With an online PhD criminal justice program, you can easily transform your passion for law and order into a lucrative and rewarding leadership role in the field. Online doctorate in criminal justice offers convenient pathways to top positions in criminal justice careers like corrections, law enforcement, homeland security, and more.
While it may be challenging to find criminal justice PhD programs that are completely online, they do exist. Plus, if you’re willing to make the occasional trip to campus, you might also consider hybrid options. In this ranking, we identify the top 10 online PhD criminal justice programs.
Top 10 Online PhD Criminal Justice Ranking Methodology
After scouring the web for available online doctoral programs in criminal justice, our editors came back with the following ten programs from accredited colleges and universities in the United States. After identifying these doctoral offerings, we applied our site-wide graduate ranking methodology. Our editors awarded the higher ranking to the more affordable program in the case of a tie.
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
La Jolla, California
The online criminal justice program option from Northcentral University 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.
Graduate Tuition: $16,983
#9—Nova Southeastern University
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
The interdisciplinary PhD online criminal justice degree program from Nova Southeastern University 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
Regardless of specialization, 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 for the completion of 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: $20,618
#8—Saint Leo University
St. Leo, Florida
The online PhD in Criminal Justice from Saint Leo University is made 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
In addition to this core curriculum, doctorate students can elect to take classes in two available specializations:
- Homeland Security
Saint Leo University is institutionally accredited to offer online criminal justice PhD programs by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Graduate Tuition: $14,568
Liberty University’s PhD criminal justice degree program is a fully online offering featuring accelerated 8-week courses. Offered through the university’s Helms School of Government, the program requires 60 credit hours of coursework and 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
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 criminal justice degree.
Graduate Tuition: $7,935
#6—Fielding Graduate University
Santa Barbara, California
The PhD in Criminal Justice from Fielding Graduate University requires a lengthier time commitment than some of the other criminal justice doctoral programs online featured in our ranking. Technically a hybrid offering, the program requires a minimum of five years to complete. Another distinguishing feature of the program is that it is actually 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
Students enrolled in the Forensic Psychology concentration will take additional specialization courses such as:
- Forensic Assessment in Criminal Cases
- Ethics in Forensic Psychology
- Evaluations for the Immigration Courts
- Forensic Assessment in Civil Court
Fielding Graduate University is authorized to confer this PhD in criminal justice online credential through its institutional accreditation from the WASC Senior College and University Commission and its programmatic accreditation by the American Psychological Association (APA).
Graduate Tuition: $17,296
#5—University of North Georgia
The online criminal justice doctorate from the University of North Georgia tops our list in terms of affordability. 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 on a part-time or full-time basis. Curriculum details include:
- 30 credit hours of core courses
- 9 credit hours of electives
- Doctoral dissertation
- 2 teaching practicums
UNG is fully accredited to award the PhD in criminal justice online degree by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. U.S. News & World Report has ranked the university among the top 50 best value schools nationwide.
Graduate Tuition: $4,140
#4—University of the Cumberlands
The online doctorate in criminal justice from the University of the Cumberlands is technically 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 the concentration in Criminal Justice will enroll in additional classes aligned with the specialization, such as:
- 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 to confer the doctorate in criminal justice online.
Graduate Tuition: $4,282
#3—Arizona State University
Arizona State University’s online doctorate in criminal justice 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 and can be taken in criminology, criminal justice, or a related field. A doctoral dissertation is also required, as is a comprehensive examination. ASU is fully accredited to award the PhD 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.
Graduate Tuition: $11,720
#2—California University of Pennsylvania
The accelerated online doctorate in criminal justice from the California University of Pennsylvania can be completed in just two years of part-time study. The program 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
The California University of Pennsylvania is institutionally accredited to offer criminal justice doctoral programs online 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.
Graduate Tuition: $9,288
#1—Florida International University
One of the nation’s top doctorate in criminal justice programs in the nation in terms of return-on-investment, Florida International University’s standout Ph.D. in International Crime and Justice is offered through the university’s renowned Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs. The program is technically a hybrid option, though the majority of 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 holds its institutional accreditation from 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 degrees in criminology, including criminal justice doctoral programs online.
Graduate Tuition: $8,912
About Programs Online in PhD Criminal Justice
Online doctoral degrees in criminal justice programs are reserved for professionals in the criminal justice system 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 and require students to push their intellectual and creative limits to achieve their academic and career goals.
Still, the nature of distance learning programs makes these doctoral degree options more convenient and accessible for students who can’t make a 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
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, with the main difference being the content delivery method. In some cases, 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, and criminal justice policy and procedure. Likely, you will also be required to 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 taken from some of the top criminal justice PhD programs currently available for your reference.
Sample PhD Criminal Justice Course Titles:
- 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.
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:
- 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
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:
- 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
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:
- Legal and Ethical Issues in Criminal Justice
- Comparative Juvenile Justice Systems
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:
- 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)
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- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook
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- PayScale: Best Value Colleges
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