Top 10 Online PhD in Criminal Justice Programs 2024

Author: Ben Karleen
Reviewed by: Melissa Anderson
Reading level: Grade 10
Reading time: 12 minutes, 27 seconds
Original publication date: October 2016
Updates: 5

With an online Ph.D. in criminal justice program, you can transform your passion for law and order into a leadership role. An online doctorate in criminal justice offers convenient pathways to top positions in criminal justice careers like:

  • Corrections
  • Law enforcement
  • Homeland security

While it may be challenging to find criminal justice PhD programs that are entirely online, they do exist. Plus, if you’re willing to make the occasional trip to campus, you might also consider hybrid options. This ranking identifies the top 10 online PhD criminal justice programs.

Featured Programs

Top 10 Online PhD Criminal Justice Ranking Methodology

After scouring the web for online criminal justice doctoral programs, our editors identified the following ten programs. After identifying these doctoral offerings, we applied our site-wide graduate ranking methodology. In the case of a tie, our editors awarded the higher ranking to the more affordable program. Tuition costs were taken from NCES College Navigator where possible. We relied on the school’s website for additional information.

Types of Degrees Featured in this Ranking:

  • Online Doctor of Criminal Justice (DCJ)
  • Online PhD in Criminal Justice
  • Online Doctor of Criminal Justice (DJC) in Education
  • Online PhD in Criminal Justice: Intelligence
  • Online PhD in Leadership Studies: Criminal Justice
  • Online PhD in Criminology & Criminal Justice
  • Online PhD in International Crime and Justice

This ranking/article was originally published in October 2016 and was last updated in March 2023. The 2023 updates may affect the ranking order, but the list has not been re-ordered.

#10. Northcentral University

La Jolla, California

Graduate Tuition/Fees: $17,998

Points: 5

Northcentral University offers an online criminal justice program. It is one of the most versatile in our ranking, featuring four distinct concentration options:

  • Organizational Leadership
  • Public Administration
  • Homeland Security
  • Policing/Law Enforcement

The 54-credit hour curriculum for the program features required core courses such as:

  • Strategic Planning and Implementation in Criminal Justice
  • Theory in Justice Administration
  • Ethics and Criminal Justice
  • Management Issues in Justice Agencies

The WASC Senior College and University Commission has fully accredited Northcentral University to offer top criminal justice PhD programs.


  • Online program flexibility
  • Manageable coursework load


  • Lack of dissertation support has been reported
  • Lack of transparency regarding degree cost has been reported

#9. Nova Southeastern University

Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Graduate Tuition/Fees: $24,140

Points: 6

Nova Southeastern University offers an online interdisciplinary PhD in criminal justice. It is offered through the school’s Abraham S. Fischler College of Education and School of Criminal Justice. It features a dynamic curriculum that can be customized around three available concentrations:

  • Behavioral Science
  • Juvenile Justice
  • Organizational Leadership

All students will take certain core courses mandated by the curriculum, including:

  • Criminal Law, Procedure, and Individual Rights
  • The Police and Society
  • Applied Statistics

A formal dissertation is also required to complete the doctorate in criminal justice. Most students earn their credentials within two and a half years of study, taking three courses per semester. Nova Southeastern University holds its institutional accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.


  • Graduate tuition for in-state and out-of-state students is the same


  • Heavy courseload can cause stress
  • Lack of student support has been reported

#8. Saint Leo University

St. Leo, Florida

Graduate Tuition: $15,840

Points: 7

The online PhD in Criminal Justice from Saint Leo University is available through the school’s College of Education & Social Services. This 3 ½- year program requires 60 credit hours of graduate coursework, including core classes such as:

  • Critical Issues in Criminal Justice
  • Law, Policy, and Social Order
  • Managing Human Resources in Criminal Justice
  • Criminological Theories

Doctorate students can elect to take classes in two available specializations:

  • Education
  • Homeland Security

Saint Leo University is institutionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to offer online Ph.D. programs in criminal justice.


  • Online program flexibility


  • Lack of online student support reported

#7. Liberty University

Lynchburg, Virginia

Graduate TuitionFees: $8,340

Points: 7

Liberty University’s PhD criminal justice degree is available fully online. It features accelerated 8-week courses. The program is offered through the university’s Helms School of Government and requires 60 credit hours of coursework. It is designed to be completed within just three years. The program’s versatile curriculum features a general track as well as two optional specializations:

  • Homeland Security
  • Leadership

Core courses include:

  • Comparative Criminal Justice
  • Theories of Crime
  • Advanced Corrections Policy

Liberty University is fully accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to confer this online PhD degree in criminal justice.


  • Customizable curriculum
  • Dual degree options


  • Less diverse
  • Minimal tech support

#6. Fielding Graduate University

Santa Barbara, California

Graduate Tuition/Fees: $22,260

Points: 8

The PhD in Criminal Justice from FGU requires a lengthier time commitment. Technically a hybrid offering, the program requires at least five years to complete. The program has another distinguishing feature. It is a PhD in Clinical Psychology with a concentration in Forensic Psychology for criminal justice professionals. Core academic classes required for the program include:

  • History and Systems of Psychology
  • Ethical and Professional Practice
  • Multicultural Psychology
  • Social Bases of Behavior

The Forensic Psychology concentration requires additional specialization courses such as:

  • Forensic Assessment in Criminal Cases
  • Ethics in Forensic Psychology
  • Evaluations for the Immigration Courts
  • Forensic Assessment in Civil Court

FGU has institutional accreditation from the WASC Senior College and University Commission. The programmatic accreditation is from the American Psychological Association (APA).


  • Decent caring faculty
  • Decent tech support


  • Lack of dissertation support
  • Low graduation rate

#5. University of North Georgia

Dahlonega, Georgia

Graduate Tuition/Fees: $5,556

Points: 8

The online criminal justice doctorate from UNG is the most affordable on our list. This unique option requires just 54 credit hours beyond the master’s degree and includes a concentration in Intelligence. The program is offered fully online and can be pursued part-time or full-time. Curriculum details include:

  • 30 credit hours of core courses
  • 9 credit hours of electives
  • Doctoral dissertation
  • 2 teaching practicums

UNG is fully accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to award the Ph.D. in criminal justice online degree. U.S. News & World Report has ranked the university among the top 50 best value schools nationwide.


  • Experienced faculty
  • Smaller class sizes


  • Lack of student diversity
  • Good graduate student support network

#4. University of the Cumberlands                                                                             

Williamsburg, Kentucky

Graduate Tuition/Fees: $4,560

Points: 9

The University of the Cumberlands offers a PhD in Leadership Studies with a concentration in Criminal Justice. The fully online curriculum for the program requires 27 credit hours of core courses, including:

  • Leadership in Theory and Practice
  • The Politics of Organizational Decision-Making
  • Program Planning and Assessment
  • Leadership in Historical Context

Students pursuing Criminal Justice concentration will also take classes like:

  • Critical Issues in Law Enforcement: Race and Gender
  • Corrections Administration
  • Legal Research and Analysis

A dissertation is also required as a culminating element of the program. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges has accredited the University of Cumberlands.


  • Affordability
  • High-quality education


  • Lack of communication with online students
  • Lack of diversity

#3. Arizona State University

Tempe, Arizona

Graduate Tuition/Fees: $13,389

Points: 11

Arizona State University has an online doctorate in criminal justice. It is offered through its distinguished School of Criminology & Criminal Justice. This comprehensive option requires 72 credit hours of coursework, including course titles such as:

  • Seminar on Criminal Justice Policies and Practices
  • Seminar on Criminological Theory
  • Advanced Statistical Analysis
  • Advanced Research Design

Elective classes are also available in criminology, criminal justice, or a related field. A doctoral dissertation and comprehensive examination are required. ASU is fully accredited to award the Ph.D. in criminal justice online credential. U.S. News & World Report has ranked the university’s graduate school in criminology as the second-best program of its kind nationwide.


  • Online education programming has a long-established reputation
  • Curriculum is innovative


  • Competitive admissions process
  • Higher student-to-faculty ratio

#2. Penn West Global Online

California, Pennsylvania

Graduate Tuition/Fees: $23,856

Points: 11

The accelerated online doctorate in criminal justice from Penn West Global can be completed in two years of part-time study. It features fully online coursework; however, students must attend a five-day summer residency on campus. Courses comprising the program’s 42-credit hour curriculum include:

  • Using Theory to Improve Criminal Justice Practice
  • 21st Century Policing
  • Applied Criminal Justice Research Methods for Criminal Justice Leaders
  • Contemporary Forensic Science and Technology for Criminal Justice

Penn West Global is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. U.S. News & World Report has ranked the school among the top colleges and universities nationwide for a graduate degree in criminology.


  • Online programming is designed for working professionals


  • Lack of faculty support has been reported
  • Some lack of class accessibility has been reported

#1. Florida International University                                                                             

Miami, Florida

In-state Graduate Tuition/Fees: $11,334

Points: 11

FIU has one of the nation’s top doctorate in criminal justice programs in terms of return on investment. Its Ph.D. in International Crime and Justice is offered through the Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs. The program is technically a hybrid option, though most required coursework can be completed online. Core courses comprising the curriculum for the degree include:

  • Advanced Data Analysis in Criminal Justice
  • Geospatial Crime Analysis
  • Applied Research in Human Rights
  • Transnational Crime and National Security

FIU is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. U.S. News & World Report has ranked the school among the 35 best colleges and universities for graduate criminology degrees, including online criminal justice doctoral programs.


  • Fairly diverse student body
  • Top school nationwide for awarding degrees to Latino/Latina students


  • High student-to-faculty ratio
  • Acceptance rate is lower than the national average

About Programs Online in PhD Criminal Justice

phd criminal justice online

Online doctorates in criminal justice are reserved for those willing to put in the time and effort required to rise to the very top of their fields. Despite being online programs, these degree plans are extremely challenging. They require students to push their intellectual and creative limits to achieve their academic and career goals.

Still, the nature of online programs make these degree options more convenient and accessible. They are ideal for students who can’t commute to campus due to personal or professional obligations. Many doctorate in criminal justice online students can keep their day jobs or raise a family while earning this terminal degree.

Types of Programs in Online Criminal Justice PhD

While it’s fair to say that all of these programs are challenging, that’s often where the similarities end. There are many different types of online doctoral degree programs offered in this field. Below, we’ll discuss some of these different variations.

Hybrid/100% Online Criminal Justice PhD Degree Programs

Some of the doctorate in criminal justice programs featured in this ranking can be completed entirely online, while others require some visits to campus in addition to online coursework. This is the difference between a fully online program and one that might be better described as a hybrid or blended option. Both of these different types of degree plans have pros and cons, but if your schedule prevents you from visiting campus (even once or twice), you’ll want to opt for a 100% online program.

Synchronous/Asynchronous Doctorate in Criminal Justice Programs

Even programs that are fully online can vary in terms of how the online content is delivered. There are two basic methods of content delivery: synchronous and asynchronous methods. The primary difference between these two delivery formats has to do with when students are required (or not required) to log into their virtual classes. Synchronous programs are more flexible and allow students to log in at their convenience; asynchronous programs require specific log-in times. For maximum flexibility, look for an asynchronous program.

Part-Time/Full-Time Criminal Justice Doctoral Programs Online

Like more traditional on-campus programs, online criminal justice PhD programs can be completed on a part-time or full-time basis. Both are legitimate options, but part-time programs may be more suited for individuals who plan on keeping their full-time jobs. These programs feature a lighter course load but will take more time to complete over the long term. On the other hand, full-time programs can be completed in less time but require that students take more classes at once.

Doctorate in Criminal Justice Programs: Admissions

phd criminal justice online

The process of getting into an online doctorate in criminal justice program isn’t as difficult as the program itself, but you might still be required to jump through some hoops, so to speak. Still, so long as you have a master’s degree in a field related to criminal justice and have maintained good academic standing, your chances of being successfully admitted to your program of choice are good. Depending on the school and program you’re applying to, you can expect additional admissions requirements such as:

  • Minimum GPA (e.g., 3.0 and over)
  • GRE Scores
  • Professional Resume
  • Recommendation Letters
  • Writing Samples
  • Statements of Purpose

Before applying, check with the school’s website or speak to an admissions counselor for specific admissions criteria.

PhD in Criminal Justice Programs: Curriculum

The curricula for online doctorate in criminal justice programs will be similar to on-campus programs. The main difference being the content delivery method. Sometimes, these programs follow the same curriculum model as the school’s traditional program and are even taught by the same professors.

Exact curriculum details will vary by school, but you can expect to take between 50 to 70 credit hours of coursework, on average. This coursework will cover complex topics in criminal justice, including:

  • Managing criminal justice organizations
  • Ethics in the criminal justice system
  • Criminal justice policy and procedure

Likely, you will also take courses in criminal justice research, including both qualitative and quantitative research methods. These courses will help you prepare for your dissertation, a common culminating requirement for top criminal justice PhD programs.

We’ve listed some sample course titles from some of the top criminal justice PhD programs currently available.

Sample PhD Criminal Justice Course Titles:

phd criminal justice online
  • Legal Research Methods for Criminal Justice Practitioners
  • Contemporary Forensic Science and Technology for Criminal Justice Leaders
  • Critical Issues in Law Enforcement: Race & Gender
  • Criminal Justice Program Evaluation
  • Comparative Criminal Justice Systems
  • Advanced Corrections Policy

Remember that specific course titles vary by school and program.

Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice Concentrations

As we’ve established, the school you choose and the exact PhD in criminal justice online program you’re enrolled in will determine the bulk of your curriculum. Another factor that will affect the courses you’re required to take, though, is what (if any) specializations or concentrations you elect. Below, our editors briefly describe some of the most popular PhD criminal justice online concentrations and list some sample course titles for each.

Behavioral Science

Online criminal justice PhD programs with concentrations in Behavioral Science seek to bridge the gap between psychological health issues and criminal behavior. These programs often feature course titles such as:

phd criminal justice online
  • Gender Violence: Domestic Violence & Sexual Abuse
  • Psychological Issues for Children and Adolescents in the Legal System
  • Mental Health Courts and Therapeutic and Restorative Justice
  • Risk Assessment

Organizational Leadership

Online doctorate in criminal justice students who desire an advanced leadership or administrative role in the criminal justice system may choose a specialization in Organizational Leadership. Programs of this kind are comprised of coursework such as:

phd criminal justice online
  • Current Trends and Issues in Criminal Justice Organizations
  • Criminal Justice Organizational Planning and Change
  • Leadership: Putting Theory into Practice in Criminal Justice Administration
  • Policy and Analysis in Criminal Justice Systems

Juvenile Justice

PhD in criminal justice online students who work with young offenders may consider a doctoral program with a formal concentration in Juvenile Justice. These specialized programs emphasize the unique legal situation surrounding juveniles in the criminal justice system and may include classes such as:

phd criminal justice online
  • Legal and Ethical Issues in Criminal Justice
  • Comparative Juvenile Justice Systems

Homeland Security

Prospective criminal justice professionals interested in advanced positions in national security may consider a PhD criminal justice degree online plan with a concentration in Homeland Security. These programs address topics in intelligence, emergency management, and disaster preparedness. Coursework may resemble the following:

phd criminal justice online
  • Counter-Terrorism and Counter-Intelligence Strategies
  • Critical Infrastructure: Vulnerability Analysis and Protection
  • Intelligence for Homeland Security: Organizational & Policy Changes
  • Theories and Concepts of Security

Frequently-Searched Criminal Justice Doctoral Programs Online

Arizona State University – Online PhD in Criminology & Criminal Justice: Designed specifically for those in a criminal just career like educators, researchers, and administrators in the field, Arizona State’s program is a comprehensive option requiring a minimum of 72 credit hours of coursework. Both a dissertation and comprehensive examination are required at the culmination of the program.

California University of Pennsylvania – Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice Program (DCJ): The PhD in criminal justice program online from California University of Pennsylvania is an accelerated option that can be completed in just two years of part-time study. The program requires 42 credit hours of coursework beyond the master’s credential and is available via a cohort model.

Liberty University – Online PhD in Criminal Justice Program: The doctorate program from Liberty University features optional Homeland Security and Leadership concentrations. A general track is also available.

Florida International University – Online PhD in International Crime and Justice: Technically a hybrid program, FIU’s online option requires on-campus attendance for the purpose of dissertation defense. The program is offered through the university’s renowned Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs.

Nova Southeastern University – PhD in Criminal Justice Online: This versatile program from Nova Southeastern University includes 3 specialization options: Juvenile Justice, Organizational Leadership, and Behavioral Science. Sixty credit hours of coursework and a dissertation are required for successful program completion.

Frequently-Asked Questions About Criminal Justice Doctoral Programs Online

Q: How much does a PhD online program cost?

A: Tuition will vary by school. Our research indicates that educational expenses for these types of programs range from approximately $5,000 to $20,000 annually.

Q: How long does it take to earn a degree?

A: Completion times for these degree plans also vary and can range from two to six years.

Q: How can I choose from the top online programs?

A: Look for accreditation first. Then, evaluate programmatic features like cost, curriculum, and scheduling options.

Q: Will I have to prepare a dissertation?

A: Most likely, yes. Most programs require a doctoral dissertation as a culminating element of the program. Hybrid programs often require students to come to campus to defend their dissertation.

Career Questions for PhD in Criminal Justice Programs

Q: How much will I earn with a PhD in criminal justice?

A: Your wages will depend on your specific terms of employment. Still, PayScale reports that professionals with this credential earn over $66,000 per year on average.

Q: Are jobs for graduates of this kind of program in demand?

A: Job prospects in the field are good. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that jobs in protective service occupations are currently growing about as fast as the average occupation.

Q: What professional organizations in criminal justice should I join?

A: If you’re considering doctoral programs online in law enforcement, you may also be interested in joining the following industry-specific professional organizations:

  • Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS)
  • American Correctional Association (ACA)
  • International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP)
  • International Association of Women Police (IAWP)
  • National Institute of Corrections (NIC)
  • Justice Research and Statistics Association (JRSA)

CVO Staff


  • Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook
  • National Center for Education Statistics: College Navigator
  • PayScale: Best Value Colleges
  • PayScale: Salary
  • U.S. News & World Report: Best Colleges

This concludes our list of the 10 PhD criminal justice online programs.