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Online PhD Programs in Criminal Justice

While a great deal of emphasis is placed on the practice of law, there is a second, possibly larger world closely tied to the legal realm, but its own sphere nonetheless. Criminal justice encompasses everything to do with the application of criminal law that is not directly handled by the judicial system and its various parts.

While judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys are on one end of the criminal sentencing process, there are thousands and thousands of individuals who do work related to the actual execution of those sentences. The array of people who may have a qualification in criminal justice is great: police, probation, and detention officers may have one just as often as social workers or individuals working to rehabilitate formerly incarcerated people.

Because of the diversity of people under the supervision of the criminal justice system in the United States, there is a significant amount of specialization among those who work in areas that it touches. Individuals may concentrate on working with incarcerated youth, or people with mental disabilities who have been convicted of crimes and are put into some form of detainment or state supervision.

While a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice is oftentimes an entry point for law enforcement and probation officers, there are master’s and PhD programs available in this field as well. Individuals who pursue the highest academic degree of the PhD may do this to pursue a degree in academia, or they may be on their way to leading a criminal justice institution or organization. Prison wardens and people at the higher levels of nongovernmental organizations are common recipients of a PhD in criminal justice.

Through the advent of online learning and its rapid spread during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are several PhD programs that can now be completed completely online or through a hybrid learning model.

This guide is geared towards those prospective PhD students who have completed their master’s degrees and are now looking for the next academic challenge. It focuses on online and hybrid programs that can be completed from different locations and may be particularly well suited for people interested in pursuing their education concurrent to a job, taking care of families, or living in remote locations that make attending an in-person program impractical.

Featured Online PhD Programs in Criminal Justice

University of North Georgia

The University of North Georgia is a military college located in the state of the same name, and offers a fully online Phd program in criminal justice. Fitting for a military institution, this program has a concentration in intelligence. According to its website, it prepares its graduates for “analytic, operational research and investigative positions,” both in the law enforcement and military realm and the private sector. The program consists of 54 credit-hours, 14 of which are awarded through completing an accepted doctoral thesis.

  • Location: Dahlonega, Georgia
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 months

Walden University

Walden University is a private university headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, but serves students exclusively through its online learning program. In addition to a broad array of bachelor’s and master’s programs, Walden now offers its PhD programs, including one in criminal justice. The curriculum for the criminal justice PhD includes courses on leadership, criminal behavior, and law enforcement.

  • Location: Dahlonega, Georgia
  • Accreditation: The Higher Learning Commission
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 months

Keiser University

Keiser University is a higher learning institution based in Florida, with multiple state campuses, including Fort Lauderdale. In addition to its in-person offerings, Keiser hosts an online PhD program in criminal justice, which can be completed without having to complete campus visits. Keiser strongly emphasizes law enforcement and partners with the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, where students can gain hands-on experience in a criminal justice setting.

  • Location: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 months

Pennsylvania Western University

Pennsylvania Western University, or PennWest as the school markets its online program, has multiple campuses in western Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Western calls itself a “global” university, offering distance learning opportunities to people outside of the US and those from North America. The program consists of 42 credit-hours in addition to a doctoral thesis, and includes a one-week residency that is required to complete for successful graduation.

  • Location: Clarion, Oil City, or California Pennsylvania
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 months

Saint Leo University

Saint Leo University is a small institution headquartered in the Florida city of the same name. The PhD program in criminal justice offered by the school is administered through its college of education, emphasizing this field of study. The program consists of 60 credit-hours that can be completed as quickly as 3.5 years, either online or in person at the university campus in the Tampa Bay area.

  • Location: St. Leo, Florida
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 months

Texas A&M International University

Texas A&M is a powerhouse in Texas education, with a sprawling main campus in College Station, Texas. Its smaller affiliate, Texas A&M International University, is located in Laredo, at the southern end of the state and right on the border with Mexico. The school offers a PhD in criminal justice that can be completed in person, or through a hybrid model which requires occasional campus visits.

  • Location: Laredo, Texas
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 months

Common Courses

As a degree program with no accreditation, there is a fairly vast amount of variance in what classes will be required of students seeking a PhD in criminal justice through an online program.

Some programs may emphasize certain aspects of criminal justice, such as the focus on intelligence work offered by the University of North Georgia, or the concentration on education which is a vital component of the program at St. Leo’s in Florida. However, some throughlines can be established, and the following required courses should not be a surprise to prospective students:

  • Leadership Studies
  • Psychology
  • Criminal behavior
  • Mental health and criminality
  • Organizational and Institutional Sociology
  • Public Communications
  • Criminal Law

Accreditation of Online PhD Programs in Criminal Justice

Accreditation is a vital component of our higher education systems, as it ensures that institutions uphold their academic standards and serve their students to the best of their abilities. Especially considering the expense and time commitment associated with completing a PhD, ensuring that a university has been appropriately accredited is an important first step in deciding whether or not to attend. In the United States, accreditation is largely conducted through regional bodies that award the appropriate credentials to institutions in their charge. The following bodies are the most notable:

  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)

Johannes Stitz

Johannes Stitz is a freelance writer and researcher based in the Southwest. He’s written about various topics in engineering careers. Before turning to freelance writing, he spent nearly a decade in the arts as a booker and event manager.