According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for a postsecondary teacher in criminal justice and law enforcement was $68,980 in 2017, nearly double the median salary among all occupations. Additionally, the BLS projects employment for postsecondary teachers in the field to increase 12% by 2026, a rate significantly higher than the national average for all jobs.
Earning a PhD in criminal justice online qualifies graduates to teach at colleges and universities. Earning a doctorate in the field also prepares students to pursue careers as law enforcement agents, probation officers, and correctional treatment specialists. Online doctoral degrees are ideal for working professionals who want to advance to high-level positions.
For career information, skip down:
- What Else can I Expect from an Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice Program?
- Accreditation for Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice Degrees
- Employment Outlook for Doctorate in Criminal Justice Graduates
- Paying for Your Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice
The Best Online Criminal Justice Doctorate Programs
1. California University of Pennsylvania
Located in southwest Pennsylvania, Cal U is home to the first regionally accredited doctor of criminal justice degree in the nation. The 42-credit program focuses on in-depth policy analysis and practical issues like recidivism, the use of appropriate force, and federal consent decrees.
Coursework in this online PhD in criminal justice program covers subjects like leadership in criminal justice agencies, corrections, and forensic science techniques and technology. While most graduates pursue careers in academia, nearly one-quarter of them work in law enforcement, policy making, and the private sector.
Cal U offers this program using a cohort model, with students beginning their coursework in the summer. The school requires students to attend two five-day summer residencies. While the program does not include a dissertation, students must pass comprehensive exams and develop a professional research portfolio.
Eligible applicants must hold a master’s degree in criminal justice or a related field from a regionally accredited college or university. Additionally, they must submit transcripts and provide a writing sample, a personal statement, two letters of recommendation, and a current resume. Applicants must have earned a 3.50 GPA or better.
Cal U is regionally accredited from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).
2. Nova Southeastern University
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Students earning Nova Southeastern University’s PhD in criminal justice online can pursue careers in academia, criminal investigations, consulting, and management. The program’s interdisciplinary approach leverages research and best practices to explore the cause of crime and how to prevent and investigate it.
Students may choose from concentrations in behavioral sciences, juvenile justice, and organizational leadership. All students take 33 credits of core classes that cover topics like criminal law, crime theories, research methods, and applied statistics. At the end of the 60-credit program, students must complete and defend a dissertation in order to graduate.
Applicants must hold a master’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university with a GPA of 3.0 or better. They must also provide three letters of recommendation, a 300-word personal statement, and a resume. Additionally, applicants must complete an in-person or phone interview with program staff.
NSU is regionally accredited from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS).
What Else can I Expect from an Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice Program?
Most online PhD in criminal justice programs have similar curricula and structures. However, available courses, learning sequences, and specific requirements vary by program. Prospective students should research a variety of programs to find one that aligns with their goals.
Curriculum for an Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice
- History and contemporary issues in criminal justice: Through readings and discussions, students trace the evolution of crime and examine how criminals operate today. Learners study the behavior of criminals, including lone operators, international crime syndicates, and terrorist organizations. The class covers strategies used to prevent and prosecute crimes.
- Policy and analysis in criminal justice systems: Students explore the intersection of scientific research and criminal justice policy. The class covers community policing; sentencing; juvenile justice; deterrence as a crime control policy; and the relationship between drugs, race, and crime. Students examine historical trends to learn about future policy developments.
- Leadership; putting theory into practice in criminal justice administration: Graduates from online PhD in criminal justice programs often pursue leadership roles in the field. This course introduces students to leadership models and strategies. The course emphasizes several topics, including organizational theory, human capital, and collaboration with other public safety and community service organizations.
- Program evaluation: Through case studies, students gain the tools necessary to evaluate the impact of social programs. Students select a program to identify stakeholders, develop logic models, collect qualitative and quantitative data, draft evaluative reports, and offer feedback.
- Research theory, design, and methods: While earning a PhD, criminal justice online students generally complete a dissertation. This course provides the knowledge and skills necessary to design, collect, understand, and analyze graduate-level research. Topics include mixed-methods research design and the ethical implications of conducting research in the field.
How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice?
The time needed to earn a PhD in criminal justice online varies by program and student. Most full-time students earn their doctorate in 2–3 years. In addition to required classes, students must often complete a research-based dissertation. Dissertation work is self-paced, meaning students conduct research and write the report according to their schedules, which impacts completion time. Students check in with a faculty adviser throughout the process and defend their completed dissertation before a faculty committee.
Most online PhD in criminal justice programs require 56–65 credits. Including the dissertation, students may take 2–7 years to complete their doctorate. Some programs require students to complete their doctorate within eight years. Students may petition for an extension under extenuating circumstances.
Accreditation for Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice Degrees
Accreditation ensures that a school meets robust academic and professional standards. Students who attend an unaccredited institution may be unable to transfer credits, and employers often do not recognize degrees earned from schools without accreditation.
Regional accreditation is the most common and the most highly regarded type of accreditation. Seven agencies award regional accreditation to nonprofit colleges and universities across the country. Ten agencies authorized by the U.S. Department of Education award national accreditation, which is typically reserved for vocational and for-profit institutions.
The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) recognizes field-specific accrediting agencies. Currently, CHEA does not endorse any accrediting agencies in the field of criminal justice. However, the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission is a CHEA-approved accreditor of forensic science and investigation programs.
Students should choose an accredited program to ensure their degree will be recognized by other institutions and potential employers. CHEA maintains a list of accredited schools and programs.
Employment Outlook for Doctorate in Criminal Justice Graduates
Doctorate in Criminal Justice Careers
After earning a PhD in criminal justice online, graduates are qualified to pursue a variety of careers in the field. Some graduates teach at colleges and universities, and others secure leadership positions in law enforcement, government, probation and parole, or corrections and rehabilitation. Regardless of career path, criminal justice professionals must have strong critical-thinking, interpersonal, and communication skills.
Postsecondary Teacher in Criminal Justice: Postsecondary teachers instruct students at professional schools, colleges, and universities. They may also conduct and publish research. Most positions require a doctorate, such as an online PhD in criminal justice.
- Median Annual Salary: $68,980
- Projected Growth Rate: 12%
Probation Officer or Correctional Treatment Specialist: These professionals provide social services to individuals in custody, on probation, and on parole. They help those convicted of crimes develop job skills and transition back into society after incarceration. While these positions generally require a bachelor’s degree, an advanced degree such as an online criminal justice PhD may be necessary for advancement.
- Median Annual Salary: $50,160
- Projected Growth Rate: 6%
Police or Detective: Police officers serve their communities by protecting lives and property. Detectives investigate crimes in order to apprehend perpetrators and to provide evidence for use in criminal and civil trials. Most of these positions require a bachelor’s degree and graduation from a training academy.
- Median Annual Salary: $61,600
- Projected Growth Rate: 7%
Emergency Management Director: Emergency management directors create plans and policies for responding to natural disasters and other emergencies. They also play a leading role in emergency response efforts. Most positions require at least a bachelor’s degree along with significant professional experience in an emergency management field, such as law enforcement.
- Median Annual Salary: $70,500
- Projected Growth Rate: 8%
Private Detective or Investigator: Private detectives and investigators perform many of the same functions as police officers and detectives. Private detectives may verify an individual’s background, attempt to find missing persons, review financial histories, and investigate computer crimes. Educational requirements vary, but most states require private detectives to hold a license.
- Median Annual Salary: $48,190
- Projected Growth Rate: 11%
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Doctorate in Criminal Justice Salary
After earning a PhD in criminal justice online, graduates meet the educational requirements for virtually any position in the field, including college professor and federal agent. Because most of these jobs are in public service, graduates do not generally make six-figure salaries. However, criminal justice professionals earn considerably higher salaries than the national average for all other occupations. Often working for local, state, and federal government agencies, criminal justice professionals typically increase their salaries over the course of their career.
Median Annual Salaries
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Criminal Justice Professional Organizations
Membership in professional associations benefits students and graduates of online criminal justice PhD programs. These organizations provide opportunities to network with peers at local chapter events and national conferences. They also offer professional development and educational resources to help members advance their careers and increase their earning potential. Below, are three notable professional organizations for criminal justice students and professionals.
- National Criminal Justice Association: NCJA works to increase the effectiveness of criminal justice programs and agencies. The organization offers training and technical assistance, providing opportunities for members to network and share ideas. NCJA also advocates for criminal justice policies and legislation.
- American Probation and Parole Association: APPA represents and supports professionals in pretrial, parole, probation, and community-based corrections. In addition to a career center, the organization provides training and educational resources, many of which are available online.
- American Society of Criminology: ASC is an international organization dedicated to supporting and disseminating criminological research. The society hosts an annual conference, publishes a scholarly journal and weekly newsletter, and maintains an online job board.
Paying for Your Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice
Students pursuing an online PhD in criminal justice should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to determine their eligibility for federal financial aid, including grants, loans, and work-study programs. Some states and schools offer scholarships that defray the cost of PhD in criminal justice online programs. Students with a history of academic excellence or community service may qualify for private scholarships. Additionally, many schools offer discounted tuition rates for veterans and military members. Prospective students should consider private loans as a final option.
Grants and scholarships are ideal forms of financial aid because they do not need to be repaid. Work-study programs award financial assistance in exchange for work and do not require repayment. Student loans must be repaid in full, with interest. Federal loans often have low interest rates, and graduates who pursue a career in public service may have federal loans deferred or forgiven. Private student loans have higher interest rates and are rarely, if ever, forgiven.