The fields of criminology and criminal justice (CJ) appeal to those with an inquisitive nature who have a deep passion for understanding all aspects of crime. However, these fields are not identical, and actually hold a number of distinctions. To be clear, Alliant International University describes criminology as the scientific study of crime and criminals; in contrast, the field of criminal justice refers to the system of law enforcement, courts, and corrections, as described by Concordia University, St. Paul. Ultimately, these degrees help elucidate the social phenomenon of crime, as well as the structure of the criminal justice system throughout the country. Graduates of a criminal justice or criminology program may find careers in law enforcement, social work, corrections, research, and other areas.
Physical proximity to a campus that offers a criminal justice and criminology degree is no longer a prerequisite in order to obtain this type of education. Instead, an array of high-quality institutions offer online bachelor’s degree programs in this field, allowing those living in more remote locations or who have other responsibilities to still pursue an undergraduate education. Of course, completing an online degree program requires a great degree of self-motivation and the ability to work without constant supervision.
The following guide outlines eight exceptional programs throughout the country, as well as skilled professors who are currently leading classes in criminal justice or criminology.
Unless otherwise noted, all of the following programs take approximately four years to complete, contingent on a student’s academic background, enrollment status (part- or full-time), and college credits completed.
Southern New Hampshire University
Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester offers an online bachelor of science degree in criminal justice (BSCJ) with a specific concentration in criminology. This 120-credit-hour program includes courses in judicial administration, international criminal justice, psychology, and sociology, as well as general education requirements and other free electives.
Students in this program have 24/7 access to their classes, and are able to complete their undergraduate degree in a flexible manner over six eight-week terms per year. Graduates from this program also have access to career services and networking opportunities with the more than 75,000 alumni nationwide.
Portland State University
At Portland State University, students have the opportunity to pursue an online bachelor’s degree in criminology and criminal justice, which is an interdisciplinary social science devoted to the study of the crime causation and crime control along with the operations of the legal system. This 180-credit-hour program requires students to complete 68 hours in the field of criminology and criminal justice in areas such as policing in America, punishment and corrections, and theories of crime, among others. In addition, of the 180 credits, 72 must be upper-division.
Although the program can largely be completed online, it does include an agency placement in the student’s home community; for those who are unable to participate in this placement, a fully online professional development alternative course is available.
University of Nebraska
The University of Nebraska offers a fully online bachelor of multidisciplinary studies in criminology and criminal justice that has been ranked by U.S. News & World Report for excellence in online education. This program is only available to students 21 and older, and is a degree completion program for students who already possess some college credit.
The online degree combines classes offered at the Omaha, Lincoln, and Kearney campuses, ensuring students have access to high-quality education; however, in general, students are able to log in and complete coursework at any time throughout the day. Notably, online students have access to the same student services that are offered to their on-campus counterparts, which includes library and career services, among others.
Arizona State University
At Arizona State University, students have the chance to complete an online bachelor of science in criminology and criminal justice that was ranked among the most innovative in 2018 by U.S. News & World Report. This 120-credit-hour program consists of 40 classes on subjects such as domestic violence, gangs, and white collar crime. Each term lasts 7.5 weeks. This program can be completed entirely online and includes a one-week online orientation at the beginning to help students make the transition into an online program. Upon graduation, students may also choose to join the ASU Alumni Association, which has chapters around the U.S. and the globe to help students leverage the network of alumni during their careers.
Adams State University
Adams State University offers an online bachelor of arts in sociology with an emphasis in criminology. This 120-credit-hour program includes 34 credit-hours of core sociology courses, six credits of sociology electives, 12 credits of criminology emphasis, and a variety of other general education and elective requirements. This program can be completed entirely online, and distance students will still have the same access to the high-quality coursework and lectures offered to their on-campus counterparts.
Aspiring online students may wish to consider a program through Drexel University, which offers an online bachelor of science in criminology and justice studies. This program consists of between 182 and 184 credit-hours, and can be completed entirely online, without the student ever being required to visit the campus.
The program covers classes from a range of disciplines, including sociology and philosophy, legal studies, psychology, information science, political science, bioscience, chemistry, and computer science, among others. It’s important to note that the program is only available on a part-time basis, which allows students to continue to work while pursuing an undergraduate degree.
Washington State University
The Washington State University Global Campus offers an online undergraduate degree in criminal justice. Students in this program take courses on the administration of criminal justice, criminological theory, crime control policies, criminal law, and criminal procedures, as well as other general education requirements and electives. Students in online programs at Washington State University also have 24/7 access to tech support, as well as an academic advisor to help them meet their goals from start to finish. In addition, the program hosts parties and one-credit seminars, during which students have the opportunity to meet their peers.
Southern Illinois University
At Southern Illinois University, students can complete an online bachelor of arts in criminology and criminal justice at a major research university and with nationally and internationally recognized faculty members. This 120-credit-hour program is delivered entirely online, and includes courses covering the criminal justice system, criminological theory, criminal law, criminal justice research, and criminal justice statistics. Of course, students must also complete a number of other general electives, liberal arts requirements, and university core curriculum requirements, as well. Students in this program also receive support from the Morris Library at the university, and can obtain their course materials from the Southern Illinois University bookstore.
Dr. Hank Fradella is an associate director, professor, and faculty honors advisor for the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University. He has authored and co-authored nine books and 80 articles, book chapters, reviews, and scholarly commentaries. His work has appeared in influential publications, including the Criminal Law Bulletin, Criminology & Public Policy, the Federal Courts Law Review, the Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, and the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, among a number of others. Dr. Fradella was also inducted as a Fellow of the Western Society of Criminology (WSC) in 2009, and received the Richard Tewksbury Award in 2017.
Dr. Craig Hemmens is a professor of criminal justice and criminology at Washington State University, as well as the department chair. Before joining the school in 2013, Dr. Hemmens worked as department head and professor in the Department of Criminology & Criminal Justice at Missouri State University. Before that, he served as chair and professor in the Department of Criminal Justice; director of the Paralegal Studies Program; and director of the Honors College at Boise State University. He currently works as the editor of the Criminal Law Bulletin, and previously worked as the editor of the Journal of Criminal Justice Education and as a guest editor of the Prison Journal and the Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice. In addition, Dr. Hemmens has published 20 books and more than 200 scholarly articles.
Dr. Kris R. Henning is a professor of criminology and criminal justice at Portland State University, where he also serves as the department chair. His current research focuses on helping criminal justice agencies improve decision-making through data analysis and implementation of evidence-based practices. During his illustrious career, he has partnered with the Portland Police Bureau to develop an automated risk assessment system; launched a website to explore long-term crime trends in Portland; conducted community surveys in various neighborhoods; and recently completed a large randomized field experiment on hotspot policing in Portland. Dr. Henning’s research has received supporting grants from the U.S. National Institute of Justice and the U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance.
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