The Top Online Criminal Justice and Security Ph.D. Programs of 2024

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.

2024’s Best Online Ph.D. Programs in Criminal Justice and Security

Keiser University-Ft Lauderdale

  • Cost:
    • In-State | $31,712
    • Out-of-State | $31,712
  • Credits to Graduate: 44

Keiser University’s criminal justice doctoral program provides a foundation in criminological theory. It can prepare you to become a criminal justice practitioner and pursue a career in the courts or with law enforcement while taking just one or two classes at a time.

The curriculum explores crime intervention and prevention strategies, criminal justice policy and procedures, and ethics in criminal justice. You will complete an applied criminal justice doctoral project. The program accepts up to 18 transfer credits, requires 16 courses, and takes 20-32 months to complete.

National University

  • Cost per Credit:
    • In-State | $442
    • Out-of-State | $442
  • Credits to Graduate: 54

NU’s doctor of criminal justice program offers specializations in policing, homeland security, organizational leadership, and public administration. Students don’t need to take the GRE or GMAT to apply. Once you get accepted to the program, you also don’t need to complete a residency or worry about group projects, making it easier to complete work on your own schedule.

The curriculum includes classes like management issues in justice agencies, public budgeting and finance, and ethics and criminal justice. You must complete 18 classes, and it usually takes about 36 months to graduate.