Best Online Criminal Justice Programs

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While many associate a criminal justice degree with police officers, the discipline actually prepares graduates for a much wider range of career opportunities in law enforcement and beyond. Criminal justice students commonly work as detectives, case workers, paralegals, private security officers and in many other positions.

Quality CJ programs provide a thorough overview of the country’s laws and criminal justice system, alongside an analysis of the nature of crime and deterrence. As part of the degree, students learn how criminals are filtered through the justice system and reintroduced to society. Courses prepare students for a career in the field, and many programs supplement this instruction with internship or capstone requirements. These allow students to work in police departments, rehabilitation centers, the courts or a similar facility, providing them a firsthand look at how the system functions.

Below, we’ve ranked the best online bachelor’s in criminal justice programs in the country. Each school thoroughly prepares graduates for the field, building practical skills within an ethical framework that encourages graduates to carry an empathetic attitude into their work. If you want to pursue a career in law enforcement or criminal justice, and are interested in online programs, start your research with a look at these top schools.

2016 Online Education Trends Report: Learn how online programs are changing the face of higher education.

Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Graduation Rate Location Description

University of Central Florida

 2/569.7%Orlando, FL


Students enrolled in UCF’s criminal justice programs can choose between the Bachelor of Arts (with a foreign language component) and the Bachelor of Science (with no foreign language component). Both programs are 4-years in length and are available exclusively online. These online programs are open to students in any state except Minnesota; out-of-state fees do apply.

The curriculum requires standard general education requirements, plus 48 credit hours of core classes and electives in the major. Core classes explore the fundamentals of crime and corrections and are complemented by electives in areas of special interest, like white collar crimes, drug crimes, correctional facilities, profiling, sentencing or crime and media. All classes in the major and most electives are available online. An internship is optional, and may be exchanged for six hours of elective credit.

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Florida State University

 2/579.13%Tallahassee, FL


FSU’s College of Criminology & Criminal Justice offers the Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in Criminology through its online studies program. Classes are taught by top-ranked industry experts who also actively conduct research in the field. The university’s partnership with the Pat Thomas Law Enforcement Academy allows students to jointly earn state police credentials as they pursue a degree.

The exclusively online BA program is a completion degree that builds on a related associate degree. Coursework in this asynchronous program prepares graduates for work as detectives, caseworkers, analysts and more. An internship is optional; students should carefully research internship possibilities in their home states. The online MA curriculum delves more deeply into theory and applications of criminal justice, research, prevention and law. All online students are billed as in-state residents.

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Western Carolina University

 2/558.29%Cullowhee, NC


The online bachelor’s degree program at WCU is a degree completion program designed to help working criminal justice practitioners finish a baccalaureate degree without taking time off from work. For transfers to be considered, applicants must have earned either an Associate of Arts, Associate of Science, or Associate of Applied Science from an accredited college, plus one year of work experience in the field.

Core classes examine the criminal justice system, criminological theory, criminal justice management, and criminal justice policy. Online students are well-supported at WCU, backed up by tutoring services with Smarthinking, access to the digital Hunter Library, advising, career services and 24/7 technical assistance.

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Washington State University

 3/567.24%Pullman, WA


Washington State University’s online criminal justice bachelor degree program prepares graduates for careers in state, federal, and private law enforcement. The program is also a good option for students aiming to enter law school or the world of corporate security. Students learn from leading experts who frequently advise agencies on real-world criminal justice matters. WSU’s criminal justice program is recognized as one of the best and longest-running in the country.

All undergraduates must complete WSU’s university common requirements (UCORE) and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences graduation requirements. Online criminal justice degree students must complete six core criminal justice courses, including crime control policies, criminal procedures, and a senior seminar dealing with ethical issues in criminal justice. The program further requires completion of 11 electives and two courses on research methods and quantitative analysis. Courses are delivered through Blackboard Learn and students have access to virtual mentors and a streaming media center.

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University of Nebraska at Omaha

 2/544.62%Omaha, NE


UNOmaha’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice offers future practitioners an online Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice degree completion program. Designed for students who have completed their general education requirements, the degree offers all required courses entirely via distance education. The exception to this is the internship requirement, which must be arranged at an approved facility and conducted in-person.

Classwork totaling 75 credit hours are delivered in a virtual classroom. Though the classes are interactive and require considerable student participation, they are asynchronous and allow students to work when it’s most convenient. Online students are supported by digital library services, financial aid, advising and tech help.

Admission is rolling and students may begin the program in any semester, including summer. The program is not authorized in every state; potential students should perform due diligence.

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University of Massachusetts – Lowell

 3/554.49%Lowell, MA

UMass Lowell offers degree programs in criminal justice at the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels; professional certification courses are also available for the non-degree seeking student. Adult and nontraditional students can earn either their bachelor’s or master’s exclusively online through the school’s division of online and continuing education. Undergraduates can choose from study concentrations in police, corrections, violence, information and technology or homeland security.

The Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice delivers an online curriculum that is identical to courses taught on campus. Core classes include study of criminology, crime preventions, corrections, law enforcement, legal adjudication and research methodology. All courses are taught by full-time faculty or adjunct professors who are currently practicing in the field. Classwork is largely asynchronous, though most professors schedule live chat hours. Participation in chat hours is not required but it is recommended. There is no internship requirement in the online program.

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University of Louisville

 2/553.53%Louisville, KY

The Department of Criminal Justice at U. of L. offers campus-based and online degree programs at the bachelor’s and master’s levels. Graduates of either are well-versed in the justice process and its implementation, theory and policy development, as well as in the application of law to adults and juveniles. Undergraduate distance education students follow the standard semester calendar, and master’s degree candidates study in 6-week blocks.

The B.S. program is designed to augment an associate degree. The A.A.S. in Criminal Justice is acceptable, but the A.A. is preferred and will allow immediate entry into the required 60 hours of upper-level courses. The M.S. program is a 36-hour curriculum; the social and behavioral science applicable to the field, as well as a greater understanding of legal system components, is delivered to its students.

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Rowan University

 3/566.7%Glassboro, NJ

For students interested in pursuing careers in criminal law and the justice system, Rowan University runs an entirely online B.A. program in Law & Justice. The degree prepares students for four areas of criminal justice, as outlined by the program: law enforcement and security services, court services, corrections and human services.

Considering Rowan's wealth of graduate programs, including master's programs in criminal justice, it's worth noting that many of the courses and services featured in the Law & Justice B.A. are intended to help students prepared for a graduate education.

Courses conducted include "Law and Evidence," "Sentencing & the Rights of the Convicted," "Introduction to Juvenile Justice" and "Theory of Crime & Criminality." The program also affords students the opportunity to pursue internships local to them (once approved by Rowan) and topical seminars and colloquiums, such as combating terrorism in the U.S. today.

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California State University – San Bernardino

 2/547.96%San Bernardino, CA

CSUSB’s College of Extended Learning targets its offerings toward working adults who want to pursue a degree but are unable to attend traditional campus-based programs. In 2015, San Bernardino has launched the Bachelor or Arts in Criminal Justice online degree completion program. Upper-division transfer students from any California-accredited community college are invited to apply.

Courses include the study of police and police systems, forensic profiling, community corrections, victimology, correctional theory, women and crime, gangs, law and the courts and more. All classes are entirely online, taught by professors who are recognized for their scholarly research and contributions to the field.

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Central Washington University

 2/553.41%Ellensburg, WA

CWU’s online law and justice bachelor’s degree prepares students to become criminal justice professionals and/or enter a graduate or law program. Students must complete 32 core credit requirements and 28 credits of law and justice electives covering issues such as legal writing, victimology and terrorism. All students end the program with a law and justice senior seminar. The program outlines a variety of possible career paths and suggested courses for pursuing specific careers. CWU’s program differentiates itself by emphasizing the liberal arts while at the same time preparing students for real world jobs in law and justice. The program is also unique in its recognition of the importance of racial, ethnic, cultural, sexual orientation, and gender issues.

The criminal justice degree online program accepts students with a GPA of 2.25 or higher. For transfer students, CWU will accept a maximum of 135 credits from other institutions, 105 of which can be from a two-year community college. Students must earn a minimum grade of “C-” in all courses that count towards the major.

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Florida International University

 2/554.19%Miami, FL

Online students at FIU may earn either a Bachelor of Science or a Master of Science in Criminal Justice without ever setting foot on campus. The bachelor's is ideal for students aspiring to careers in law enforcement or as an undergraduate precursor to law school. The master’s degree prepares its graduates for careers with the CIA, FBI, Secret Service, Border Patrol, Immigration and more.

Coursework in these programs emphasizes study of the constitution, public policy, criminological theory, the penal system and terrorism. The graduate program takes these concepts and further applies research methodology and scholarship to the curriculum. Online classes are asynchronous; professors populate the virtual classroom with multimedia presentations, audio, streaming video, digital text and assignments. Students log on to study when it’s most convenient. Online students at FIU are fully supported with easy access to resource materials and departments of advising, career services, counseling, financial aid and technical help.

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University of Wisconsin – Platteville

 2/551.63%Platteville, WI

The bachelor of science (BS) in criminal justice online degree program at UW-Platteville introduces students to the many facets of criminal justice, including law, psychology, community relations, corrections, and investigation. In addition to required core criminal justice courses, students also select from specialized elective courses, like police-community relations and criminal investigation. All students concentrate in either juvenile justice or patterns of criminal justice and delinquent behavior. Students also have the option of adding a minor in business administration, which requires completion of eight additional courses. The program is delivered completely online, and is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. The university accepts transfer credits in many cases.

The school ensures the criminal justice degree online program remains relevant by consulting with working criminal justice professionals from a variety of places, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and the Department of Justice. Applicants should be high school graduates or hold a GED. They must also meet preparatory coursework requirements and meet the high school graduation rank or ACT score required by UW-Platteville.

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Mercer University

 5/562.6%Macon, GA

Mercer University’s Working Adult Programs are designed with this specific type of student in mind. A number of options at the bachelor’s, master’s and professional certification level are available in flexible learning formats. Aspiring criminal justice practitioners are invited to enroll in the Bachelor of Science in Public Safety Leadership program.

This program is a hybrid mix of traditional classroom attendance and distance education. Students enrolling as freshmen can complete general education requirements online or on-campus, as available. All upper-level core courses are delivered online over two years. Alternatively, students with an associate degree in a related field can complete the requirements for a bachelor’s degree exclusively online.

The curriculum core is composed of classes in public safety, emergency management, community policing, criminal procedure, forensics, corrections and the judicial process. Students can choose to specialize in homeland security, emergency services or criminal justice tracks. Classes are delivered in 8-week sessions. Students move through the program in cohorts. Admission is rolling and new cohorts begin five times during the calendar year.

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University of Colorado – Denver

 2/539.96%Denver, CO

CU Denver’s online BA degree in criminal justice teaches critical thinking and problem solving skills, and equips graduates with the ability to make a difference and help people impacted by crime and victimization. Students have the option to focus on a specific area of criminal justice when selecting their electives, including law enforcement, corrections, juvenile justice, courts and pre-law, or victim services. The degree comprises 120 total credit hours, and the school offers a criminal justice/master criminal justice joint degree that can be completed within an additional year.

Criminal Justice faculty members are experienced practitioners who have worked in law enforcement, corrections, and in the legal system. Online criminal justice bachelor degree students have the freedom to mix online and on-campus courses. The degree also offers the chance to study abroad or to be part of an internship program that connects students with agencies and criminal justice departments across the United States.

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Northern Kentucky University

 2/536.18%Highland Heights, KY

Online students at NKU have associate and bachelor’s options in online criminal justice study. These programs are delivered exclusively online and allow working adult students to pursue higher education in a flexible learning format. Distance education classes are taught by the same faculty as in campus-based programs, and students receive the same curriculum.

Classes are asynchronous and require participants to choose study times that best suit their individual schedules. Instructors populate the BlackBoard virtual classroom with multimedia presentations, videotaped lectures, audio files and digital reading material. Students complete assignments when it’s convenient and collaborate with instructors and peers via chat rooms, forums and email.

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Florida Gulf Coast University

 2/549.12%Fort Myers, FL

FGCU offers a BS degree program with a specialization in law enforcement, corrections, legal studies, juvenile justice, international justice, or management in criminal justice. A majority of students attend courses both online and on-campus, but the degree can be completed entirely online. The program admits students who have finished general education requirements with an average grade of “C” or better. Anyone who has already completed an associate’s degree from a Florida public community college can enter the program and finish the upper division of the program (60 credit hours) online.

Program requirements include completing 36 credits of core courses and 9 credits of electives, along with meeting the criteria for the university’s general education requirements. Students must achieve a cumulative 2.0 GPA to graduate. All criminal justice degree online students complete an internship as either a three- or six-credit course. The internship allows students to combine theory and practice and get hands-on experience in criminal justice.

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University of Nebraska at Kearney

 2/556.43%Kearney, NE

UNK’s bachelor of science in criminal justice prepares students for careers in law enforcement, corrections, and juvenile justice professions. The program also prepares students for graduate or law school. The degree can be earned by following one of two tracks: the criminal justice comprehensive open (54 credit hours in criminal justice) or the criminal justice major open (36 credit hours in criminal justice plus a second, usually complementary major).

Students get important hands-on experience during their required internship, which places individuals with municipal, county, and state law enforcement agencies, courts, and legal offices. Students also take internships in a variety of correctional, law enforcement, judicial, juvenile, and probation settings. Internships are available during spring, fall, and summer sessions and can be fulfilled nationally or globally.

The department offers more than two-dozen criminal justice degree online courses that are taught by experienced faculty. Classes are kept small and students are engaged by applied-learning experiences. The department also sponsors a criminal justice club and an annual Criminal Justice Conference/Job Fair.

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Viterbo University

 4/548.46%La Crosse, WI

Viterbo University’s bachelor of science degree in criminal justice administration is aimed towards students who are interested in the field as well as working professionals who want to expand their career opportunities. Classes are offered entirely online in eight-week terms (courses are compressed), and students may enroll part-time or full-time. Students will take courses with a “community of learners” that provide support and encouragement for each other.

The program allows students to transfer credits earned at Wisconsin technical colleges and selected Iowa and Minnesota schools (as long as they maintained a “C” grade average or better). Students are able to transfer into the program without an associate’s degree in criminal justice by taking a small set of online prerequisite courses. Online criminal justice degree graduates are also given the opportunity to enter a Viterbo Master’s Program upon completion of their bachelor’s degree. The program focuses specifically on preparing graduates for leadership positions in criminal justice.

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University of Mount Olive


The University of Mount Olive's online BS in criminal justice & criminology offers students the chance to finish their degree and enhance their career opportunities. Coursework covers constitutional law and criminal procedure, juvenile justice, court systems, victimology and advocacy, research methods, and more. The program emphasizes research skills, communication, ethical behavior, and the ability to bridge the gap between theory and practice.

Online criminal justice degree applicants must be at least 21 years old and have transferable college coursework. To apply, students must fill out an application and submit unofficial transcripts from previous coursework. A generous transfer credit policy means that up to 94 semester hours of the 126 needed to graduate can be transfer credits. The program is offered entirely online. Instructors provide individualized feedback to students, and classes are kept small.

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Crown College

 4/557.14%Saint Bonifacius, MN

Crown College, a private Christian school in Minnesota, offers an online Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice. The program is designed for working professionals who have industry experience but lack a baccalaureate degree. Flexible online course delivery allows these students to pursue higher education without taking time off from work.

The curriculum focuses on training practitioners in a Christ-centered approach to working with individuals in the criminal justice system. In addition to core coursework in criminal law, crime theory, victimology and other criminal justice fundamentals, students also explore Christian faith and reason, apologetics, Biblical literature and ethical leadership.

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University of Oklahoma

 2/567.44%Norman, OK

OU’s bachelor of science in criminal justice is a flexible 120-hour program that can be completed entirely online. Topics covered by the program include ethics, deviance and social control, statistics in criminal justice, drugs and society, comparative justice systems, and introduction to forensic science. Designed for working adults, the program is fast-paced, with accelerated courses that each last eight weeks. Most students take four courses per semester.

When students enter the program they are assigned to work with an advisor who will help them create an individualized graduation plan. The program can be completed in as little time as 18 months, depending on how much transfer credit a student brings in, but most students finish the program in four to five years. To complete the degree, students must complete an in-depth study course that lasts 16 weeks and have a minimum GPA of 2.0.

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Portland State University


The online bachelor's degree in criminology and criminal justice from Portland State University focuses on emerging trends in criminal justice. The program is well suited for working adults who want to move ahead in their careers, and students can tailor the program to add one or more career-building online certificates. Available specialties include criminal behavior, leadership in criminal justice, or advanced crime analysis. About 2/3 of graduates increase their salaries after completing the program.

Applicants must have 45-quarter credit hours (30 semester hours) of transferable college work, meet minimum GPA requirements of 2.25 (or 2.0 if student has earned an associate of arts, science or Oregon transfer module) and complete WR 121 with a grade of “C” or better.

Online criminal justice bachelor degree students must complete 10 core courses (including an internship) and 24 credits of program electives. With transfer credits, it may be possible to complete the program in just over one year.

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University of Memphis

 2/544%Memphis, TN

Students at the U. of Memphis have two options in criminal justice; both the Bachelor of Arts and the Master of Arts degrees are available exclusively online. In the B.A. program, nationally recognized faculty instruct undergraduates in policing strategy, corrections, domestic violence, addiction, gangs, capital punishment and organized crime.

Classes are mostly asynchronous, but some instructors may require occasional time-sensitive logins. Online students at U. of Memphis are supported by digital library services, advising, career planning and technical assistance. A military-friendly school, it offers discounted tuition to service members and spouses.

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Sam Houston State University

 2/553.06%Huntsville, TX

The College of Criminal Justice as Sam Houston is one of the oldest in the country and has a rich history of educating aspiring law enforcement practitioners. It continues to innovate by bringing new programs to the table, most recently the Master of Science in Forensic Science. For adult students, Sam Houston offers a range of online educational options. Students at the bachelor's and master’s levels have multiple degree plans to choose from. Working professionals can also pursue professional credentialing via distance learning.

Undergraduates can earn the B.A. or B.S. online, depending on the student’s preference for foreign language and social science credits. Course topics include victimology, global terrorism, child abuse, criminal investigation and cybercrime. Graduate students can customize the M.S. program in Leadership and Management or Victim Services Management in addition to generalist study. The 2-year program can be completed in two years while working full-time.

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Stevenson University

 4/562.78%Stevenson, MD

Stevenson’s Graduate and Professional Studies division offers a bachelor’s program in criminal justice that is available exclusively online. The core curriculum is composed of classes in law enforcement, corrections, criminology, American courts and criminal justice system and the juvenile justice systems. Special-interest courses include race and crime, domestic security, law enforcement, social stratification and more.

This program is designed for working adults who have at least 15 credit hours of class that can be transferred into the program. Additionally, applicants must demonstrate two years of work experience in the industry. Credits may be awarded for prior learning experience. Classes are delivered in 8-week sessions and admission is rolling; students begin the program on one of six dates in the calendar year.

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A degree in criminal justice prepares graduates to work in law enforcement and the correctional system, both locally and nationally. Below, we’ve profiled a few of the more common positions that attract recent CJ graduates:

Police officers and detectives: Officers and detectives are on the front lines, serving as active crime deterrents, and detaining lawbreakers. Police officers enforce laws and protect residents from crime. They patrol assigned areas, testify in court, respond to emergencies, enforce traffic laws, arrest suspected criminals and obtain search and arrest warrants when necessary. Detectives, investigate crimes, gather evidence from crime scenes, interview persons of interest and observe suspects. They may also apprehend suspects, testify in court and help police officers with their day-to-day responsibilities.

These law enforcement professionals may be uniformed officers, transit officers, sheriffs, wardens or investigators. They may work locally or at the federal level with the FBI, CIA, U.S. Border Patrol, the Drug Enforcement Administration or Secret Service.

Correctional workers: Correctional officers rehabilitate offenders in the criminal justice system. They may evaluate offenders for rehab, provide resources for job training, conduct drug tests and monitor progress in offenders. Correctional workers typically work as probation officers, parole officers, pretrial services officers and treatment specialists.

Private detectives/investigators: Private detectives operate differently than police detectives. They’re employed by private citizens, and while they can work on legal matters, the scope of their work is often more personal. Private detectives may conduct background checks, find missing persons, investigate computer crimes or work on many different types of investigations.
If you have a passion for criminal justice and also something of an entrepreneurial flare, this might be the career for you.

Position Median Annual Salary Projected Growth Rate
Police Officers and Detectives $60,270 4%
Correctional Workers $40,580 4%
Private Detectives and Investigators $45,610 5%

Regardless of your professional ambitions, a premier CJ program can prepare you for a rewarding career in criminal justice or law enforcement. With robust curriculums, attentive faculty members and an intuitive platform, online programs offer distance learners a quality education without forcing them to disrupt their personal lives. If you’ve always wanted to work in criminal justice, consider studying in an online program today.

Financing Your Online Criminal Justice Degree

Despite the relative affordability of online programs, the need for financial aid is still a reality for most students. But rest assured, loans aren’t your only option. Explore our collection of financial aid resources or dig into one of the following guides to read more about financing your education.

An Overview of Financial Aid

Approximately two-thirds of today’s college students rely on loans to fund their education, but there are plenty of overlooked financing options savvy students can use to reduce the total costs of their education.

Understanding the FAFSA

Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first and most crucial step for any student seeking financial aid. Follow our step-by-step guide for answers to frequently asked questions.

Financial Aid for Online College Students

Financial aid for online learning is equivalent to what you’ll find for campus-based learning, but that hasn’t always been the case. Learn about the changes that have taken place and funding opportunities for online students.

Scholarships for Criminal Justice Majors

We’ve hand-curated a list of 42 scholarships for criminal justice students representing $75,000 in total award dollars. Students at all levels can find an opportunity to apply for free money to help offset the cost of tuition.

Financial Aid for Veterans and Active Military

Millions in education benefits are available for veterans and active members of the military. Unfortunately, much of this goes unused. Find out if you’re entitled to help with college and start planning for your future.

Original Research

Best Online Criminal Justice Bachelor Degrees of 2015
Rank Name Location
1 University of Central Florida Orlando, FL
2 Florida State University Tallahassee, FL
3 Florida International University Miami, FL
4 Dallas Baptist University Dallas, TX
5 Rowan University Glassboro, NJ
6 University of Oklahoma Norman, OK
7 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA
8 University of Louisville Louisville, KY
9 Sam Houston State University Huntsville, TX
10 Western Carolina University Cullowhee, NC
11 Tiffin University Tiffin, OH
12 California State University - San Bernardino San Bernardino, CA
13 University of Nebraska at Omaha Omaha, NE
14 Keiser University-Ft Lauderdale Fort Lauderdale, FL
15 Hampton University Hampton, VA
16 Florida Gulf Coast University Fort Myers, FL
17 University of Massachusetts - Lowell Lowell, MA
18 Mercer University Macon, GA
19 Indiana Wesleyan University Marion, IN
20 Stevenson University Stevenson, MD
21 Trine University-Regional/Non-Traditional Campuses Fort Wayne, IN
22 University of Memphis Memphis, TN
23 St. John’s University Queens, NY
24 Crown College Saint Bonifacius, MN
25 Northern Kentucky University Highland Heights, KY