Best Online Master's in Corrections Programs

Society relies on criminal justice workers to supervise and rehabilitate criminal offenders. Corrections professionals usually work directly with prisoners. They oversee offender incarceration, parole, and probation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), probation officers earn a median annual salary of $50,160. The BLS projects 6% employment growth for correctional treatment specialists and 11% growth for private investigators between 2016 and 2026.

Students who complete an online corrections degree gain theoretical knowledge and practical skills related to criminology, law enforcement, legal proceedings, and offender treatment. These studies prepare students for diverse employment opportunities in prisons, jails, courtrooms, and offices. If you are passionate about public safety, criminal justice, and offender rehabilitation, a corrections career might be a good fit. Earning a corrections master's degree online is a flexible way for established and aspiring criminal justice professionals to advance their careers.

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Rank School Name Ranking Score Location Description
1 University of Colorado Denver/Anschutz Medical Campus RANKING SCORE 72.11 COST % Enrolled Online 25% LOCATION Denver, CO

At the University of Colorado Denver/Anschutz, students can enroll in a well-regarded master of criminal justice with a focus on correctional systems that fosters strong leadership, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills. These criminal justice master’s online alumni include more than 40 Colorado police chiefs, FBI and CIA agents, current mayors of local municipalities, accomplished death investigators, and research and policy professionals. Students can also combine online and traditional in-class learning in customized configurations, allowing learners to complete their degrees entirely online while offering locals the option to engage in face-to-face coursework.

UC Denver/Anschutz’s master’s degree in corrections takes a strong emphasis on professional skill development, giving graduates a significant competitive advantage in the job market.

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2 Northeastern University RANKING SCORE 68.04 COST % Enrolled Online 10% LOCATION Boston, MA

Boston-based Northeastern University offers a master of science in criminal justice with a concentration in corrections that allows students to create customized and highly specialized learning paths through an extended set of unique and relevant electives. Core requirements cover topics including rehabilitation, community protection, adult and juvenile corrections, and the role of substance abuse and addiction in crime. Students then supplement these courses with electives that cover dozens of specific topics that focus on helping learners develop a deep and varied knowledge base.

This program guides students toward strong understandings of the complexities of both American and international criminal justice systems. Learners develop personal, actionable leadership paradigms that translate to sustained success and excellent career advancement opportunities. This corrections master’s degree leads to job opportunities in law enforcement, justice systems, correctional facilities, and private enterprise.

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3 University of Cincinnati RANKING SCORE 62.40 COST % Enrolled Online 44% LOCATION Cincinnati, OH

At the University of Cincinnati-Main Campus, online learners can pursue a master of science in criminal justice with a concentration in corrections and offender rehabilitation. This specialization benefits individuals interested in careers that focus on rehabilitating adult and juvenile criminal offenders in the institutional correctional system.

With affordable tuition rates and fast-track paths to graduation, the University of Cincinnati’s program is an excellent option for those who wish to maintain their current careers while upgrading their educational credentials. This 33 semester-hour program takes as little as one year of full-time study or two years of part-time study.

Applicants are not required to have an existing background in criminal justice. The core admission requirement is a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution of higher learning. The University of Cincinnati’s online corrections degree also offers flexible start dates, with summer, fall, and spring program commencement.

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4 Lewis University RANKING SCORE 58.69 COST % Enrolled Online 48% LOCATION Romeoville, IL

The unique aspect of Lewis University’s master of science in criminal/social justice is its strong focus on criminal rehabilitation as a critical aspect of social change. The program looks beyond the correctional system, extending its focus into society as a whole. It aims to equip learners with the knowledge, confidence, and skills to be leaders in the fight against injustice and inequality.Through a collaborative framework, the program prioritizes the protection and advancement of human rights, both within and outside the justice system.

Lewis University, located in Romeoville, Illinois, also has a strong track record for serving American veterans and holds a top ranking in this regard in the state. Graduates emerge well-prepared for success in career paths, including corrections, criminology, law enforcement, police work, probation, and federal government service.

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5 University of the Southwest RANKING SCORE 53.77 COST % Enrolled Online 100% LOCATION Hobbs, NM

Based in Hobbs, New Mexico, the University of the Southwest offers prospective students a unique learning path with its master of business administration in law enforcement and corrections. This fully online program offers a low-cost path to earning a prestigious MBA designation and prepares graduates to excel in professional capacities involving the management and administration of law enforcements and corrections, budgets, and financing. Applicants are not required to have any previous business-related education, and those with relevant professional experience and a history of military service are automatically eligible for advanced standing.

Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission since 1980, University of the Southwest also offers financial aid and tuition assistance to every student in its online graduate-level programs. Learners emerge with specialized training in a comprehensive range of relevant topics, including leadership, information technology, marketing, financial management, and human resource management.

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Curriculum requirements for an online corrections degree vary by program. However students often complete coursework related to common topics such as criminological theory, rehabilitation techniques, and correctional policy. Students who earn a master's degree in corrections online usually take courses similar to the ones listed below.

Curriculum for an Online Master's Degree in Corrections

  • Community corrections: In this course, students receive an overview of community-based correctional options for law violators. Students evaluate the rehabilitative effectiveness and community impact of correctional measures such as electronic monitoring, house arrest, day treatment centers, and boot camps. This course is especially relevant for aspiring correctional treatment specialists.
  • Correctional theory and policy: In this course, students develop a research-based theory of corrections. Students consider the most common justifications for corrections, including rehabilitation, deterrence, incapacitation, and restorative justice. Students discuss how social and political contexts have shaped correctional practice. Correctional officers especially benefit from this course.
  • Criminology: This course offers students an overview of major criminological theories and their application to the understanding of criminal behavior. Students examine classical, positivist, rational choice, and social disorganization theories. They also discuss how society responds to criminal behavior. This course is particularly valuable for detectives, police officers, and correctional officers.
  • Seminar in correctional rehabilitation: In this course, students examine theories, techniques, and policies for correctional treatment planning, application, and evaluation. Topics include offender classification, the effects of criminological theory on rehabilitation programming, and correctional intervention principles. This course is particularly useful for aspiring correctional officers and correctional treatment specialists.
  • Substance abuse and addictions: This course addresses drug and alcohol abuse as it relates to addiction and crime. Students evaluate the effectiveness of addiction prevention programs and examine how drug laws impact police, the courts, and corrections facilities. This course especially benefits students seeking employment as correctional treatment specialists.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Master's in Corrections?

Typically, online corrections degree programs require students to complete 30 to 36 credits. Although program lengths vary by institution, full-time students can typically complete a corrections master's degree online in one to two years. However, there are several factors which may affect program length, including coursework requirements, internship opportunities, capstone components, and thesis options.

Some programs require cohort learning. Cohort students must work in groups and complete courses according to a fixed timeline. In individually paced programs, students have more control over their schedules and students can graduate more quickly. Regardless of scheduling format, schools usually require students to earn their degree within a specified time period.

Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Corrections Prepares For

  • Certified correctional officer: State and federal correctional officers must undergo training according to American Correctional Association or American Jail Association guidelines. Trainees learn practical skills such as contraband identification, riot control, firearm use, and first aid. They also receive classroom instruction on topics including criminal law, arrest procedures, evidence rules, and rehabilitation methods.
  • Certified probation officer: Employers typically require probation officers to complete a training program and pass physical and psychological exams. Training includes classroom and field instruction in topics such as legal procedures, record keeping, self-defense, and firearm use. Some states require probation officers to take a certification exam after completing training.

Before completing a master's degree in corrections online, students should consider program accreditation. External accreditation indicates that a school or program meets respected quality standards. Employers typically prefer candidates whose credentials come from accredited institutions. Additionally, it is easier to transfer credits between accredited programs. Most doctoral admission committees only accept students who possess accredited bachelor's and master's degrees.

Regional accreditation is more highly regarded than national accreditation, as it involves a more rigorous evaluation process. The U.S. has six regional accreditation bodies, each of which monitors the quality of programs within a designated geographic area. Regionally accredited institutions are often more academically oriented than nationally accredited schools, and they rarely accept credits from programs that only hold national accreditation.

For-profit technical and career-based colleges most commonly hold national accreditation. National accreditation is granted through organizations approved by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). The ED is the government agency responsible for distributing federal education funds, collecting school data, and enforcing education statutes. CHEA is an association of U.S. colleges and universities that promotes self-regulation through voluntary accreditation according to rigorous quality standards.

The ED oversees the legal compliance of educational institutions and makes sure they receive necessary federal funding, while CHEA holds schools to high academic standards and advocates politically for education quality. Both organizations maintain databases of accredited schools and the most widely recognized accrediting agencies.

Master's in Corrections Salary

In addition to factors such as geographic location and education level, employer type can affect annual earning potential for employees in the corrections field. The top three employers for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists are local governments, state governments, and social assistance agencies. The table below features BLS salary data for corrections professionals according to employer type.

The figures indicate that probation officers and correctional treatment specialists who work for local governments receive the highest wages. State governments pay slightly less, while social assistance agencies provide the lowest compensation.

Probation Officer and Correctional Treatment Specialist Salaries by Employer Type

Employer Type Median Salary
Local Government $54,050
State Government $48,250
Social Assistance $33,560

Source: BLS

Master's in Corrections Careers

Students who complete a criminal justice master's online qualify to work in law enforcement, corrections, the judicial system, and private security. Common employers include police departments, prisons, and courts. Corrections workers are often excellent communicators who value teamwork, problem solving, order, and adaptability. Their interests include crime prevention, offender rehabilitation, criminal justice, and public safety.

While the following careers may not require a master's degree, a graduate degree in corrections can help further set you apart among the crowd of applicants.

Bailiff

These law enforcement officers maintain courtroom safety and order. They enforce court rules, guard juries, assist judges, and provide general courthouse security. They may also handle evidence and court documents during hearings. Bailiffs occasionally supervise attorneys and witnesses outside of the courtroom. They sometimes shield juries from the public.

Median Annual Salary: $42,670

Projected Growth Rate: -2%

Correctional Officer

These officers supervise arrested individuals who are awaiting trial or serving time in a corrections facility. Correctional officers enforce regulations, oversee inmate activities, and perform safety inspections. They may also search inmates for contraband items, file reports on inmate behavior, and escort inmates to medical appointments.

Median Annual Salary: $42,820

Projected Growth Rate: -7%

Correctional Treatment Specialist

These specialists advise probationers and parolees, develop rehabilitation plans, and evaluate inmates for parole board consideration. They may also develop education programs, coordinate counseling, locate housing, and provide employment assistance for parolees. A master's degree may facilitate advancement in this career.

Median Annual Salary: $50,160

Projected Growth Rate: 6%

Private Detective or Investigator

These professionals investigate legal, financial, and personal matters. They gather information for clients by conducting interviews, performing surveillance, collecting evidence, searching databases, and examining civil records. Investigators perform background checks, locate missing persons, and investigate employees. A criminal justice degree can benefit aspiring private detectives and investigators.

Median Annual Salary: $48,190

Projected Growth Rate: 11%

Probation Officer

These officers supervise probationers and assist in their rehabilitation. They meet regularly with probationers to ensure that they are not a danger to the community. Probation officers record probation treatment plans and progress in detailed reports. Typically, they specialize in adult or juvenile offenders. Advancement in this career may require a master's degree.

Median Annual Salary: $50,160

Projected Growth Rate: 6%

Professional Organizations

Membership in professional organizations often benefits students pursuing a master's degree in corrections online. Professional associations for corrections workers provide opportunities for political advocacy, professional development, networking, and research access. Members also gain access to scholarships and funding. Common activities for professional association members include attending annual conferences, volunteering with regional chapters, completing certification courses, and participating in education initiatives.

Students who obtain a corrections master's degree may choose to join one of the professional organizations listed below.

Before seeking an online corrections degree, students should determine their eligibility for federal assistance by submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Many students are eligible for government-sponsored grants or low-interest loans.

Schools often offer financial assistance based on academic merit or financial need. Other aid sources include professional associations, community programs, and private foundations. Additionally, corrections graduates who work in public sector may qualify for the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.


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FINANCIAL AID FOR VETERANS AND ACTIVE MILITARY

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