Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice

Earning a doctorate degree in criminal justice online opens many career opportunities. A Ph.D. is the most advanced credential in criminal justice and is required for most teaching and research positions. Postsecondary criminal justice teachers earn a mean salary of $68,900, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with the highest salaries reserved for college and university professors. Employment for all postsecondary teachers is projected to grow 15 percent from 2016 to 2026. Graduates of online criminal justice degree programs can also find rewarding careers in government, nonprofits, and the private sector. They work as researchers, consultants, trainers, and policy analysts. If you are already employed in law enforcement, corrections, security, or other criminal justice fields, earning a doctorate degree in criminal justice online can qualify you for more lucrative positions.

A Ph.D. provides the required background for college-level teaching, pure and applied research, and public policy. Earning a doctorate degree in criminal justice online is also a good fit for working professionals. Most programs require students to complete a set of core courses within the first two to three years. Following completion, students must pass comprehensive exams in major subject areas of criminal justice to move into Ph.D. candidacy. Ph.D. candidates spend their time researching and writing their dissertation.

The cost of an online criminal justice doctoral degree program depends on several factors. Some programs charge higher tuition to out-of-state students, while several online programs offer the same rate regardless of state residency. How courses are delivered also impacts cost and how long it takes to earn a degree. Fully online programs are the most flexible option, best suited for self-motivated and self-paced students. Hybrid programs combine online classes with required on-campus experiences. Hybrid and on-campus courses provide students with a more structured learning environment and the opportunity to interact with professors and students.

Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice Concentrations

Many online criminal justice doctoral degree programs allow students to earn course credits in a specialized concentration or subfield. In addition to core courses, students take elective classes that provide a deeper dive into sub areas. Concentrations enable students to customize the doctoral degree to their particular research and professional interests. Examples of popular concentrations for doctoral students include juvenile justice, forensic science, corrections, immigration, terrorism, and policy analysis.

Courses for a Doctorate in Criminal Justice

Students pursuing a doctorate degree in criminal justice online take a set of foundational classes, including theory, methodology and statistical analysis, and specialized elective courses within a concentration. Students choose from a wide variety of electives including courses in behavioral science applications to criminal behavior, law, policy and administration, policing, and juvenile justice.

Example Courses

Theories of Crime and Criminal Behavior This course approaches theories of crime and criminal behavior from a multidisciplinary approach. It provides a critical examination of biological, psychological, sociological, economic, and cultural perspectives to explain crime causation and criminal behavior.
Police and Society This overview of current issues in law enforcement focuses on the formal and informal aspects of policy authority, role conflict, and the dynamics and impact of police subculture.
Juvenile Justice This course explores the juvenile justice system's contemporary challenges. Topics include juvenile violence trends, gender and racial inequality in juvenile justice, gangs, juvenile sentencing, and restorative justice alternatives.
Research Methods in Criminal Justice Students explore social science inquiry and the major applications in criminal justice research. Topics include how to conceptualize a research problem, formulate and operationalize hypotheses, design a study, conduct data collection, and analyze and report findings.
Statistics in Criminal Justice Students learn statistical techniques most applicable to doctoral-level research. It introduces descriptive and inferential statistics used in quantitative analysis and provides an overview of the most relevant qualitative approaches including field research, interviews, and case studies.

How Much Does It Cost to Get an Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice?

Pursuing a doctorate degree in criminal justice online costs more than tuition. Students should consider the cost of books, distance learning fees, and living expenses. With the cost-per-credit hour for online criminal justice degrees ranging from $550 to $1,100, total tuition can run from $22,000 to $66,000. Some online doctoral programs include on-campus residencies as part of the degree requirements, increasing the overall cost. Most schools also charge an application fee between $40 and $60.

State residency status also impacts the cost of graduate school. Public colleges and universities are generally less expensive than private schools, but pricing varies for online programs. Public schools generally charge higher tuition rates to out-of-state online students, but many private schools price their online degree programs at the same rate regardless of residency. Most online programs charge a technology or distance-learning fee each term. To reduce the cost of textbooks, many students rent textbooks or buy used copies. Fortunately, some online programs include open access to online readings at no cost.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice?

Online criminal justice doctoral degree programs require between 40 to 78 credit hours depending on school-specific requirements. Most doctoral degrees in criminal justice must be completed within seven years. Some online programs can be finished in as little as two years of full-time study, with most students completing requirements in five years. Students generally take their coursework and qualifying exams within the first two to three years. The remaining time is spent conducting original research and writing the dissertation.

The online delivery format also impacts the length of time to degree completion. Some programs are based on a self-paced, asynchronistic model allowing access to course materials online at any time. This allows students to progress through the coursework at their own pace. Other programs are structured for cohort learning, where the same students are grouped together each term in real-time synchronistic classes. This option may lengthen the time needed to finish the degree, but some students prefer the direct interaction with peers and professors.

Although an undergraduate or online master’s degree in criminal justice provides a sound foundation for many positions in law enforcement, corrections, and government service, a doctoral degree in criminal justice opens up a wider range of career paths than those with an online criminal justice bachelor degree. Many graduates of online criminal justice doctoral degree programs teach criminal justice in academic institutions. Others work in pure or applied research, designing and conducting studies that address juvenile delinquency, domestic violence, and racial profiling. The doctoral credential also leads to opportunities beyond academic and research settings. Ph.D. holders are desirable candidates for leadership positions in state and federal government, public policy organizations, and private businesses. The degree also provides a competitive edge to those seeking administrative positions in law enforcement, corrections, and security fields.

Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice Careers

Information Security Analyst

These professionals monitor security threats, document breaches, and develop security solutions. They conduct research, work with a variety of technologies, and are familiar with security software and network programs. A bachelor's degree and IT experience are usually required.

Assistant Professor, Postsecondary/ Higher Education

These entry-level higher education instructors teach courses and advise students. They conduct research, publish academic scholarships, and serve on university committees in order to move ahead in rank and obtain tenure. Most institutions require a doctoral degree for appointment to an assistant professorship.
icon-forensic-psychologyAsset 15

Forensic Analyst

These professionals use scientific methods to discover and analyze evidence for criminal investigations and prosecutions. They gather evidence, document crime scenes, conduct analytical tests, and offer expert testimony in legal cases. Expertise in data analysis and laboratory experience is desirable for employment, and many forensic analysts have graduate degrees.

Fraud Investigator

These professionals uncover cases of fraudulent deception and implement fraud prevention programs. Many work in insurance or financial institutions, examining evidence and interviewing individuals. Hiring preference is given to those with bachelor’s degrees.
Occupations and Salary for Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice Graduates
Job Title Overall Median Salary Entry-Level Employees Mid-Career Employees Late-Career Employees
Information Security Analyst $70,800 $64,481 $80,031 $91,450
Assistant Professor, Postsecondary, Higher Education $65,711 $65,514 $66,127 $65,751
Fraud Investigator $58,178 $50,827 $57,584 $63,842
Source: PayScale

Students should choose an online criminal justice degree program that has received national or regional accreditation. Schools acquire accreditation from independent agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Many schools also seek approval from the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. The accreditation process ensures the quality of degree programs and student services. Accreditation status impacts financial aid eligibility.

Regional accreditation is the most recognized and respected of the two designations. Some employers prefer graduates of regionally accredited programs. Transfer credits are more easily accepted between regionally accredited schools. National accreditation is typically associated with vocational schools and those offering programs exclusively through distance learning. These schools are often characterized by flexible admissions requirements and inexpensive tuition. While some academic fields have received specialized, programmatic accreditation, this is generally not available for criminal justice programs. However, the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences awards recognition to a small group of high-quality degree programs.

Students often wonder how to pay for a doctoral degree in criminal justice, but many financial aid sources are available. Students should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which is a prerequisite for receiving any government-subsidized and unsubsidized loans, Perkins loans for high-need students, PLUS loans to cover unmet aid, and eligibility for federal work-study. Several privately funded criminal justice scholarships are occupation-specific for students interested in careers such as forensics, cyber security, or fraud.

Law firms, community organizations, and police federations interested in attracting the most talented pool often provide funding opportunities. Grants that focus on underrepresented groups or special interest groups are also available. Some criminal justice graduates qualify for loan forgiveness programs once they begin working in the field. Law enforcement and corrections officers may be eligible for the NDSL/Perkins Loan Cancellation program, which can forgive the entire balance of the debt owed.

Criminal Justice Scholarships

Many professional associations, private foundations, and companies have established scholarships to help students finance their graduate studies in criminal justice. Merit-based scholarships and need-based grants are available. Some awards target students interested in a specialized profession, while others encourage members of underrepresented groups to enter criminal justice careers.

Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice Scholarships

Ruth D. Peterson Fellowship for Racial and Ethnic Diversity $6,000

Recipient must be a member of an underrepresented racial group and accepted into a doctoral program; three fellowships are available annually from The American Society of Criminology. View Scholarship

Ritchie-Jennings Memorial Scholarship $1,000-$10,000

Recipient must be an undergraduate or graduate student in criminal justice, accounting, business, or finance, and have an interest in fraud-related issues. View Scholarship

American Criminal Justice Association/ Lambda Delta Epsilon Scholarship $100-400

Recipient must be an undergraduate or graduate student in criminal justice and a member of ACJA/LAE with a minimum 3.0 GPA. View Scholarship

Regina B. Shearn Scholarship $1,500

Recipient must be a member of Alpha Phi Sigma and submit a personal statement and evaluations from three references. View Scholarship

Pi Gamma Mu Scholarship $1,000-$2,000

Recipient must be a member of Pi Gamma Mu majoring in criminal justice or another social science; grant can be applied to the first or second year of graduate work. View Scholarship
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