#1 Washington State University

Department Information

Simply put, why is this school #1? It had the best department quality score out of 107 programs. This includes:

  1. The 9th highest graduation rate and 12th highest retention rate.
  2. Placement on every ranking we selected from US News, Forbes, and Washington Monthly.
  3. An active chapter of the Alpha Phi Sigma honor society, criminal justice clubs, an academic consultant specific to the major, and a dedicated career counselor exclusive to online students.

WSU clearly showed the best effort in answering our questions

Emily Chandler, WSU's online admissions counselor, gave us the most informative and sincere phone response during our entire survey. It was clear she didn't read off a script, and when she felt our questions required better answers, she connected us with two other colleagues: Chris, the career counselor, and Heather, the criminal justice academic consultant.

We continued our discussion with Emily over a series of emails, and she explained what makes WSU great,

“Our online courses are taught by the same permanent faculty and advanced doctoral candidates that also teach on WSU's main campus. The faculty members have reported that they often feel that they are in touch with their global campus students just as often or more often than their on campus counterparts. Students that are a part of our Criminal Justice program are also a part of our College of Arts and Sciences. Among these faculty are elected fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the American Physical Society, the American Chemical Society, the Materials Research Society, recipients of Guggenheim fellowships, and more.”

And she confirmed that this is the same degree you receive on their campus:

“If you were to earn your degree from the Global Campus, your diploma would appear the same as an on campus student.”

They were also the only program to refer us to their career counselor

Chris Miller, the Global Campus career counselor, responded to our question about employment,

Like many schools, we don't track undergraduate employment stats, so I'm only able to offer anecdotal information.  I have helped many criminal justice students with many career development issues in the past.  Some look for work with local law enforcement, federal careers, social services positions, and with positions unrelated to the criminal justice field.  Online students have access to the same resources as campus students, but we also have specific events for online students (online career fair and online career webinars).  Some of the available resources are the main job posting board for the university, alumni career network, and career counseling.

What else did we like?

Any drawbacks?

  • Higher than median tuition. WSU's price per credit hour is $570,  well above the median price of $365 for all the other criminal justice programs.
  • This program is not certified by the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences. However, this is not necessary for any form of employment (other programs however, like Penn State, have been certified in this area).

#2 Arizona State University

Department Information

  • Evaluation Score: 11/13,  Email Rating: A (3), Quality Rating: B (8)
  • Tuition: $480/credit (for both in-state and out-of-state)
  • Department Website: http://ccj.asu.edu/
  • Faculty Page: Link

What we really liked

  1. At $480/credit, it's more affordable than WSU or Penn State.
  2. The program is a part of ASU Online, which ranked #9 on US News Online Bachelor's list.
  3. Their faculty includes the editor of Justice Quarterly, a previous Arizona State Legislature Representative, and an associate that is a current general in the Arizona Army and Air National.
  4. The degree combines criminal justice with criminology, so students get a chance to focus on both disciplines.

How was their response? We got a hold of Professor Scott Decker, and he told us in his email response what made ASU a top criminal justice program:

Online classes are taught by the same faculty that instruct on campus. Full time professors, adjunct faculty and lecturers. Many of the special topic courses have career professionals instructing, which adds to the  academic course requirements and provides a variety of instruction. In addition to our top-rated faculty, our program uses our graduate students as online Teaching Assistants to promote student interaction and lively discussions.”

He then gave some examples of where ASU graduates end up.

Since I have been the assistant director students have secured employment with a variety of federal agencies, including the FBI, DEA, Attorney General, Federal Probation, Bureau of Prisons and ICE. In addition to these agencies are graduates that have found employment in a variety of state, county and local municipalities.”

We did not feel ASU provided as strong phone response as WSU

We also spoke on the phone with Laeken, an enrollment counselor, and she confirmed that ASU's criminal justice curriculum taught online is the same as the one taught on campus. This curriculum is multipurpose and is designed for both the full time student and the full time working professional.

She specifically described that one big benefit of picking ASU's criminal justice program department is their career services, which includes resources dedicated towards the development of cover letters and resumes, careers fairs, mock interview opportunities, and an online webinar to help students get employed.

What we did not like: ASU has not won a Sloan Consortium award yet. By comparison, WSU and Penn State are both previous winners. Also, while we did receive an email response from Scott Decker and spoke with an enrollment counselor on the phone, we felt we were better accommodated by WSU's advisors. When we spoke with Laeken on the phone, she did not go out of her way to connect us with anyone deeper in the program, such as a professor or department consultant, and we connected with Professor Decker on our own behalf.

#3 Sam Houston State University

Department Information

What we really liked

  1. It had the highest department quality score out of any program in the South.
  2. At $384/credit, it's the least expensive program that made our final group. Compared to WSU at $570/credit, it's a competitive deal.
  3. Associate professor Gaylene Armstrong provided the most thorough email response out of any other department.
  4. Faculty includes a two-time top Female Academic Star in Criminology, the Director of the Southeast Texas Applied Forensic Science Facility, and an individual who created online learning courses for Texas peace officers.

How was their response? Associate professor Gaylene Armstrong explained in her email why Sam Houston is the best in Texas:

Sam Houston gave us the best professor response out of any department 

We have the top Criminal Justice program in the state of Texas.  SHSU is known for its Criminal Justice program and the program is very well known around the globe.  We have individuals that come from all over the world to study here in COCJ and we also have a variety of training institutes housed within the Criminal Justice Center as well.  The Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas and The Correctional Management Institute of Texas are within our building and we have officials from a variety of countries that attend our seminars and classes for professional development/training opportunities.  Our alumni base is very large too, so you'd have a lot of networking opportunities.”

Armstrong describes a very diverse faculty:

We have the same pool of faculty for our online and face-to-face classes.  Some of the instructors have obtained tenure and are full-time professors at the university and other instructors are referred to as adjunct professors (which means they work or have worked in the field of criminal justice and teach on the side).  Our faculty come from all over the nation and even some outside of the United States, so our students are introduced to a variety of teaching styles and backgrounds.

We then asked where do Sam Houston graduates end up working and she said:

“Once our students graduate, they go into a variety of fields.  Some of our students have gone into law enforcement, victim advocacy, corrections, parole, probation, etc.”

And unlike other departments, she also provided some fantastic external references to read up on real alumni and what they're up to

What we didn't like: SHSU has a graduation rate below the national average. The university also did not place as well as WSU, Penn State, or ASU on national rankings.

*Normally we penalized all schools falling below this threshold, but we made an exception for Sam Houston because of its strong regional reputation and our confidence in its program after speaking with professor Gaylene Armstrong.

#4 Penn State World Campus

Department Information

What we really liked

  1. Highest graduation and retention rate. An incredible 85% and 92%, respectively.
  2. They have a great reputation that includes impressively high placements on national rankings. The World Campus made #3 on US News Online Bachelor's list—higher than any other school offering a criminal justice program.
  3. Their faculty includes a former probate court judge and winner of the Coramae R. Mann Award.
  4. They offer a minor in homeland security.

How was their response? We first spoke with Matthew Miller, an admissions advisor, over email. We asked what types of students should enroll in the World Campus and he responded:

If you want to become a leader, whether in law enforcement, security management, corrections, court administration, or crime prevention, this degree program is for you.”

We then asked him about any differences in the online program versus campus:

“There is no difference. The instructors and professors are also teaching in-person classes at a PSU campus. Your degree and diploma are the same as earned on campus.”

We had a few more questions and he referred us to one of their professors, Shaun Gabbidon. We asked him where their graduates end up:

“They are in all areas of criminal justice (police, courts, corrections) and some are now in graduate school”

And he explained how their programs compare to others:

Penn State is still a great program for those in residing in the northeast region

“We are a solid program. We have a nice balance of former workers in the field and also faculty who have not worked in the field. Our curriculum is diverse and focuses on all the areas of criminal justice. The same faculty who teach the residential courses designed the online courses. Penn State has an impeccable reputation around the world for its quality programs.”

What we didn't like so much: Penn State's higher than median tuition of $518/credit was a drawback, although it is still more affordable than WSU. There are less internship resources than the programs which scored higher.