Most people pursue a career in criminal justice out of a desire to help. The field is made up of people who want to do more for their communities in some way, but it’s also a great field for employment opportunities. As the criminal justice system expands, employment opportunities grow as well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job prospects in criminal justice related fields are good, ranging from favorable to excellent depending on the location.
Graduates from online criminal justice degree programs place themselves in an excellent position to take advantage of the demand for trained officers. Obtaining a criminal justice degree online or otherwise is increasingly becoming an expected prerequisite for entrance into policing, investigations, corrections, law, social work, and other related fields. Earning a degree from an online criminal justice program has many advantages, including allowing the student to maintain employment and/or family responsibilities while in school.
To help sort through all the quality online criminal justice degree programs, we’ve put together this ranking of what we consider the best criminal justice degree online options in 2017. Our rankings of the top online criminal justice degrees are based on publicly available data evaluated according to several different criteria, including reputation, accreditation, student satisfaction, ratio of students to instructors, and tuition.
What Are The Best Online Bachelor of Criminology & Criminal Justice Programs?
Criminal Justice Career Outlooks
The criminal justice field projects a good employment outlook for criminal justice degree online graduates through 2024. Even though the growth rate is below average, the field is heavily relied upon and there should be no shortage of jobs available moving forward. More and more criminal justice positions are being filled by applicants with credentials from accredited online degree programs than ever before, and of those, candidates with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice typically have the best job opportunities.
|Career Opportunities||Median Salaries||Entry-Level vs. Experienced Salaries||Career Growth (2014-2024)|
|Police and Detectives||$62,000||$44,000 – $67,000||4%|
|Probation Officers||$50,000||$37,000 – $60,000||4%|
|Private Detectives and Investigators||$48,000||$44,000 – $73,000||5%|
|Correctional Officers||$43,000||$34,000 – $48,000||4%|
Salaries in Criminal Justice
- Police and Detectives
Joining the police force is the goal of most criminal justice graduates. While there are various levels of law enforcement, each with different tasks, pay structures, and schedules, all police officers enforce the law and protect the lives of people and their property. The median salary for this career is $62,000. Entry-level police officers start off with a median salary of $44,000 and build to a median salary of $67,000 with experience.
- Probation Officers
Probation officers work with probationers to monitor and help them if possible. The goal of a probation officer is to prevent probationers from returning to crime. Some probation officers work as treatment specialists and create programs to assist in the probationer’s rehabilitation process. Almost all probation officers work for state or local governments. The median salary for probation officers is $50,000. The median salary for new probation officers is $37,000, but, with experience, the median salary jumps to $60,000.
- Private Detectives and Investigators
Private detectives and investigators offer a variety of services, but many focus on searches for information, including legal, personal, and financial matters. This typically includes verifying people’s backgrounds and investigating missing person reports. Across the field, the median salary is $48,000. Most entry-level professionals begin at a median salary of $44,000, but experienced private detectives make a median salary of $73,000.
- Correctional Officers
Correctional officers are responsible for overseeing and keeping order within jails and/or prisons. This career also includes bailiffs, who are responsible for courtrooms. Correctional officers maintain the security of their environment and the safety of its inhabitants by preventing disturbances and crimes. The median salary for this field is $43,000. As an entry-level professional, the median correctional officer salary is $34,000, whereas experienced correctional officers have a median salary of $48,000.
Careers for Criminal Justice Graduates
- Police and Detectives
The career outlook for police and detectives is projected to be slower than average at 4% between now and 2024, but the desire and demand for public safety is expected to result in a growth in the field. While the successful completion of the police training academy is the only real job requirement, candidates with bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice typically have the best opportunities available to them. Federal agencies, such as the FBI and DEA, have bachelor’s degrees as a minimum requirement.
- Probation Officers
Even though the career outlook for probation officers is projected to be slower than average at 4%, the demand for professionals in this field is expected to grow as community corrections continue to be relied upon more as an alternative to incarceration. While the minimum requirement for probation officers is the completion of a state or federally sponsored training program, most applicants are expected to have a bachelor’s degree. Students who are interested in probation work should consider taking criminal justice classes online in social work, criminal justice, and behavioral sciences.
- Private Detectives and Investigators
The field of private detectives and investigators is projected to grow at a slower rate than the national average, but at 5% projected growth between 2014-2014, this sector is projected to grow more than most law enforcement sectors. The reason for this growth is the result of a growing number of cybercrimes and internet crimes. Most positions in this field require law enforcement experience above all else, but there are entry-level positions available. Corporate investigators and computer forensics investigators almost always need a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice as a minimum requirement.
- Correctional Officers
With projected growth at 4% through 2024, the corrections profession is expected to grow on par with the rest of the law enforcement field. While many state governments are moving toward shorter prison sentences that could slow the demand for officers, the high turnover and advanced ages of professionals in the current workforce is expected to balance out the field. Many prisons require the successful completion of a training program, but federal prisons ask for a bachelor’s degree as a minimum requirement.
Advanced Degrees and Certification
The criminal justice field covers a wide range of professions and specialties. With more than 135,000 degrees awarded in the various subsections of the field, criminal justice is one of the most popular degree choices in the nation. While most law enforcement positions require the completion of a training program as a minimum requirement, such as a police training program which takes an average of 21 weeks to complete (between four and six months), a college degree in criminal justice is quickly becoming a necessity. Currently, 57% of all degrees awarded in the criminal justice field are bachelor’s degrees. Associate degrees make up 36% and master’s degrees make up 7%. A very small number of criminal justice graduates were awarded a Ph.D. (0.1%).
In terms of financial rewards in the career, the most important thing a criminal justice professional needs is experience. Still, there are considerable financial differences between the most common levels of higher learning, not to mention the fact that candidates with a higher level of education have the best job prospects. The most significant jump in salary between degrees is between an associate degree and a bachelor’s degree. A graduate with an associate degree earns an entry-level median salary of $31,000, but a graduate with a bachelor’s degree earns $37,000, a 19% increase. Master’s degree holders earn an additional 14% on top of that, coming in with a median entry-level salary of $42,000. The more drastic comparisons between degree completion and earnings come with experience and degrees. While experienced professionals with associate degrees bring in a median salary of $52,000, those with bachelor’s degrees see a median salary of $66,000 — a 27% increase. As a comparison, professionals with master’s degrees have a median salary of $70,000.
Joining a professional association related to the criminal justice field makes sense both for students and established professionals. Student members often have access to scholarships, mentors, resources, and cost savings, while professionals have the opportunity to expand their personal and professional networks, gain access to industry publications, and remain constantly informed of new and changing industry policies and standards. Listed below are some of the most prestigious professional associations in the industry:
- National Association of Police Organizations
- Fraternal Order of Police
- National Sheriffs’ Association
- American Correctional Association
- United States Association of Professional Investigators
- American Probation and Parole Association
How We Rank the Best Online Criminal Justice Degree Programs
The criminal justice programs offered online vary in terms of quality, name recognition, and value. To help someone looking for a quality, accredited online criminology or criminal justice degree program, we’ve put together this ranking of what we consider to be the very best online schools offering criminology or criminal justice degree programs in 2017. Our rankings of the top online schools offering criminology or criminal justice degrees are based on publicly available data evaluated according to several different criteria, including reputation, accreditation, student satisfaction, ratio of students to instructors, and tuition. You can read more about our rankings philosophy and find a list of our other top college and degree rankings on our rankings page.
To determine the best online Bachelor of Criminal Justice degrees, 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 8 best online Bachelor of Criminal Justice degree 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.