Top 100 Affordable Criminal Justice Schools

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Future university students want to earn a degree in a field of their choosing so that they can be productive and also enjoy their careers. However, tuition costs have gone up nearly every year for decades, making it more difficult for families to afford higher education aspirations for their children.

This is true of criminal justice programs at colleges and universities across the United States, many of which did not exist 20 years ago. Many university administrators realize that, if they want students to come to their institutions, they have to make sure that their degrees are affordable.

Well-designed undergraduate criminal justice programs expose their students to the theories and practice of criminal justice. They also offer students opportunities to practice what they are learning. Students majoring in criminal justice may be required to choose an internship in the community or simply to complete a shadowing experience so that they can get a feel for a criminal justice job and what that may look like. Luckily, many of these students are also able to compete for scholarships and grants designed for those who are majoring in criminal justice. But even those who cannot find scholarships can choose to attend a school that won’t empty their wallet.

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Top 100 Affordable Criminal Justice College Rankings

University Headquarters uses a variety of information when we compile our lists of best or most affordable schools in any major. These data sets can help students determine which schools are objectively better options for them. Only you can make the subjective decision about what school will be best for you, but things such as the cost of tuition, admission rate, graduating salary, and more can let you, as a student, know where you stand in regard to how much you will trust a school to support you and provide you with a valuable degree upon graduation.

Admission rates are often seen as a sign of exclusivity. After all, if it’s hard to get in, only the best will get in, right? As it happens, this exclusivity also attracts students who are hardworking, and many schools with low admission rates have some of the highest graduation rates around. Conversely, you’d think that an extremely low cost of tuition would be associated with schools who accept anyone and maybe have low graduation rates. However, when you consider the net cost, that is, what’s left after financial aid is applied, you’ll find that quality schools sometimes offer a well-oiled financial aid office that can lower your cost of tuition in order to make sure that they really find the best students, not just the best funded.

No matter what you’re looking for in a school, making sure that you know as much about it as possible before jumping on board is never a bad plan.


Elizabeth City State University

  • Tuition
    • In-State: $3,260
    • Out-of-state: $7,260
  • Net Price: $3,270
  • Retention Rate: 70%
  • Total Enrollment: 1,769
  • Undergrad Students: 1,692
  • Graduate Students: 77
  • Graduation Rate: 39%
  • Diplomas Awarded: 20
  • Elizabeth City State University

California State University-Los Angeles

  • Tuition
    • In-State: $6,781
    • Out-of-state: $18,661
  • Net Price: $3,859
  • Retention Rate: 81%
  • Total Enrollment: 26,671
  • Undergrad Students: 22,797
  • Graduate Students: 3,874
  • Graduation Rate: 52%
  • Diplomas Awarded: 307
  • California State University-Los Angeles

Texas A&M International University

  • Tuition
    • In-State: $7,683
    • Out-of-state: $18,983
  • Net Price: $4,165
  • Retention Rate: 79%
  • Total Enrollment: 8,305
  • Undergrad Students: 7,220
  • Graduate Students: 1,085
  • Graduation Rate: 47%
  • Diplomas Awarded: 168
  • Texas A&M International University

CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice

  • Tuition
    • In-State: $7,470
    • Out-of-state: $15,420
  • Net Price: $4,221
  • Retention Rate: 80%
  • Total Enrollment: 15,880
  • Undergrad Students: 13,746
  • Graduate Students: 2,134
  • Graduation Rate: 52%
  • Diplomas Awarded: 1,443
  • CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

  • Tuition
    • In-State: $8,917
    • Out-of-state: $18,733
  • Net Price: $4,419
  • Retention Rate: 76%
  • Total Enrollment: 29,113
  • Undergrad Students: 24,965
  • Graduate Students: 4,148
  • Graduation Rate: 46%
  • Diplomas Awarded: 419
  • The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

California State University-Dominguez Hills

  • Tuition
    • In-State: $6,941
    • Out-of-state: $18,821
  • Net Price: $4,683
  • Retention Rate: 77%
  • Total Enrollment: 17,977
  • Undergrad Students: 15,365
  • Graduate Students: 2,612
  • Graduation Rate: 44%
  • Diplomas Awarded: 202
  • California State University-Dominguez Hills

Indiana University-Northwest

  • Tuition
    • In-State: $7,715
    • Out-of-state: $20,574
  • Net Price: $5,453
  • Retention Rate: 64%
  • Total Enrollment: 3,877
  • Undergrad Students: 3,454
  • Graduate Students: 423
  • Graduation Rate: 35%
  • Diplomas Awarded: 27
  • Indiana University-Northwest

Dalton State College

  • Tuition
    • In-State: $3,683
    • Out-of-state: $10,589
  • Net Price: $5,776
  • Retention Rate: 63%
  • Total Enrollment: 4,964
  • Undergrad Students: 4,964
  • Graduate Students: N/A
  • Graduation Rate: 25%
  • Diplomas Awarded: 31
  • Dalton State College

Georgia Highlands College

  • Tuition
    • In-State: $3,344
    • Out-of-state: $9,696
  • Net Price: $6,624
  • Retention Rate: 80%
  • Total Enrollment: 6,168
  • Undergrad Students: 6,168
  • Graduate Students: N/A
  • Graduation Rate: 12%
  • Diplomas Awarded: 1
  • Georgia Highlands College

Fayetteville State University

  • Tuition
    • In-State: $5,309
    • Out-of-state: $16,917
  • Net Price: $7,016
  • Retention Rate: 74%
  • Total Enrollment: 6,551
  • Undergrad Students: 5,644
  • Graduate Students: 907
  • Graduation Rate: 34%
  • Diplomas Awarded: 101
  • Fayetteville State University
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Why a Degree from an Affordable Criminal Justice School?

High school juniors and seniors may find their inbox a blizzard of incoming emails from colleges and universities across the country. These come from the schools’ marketing departments, trying to induce students to choose their programs. As students view these emails and colorful brochures, they may rightfully be confused; where should they go? Another question many of them consider is, “will my family be able to afford this?”

When high school students know themselves well and have a good idea of what kind of career they want, some of the work of choosing an affordable college or university may already be done. If students aren’t quite sure what they want to do after college, it means choosing a school that will provide them with the most options—even if it means switching majors once or twice.

Once students have a list of colleges offering their major, for instance, criminal justice, it’s time to start researching each school’s tuition and fees. After all, public colleges and universities often offer lower tuition rates for in-state vs out-of-state students, though their state may also have reciprocal agreements with other states, such as the Western Undergraduate Exchange, and they should consider those as well.

Choosing the right school based on its majors and affordability mean that students won’t be dragged down by student loans for years after graduation. These loans could force students to put off buying a house, getting married, or having children.

Choosing an Affordable Criminal Justice College

As future college students weigh their options, affordability is often, and often should be, top of mind. While students want to choose the best program available, they can do so while ruling out schools that are too expensive for their families to afford. Some factors students should consider include the following.

The first is, are they affordable? Students and their families can speak to the financial aid offices of the schools they are most interested in to see if any fees can be waived and if they can gain enough support to be able to afford a school’s tuition cost. Schools normally charge tuition per credit hour. Most courses offer three credits, which means they will multiply the per-credit amount times three. Students taking 12 credits get a general idea of their tuition this way.

Next, what financing options will the student and their family have available? Rather than paying the entire sticker price, students should choose as many options as they have available to bring this cost down; grants, scholarships, and work-study are good ideas. Student loans, whether federal or private, should be the last option. The student’s parents may have employers who offer tuition assistance; if one or both parents are active-duty military, this is also an option as children of active-duty military may qualify for financial assistance.

Next, students need to find flexible course options that easily fit into their daily schedules. For instance, if they have to hold down a part- or full-time job, this can make college attendance a challenge.

Finally, students and their parents should look at degree outcomes. This means the likelihood of finding a job in their major. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is an excellent resource; it publishes data on job outlook for careers and it also provides maps that show location quotients for specific careers in each state. Students can also find projected salaries here.

Having all of this information available before the student makes their choices about which colleges they want to attend may make that decision easier. Knowing that a degree program like criminal justice offers a favorable outlook for both employment and salary makes the choice easier as well.

Online Options

Some programs have been designed to meet the professional and educational needs of people who are already working in this field. These programs are set up to help law enforcement professionals with career advancement.

However, some online criminal justice degrees will meet the needs of students who want to prepare for entry-level criminal justice positions. Depending on the individual situations of students who want to earn criminal justice degrees, there are online degree programs, and online schools, that teach on the subject. Some of the course offerings may include research methods, corrections, forensic science, juvenile justice, leadership, management, criminology, court systems, criminal law, and civil and criminal investigations.

A bachelor’s degree program may require senior students to complete a senior project, which allows them to demonstrate the depth and width of their knowledge of this field. Students who are considering whether their current circumstances, such as work and family, will allow them to devote time to school may want to focus more on finding online programs that can fit school into their current schedule. They should verify for themselves whether the program, as designed, meets their needs as new students who are preparing to enter criminal justice careers. A little closer reading tells new would-be students if the program is intended as professional development for current law enforcement professionals or a new degree for students just getting into the field.

Are Criminal Justice Programs in High Demand?

The employment outlook for police officers and detectives is expected to grow by 5% between 2019 and 2029, this is faster than the average for other occupations. However, factors affecting the demand for employment will vary depending on location. For instance, demand and ability to hire is fueled mostly by state and local budgets. Current and future police officers and detectives should anticipate about 59,100 job openings each year through this decade.

While the education required for someone to become a police officer or detective varies, students should plan to earn a high school diploma and then spend two to four years in school. Some locales require their law enforcement officers to have associate degrees, while other locations require bachelor’s degrees.

Other specialties in the law enforcement field, such as probation officer, are expected to grow by 6% and forensic science technicians are in high demand, with a job growth rate of 17%.

Should students who want a law enforcement degree want to branch out into other areas, they can become crime scene investigators, immigration officers or fish and game wardens. For those students who want to work in a federal law agency, such as the FBI or DEA, a graduate degree in criminal justice prepares them to work in leadership positions. A new development in the law enforcement field means that police departments are putting more emphasis on trauma-informed policing. In this role, police officers must be able to relate (be empathetic) toward any victims or perpetrators they may meet with.

What Can You Do with a Degree in Criminal Justice?

Within the criminal justice profession, new graduates may be able to choose from a wide menu of roles. Knowing that this career requires officers to administer justice to people who have been accused of, or have committed, crimes, new law enforcement professionals are able to choose which specialty they wish to work in.

Private detectives may own their own businesses, working for private clients. Or they may be hired to help law enforcement agencies. More often, they may carry out background checks and find information in divorce cases or worker’s compensation claims. On the other hand, U.S. Marshals work for the oldest federal law enforcement agency. They may carry out fugitive manhunts or transport prisoners or they may also take part in tactical operations or provide security to judges and jurors.

FBI agents investigate crimes on the federal level including cyber-crimes, terrorism, bank robberies, public corruption, organized crime, espionage, and drug trafficking. Another federal agency, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is responsible for collecting, analyzing, evaluating, and sending foreign intelligence to help the president and U.S. government policymakers as they make decisions concerning national security.

Corporate investigators may carry out background checks in one assignment and then investigate potential violations of law or company policy for another assignment. Crime laboratory analysts work to solve crimes by using evidence such as hair samples, DNA, blood samples and trace evidence. They also examine weapons, fingerprints, and other collected evidence.

Fish and game wardens work outdoors patrolling forest preserves and waterways. They also patrol national parks and other designated public lands, protecting visitors and wildlife habitats. Fire investigators analyze fire scenes to determine the cause of a fire. A U.S. Postal inspector works with forensics, carries out interviews and uses other investigative techniques to solve crimes (theft, fraud, identity theft, and vandalism), focusing on crimes involving the U.S. Postal Service.

As you can see, there are many things you can do with a degree in criminal justice. All you need to do is get your degree and consider which field or specialization interests you more. Or, you might know someone in a field and hope to perform the same function that they do in society. Whatever your reasons, there is plenty for criminal justice graduates to busy themselves with.

Criminal Justice Graduates Earn More After College

Students who earn a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice can expect to earn an average of $59,000 annually. Once they’ve graduated, they may find a position as a security manager. These professionals earn around $68,000 each year, depending on job duties and the size of their employer’s company. As a probation officer, graduates could earn an annual salary of $39,000, while as a police officer or sheriff’s patrol officer they would earn near the average of $54,000 annually. Fraud investigators with this degree may earn $66,000 and security directors earn closer to $92,000.

Law enforcement professionals who have earned their Master of Science in Criminal Justice may work as probation officers, earning $45,000. A security manager may earn $89,000. After working for several years in law enforcement a law enforcement professional with a master’s degree may advance to become a police chief and earn $84,000 or more annually. If this individual instead chooses to work for a federal law enforcement agency such as the CIA, they may work as an intelligence analyst, earning $70,000.

Crime analysts who have earned their Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice may earn between $34,000 and $50,000, though this all depends on their geographical region, past experience, and level of education. Detectives and criminal investigators may hold their Bachelor’s in Criminal Science and they should expect to earn anywhere between $36,000 to $60,000 per year.

Forensic psychologists should hold a master’s in psychology, although, in rare cases, a forensic psychologist with a bachelor’s degree may work in this field. These specialists earn between $57,000 and $80,000. Special agents usually work for state and federal investigative agencies. They may work on investigating financial crimes, major robberies, violent crimes, and fraud, or they may even on terrorism task forces.

Considering that the average person in the U.S. makes around $37,000 per year if they do not earn a college degree, it’s obvious that earning a degree in criminal justice can improve your lifetime earnings dramatically.


  • What will I learn in a criminal justice program?
    This major brings the criminal justice profession to students, giving them an understanding of each component of the system such as courts, corrections, and policing.
  • Can you get a criminal justice degree online?
    Students interested in a criminal justice degree program do have the option to opt for an online criminal justice bachelor’s degree. Universities that offer this option realize that some students may face challenges that make a traditional on-campus program difficult to maintain. Additionally, there aren’t many required hands-on components to a general criminal justice degree, though if you opt for something in forensics or need to complete police training, these will have hands-on or lab work components.
  • What kind of job can you get with a criminal justice degree?
    Criminal justice graduates can find a wide range of jobs, depending on any concentration they took while in school. These include criminal investigator, homicide detective, Homeland Security agent, forensic psychologist, DEA agent, forensic accountant, forensic science technician, FBI agent, or Secret Service agent, among others.
  • How much can you make with a bachelor’s or master’s degree in criminal justice?
    A graduate of a Bachelor of Criminal justice earns $64,000 on average. Depending on the specific role the graduate of a Master of Science in Criminal justice chooses, they may earn $57,000 on average. Some working for Citibank earn up to $125,000, while some with this degree who are working for Raytheon Co., they may earn up to $106,000.
  • What is the highest paying job in criminal justice?
    Lawyers who earned a criminal justice degree earn around $163,000. Their education and training covers all levels of the justice system, from small claims court up to the largest of the national trials.
  • What do you need to teach in criminal justice?
    Criminal justice professors must have the right level of education to get their foot in the door. Specifically, that usually means a master’s degree. However, those who wish to rise to the highest academic levels usually earn a PhD. This lets them head an entire department and/or conduct research in the field.
  • Are there tuition discounts for active military or law enforcement personnel?
    While service members and former service members may be able to turn to the GI Bill for their educational expenses, this may not be sufficient for their needs. They are able to qualify for financial aid to make up the rest of their expenses, such as the yellow ribbon program. Law enforcement personnel and first responders will often find that schools, businesses, and programs offer a variety of military-specific scholarships and grants to help cover their tuition and school-related expenses.

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