The phrase “criminal justice” can trigger visions of law enforcement and investigators. While on point, these are just two of the many ways graduates of criminal justice programs serve and protect their communities. It is a truly interdisciplinary field. With the right training, criminal justice (CJ) students can go on to work in the courts, counter-terrorism, emergency management and planning, social work, and other areas of community and protective services. They can hold public- or private-sector careers as attorneys, paralegals, caseworkers, corporate security managers, forensic scientists, detectives, and corrections officers. Some graduates even go into research or teaching.
Criminal justice professionals find personal gratification in many segments of the field, but data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS Dec. 2015) suggests the federal government may offer some better earnings and job stability than other employers. Just some of the federal agencies who recruit and hire criminal justice graduates, as reported by the U.S. Intelligence Community, include:
Many criminal justice careers carry some level of risk, so formal education is especially important. Higher education can also provide a comprehensive understanding of the legal and justice systems. Criminal justice graduates with master’s degrees frequently have an edge over candidates with bachelor’s degrees, especially in the absence of experience. Online master’s degrees in criminal justice offer a level of accessibility and flexibility with which classroom programs cannot complete—a notable benefit for the many working professionals seeking to return to school. They also complement practical training honed in the field. Learn more about online criminal justice schools and standout professors below.
Just as with campus-based degrees, no two online criminal justice degrees are alike. The specific focus, student cohort, and curricula shift, as do program requirements and length. Here are five outstanding distance-based master’s programs in criminal justice.
Master of Science in Criminal Justice, Saint Leo University
St. Leo University’s online master of science (M.S.) in criminal justice is a 36-credit program offering specializations in corrections, legal studies, behavioral studies, critical incident management, and legal studies. According to the school’s official website, the program was designed to deliver the knowledge and skill necessary for effective leadership, professionalism, and policy-making. Notably, it is a fully-online program with no required campus visits.
Master of Science in Criminal Justice, Liberty University
Liberty University’s online M.S. in criminal justice (MSCJ) offers advanced training in criminal justice and professional administration using a biblical worldview. Students can choose to enroll in either the general program or a specialization in public administration. Both programs teach students how to analyze trends in criminal justice and apply best practices. According to the school’s official program page, Liberty’s online M.S. in criminal justice is a natural path to a terminal degree in the field.
Master of Science in Criminal Justice, Colorado Technical University
The online M.S. in criminal justice program from Colorado Technical University aims to help criminal justice professionals sharpen their knowledge of law enforcement, corrections, and the court system. It was designed to be versatile, applicable to everything from policy- and decision-making to research methods. CTU states its program reflects the need for leadership, innovation, and responsible policy-making in the criminal justice system and society at large. Students can choose to enroll in the general program or specialize in homeland security.
Master of Science in Criminal Justice (MSCJ), Columbia College
Columbia College says its online M.S. in criminal justice program was created to help working practitioners develop or sharpen administrative skills, but also offers the analytical and theoretical savvy one needs to pursue doctorates or study law. Its curriculum emphasizes four primary themes: public policy and analysis, research design, ethics, and policy development and analysis. Note that Columbia College also offers an M.S. in criminal justice administration.
Master of Science in Criminal Justice, University of Arkansas in Little Rock
The University of Arkansas in Little Rock’s online M.S. in criminal justice provides a stepping stone to the highest ranks of criminal justice organizations. Courses are designed to deliver the advanced knowledge, specialized expertise, and administrative training, as well as the statistical and methodological skills graduates can apply to research and new practices within the criminal justice system. It is an accelerated, 36-unit online program comprising 18 hours of core coursework and 18 of electives. According to UALR, the 8-week course format means students could complete the program in about three years without heavy course loads.
The chances of getting into an online master’s in criminal justice program depend upon the institution and the competitiveness of the program. Contrary to common belief, online classes are often subject to the same enrollment limits applied to classroom courses. This helps colleges provide the same degree of collaboration and personalized instruction one would expect on campus. Admissions requirements are also typically the same for both campus- and distance-based programs, although online students may have additional technical requirements. Keeping natural variation in mind, here is a list of common admissions criteria from online master’s in criminal justice programs across the United States:
Most online colleges publish key admissions criteria and deadlines online. Students can direct questions to, or request more information from, a prospective school’s Office of Admissions.
Tuition, program length, scheduling, and course format are all important considerations for prospective students researching online master’s degrees in criminal justice, but there are other, often overlooked factors that matter just as much, if not more. Chief among these are program accreditation and state authorization status. A primer:
One could think of accreditation as a certificate of program quality: only colleges thoroughly evaluated by renowned approval organizations receive accreditation. Though voluntary, this process can confirm a program meets certain quality and integrity standards both in and out of the classroom.
Colleges and programs are accredited by national, regional, and programmatic agencies, including professional, intrastate, and discipline-targeted organizations. Because there is no single authoritative body that accredits online criminal justice programs, students are encouraged to seek programs accredited by one of the regional agencies listed by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA); any additional organizations should be recognized by CHEA or the U.S. Department of Education. One can typically review an accrediting agency’s criteria online. Here are the six predominant regional organizations with CHEA approval:
A school’s state authorization status is a must-know detail as it determines whether a student is allowed to enroll in a program at all. For decades, states have set regulations that determine which colleges are authorized to operate within their boundaries—a practice established to protect potential students. Every state establishes the standards schools must meet to enroll its citizens, but criteria vary. That means that students living in one state may enroll in a specific online master’s in criminal justice program while those in another state cannot. That does not necessarily mean that school is less credible.
The topic of state authorization can be rather confusing, especially since state standards can be even more varied for online programs.The National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA) simplified school authorization by establishing one universal set of standards to which states can ascribe. In other words, SARA-approved schools can enroll students in any participating state. The NC-SARA maintains a list of SARA-aligned states and institutions online. Note that most online schools list their authorization status for affected states online (e.g., Liberty University).
The University of Arkansas
Dr. James Golden Ph.D. is a professor of criminal justice at the University of Arkansas where he teaches online graduate courses in criminal justice organizational management and special topics. His field experience is extensive; in fact, according to his faculty biography, Dr. Golden was previously the Senior Research Coordinator at the Criminal Justice Institute and served as a patrol officer, traffic accident investigator, and detective sergeant with the Jonesboro Police Department. He also served as a Counterintelligence Officer in the U.S. Army, as well as a trainer and consultant for the Police Executive Research Forum, the Community Policing Consortium, the Police Foundation, and the National Sheriff’s Association. Dr.Golden earned a B.A. in criminology and master of public administration from Arkansas State University and a Ph.D. from Sam Houston State University.
Colorado Technical University
Professor David Browne J.D. is chair of online programs at Colorado Technical University’s College of Security Studies. He develops curricula, manages over 100 remote adjunct professors, and teaches online graduate criminal justice classes in terrorism and homeland security management; emergent topics in homeland security; and the origins of terrorism. Before joining CTU, Professor Browne was a crime analyst and deputy chief at the University of Chicago’s Security Department. He was also a Special Agent for the FBI where he was recognized for his innovation and dedication to duty. Dr. Brown holds a certificate of police staff and command from Northwestern University, a B.A. in psychology from the University of Michigan, and a J.D. from Case Western Reserve University.