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Best Online Criminal Justice Doctorate & PhD Programs: 2024

Best Online Criminal Justice Doctorate & PhD Programs: 2024

Discover the top online criminal justice doctorate programs for 2024 that let you highly personalize your degree and get other key information about what you can expect once you enroll.

Earning your doctorate or PhD in criminal justice gives you a path to expertise in the field. It also opens doors to high-level consulting, teaching, research, and governmental positions along with the higher pay those positions command. Doctoral programs allow you to study what interests and motivates you, and you want a school that not only puts students first but that also has online programs and services that support your pursuit of excellence in the criminal justice arena.

With that in mind, we’ve ranked the best overall online criminal justice doctoral programs below to help you find a quality program that meets your needs. Colleges were selected based on key criteria like affordability, accreditation, student support services, scheduling flexibility, and program customizability. Learn more about our top picks below to see if one has what you’re looking for.

Top Online Doctorate Degrees in Criminal Justice for 2024

We have ranked the top schools below. Our Rankings Data comes from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES.) Click the About the Ranking link below for more information about our methodology.


    Base Methodology for OnlineColleges.me’s 2024 Online College Rankings

    1. Create List of Eligible Schools and Programs

    To be eligible for this ranking, schools were required to meet the following criteria based on government data provided by The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

    • Institutional accreditation from an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
    • At least one program in the subject area offered partially or fully online.
    1. Assign Weightings

    After creating the list of eligible schools, OnlineColleges.me data scientists assigned weights and ranked schools based on a mix of affordability, support services, and online program availability metrics. Online program availability and overall affordability metrics received the heaviest weightings.

    Online Program Availability

    • Number of online programs in subject area reported by school to the U.S. Department of Education. Because exact numbers change often and can be difficult to verify, we use a range-based scoring system: 0-5 online programs = 1 star; 6-10 = 2 stars; 11-15 = 3 stars; 16-20 = 4 stars; 21+ = 5 stars. In our design, laptop icons = stars.
    • For degree-specific pages, ex: Psychology degrees, we list the current number of online programs available at that school for that degree type, as self-reported by the schools.


    • Cost – Relative cost of attendance compared to peer schools on the list. Based on tuition and fees per academic year.
    • Students w/ Institutional Aid – Percentage of students who receive financial aid from the school itself.

    Support Services

    • Academic Counseling – Existence of this service on campus or online.
    • Career Placement – Existence of this service on campus or online.

    About Our Data

    OnlineColleges.me’s rankings use the latest official data available from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Most recent data pull: January of 2024

  • Fort Lauderdale, FL
    Private not-for-profit $$$$$

    Nova Southeastern University’s Ph.D. in Criminal Justice program is designed for students who have experience in the law enforcement, private security, corrections, and criminal court system and who want to move into careers in research and/or teaching at the post-secondary level. Much of the curriculum examines theoretical topics to provide the intellectual tools necessary to tackle systematic and societal challenges as they relate to crime. To further tailor their education, students can choose from juvenile justice, organizational leadership, and behavioral science concentrations. Because most students will be working full-time while enrolled, all courses can be completed 100% online.

    Program Highlights:

    Ph.D. in Criminal Justice

    • Credits: 60
    • Length: Varies
    • Cost: $1,240.00/credit
    • Mode: Fully online
    • Accreditation: SACSCOC
  • California, PA
    Public $$

    The Doctorate in Criminal Justice degree program from PennWest California (formerly known as California University of Pennsylvania) was the first doctorate in criminal justice program to have regional accreditation. It began as a means of training current criminal justice professionals to learn advanced topics and skills to better address real-world problems that were developing across the country. As a result, much of the curriculum focuses on leadership skills in addition to the development, evaluation, and implementation of criminal justice policies. Almost all of the coursework can be completed online, although students must complete one five-day residency on campus to graduate. One of the biggest advantages of this program is that it can be completed in just two years even as a part-time student.

    Program Highlights:

    Doctorate in Criminal Justice

    • Credits: 42
    • Length: About two years
    • Cost: $568.00/credit
    • Mode: Partially online
    • Accreditation: MSCHE

Key Outcomes of Earning Your PhD or Doctorate in Criminal Justice

While each program differs somewhat in its key outcomes, an accredited school must meet certain content and quality requirements. To make sure you’re getting exactly what you need in an advanced criminal justice degree, look at each program’s goals and outcomes to see if they align with your personal and professional aims. Below is a general sense of what to expect from any PhD or doctoral criminal justice program.

Career Advancement

A PhD in Criminal Justice leads you to gains in respect, influence, and credibility that you need to advance in the field. It opens doors in leadership, consulting, and higher education in both the public and private sectors. Whether you’re interested in a specific field and want a specialized degree or are simply looking for advancement in your current arena, a doctorate in criminal justice teaches the skills and knowledge you need for successful career advancement.

Proficiency & Expertise

A doctoral degree is a terminal degree, so it’s the highest level of education available. It offers you the proficiency and expertise you need to make a tremendous difference in the field of criminal justice. Criminal Justice institutions – like those in government, academia, and research – seek knowledgeable leaders with advanced problem-solving, critical thinking, and research skills. They’re looking for individuals willing to shape the future of the field, and those with doctoral degrees lead the way.


An online criminal justice doctorate allows you to evaluate and shape programs and systems that are currently in place. You can move from executing tasks to designing systems, programs, and institutions to make necessary changes in the field. A PhD in criminal justice prepares you to evaluate the role the field plays in promoting positive social change, discovering the root causes of crime and its impact on policy, and managing human resources in criminal justice organizations.


While evaluation is a useful skill, it’s even more powerful when coupled with the ability to affect necessary change. As a criminal justice doctoral student, you’ll learn to synthesize theory and research on historical trends with current perspectives in criminal justice. You’ll also discover how to apply data analysis techniques and design methods to scholarly research in criminal justice. All of this combines to help you develop expert application skills and advance the field as a whole.

Common Courses in Online Criminal Justice Doctoral Programs

While each criminal justice doctoral program differs in its course offerings, there are plenty of commonalities to give you a general idea of what you’ll study. Be sure to investigate a program’s curriculum to know what it emphasizes and what specialties or concentrations are available before you enroll. Also remember that individual courses should help you achieve the outcomes given by your program.

History and Contemporary Issues in Criminal Justice

This course covers the evolution of crime in both lone criminals and criminal organizations. Using scientific readings, you’ll discuss topics like the philosophy of community- and problem-oriented policing, transnational crime, terrorism, and their intersections. This course equips you with knowledge and understanding for assessing and managing the opportunities, innovations, and challenges in your profession.

Policy and Analysis in Criminal Justice Systems

Professionals need to understand the factors that contribute to criminal justice policy and be able to evaluate if those policies are meeting proposed objectives. In this course, you’ll learn the principles of policy analysis and the role that scientific information plays in the development of criminal justice policy. It covers topics like policing, corrections, and sentencing; juvenile justice; the relationship between drugs, race, and crime; deterrence as a crime control policy; and the use of public registries.

Leadership: Putting Theory into Practice in Criminal Justice Administration

You’ll be introduced to the problems that currently confront the criminal justice system administration and the problems predicted for the future in this course. Addressing these changes and learning to model strategic, critical, and reflective thinking are a focus. In addition to discussing organizational thought and theory, you’ll also tackle topics within leadership, human capital, policy development and implementation, and collaboration with other public safety and community organizations.

Contemporary Criminology Theory

In this course, you’ll discuss the current prospects of criminal theory. Discussions focus on the major theories developed to explain crime and criminal behavior, followed by discussions of theories on punishment and social control, developmental and life course theories, social reaction theories, and critical theory.

Terrorism, Intelligence, and Homeland Security

This course helps you develop a working knowledge of people, ideas, organizations, and current issues in the field. You’re provided with a unified understanding of terrorism, intelligence, and homeland security and their interrelationship as well as their current and historical issues. This course supplements scholarly study with the real-world experience of federal agents, police officers, and soldiers tasked with preventing terrorist attacks on the U.S.

Forensic Behavioral Analysis

This course studies criminal behavior from a psychological perspective. It gives you knowledge regarding the major psychological theories of criminal behavior and specific psychological disorders that potentially contribute to it. You’ll study the behaviors and traits of the perpetrators and victims of crimes and become familiar with various techniques for analyzing and understanding criminal behavior through crime scene analysis.

FAQs About Earning Your Criminal Justice Doctorate or PhD Online

Before you apply to any criminal justice doctoral or PhD program, it’s important to get answers to as many of your questions as possible. Some of the most pressing questions prospective students like you have are covered below to give you the most basic information necessary for choosing the program that’s best for you.

  • Are online doctoral degrees in criminal justice offered fully online?

    Many schools offer fully online criminal justice doctoral degrees. However, many online programs have hybrid classes or require a campus visit once a semester. Research each school before enrolling to make sure you can meet all its attendance requirements, whether in person or online.

  • What can I do with a PhD or professional doctorate in criminal justice?

    Criminal justice PhD graduates often go into academia, consulting, administration, or research. Below are a few popular careers options for you once you obtain your online doctorate in criminal justice.

    • Academic Professor
    • Bureau Chief
    • Criminologist
    • Government Contractor
    • Intelligence Analyst
    • Police Chief
    • Warden
  • What accreditation should I look for in an online criminal justice doctorate program?

    Accreditation means a program or institution meets third-party requirements for standards related to quality, content, and faculty. When looking for an online criminal justice PhD or doctoral program, accreditation is essential because it tells you a school and/or program meets the minimum standards of quality. At the institutional level, look for accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), or the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC). There is no specific accreditation for doctoral-level criminal justice programs.

  • What are the admissions requirements for a doctoral degree in criminal justice?

    Each school has slightly different admission requirements for its advanced-degree students, but at least some of them are usually found in every online criminal justice doctoral program. Typical requirements include a master’s degree from an accredited institution, a GPA of 3.0 or higher, college transcripts, letters of recommendation, a current resume, and a personal statement of your goals and how this degree will help you achieve them. 

  • How much does an online doctorate in criminal justice cost?

    The cost for completing an online doctorate in criminal justice is $32,000 to $67,000. Many factors contribute to the cost of this degree, including the cost of tuition. Any grants or scholarships you receive, participation in an employer-sponsored program, a military discount, and other government financial aid options all affect what you pay as well. Check a school’s financial aid opportunities before you apply to its doctoral program.

  • How long will it take to finish my doctorate or PhD in criminal justice?

    A criminal justice doctorate or PhD takes two to four years to complete and depends mostly on whether you study full-time or part-time. The schedule can also be affected by the number of classes you’re allowed to take each semester and if summer classes are available.

  • How can I specialize my doctoral degree in criminal justice?

    Each college and university has different specializations or concentrations available. Remember that you’ll also likely have elective courses that allow for some customization. Below is a short list of specializations and concentrations available through some online criminal justice doctoral programs.

    • Emergency Management
    • Global Leadership
    • Justice Administration
    • Law and Public Policy
    • Public Management and Leadership
    • Teaching in Higher Education

What You Could Make After Completing Your Doctoral Degree in Criminal Justice

Pinpointing a salary you can expect with an online doctorate in criminal justice is difficult since there are so many different careers you can pursue. The table below gives you a general idea by listing some of the potential careers you might pursue after obtaining this degree.

CareerMedian Annual Earnings
Job Growth
Chief Security Officer$148,741N/A
Intelligence Analyst$72,742N/A
Police Chief$75,371N/A
Criminal Justice Professor$81,730N/A

Source: PayScale.com; Bureau of Labor Statistics