Online Criminal Justice Degrees in Illinois

In Illinois, rewarding job opportunities are waiting for graduates with criminal justice degrees. At 4.6%, the state's unemployment rate is the lowest it has been in a decade. Moreover, community concerns about the upward swing in crime rates have fueled the demand to expand criminal justice positions in all areas, including in policing, substance abuse counseling, juvenile rehabilitation, and corrections and security work.

Protective service jobs in both the public and private sectors are projected to grow 5% from 2016 to 2026. BLS

Illinois's nine public universities and its scores of private schools and community colleges offer online and traditional campus-based criminal justice degrees at the associate, bachelor's and graduate levels. Public employment is a good overall indicator of the outlook for criminal justice employment, and, in Illinois, the governmental sector is undergoing significant growth. The state is a major employer of law enforcement officers, juvenile justice counselors, and victim's advocates. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), protective service jobs in both the public and private sectors are projected to grow 5% from 2016 to 2026. Illinois is also one of the top five best-paying states for police and corrections officers.

Criminal justice degrees can also lead to specialized employment as forensic and cybersecurity specialists, court reporters, and paralegals. Earning an online criminal justice degree in Illinois provides a sound framework for graduate and professional studies, opening up more advanced opportunities in education, technology, and law.

Online criminal justice degrees in Illinois offer flexibility and convenience for nontraditional students, working professionals, parents, and others who are trying to fit postsecondary studies into busy schedules. Online degrees can provide a faster track to graduation than traditional brick-and-mortar programs, and they may offer considerable savings in comparison to degrees that require on-campus attendance. For instance, online tuition is generally priced competitively, and online learners save money in commuter and gas expenses, housing fees, meals, and other campus-related costs. Finally, online students may choose a light or heavy course load, and usually, they can apply for the same financial aid opportunities available to traditional students.

Illinois has pioneered efforts to promote online learning. A consortium of community colleges in the state, Illinois Community Colleges Online (ILCCO) provides a database of all online programs and offers streamlined enrollment for first-time distance learners. As part of the Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC), Illinois has partnered with 11 schools outside the state, giving students access to their online programs at reduced tuition that closely matches in-state pricing.

As you search for online criminal justice degrees in Illinois, keep in mind that accreditation is as important as convenience, graduation requirements, and tuition costs. Accreditation ensures that schools adhere to recognized standards of quality. Schools publish accreditation statuses on their websites, and the U.S. Department of Education (ED) provides comprehensive listings of accredited institutions.

The Higher Learning Commission is the regional accreditation agency for colleges and universities in 19 states, including those in Illinois.

In searching for criminal justice degrees in Illinois, you will find that most schools are nationally or regionally accredited. National accreditation is associated with vocational or technical schools or those providing only distance learning. These schools offer comparatively inexpensive tuition and less rigorous admission requirements.

Accounting for 85% of the nation's institutions of higher learning, the most common form of accreditation is regional. Transfer credits from regionally accredited institutions are generally accepted at other schools across the U.S. Several graduate programs limit admittance to bachelor's degree holders from regionally accredited schools, and employers sometimes give job preference to applicants from these institutions. Also, financial aid may only be available to students enrolled in an accredited school approved by the ED.

A third kind of programmatic or specialized accreditation for criminal justice is available through the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, but it is not widely awarded. The Higher Learning Commission is the regional accreditation agency for colleges and universities in 19 states, including those in Illinois.

A major selling point for pursuing a criminal justice degree online in Illinois is the growing demand for trained professionals throughout the state. An associate degree can help you land an entry-level position as a police or parole officer, security guard, or legal assistant. After the two years of study typically needed to complete this degree, you may find yourself working in forensics, crime scene investigation, or as a paralegal in a law firm.

A bachelor's degree opens up more employment and advancement opportunities in law enforcement such as detective and DEA work. A bachelor's also enables you to waive the work experience requirement to enter a transportation security inspector position with the TSA. This four-year degree is also a requirement for higher-paid correctional officer positions at the GL-05 level. A bachelor's is the foundation for law school and graduate work in criminal justice, and it provides a solid academic background for careers in fields like substance abuse counseling or victim advocacy.

Specialized, high-demand positions in areas like emergency preparedness, internet security, and cybercrime increasingly require graduate training. Some graduate programs grant transfer credits to students for work experience, decreasing the amount of time to complete the degree. Many positions in law enforcement, corrections, and emergency and crisis management require further training leading to certification and licensing by the state.

Many criminal justice jobs require state licensing or specialized certification. The difference between licensing and certification can be confusing, and the terms are sometimes used interchangeably.

Licensing grants someone permission to practice an occupation by a local, state, or federal agency. A license is mandatory for many law enforcement jobs, and the state imposes criminal penalties for working without a valid license. Periodic license renewal is also required, usually based on a substantiated record of continuing education.

Licensing and certification requirements are state-specific, vary by the type of position, and are revised periodically.

Certifications are granted by organizations to individuals who voluntarily seek out professional training to advance in their careers. Certifications have developed as a way to distinguish different occupations and enhance career advancement. Just like licenses, certifications are granted for a specific time period and must be renewed according to the criteria established by the certification organization. Certification is increasingly required for criminal justice professionals who want to advance as corrections, parole, and probation officers.

Licensing and certification requirements are state-specific, vary by the type of position, and are revised periodically. Prospective employers and relevant state agencies are the appropriate sources for information about required credentials and training needed for certain categories of employment. Police and corrections officers, security guards, and all others who carry firearms must be licensed by the state after undergoing a rigorous criminal background check.

The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation administers licensing for several regulated professions including private investigators and security contractors, detectives, firearm trainers, and sex-offender treatment providers. The Illinois Emergency Management Agency oversees licensing for emergency preparedness specialists. Correction officers seeking to advance in their careers may obtain certification through the American Correctional Association. In addition to these kinds of occupation-specific licensing and certification programs, the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences awards a specialized academic certification to a very small number of criminal justice degree programs.

Career prospects for graduates with online criminal justice degrees in Illinois reflect national trends. Nationally, the highest growth rates are projected for paralegals and legal assistants, anticipated at 15% between 2016 and 2026, but the demand for forensic science technicians is also projected to grow by 17% in the same period. More modest gains are projected for law enforcement jobs. The employment of police officers and detectives is projected to grow by 7% within the next decade.

Students earning an Illinois online criminal justice degree can use these tables to learn about current employment opportunities and salaries. The average salary for all protective services occupations in the state is $52,130 annually, with the hourly average wage at $25.06. Detectives and criminal investigators, fish and game wardens, and police and sheriff's officers earn the highest salaries in this category. Lawyers receive the highest salaries in legal, court, and corrections fields. Paralegal and legal assistant graduates can expect expanded employment opportunities with an annual mean salary of $56,990.

A specialized career in forensic science, which often requires advanced or graduate training, commands an annual average salary of $79,630. As the demand for criminal justice positions grows across sectors, postsecondary educators are needed to provide instruction in a variety of subjects, attracting an average annual salary of $66,800, depending on the degree, type of employing institution, and field of specialization.

Protective Services Occupations in Illinois

Occupation Employment Average Hourly Wage Average annual Wage
Firefighters 17,830 $26.59 $55,300
Fire Inspectors and Investigators 500 $28.17 $58,590
Detectives and Criminal Investigators 2,800 $43.70 $90,890
Fish and Game Wardens 120 $42.37 $88,120
Police and Sheriff's Patrol Officers 31,430 $35.52 $73,870
Private Detectives and Investigators 990 $28.03 $58,290
Security Guards 45,730 $15.43 $32,090
Transportation Security Screeners 2,180 $19.91 $41,410
Source: BLS, May 2017

Court and Corrections Occupations in Illinois

Occupation Employment Average Hourly Wage Average annual Wage
Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists 2,300 $30.91 $64,300
Lawyers 30,170 $67.75 $140,920
Judges, Magistrate Judges, and Magistrates N/A N/A N/A
Paralegals and Legal Assistants 12,070 $27.40 $56,990
Court Reporters 830 $30.11 $62,640
Bailiffs 580 $17.82 $37,070
Correctional Officers and Jailers 14,300 $26.96 $56,070
Source: BLS, May 2017

Several private foundations and national organizations provide scholarships for criminal justice students. Scholarships can be need-based or merit-based, and several are reserved for students from a specific cultural, racial, or ethnic background. Some awards are limited to residents of Illinois and must be used at schools or programs in the state.

Criminal Justice Scholarships

Captain James J. Regan Memorial Scholarship $2,500

Who Can Apply: This scholarship is open to high school seniors or those enrolled in an accredited college-level program in law enforcement or related fields. Applicants are selected based on academic record, leadership, and co-curricular activities, as well as a personal statement on the significance they place on a technical background in law enforcement. View Scholarship

Women in Federal Law Enforcement Scholarship $2,500

Who Can Apply: Full-time criminal justice students with an overall 3.0 GPA may apply. Applicants must submit an essay and be sponsored by at least one community leader. View Scholarship

Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association (HAPCOA) Scholarship $1,000

Who Can Apply: This scholarship is intended for high school seniors or currently enrolled college students from Hispanic or Latino backgrounds with a 3.0 GPA and a record of leadership and service. Applicants must submit a personal statement on why they want to pursue a career in the law enforcement or criminal justice profession. View Scholarship

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

Who Can Apply: Sponsored by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, this scholarship is for undergraduate students majoring in criminal justice, accounting, business administration, or finance. Students must demonstrate fraud-related interests and activities. View Scholarship

Martin Luther King, Jr. Criminal Justice Scholarship $1,000

Who Can Apply: The scholarship is awarded to minority undergraduate or graduate students planning a career in the criminal justice field. Candidates must submit a short reflection on how they have been influenced by the example and writing of Dr. Martin Luther King. View Scholarship

Scholarships for Illinois Residents

MIA/POW Scholarship Full tuition

Who Can Apply: Provided by the State of Illinois, this scholarship is restricted to the dependents of veterans declared missing in action or prisoners of war, or those who died or become 100% disabled while on active duty. View Scholarship

University of Illinois President's Award Program $5,000:

Who Can Apply: This scholarship is restricted to applicants accepted for enrollment at the University of Illinois with outstanding high school achievement who belong to historically underrepresented groups or whose families are at or below the poverty level.

Chicago Community Services Block Grant Scholarship Program Full tuition for one semester

Who Can Apply: Applicants must be residents of Chicago who can demonstrate financial need and are enrolled full time in an Illinois college/university/trade school. View Scholarship

Illinois State University CEFCU Member Appreciation Scholarship $1,250

Who Can Apply: Sponsored by Citizens Equity First Credit Union, this scholarship for students enrolled or accepted for enrollment in Illinois State University. Applicants should have a minimum GPA of 2.0. Preference will be given to students who demonstrate financial need. View Scholarship

Illinois Latino Council on Higher Education Scholarship $1,000

Who Can Apply: This scholarship is for Latino students enrolled full time in a two- or four-year college or university in the state of Illinois. Applicants must demonstrate a commitment to learning, community service and leadership. View Scholarship

Law Enforcement Agencies in Illinois

Professional Organizations

Students in the process of earning criminal justice degrees in Illinois should be aware of the benefits of a professional association membership. Joining an association is an excellent way to acquire a competitive edge in the job market. National organizations often provide useful information about credential requirements and help with career planning and placement. Many state and local-level associations in Illinois offer networking opportunities with law enforcement and criminal justice professionals and help practitioners stay informed about current policy and legislation.

American Correctional Association

ACA offers research and continuing education for corrections professionals. One of its major functions is to establish standards and confer accreditation for correctional organizations. It also administers the Certified Corrections Professional Certificate.

Midwest Criminal Justice Association

A regional affiliate of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, MCJA draws its membership from criminal justice researchers and practitioners based in the Midwest including Illinois. It hosts annual conferences and offers an employment bulletin.

Illinois Security Professionals Association

This organization advances professionalism in the private security industry and promotes collaboration between private security professionals and organizations and law enforcement agencies. It offers professional development, volunteer opportunities and an education forum.

Illinois Association of Addiction Professionals

An affiliate of the National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors, the IAAP supports and promotes addiction-focused professionals. It offers training and advocates for alternative treatment methods.

Illinois Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers

ABLE promotes equal opportunity in hiring for all persons seeking employment with the Illinois State Police. It also works to professionalize the image of African-American officers and to develop channels for recruiting these officers.

Illinois Paralegals Association

Established in 1971, the IPA promotes the paralegal profession by sharing information about Illinois paralegal training and requirements for employment. It also has established a code of ethics for Illinois Paralegals.

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