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Top 25 Online Associate in Criminal Justice Programs for 2017

Criminal justice involves theories and practices of public safety, law enforcement, and corrections. Students learn crime scene investigation techniques, court procedures, emergency management practices, and the latest theories of criminal justice. The best online criminal justice associate degree programs lead to exciting and worthwhile careers with terrific job security, increased earning potential, and valuable contributions to public safety.

According to recent reports, unemployment rates in the field are as low as 1%, and projected rises in job openings are as high as 8%. The following guide provides you with the necessary information to choose the right online criminal justice associate degree to jumpstart your career.


How to Choose an Online Associate in Criminal Justice Program

Choosing an online criminal justice associate degree program can be a challenging and personal process. Review the amount of required total credits to ensure the program length fits with your needs. Some schools let you take courses asynchronously and at your own pace, while others assign you to a cohort that completes coursework together. Some programs also apply credits from a previous institution toward your degree. Each of these factors affect the total time you’ll need to complete the degree.

You should also review whether courses are offered 100% online, or if on-campus and hybrid courses are available. Tuition varies from school-to-school, as well, so examine the total costs per course; these are often listed by credit hour. A school’s accreditation is important for employment and for transferring credits toward a bachelor’s degree, and your institution should be accredited by a regional or national organization. The curriculum, school policies, and length of program can all help determine whether a school meets your needs, but contact the admissions director at each prospective school for the most up-to-date information.

Educational Paths

While earning your associate degree online in criminal justice, consider it your first step toward a bachelor’s degree. A recent report by PayScale compared beginning and mid-career salaries for employees with an associate degree versus those with a bachelor’s. Entry-level employees with a bachelor’s degree started with a 20% higher salary, and mid-career employees with a bachelor’s made 25% more than those with only an associate degree. Potential bachelor’s programs build on your associate degree studies, and help you increase your earning potential. Some of these include:

  • Bachelor’s in Law Enforcement

    Though similar to many criminal justice degrees, a bachelor’s in law enforcement focuses on maintaining public safety, and includes possible specializations in areas such as homeland security, corrections, police administration, or juvenile justice.

  • Bachelor’s in Forensic Science and Crime Scene Investigation

    A bachelor’s in forensic science prepares students for careers in crime-scene investigation and laboratory analysis. Advanced studies in fingerprint analysis, cybercrime techniques, firearm trademarks, and criminal tools prepare students to scientifically evaluate evidence left behind at a crime scene.

  • Bachelor’s in Cyber Crime

    A bachelor’s in cybercrime is an interdisciplinary degree that blends criminal justice with technology. Students learn programing and data architecture systems, and explore topics such as computer fraud, financial crime, and digital intrusion-detection methods.

  • Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice

    With a bachelor’s in criminal justice, students specialize their studies to prepare for careers in corrections, law enforcement, juvenile justice, or victim advocacy. Many students focus on legal aspects of the criminal justice system and advance to law school.

Careers for Graduates of this Program

With an associate degree in criminal justice online, many graduates find work within the criminal justice system. Whether working in legal aid, a corrections facility, or patrolling neighborhoods, criminal justice graduates play integral roles in maintaining public safety and enforcing the law. The day-to-day experience can be challenging and diverse, but your career will build on the skills you gain in your studies. Below are some of the most common career paths for graduates with a criminal justice associate degree online.

Job Outlook and Salary

The best online criminal justice associate degree programs prepare you for a variety of roles. Depending on the field you enter and the geographic location of your job, however, employment rates and salary vary. For example, employment for police officers and detectives is projected to rise by 4% by 2024, while employment rates for paralegals are projected to rise by 8% over the same time, a much higher increase than other occupations. Paralegals assist with research and filing needs for lawyers in many different industries. As you review the projected employment rates over the next decade, consider how you plan to apply your online criminal justice associate degree once you graduate.

Employment Growth for Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024
279,5000 300,800

Source: BLS


For many careers, compensation grows with more experience, and this is true especially for graduates with an online associate degree in criminal justice. The most dramatic increases are for police officers and probation officers, who earn up to $20,000 more than those without a degree. Below are the most common career paths for graduates.

To determine the best online associate in criminal justice programs, we looked at the most important factors prospective students, mainly common predictors of future success and a school’s commitment to online programs. This boils down to admissions rate, student loan default rate, retention rate, graduation rate, and the percent of students enrolled in online classes. All data points are taken from information provided by colleges and universities to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Each factor is weighted evenly in order to give an objective view and determine the best online associate in criminal justice programs. To calculate our rankings, we looked at a school’s ranking when organized by a single factor, and then averaged each category’s ranking to find an overall score: Admissions Rate (20%) + Default Rate (20%) + Retention Rate (20%) + Graduation Rate (20%) + Percent of Students Enrolled in Online Classes (20%) = Final score.