Top 12 Online Criminal Justice and Security PhD Programs

Taken as a whole, criminal justice and security is one of the biggest, fastest-growing, and more promising career and professional sectors in the US. There are a lot of reasons for that. With modern globalization, political instability throughout the world makes security a main concern not only for government, but for business as well. The information age, especially, has added the complications of cybersecurity, safeguarding data from malicious players all over the world. And in America, an overburdened criminal justice system has created an ever-growing need for experts in crime, incarceration, and rehabilitation who can make a positive difference.

Why Get an Online Criminal Justice PhD?

Criminal justice and security is an especially accessible field, since there are very rewarding entry-level jobs available for workers with just an associate's or bachelor's degree. Some of the best-paying jobs for associate's holders are in criminal justice, in fact. But leadership positions in the field require a higher degree. A master's degree is a good starting point to administrative careers in law enforcement, cybersecurity, emergency management, and other related fields. But a doctorate provides a level of expertise that is rare, and well-compensated.

A doctorate in criminal justice, cybersecurity, or some similar concentration opens up numerous possibilities. Doctoral programs prepare working professionals in the field with the most current research and theory, as well as the analytical and problem-solving skills to apply that knowledge to real-life situations. That makes PhD criminal justice experts valuable as administrators, as researchers, as educators, and as consultants to the government or private security. Since few people attain the level of expertise a doctorate provides, those experts are in high demand – with the authority and income that come with it.

What Degree is Right for Me?

A doctoral degree in criminal justice or security can give professionals a lot of career options, some directly in the field, some in education or research. Criminal justice and security are highly interdisciplinary – they incorporate elements of law, psychology, social sciences, and information technology, among other disciplines, depending on the specialty. Because there are so many approaches to criminal justice, there are a lot of different kinds of degrees available. It's useful for prospective students to know the differences between a PhD, a Doctor of Science, and a Doctor of Professional Studies:

PhD: A traditional academic degree, a Doctor of Philosophy is usually focused on theory and research and is mainly for students who want to work as professors or researchers.

DSc: A Doctor of Science degree is an equivalent to a PhD, but usually more focused on research and technical expertise than the PhD. A DSc holder may be planning to work in the field, or as a researcher.

DPS: While PhD and DSc degrees are more academic, the Doctor of Professional Studies degree is a practitioner's degree, dedicated to higher levels of expertise in real-life problem-solving and applied knowledge. DPS holders are usually working as administrators in the field, rather than teachers or researchers.

Other degree types may offer specializations in criminal justice or security, as well, such as Doctor of Psychology or Doctor of Computer Science, but in general, you should look for the degree that corresponds to what you want to do with your career. If you're more into teaching and research, go for the PhD; if you're more interested in working in the field, a DSc or DPS is more right for you.

What Good is an Online Criminal Justice PhD?

Doctoral students tend to be working professionals in the field; after all, how would you know you want to get a PhD criminal justice program if you don't know that criminal justice is the right career for you? An online degree is a smart choice for mid-career professionals who have too much invested in their jobs to take time off for school. The online format allows students to take courses around their own schedule, finding time to do their coursework, research, and dissertation writing on their own time.

Online master's degrees in criminal justice and security are quite common, but fully online PhD and other doctorate degrees are a little more rare. It's important for working professionals who are considering a PhD criminal justice program, a PhD cybersecurity program, or some other similar degree, to find reputable programs that will be recognized and respected.

Online PhD Programs has combed the internet for a selection of the top online criminal justice PhD programs. All of the programs featured here are regionally accredited (except for one, which is accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission), the standard for reputability in the US.

Residency requirements vary for these programs; some are entirely online, while others may require a summer residency or minimal campus visits during the year.

1. Florida International University – Miami, FL

Florida International University was founded in 1965, when the Florida legislature voted for a public university in Miami, where there was no public higher education option. Clearly, the need was strong, as FIU had the largest opening student body of any university in history, and Florida International has not slowed down for more than 50 years. Today, FIU is the 4th-largest university in the nation, and has settled in as a dominant institution in Florida's most diverse metropolis. FIU has been known for its outreach to nontraditional-aged students and to minority students from the beginning, and nearly two-thirds of the university's student body identifies as Hispanic. In recent years, FIU has become known for top-ranked online degree programs, continuing its tradition of outreach.

FIU's PhD in International Crime and Justice degree is a unique program focusing global criminal justice, in keeping with FIU's international mission. With its innovative specialization, the International Crime and Justice program prepares students for academic careers and professional life in public and private justice organizations. Coursework gives students a grounding in theory, analysis, law, public policy, and other areas crucial to the complexities of worldwide criminal justice. Students can choose courses on campus or online, and students without a master's degree can be accepted, completing the master's degree simultaneously. FIU is a model of modern higher education, and the PhD criminal justice program is an opportunity few other universities can match.

Degree: PhD in International Crime and Justice

2. Nova Southeastern University – Fort Lauderdale, FL

Founded in 1964 as a small technological university, Nova Southeastern University began with the intention of creating an MIT for the South, dedicated to education and research in the latest technologies. NSU grew quickly, attracting students to its STEM and professional programs, particularly through innovative distance education programs in the 1970s. Today, Nova Southeastern continues its reputation for top-notch education and outreach, and is one of the few institutions to earn Carnegie Foundation Community Engagement Classification for its work in the community. Southeastern is also recognized as a Hispanic-Serving Institution.

Nova Southeastern's online PhD in Criminal Justice degree program upholds NSU's reputation for excellent distance education, and practical, career-ready programs. Ranked in U.S. News & World Report's top 25 online criminal justice programs, the online criminal justice PhD is an interdisciplinary program that prepares students for careers as investigators, consultants, academic researchers, and policy analysts. With specialized tracks and fully online courses, students can pursue their career goals conveniently, making the most of their online PhD criminal justice program. Nova Southeastern's reputable name gives students a worthy credential in Florida and beyond.

Degree: PhD in Criminal Justice

3. Walden University – Minneapolis, MN

One of the most recognizable names in online higher education, Walden University was founded in 1970 as an experiment in low-residency adult education. Walden began with PhD and EdD degrees for working professionals going into school administration, but its success prompted expansion into many other fields. Walden is a regionally-accredited, for-profit institution formed as a public benefit corporation – a unique sort of corporate entity dedicated to improving the lives of its workers and community. Walden was a pioneer in online education, offering the nation's first online master's of education degree in 1995, and went on to develop an international reputation for online excellence.

The Walden University online PhD in Criminal Justice builds on decades of experience in distance doctoral education, and more than two decades of expertise in online education. The online Criminal Justice PhD prepares students for high-level administrative positions in the criminal justice system, or for research roles in academic or government institutions. Seven specializations are available, including Online Teaching, Justice Administration, and Law and Public Policy, allowing students to focus their learning on their career goals. All coursework is online, with short face-to-face residencies for mentorship and support. Walden is one of the most trusted names in online education, giving PhD criminal justice students the assurance that their work will pay off.

Degree: PhD in Criminal Justice

4. New Jersey City University – Jersey City, NJ

New Jersey City University is a public institution in Jersey City, NJ, dedicated to providing career-ready programs for the state's young people and working adults. NJCU began as New Jersey's state normal school in 1927, a pioneering academic program offering three-year degrees at a time when most teacher education was just two years of hands-on training. From that foundation, NJCU developed into a highly respected regional college, with programs focused on the needs of New Jersey, from education to business, social sciences to technology. As a regional educator, NJCU makes access a priority, leading the university to develop top-notch online degree programs.

NJCU's online Doctor of Science in Civil Security Leadership, Management, & Policy was one of the first doctoral programs of its kind, dedicated to homeland security, cybersecurity, and corporate security. Students are prepared for high-level executive roles in government and private industry, or for leadership in educational settings, with a focus on combining practice and research. All coursework is fully online, though students will need to attend a a 2-week summer residency and make 4 campus visits throughout the academic year. NJCU has been an NSA/Homeland Security National Center of Academic Excellence since 2009, ensuring students of the highest level of quality and career readiness from their PhD cybersecurity program.

Degree: DSc in Civil Security Leadership, Management, & Policy

5. Dakota State University – Madison, SD

Dakota State's Doctor of Science (DSc) in Cyber Security degree program prepares students for the highest level of expertise in cybersecurity. Students learn the most current technologies and skills in data collection, reverse engineering, coding, and more to qualify for careers as professors or researchers, as well as government agents. Coursework is fully online, but three on-campus seminars are required, one for each year of the program. DSU's deep connections to agencies like the NSA, Homeland Security, and the CIA, as well as many private industry and academic laboratories, give students significant advantage on the job market.

Degree: Doctor of Science (DSc) in Cyber Security

6. Jacksonville State University – Jacksonville, AL

The JSU Doctor of Science in Emergency Management degree program is designed for people who want to do the kind of work that the CDCR does – researching, teaching, and advocating for safety. Students are steeped in the theory and practice of emergency systems, as well as research methods, technology, and management skills. Students also complete an applied research dissertation, studying a critical issue in emergency management to develop solutions and influence policy. All coursework is completed entirely online, though students must attend a week-long seminar on campus each year of the program. For students who want to research and teach in the field, Jacksonville State's online Emergency Management ScD is a smart choice.

Degree: Doctor of Science (DSc) in Emergency Management

7. Northcentral University – San Diego, CA

Founded in 1996, Northcentral University was one of the earliest fully-online universities, earning regional accreditation and accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP). Northcentral's priority, throughout its short but impressive history, has been on practical, socially-relevant programs, including education, social sciences, and business. These job market-ready, career-centered degrees have helped Northcentral build a national reputation, dedicated to one-on-one, experiential education that both prepares students for their careers, and prepares them to adapt to changes in their careers. Northcentral is particularly recognized for their commitment to crafting the most innovative, cutting-edge programs, a dedication that feeds into their Technology & Innovation Management degrees.

Northcentral's online PhD in Technology & Innovation Management offers numerous specializations, including Cybersecurity. The TIM doctorate prepares students for administrative and entrepreneurial careers as change agents, leading organizations and businesses through evolution and development. In particular, Northcentral's program focuses on using technology for innovation, with an eye toward anticipating changes, making the cybersecurity specialization particularly current. Students learn to predict and anticipate dangers from hackers and protect data from breaches and failures. Northcentral's TIM-PhD graduates have all they need to transform security with their PhD cybersecurity expertise.

Degree: PhD in Technology & Innovation Management – Cybersecurity

8. American Military University – Charles Town, WV

American Military University had its start in 1991, founded by a retired Marine Corps officer to provide quality distance education options for military personnel. The AMU experiment was a success, and by 2002 the university had grown into a system including American Public University alongside AMU. AMU converted to fully online degree programs in 1998, and today is one of the largest, most comprehensive online educators in the US. This regionally-accredited, for-profit university is regularly ranked one of the nation's top online institutions by U.S. News & World Report, and has often been named a top educator for military servicemembers and veterans.

AMU offers two fully online doctoral programs related to homeland security. The AMU online Doctor of Global Security approaches security from the perspective of international policy and affairs. Students prepare for careers as scholar-practitioners, making use of the most current research and theory to develop real-world strategies and policies for domestic and global safety. AMU's online Doctor of Strategic Intelligence degree program uses applied research to prepare students for positions as policy-makers, administrators, and expert consultants in the intelligence sector. In both cases, courses are taught by experienced professionals in the field, and an emphasis on analysis and adaptability helps ensure that graduates will be able to remain relevant in a rapidly-changing profession.

Degree: Doctor of Global Security or Doctor of Strategic Intelligence

9. St. John's University – Queens, NY

Founded in 1870, St. John's University's first home was Brooklyn, NY, but it has become better known for its work in the borough of Queens, after moving in 1955. St. John's is a private, Roman Catholic institution founded by the Vincentian Fathers, an order dedicated to social justice and education. St. John's has always continued in that spirit, operating as a diverse, welcoming university since its founding; the university has been commended by the Chronicle of Higher Education for its impact on social mobility, and for the high rate of producing minority graduates in the health sciences. St. John's emphasis on practical professional education in areas like law, business, and health has helped the university have a positive effect on both students' lives, and the community.

St. John's online Doctor of Professional Studies in Homeland Security degree program prepares mid-career, working professionals for leadership positions in homeland security and related agencies. St. John's helped originate doctoral degrees in homeland security, and their program remains one of the most comprehensive in the nation. The Professional Studies doctorate builds on a foundation of research, theory, and multidisciplinary knowledge to develop analytical and problem-solving skills. Students are qualified for high-ranking positions in government agencies, security contractors, consulting, and academic research. Courses are available fully online, with a yearly 1-week residency.

Degree: Doctor of Professional Studies in Homeland Security

10. Capitol Technology University – Laurel, MD

Capitol Technology University is a regionally-accredited, comprehensive institution focused entirely on technology. Beginning in 1927 as a radio engineering school, CTU originally trained technicians and engineers in the most cutting-edge technology – radio and electronics. Over the next 90 years, CTU turned that foundation, and its location in metropolitan Washington, DC, into a top-notch STEM college, developing relationships with NASA and other government agencies for support and graduate placement. In 2010, CTU offered their first doctorate, in information assurance, and today CTU is recognized as a National Center of Academic Excellence by the NSA and Department of Homeland Security.

The CTU online Doctorate in Cybersecurity degree program was the first doctoral program of its kind, and remains a standard for terminal degrees in information assurance and cybersecurity. With its distance format, students can keep their current careers while earning their degree, and CTU's relationships with the defense and security sectors of DC give the school access to some of the best faculty and partners possible. CTU is also exceptionally military-friendly, including 50% tuition reduction for active-duty Maryland National Guard personnel. Affordability and a proven network of opportunity for graduates make CTU one of the strongest PhD cybersecurity opportunities in the nation.

Degree: Doctorate (DSc) in Cybersecurity

11. University of Fairfax – Roanoke, VA

A non-profit distance education school based in Roanoke, VA, the University of Fairfax was founded by education entrepreneur Victor Berlin in 2002 to meet the need for information security professionals. From the very beginning, Fairfax's focus has been on cybersecurity, growing from bachelor's degrees to master's and doctorate degrees by 2007. As a fully online college, the University of Fairfax has no campus; students work directly with professors through online coursework and direct digital communication. Fairfax has been accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) since 2012.

The University of Fairfax online Doctorate of Information Assurance (DIA) degree is a fully online program dedicated to cybersecurity. Students learn from expert faculty with experience working in the field, and working through the program in a cohort format allows students to build supportive relationships with their classmates. The DIA program prepares students with a project-based approach, encouraging students to do practical work that can have real professional applications right away. Students also receive a great deal of dissertation support through well-planned, manageable milestone tasks. It's a convenient, reputable PhD cybersecurity program from a school that knows the topic inside and out.

Degree: Doctorate of Information Assurance (DIA)

12. California University of Pennsylvania – California, PA

Founded in 1852, California University of Pennsylvania began as an academy to educate the children and youth of the new town of California, PA, which had just been founded and named in 1849 (when enthusiasm for the California Gold Rush was at its highest). Within a few years, the academy had become a normal school, training teachers for the school system. Today, CalU is a public regional university focused on the career and professional needs of Pennsylvanians, with a particular focus on practical, market-ready programs at a low tuition rate. CalU has been consistently named a top regional college by the Princeton Review, and has especially been noted for its quality online programs.

CalU's online Doctor of Criminal Justice degree program was the first of its kind in the US, providing students with a professional doctorate focused on preparing students for high-level positions in the criminal justice system. Unlike an academic PhD, the DCJ focuses on practice rather than research, strengthening leadership, analysis, policy-making, and evaluation skills for administrators, executives, and consultants. The degree can be completed in just two years of part-time study, with fully-online courses along with two 5-day summer residencies. This pioneering, field-shaping PhD criminal justice degree is a recognized value for graduates.

Degree: Doctor of Criminal Justice