homeland security and computer science. The homeland security concentration focuses on border security, terrorism prevention and emergency and disaster planning, while the computer science focus takes a hard look at computer crime, ethical hacking and criminal intelligence analysis.
Administration is the focus of the undergraduate criminal justice degree programs at our No. 6 school, which features a range of online degrees for criminal justice students. Columbia College students can earn online criminal justice administration degrees at the associate, bachelor's and master's levels, with on-campus options also available for several courses in the study plan.
Students who live near the main Columbia, Missouri, campus of this institution can also choose to pursue a B.S. in forensic science that includes courses in physical evidence, serology, drug chemistry, toxicology, DNA technology and more. Certificates in crime scene investigation are available both online and on campus.
Although beginning its life as the first two-year college in New York, the State University of New York College of Technology at Canton has grown into an expansive institution that offers bachelor's degrees in addition to its professional certificates and associate degrees. Criminal justice degree options can be found at either level, online as well as on campus.
Online and hybrid students at SUNY Canton can choose among bachelor's degrees in homeland security, emergency management and law enforcement leadership, as well as an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree in general criminal justice. A Bachelor of Technology (B.Tech) degree in criminal investigation is also available for on-campus students.
The University of New Haven's Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences offers a wide range of B.S. and A.S. degrees in criminal justice. Undergraduates at the Connecticut institution can choose among bachelor's degrees in corrections, crime analysis, investigative services, juvenile and family justice, law enforcement administration and victim services administration, all under the umbrella of general criminal justice.
What's more, if you're interested in using psychological tools and methods to help law enforcement agencies study, prevent and address the root causes of crime, the University of New Haven has got you covered. The school offers a B.A. program in forensic psychology as a joint effort between faculty in the criminal justice and psychology departments.
The average tuition and fees expense of $6,256 among students at Missouri Western State University ranked No. 2 among our top ten schools for criminal justice students, and that's not the only upside to this Midwestern school. On-campus students who need flexibility can take advantage of alternative tuition payment plans and classes that meet in the evenings and or on weekends.
Undergraduate programs in criminal justice at MWSU include B.S. degrees in corrections, juvenile justice, law enforcement and criminal justice administration. An Associate of Science (A.S.) degree in criminal justice is also available, as well as a certificate and a Master's of Applied Science (M.A.S.) in forensic investigations.
We saved the smallest school on our list for last. Eagle Gate College in Layton, Utah, awarded fewer than 150 total degrees in 2015, but one in four of those graduates left school with a degree in criminal justice. Just two other schools on our list had a higher percentage of criminal justice degrees among their 2015 graduates.
Eagle Gate College also recorded the No. 1 graduation rate among our top 10 schools for criminal justice degrees and reports a student faculty ratio of 12:1. The national average student-faculty ratio was 16:1 in 2016, so Eagle Gate students are more likely than most to have access to personalized time with professors and other faculty.
Criminal Justice Degree Programs and Common Career Paths
Many of the entry-level positions in the criminal justice field don't require a bachelor's degree to get started, although advancement in the field is often linked to education as well as experience. That said, though, education requirements tend to vary by state. Here are a few potential first steps on the path to a criminal justice career.
Career outlook for Criminal Justice Majors
Certain careers have more favorable job growth projections than others, and knowing which jobs are the hottest can help you plan wisely for the future. Take a look at these employment statistics for some top criminal justice careers.
PROJECTED JOB GROWTH(%)
|Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Teachers, Postsecondary||$67,040||14,620||21.4%|
|Private Detectives and Investigators||$53,530||28,490||5.2%|
|Police and Sheriff's Patrol Officers||$62,760||657,690||5%|
|Correctional Officers and Jailers||$46,750||431,600||3.7%|
Financial aid and scholarships
Student aid programs can go a long way toward helping you afford your criminal justice degree. Most grants and scholarships specifically designed for criminal justice students are offered at the regional or institutional level, although some general federal financial aid may also be available. Here's a quick list of available programs.
Renewable in some specific cases on the basis of outstanding achievements.