Five Criminal Justice Schools With Low Student Debt and Solid Career Support

Search For Schools


For aspiring criminal justice students, two of the greatest concerns are how much a program costs and whether or not the school provides adequate job placement services. The Federal Reserve (2022) revealed that student debt in the US reached $1.77 trillion and had overtaken credit cards as the leading source of consumer debt a few years ago. There are 44.2 million people with federal or private loan debt related to schooling, and many Americans are justifiably concerned about how they can repay loans.

In response to ballooning student worries, the US Department of Education mandated the use of a Gainful Employment Disclosure Template (GEDT) for all Title IV postsecondary institutions—including many criminal justice schools—effective January 2017. In general, this includes non degree-granting programs (e.g., certificates and diplomas) at not-for-profit schools and all for-profit institutions. The GEDT sheet contains information about average student debt and the percentage of graduates who secured employment after completing their program. While the implementation of this new safeguard has been slow, it should offer prospective students at these select institutions valuable information about graduate outcomes in terms of finances and job placement.

Taking a cue from the GEDT, this article examines five criminal justice schools with low student debt and exceptional career support. “Low student debt” is defined here as less than half the average debt of a US graduate. The most reliable (and recent) figures on student debt were published by The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS 2015). TICAS found that 68 percent of seniors at public and nonprofit colleges had student debt and averaged $30,100 per borrower. Therefore all of the following criminal justice schools had an average student debt of less than $15,050. Please note that the following TICAS debt figures cover the university as a whole, not just the institution’s criminal justice program.

Five Exceptional Criminal Justice Schools

Eastern New Mexico University (Portales, NM)

  • Average student debt of graduates: $4,895
  • Percentage of graduates with debt: 2 percent

Eastern New Mexico University (ENMU) not only boasts one of the lowest average student debt figures in the nation, it also has a wealth of criminal justice programs. In fact, it has both bachelor of science (BS) and bachelor of arts (BA) CJ programs, as well as a unique dual bachelor of applied arts and sciences (BAAS) in CJ and sociology. Notably, all of these programs can be taken on-campus, 100 percent online, or in a combination of both (hybrid). The online BAAS program, for example, comprises courses such as criminal law & the courts; comparative criminal justice; criminology; introduction to sociology; race, ethnicity & gender; and deviant behavior, among other subjects. Graduates can take advantage of ENMU’s Counseling and Career Services, which offers free job placement to all students in areas such as victim advocacy, law enforcement, or corrections. For NM residents, programs cost $2,755.08 per semester, and for non-residents, it’s $5,642.52. Please note that residents of states in the Western Undergraduate Exchange (e.g., California, Nevada, Alaska, North Dakota, etc.) enjoy a tuition discount, paying $3,611.88 per semester.

John Jay College of Criminal Justice (New York, NY)

  • Average student debt of graduates: $11,246
  • Percentage of graduates with debt: 20 percent

Not surprisingly, the JJC of CJ has tons of criminal justice programs at all degree levels, including some online programs. Its offerings include BA programs in criminal justice (crime control & prevention), criminology, and forensic psychology. It also has BS programs in criminal justice management, forensic science, fraud examination & financial forensics, and criminal justice (institutional theory & practice). In the BS in criminal justice program, for instance, students take courses such as research methods & statistics for criminal justice, constitutional law, introduction to police studies policy & diversity, and women & crime, among other classes. The BS also has three distinct distribution areas: police, law & the courts, or corrections. Additionally, JJC students have the opportunity to study abroad and enjoy the services of a comprehensive Center for Career & Professional Development, which provides workshops, career panels, job fairs, networking events, internship opportunities, and counseling. For the 2016-17 school year, JJC of CJ costs $3,165 per semester for NY residents, and $560 per credit hour for non-residents.

Northeastern Illinois University (Chicago, IL)

  • Average student debt of graduates: $13,366
  • Percentage of graduates with debt: 18 percent

Northeastern Illinois University offers a BA program in justice studies, as well as minors in criminology or social justice. Classes in the BA program include theories of justice & social change, justice & inequality, and a fieldwork seminar. Graduates of NIU go on to join nonprofit organizations, homeless shelters, law enforcement, and various government agencies. The school’s Career Center has resume-writing workshops, job fairs, and internship placement with organizations such as the IL Cooperative Work Study program. For the 2017-18 school year, IL residents pay $377.32 per credit hour and non-residents pay $754.64.

California State University, Fullerton (Fullerton, CA)

  • Average student debt of graduates: $14,965
  • Percentage of graduates with debt: 42 percent

CSU Fullerton has one of the lowest average student debt figures among California Universities, and provides a BA in criminal justice with coursework in crime, law & justice; criminal law; the enforcement function; crime & delinquency; research methodology; corrections; and legal writing, among other areas of study. CSU’s bustling Career Center provides jobs & internship opportunities; career expos; a “Slice of Advice” speaker series; workshops; resume-building; interview practice; webinars; and job shadowing. Programs cost $3,369 per full-time semester for CA residents (2016-17), and non-residents must pay an additional $372 per semester unit.

Southern Utah University (Cedar City, UT)

  • Average student debt of graduates: $14,978
  • Percentage of graduates with debt: 53 percent

Southern Utah University has several criminal justice programs at the certificate, associate, and bachelor’s degree levels. In its bachelor’s program in criminal justice—either a BA or BS—students take courses such as criminal law; ethical issues in criminal justice; criminal justice management; criminalistics; laws of evidence; and drugs & crime, among others. SSU’s Career Center also provides resume and interview assistance, career fairs, networking strategies, internship placement, and other services. Since tuition varies by many factors, interested students are encouraged to use SUU’s tuition table to estimate prospective costs.

Conclusion: Schools With Low Student Debt and High Career Placement

While the data on student debt are alarming, there are several states which have advanced legislation to ensure that student outcomes improve. For example, Oklahoma passed the Private Student Loan Transparency and Improvement Act (2013), mandating clearer disclosures from institutions which provide loans; Connecticut passed a “Borrower’s Bill of Rights” (2015), providing stricter lender licensing laws, designating a state student loan ombudsman, and establishing financial literacy courses for college students; furthermore, states such as California, Minnesota, and Iowa have passed laws allowing residents to refinance student loan debt at lower interest rates. Finally, in 2015, New York began its groundbreaking “Get on Your Feet” loan forgiveness plan for qualifying students earning less than $50,000 annually.

In closing, TICAS (2016) provides a roadmap for ameliorating the experience of student loans, and calls for the following:

  • Improve access to need-based financial aid such as Pell Grants, tax benefits, and state investment in high education
  • Increase the transparency and simplicity of the federal student loan process
  • Collect more information on student outcomes to track success to goals
  • Create tools to assist students in selecting the right college, paying thought to financial considerations
  • Tighten up regulations on fraudulent colleges which overcharge and underdeliver (e.g., Trump University, which paid $25 million in a 2016 NY lawsuit and is poised to refund more students in 2017 pending the outcomes of multiple class-action suits)
  • Fortify borrower protections and move to reduce the reliance on private lending institutions

These are only a few of the steps which would assist aspiring criminal justice students and others around the country. Overall, the twin issues of student debt and graduate job placement are complex and no state has established a comprehensive solution.

Chief Content Strategist

Jocelyn Blore

Jocelyn Blore is the chief content officer of Sechel Ventures and the co-author of the Women Breaking Barriers series. She graduated summa cum laude from UC Berkeley and traveled the world for five years. She also worked as an addiction specialist for two years in San Francisco. She’s interested in how culture shapes individuals and systems within societies—one of the many themes she writes about in her blog, Blore’s Razor (Instagram: @bloresrazor). She has served as managing editor for several healthcare websites since 2015.