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Law and Criminal Justice Programs

Article Sources

Sources:

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Accessed October 2018, https://www.bls.gov/ooh
  • AS in Criminal Justice, Southern New Hampshire University, Accessed October 2018, https://www.snhu.edu/online-degrees/associate/as-in-criminal-justice
  • Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice, Purdue University Global, Accessed October 2018, https://www.purdueglobal.edu/degree-programs/criminal-justice/bachelor-degree-criminal-justice/
  • Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2014-15, National Center for Education Statistics, Accessed Sept. 29, 2016, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
  • Florida State University, http://criminology.fsu.edu/degrees/undergraduate-programs/majors/
  • Grossmont College, http://www.grossmont.edu/academics/programs-departments/aoj/default.aspx
  • San Diego Miramar College, http://www.sdmiramar.edu/academics/pgms/ADJU
  • Santa Fe Community College, https://www.sfcollege.edu/programs/1131
  • Scottsdale Community College, http://www.scottsdalecc.edu/academics/departments/applied-sciences/administration-justice
  • Southwestern College, http://www.swccd.edu/index.aspx?page=782
  • The University of Arkansas at Monticello, http://www.uamont.edu/pages/academics/degree-programs/
  • The University of Texas at Brownsville, http://www.utb.edu/vpaa/cla/cj/Pages/ProgramsofStudy.aspx
  • The University of Wyoming, http://www.uwyo.edu/cj/major/
  • Washburn University, http://www.washburn.edu/academics/college-schools/applied-studies/departments/criminal-justice-legal-studies/degrees.html
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It takes a team of professionals to keep our nation safe, and criminal justice schools offer programs to help train workers for the field.

Earning a criminal justice degree is different than going to a police academy. Rather than preparing you for a specific occupation, such as that of a police officer, these degrees provide an education that can be applied to several different jobs within the realm of law and order.

Coursework may include case studies so students can learn from real-life situations. What's more, some criminal justice associates degree programs provide the opportunity for internships so students can have hands-on, real-world experience. Depending on the school's curriculum, you may also learn about sociology and psychology, specifically as it relates to criminal behavior and substance abuse.

If getting to campus for class would be inconvenient, there are even some criminal justice online schools. We've got all the details below on how to get started on your new career.

Law and Criminal Justice Specializations

Criminal justice is a broad field that includes many career paths. Some criminal justice schools offer specialized programs focused on a specific aspect of the discipline. Others provide a general education that can be used in a variety of occupations after graduation.

The following are a few of the specializations you may find in a traditional or online criminal justice degree program.

  • Paralegal: People often think of law and criminal justice programs as preparing students to walk the streets as a police officer. However, not everyone wants that type of career, and paralegal studies can be a good specialization for them. Paralegals assist attorneys with administrative tasks and research. Explore paralegal programs for more insight.
  • Private Investigation: You don't have to be employed by the government to work in criminal justice. Private investigators may work for private firms or be self-employed. They may be hired to research cases of insurance fraud, corporate theft or data security breaches. Of course, the traditional concept of a PI tailing someone for a private client can also be a part of some jobs.
  • Homeland Security: Homeland security has been a national priority in recent years. Not only does the government have a separate department devoted to homeland security, but many criminal justice schools now offer it as a specialization. Students in these programs learn about the history and threat of terrorism as well as how to deploy counter terrorism measures.
  • Criminal Justice: For those interested in combating crime, a degree in criminal justice may be the best choice. These programs offer an education in the U.S. criminal justice system, review various types of crimes and teach strategies that may be used to deter and solve them.

Educational Requirements for Criminal Justice Jobs

Criminal justice schools offer several different levels of education. While bachelor's degrees are available and may be preferred for some jobs such as that of correctional treatment specialists, not every position requires a four-year degree. You also don't have to take time off work to go to class as many online criminal justice degrees are now available.

Consider the following options,

  • Certificates: Short term certificates are offered by many criminal justice online schools. These won't qualify you for all jobs in the field, but they do provide a good introduction to the topic of criminal justice. They may be used by those planning to work as a private investigator, security officer or similar professional.
  • Associate Degrees: A criminal justice associates degree is a common level of education in the field. These two-year programs cover the basics of law enforcement and may be required for admittance to a police academy. An associate's degree is also the standard level of education for paralegals. You'll find both traditional and online criminal justice degrees at many schools.
  • Police Academy: If you want to work as a police officer or detective, you may be required to attend a police academy. Many local and state police forces operate their own academies which include both classroom and physical training. Applicants may be required to have a certain level of education and meet background and citizenship requirements.

Top Criminal Justice Schools

An individual pursuing a career in criminal justice needs a high-quality degree program with a robust curricula and experienced faculty. These programs help prepare future police officers, corrections officers, detectives and investigators for the rigors of the job. Prospective students are faced with the often daunting task of finding the best criminal justice schools. The following ranking has done much of the heavy-lifting for you, offering a look at five of the top four-year schools in the country and five of the top two-year schools in the country that offer both distance education and on-campus programs in criminal justice. View the full methodology at the end of this article. 

Top 4-Year Criminal Justice Schools

1
University of Arkansas at Monticello

This school ranked first by virtue of its strong admissions rate and relative affordability. It also had a high number of students participating in its distance education programs, an indication that this college is ready to invest in its online learners. Students can pursue an Associate of Applied Science in Crime Scene Investigation or Law Enforcement Administration, or a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice. The criminal justice degree covers the role of police officers in modern society and an analysis of ethical standards for criminal justice professionals.

  • Location: Monticello, Arkansas
  • Total enrollment: 3,854
  • In-state tuition and fees 2015-2016: $6,446
  • Total number of undergraduate programs offered in criminal justice: 9
  • Total number of undergraduate distance education programs offered in criminal justice:0
2
Washburn University

Ranking high in the areas of in-state tuition, admissions rate, and academic support, Washburn University came in second overall with a clear commitment to affordability and accessibility. It also ranked high for the number of students who participate in distance education. The school offers two associate degrees in Criminal Justice and Legal Studies, a bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice, and a master's degree in Criminal Justice. Course content covers both the theoretical and practical aspects of law enforcement.

  • Location: Topeka, Kansas
  • Total enrollment: 6,722
  • In-state tuition and fees 2015-2016: $6,350
  • Total number of undergraduate programs offered in criminal justice: 6
  • Total number of undergraduate distance education programs offered in criminal justice:3
3
Florida State University

Low in-state tuition and high ranks for institutional grants put Florida State University's criminal justice program in third place. This university also boasts high retention rates compared to similar universities. Students can major in Criminology, which introduces students to a wide range of subjects and skills within the field, or Computer Criminology, which focuses specifically on fighting cyber crime. The school also offers online bachelor's and master's degrees in Criminology.

  • Location: Tallahassee, Florida
  • Total enrollment: 41,226
  • In-state tuition and fees 2015-2016: $6,507
  • Total number of undergraduate programs offered in criminal justice: 6
  • Total number of undergraduate distance education programs offered in criminal justice:1
4
The University of Texas at Brownsville

This state university ranks high for affordability (both in terms of tuition and also school supplies, such as books) and also for the rate at which it admits students. Students can work towards one of three degree options: The Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice allows students to concentrate in either law enforcement, corrections or forensics. The Bachelor of Arts in Law and Justice Studies is intended for students pursuing the field of law. Students can also pursue an online bachelor's in Criminology and Criminal Justice.

  • Location: Brownsville, Texas
  • Total enrollment: 11,943
  • In-state tuition and fees 2015-2016: $4,398
  • Total number of undergraduate programs offered in criminal justice: 4
  • Total number of undergraduate distance education programs offered in criminal justice:1
5
The University of Wyoming

Not only does the University of Wyoming offer some of the lowest in-state tuition prices, but it also offers a high amount of instructional spending per student. This may be why it ranked 24th out of 334 for its graduation rate. Students can work towards either their bachelor's or master's in Criminal Justice. A pre-law concentration is available for students who wish to focus on the legal side of the subject. The university also offers a robust internship and practicum program in order for students to gain practical experience in the field.

  • Location: Laramie, Wyoming
  • Total enrollment: 12,820
  • In-state tuition and fees 2015-2016: $4,892
  • Total number of undergraduate programs offered in criminal justice: 1
  • Total number of undergraduate distance education programs offered in criminal justice:0

Top 2-Year Criminal Justice Schools

1
San Diego Miramar College

This college offers low in-state tuition and ranked well for the number of institutional grants divided by enrollment. It also ranked 6th out of 591 schools for its graduation rate. San Diego Miramar students can pursue their associate degree in Administration of Justice, and use that degree to either enter the field or continue on to pursue a bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice. The school makes an effort to accommodate the schedules of students by offering weekend, morning, afternoon, night classes or online classes.

  • Location: San Diego, California
  • Total enrollment: 11,876
  • In-state tuition and fees 2015-2016: $1,142
  • Total number of undergraduate programs offered in criminal justice: 7
  • Total number of undergraduate distance education programs offered in criminal justice:0
2
Santa Fe Community College

Ranking high for affordability and instructional spending per student, Santa Fe Community College shows their committment to helping students attain their career goals in the field of Criminal Justice. Their associate degree in Criminal Justice introduces students to the governmental systems that uphold social control, mitigate crime, and enforce penalties. The focus of this degree is on preparing students to transfer to a four-year college where students can pursue their bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice.

  • Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico
  • Total enrollment: 5,475
  • In-state tuition and fees 2015-2016: $1,854
  • Total number of undergraduate programs offered in criminal justice: 6
  • Total number of undergraduate distance education programs offered in criminal justice:0
3
Scottsdale Community College

Our ranking data shows that this community college focuses on making their degrees affordable, but also ensuring that instructional spending per student remains at a high level. Their associate degree in Administration of Justice Studies is intended to either prepare students for a four-year program, enhance the skills of those already working in the field, or offer enrichment opportunities for non-criminal justice students.

  • Location: Scottsdale, Arizona
  • Total enrollment: 9,863
  • In-state tuition and fees 2015-2016: $2,046
  • Total number of undergraduate programs offered in criminal justice: 6
  • Total number of undergraduate distance education programs offered in criminal justice:1
4
Grossmont College

High retention rates, low in-state tuition, and a strong offering of institutional grants brought Grossmont College into our list of 10 best criminal justice schools. The college's Administration of Justice department offers degrees and certificates in Law Enforcement, Corrections, Legal Systems and Court Management, Forensic Technology, and Security Management. A strong relationship between department faculty and local law enforcement agencies and crime labs allows for rich internship opportunities for students.

  • Location: El Cajon, California
  • Total enrollment: 18,040
  • In-state tuition and fees 2015-2016: $1,388
  • Total number of undergraduate programs offered in criminal justice: 8
  • Total number of undergraduate distance education programs offered in criminal justice:0
5
Southwestern College

This two-year college ranked 27th out of 591 for its in-state tuition and also boasted strong retention rates for its students. The college offers Administration of Justice and Criminal Justice associate degrees that introduce students to the theories, concepts, and methodologies of our criminal justice system. The college also hosts a police academy for students wishing to pursue a career as a police officer.

  • Location: Chula Vista, California
  • Total enrollment: 19,000
  • In-state tuition and fees 2015-2016: $1,336
  • Total number of undergraduate programs offered in criminal justice: 7
  • Total number of undergraduate distance education programs offered in criminal justice:0

Expert Q&A on Criminal Justice Schools and Careers

To learn more about the path to entering the criminal justice field in the U.S., we spoke with Andrew Costello. He is an assistant professor of behavioral science in New York Institute of Technology's College of Arts & Sciences and a retired Deputy Inspector of Police serving more than 26 years with the New York Police Department.

About The Expert
Andrew Costello is an assistant professor of behavioral science in New York Institute of Technology's College of Arts and Sciences.

What is the typical educational path needed to enter the criminal justice field?

For most police agencies, 64 credits of college is needed by appointment to the agency and entry into their academy. Generally, students take civil service exams while attending a college to get the required credits. By the time they are called for employment, they typically are so far along in their degree, they complete it.

How long does it typically take to complete education/degree/certification for a job?

Current municipal police academies and State Police Academies are three to six months. Professional certifications usually require either a bachelor's degree or direct work experience. There are several certifications, so this is a very broad answer.

Why would you encourage someone to pursue this career? What are the advantages and disadvantages?

First, you get to help people every day in a meaningful way. (Capturing bad people and preventing people from getting hurt feels good.) As a general rule, the pay is adequate to very good and the benefits (medical, dental, optical) are exceptional in the current market (compared to the private sector). In most cases, a fixed pension is available immediately upon 20 years of service. The disadvantages are hard work, difficult hours, not having days off, being called in on your days off, getting injured, and reduced time with your family.

Top School Ranking Methodology

We ranked a set of schools offering undergraduate programs in criminal justice on several criteria pertaining to cost, program availability, and student success, among other factors, using the following data points:

  1. In-state undergraduate tuition and fees, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
  2. Estimated cost of books and supplies, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
  3. Total number of degree and certificate programs in criminal justice offered at the bachelor’s level or below, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
  4. Admissions rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014
  5. Total institutional grants relative to enrollment, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014
  6. Instructional and academic support expenses per full-time enrolled student, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014
  7. Retention rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014
  8. Graduation rate in 200 percent time, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014
  9. Flexibility, based on the following seven factors, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014 and 2015
  • Percent of students enrolled fully or partly in distance education
  • Whether the school offers credit for life experience
  • Whether the school offers programs that can be completed entirely in the evenings and on weekends
  • Whether the school offers remedial services
  • Whether the school offers academic and career counseling
  • Whether the school offers job placement services for students who complete their programs
  • Whether the school offers any alternative tuition plans, such as a payment plan or guaranteed rate
Article Sources
Law and Criminal Justice Programs