What about for-profit programs?

We discovered over 150 for-profit schools with online criminal justice programs. These are the universities you have seen advertised before, like the University of Phoenix. Most are accredited by the same agencies that accredit many career colleges, and  people do graduate and end up employed. They may also have decent faculties with accomplished professionals in their field.

For-profits are accredited but do not have great reputations with the public

However, students should be aware of the intense criticism these universities have recently received. Despite receiving accreditation from recognized agencies, for-profits have a proven reputation for dismal academic statistics and low graduation rates. Some have alleged fraudulent practices and deceptive marketing techniques. Recently, Ashford even lost its accreditation status in 2012, only to have to work very hard to get it back the following year. Students sometimes are not aware they can receive the same or better education from a more affordable online program at a nearby community college or in-state university.

With this underperforming track record, we already knew for-profit schools would all fail our quality filters and sit alongside the programs we don't recommend, like Baker College's criminal justice program.

These degrees do not make anymore sense when you consider the alternatives: For roughly the same cost as attending the University of Phoenix, a student can enroll in Sam Houston's program, one of the oldest criminal justice departments in America, with strong connections to regional law enforcement departments and alumni, while also being our top program in the south. WSU's faculty is made of pinnacle members of the ACJS and includes professors who have won yearly membership awards. Phoenix has no comparable reputation because they have neither a campus department to develop nor involvement in higher criminal justice academia. In this case, you're paying for a degree and not getting much in return. Rather, what you'll end up with is an education from an institution mostly known for its questionable integrity at a time when it has barely avoided probation by its accrediting agency.

For these reasons and more that we explain below, we omitted for-profits from our review process. We chose to do this because we believe no matter where you live, there is always a non-profit program we would recommend that has higher academic statistics, a better reputation with nearby employers, and a more affordable price per credit hour.



Comparison: for-profit vs. non-profit

Let's see how some of our favorite non-profit programs stack up against for-profit programs. We picked some of the most popular for-profit colleges from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and compared them with a few of our favorites (recommended), a middle scoring program (an unranked program), and a bottom scoring program (a program in our not recommended group).

Availability: For-profits had no advantage. Both for-profits and non-profits allow students to enroll from every state. All are the same, so for-profits have no advantage.

  • For-profit

University of Phoenix Online: Offers its criminal justice degree fully online. You can enroll no matter where you live.

Ashford University: All students can enroll.

  • Top

ASU: All students can enroll.

  • Middle

Drexel: All students can enroll.

  • Bottom

Franklin University: All students can enroll.

A state even as remote as Alaska has an in-state online option.

Faculty: For-profits are at a disadvantage here. Although they recruit experienced professionals to instruct their courses—which according to our responses from professors is one indicator of a great criminal justice program—most do not have more than a master's degree. We feel a superior faculty includes professors who served time in the field and who were just as successful in academia. This is asking a lot of your faculty, but the top non-profits all have teaching staff with these traits: former police chiefs and detectives/investigators who not only earned a doctorate, but who have also have been recognized for their research as well.

  • For-profit

For-profit criminal justice faculties had lower numbers of instructors with doctorates

University of Phoenix Online: Faculty includes a regional security manager, administrative law judge, and former police chief; only 1 out of 3 faculty members have a doctorate.

Ashford University: Faculty includes a  trial and appellate attorney and a former Director of Juvenile Jail for New York City; 3 out of 7 faculty members have a doctorate.

Grand Canyon: No listing of professional experience at all; 4 out of 15 faculty members have a doctorate.

American InterContinental: Faculty includes a former special agent; of the available faculty biographies, 3 out of 5 had doctorates.

Kaplan University-Davenport: Faculty includes a former detective and former parole hearing examiner; 2 out of 8 faculty members have doctorates.

  • Top

WSU: Faculty include former president of the  Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, and a former police chief; all faculty possess a doctorate.

Sam Houston: Faculty includes a former president of the  Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences and a former  forensic chemist and forensic geneticist; all faculty possess a doctorate.

  • Middle

Portland State University: Faculty includes a member of the Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice; every faculty member but one possess a doctorate.

  • Bottom

Union Institute & University: Faculty includes a former detective and former chief of police; very few faculty members possess doctorates.

Cost per credit hour: For-profits were at best on par, but were often more expensive, than our favorite programs. *The average for all 107 online criminal justice programs: In-state tuition: $378, out-of-state tuition: $452.

  • For-profit

University of Phoenix Online: $395 for lower level credits / $585 for higher level credits

Ashford University: $420

Grand Canyon: $687.50

American InterContinental: $302*

Kaplan University-Davenport: $371*

The best programs we researched were actually more affordable than those from for-profits

  • Top

University of Massachusetts-Lowell: $365

Sam Houston State University: $400

  • Middle

Wilmington University: $330

  • Bottom

University of the Southwest: $395

*180-credit degree program. The other programs listed are 120-credit programs. Despite a low cost per credit, these programs are actually more expensive to complete because of the larger credit requirement.

Academic statistics: For-profits performed worse, and all had lower retention and graduation rates than our top choices. In fact, they performed on par with one of our lowest scoring schools, University of Great Falls.

Reference: National Average: 71.9% Retention / 52.8% Graduation

  • For-profit

For-profit programs contain student bodies that often do not graduate

University of Phoenix Online: 33%, 20%

Ashford University: 39%, 21%

Grand Canyon: 65%, 30%

American InterContinental: 37%, 31%

Kaplan University-Davenport: 80%, 20%

  • Top

University of Oklahoma-Norman Campus: 84%, 66%

Washington State University: 82%, 65%

  • Middle

Park University: 61%, 43% graduation

  • Bottom

University of Great Falls: 66% retention, 30% graduation

Mentions from popular rankings: For-profits received significantly less recognition compared to our favorite programs.

  • For-profit

University of Phoenix Online: No placement

Ashford University: No placement

Grand Canyon: No placement

American InterContinental: No placement

Kaplan University-Davenport: #56 US News Online Bachelor's

  • Top

Penn State: #3 US News Online Bachelor's, #93 Forbes Top Colleges, #95 Washington Monthly

  • Middle

Regent University: #21 US News Online Bachelor's, #273 Washington Monthly, has won a Sloan Consortium award for online faculty.

  • Bottom

Dallas Baptist University: #153 US News Online Bachelor's


We do not recommend for-profits

The for-profits were beat by our selected non-profits in every category except availability—where it was a tie because all these online programs enroll students from everywhere around the nation. At their expensive pricing and weaker faculties, the for-profits do not offer students a good value and would be placed with the other programs we do not recommend.