Earning a traditional or an online Ph.D. in Criminal Justice is a requirement for anyone who wants to work as a college professor or in a more advanced field within this industry. Criminal justice looks at the reasons behind criminal activities, but also at the ways in which society and law enforcement can deal with those criminals. Students working full-time jobs may need to look for online program that offers more flexibility and allows them to work in their classes around their other commitments. The most affordable online programs help those students save money while working on their degrees.

Many of the top and most affordable programs include concentrations or specializations that students can pick from based on where they want to work and what they want to do with their degrees. A criminal justice Ph.D. online program with a concentration in business administration, for example, prepares students for working in positions of authority such as taking on a management position with a government agency. Choosing a concentration in forensic science or a similar subject teaches students how to do research and follow a trail of criminal activities. The top affordable Ph.D. criminal justice online degree programs often provide students with two or more concentration choices.


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All the figures listed in this article come directly from the National Center for Education Statistics, which tracks information relating to college degree programs and schools. The data is the most recent available. Each of the 10 schools listed here offer the lowest tuition rates for online criminal justice doctoral students.

Earning a doctoral degree requires more work on the part of students, but these programs cost more too. The data we found proves that students can enroll in one of these programs for less than $14,000 a year. Some programs offer a tuition rate of less than $10,000 a year with all fees added into that cost.

We also used the National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator, which is a type of database, to identify which schools offer these programs at the best prices. The criteria used to create this list included:

  • Checking out all colleges that offer criminal justice Ph.D. programs and finding which of those programs are available online.
  • Comparing the cost of each of those programs to create a list with the more expensive programs at the top and the most affordable programs at the bottom.

Ranking Low-cost Online Criminal Justice PhD Programs

10. Capella University

Online Doctor of Philosophy in Criminal Justice

Minneapolis, Minnesota


Doctor of Philosophy in Criminal Justice - Capella University

Capella University’s online Ph.D in Criminal Justice teaches students how to become stronger and better leaders.

Average Graduate Tuition: $13,998 per year

Capella University is a unique school, because it has its headquarters in Minnesota but primarily offers online programs and courses. Founded in 1993 as The Graduate School of America, it originally offered online graduate programs and courses for doctoral students. It now has an online option for Ph.D. candidates that allows those students to earn their degrees online. The program lets students adapt their learning styles to better fit their classes, and it teaches them how to become stronger and better leaders. It offers four concentrations for students in higher education, criminology, corrections and Critical Infrastructure and Key Resources (CIKR).

9. Walden University

Online Ph.D in Criminal Justice

Minneapolis, Minnesota


Online PhD in Criminal Justice - Walden University

The online Ph.D in Criminal Justice program at Walden University is fully accredited program.

Average Graduate Tuition: $12,075 per year

Based out of Minneapolis, Walden University offers degrees at levels, but puts an emphasis on doctoral and graduate degree programs. Established in 1970 as a graduate school that offered courses for adult learners, it gradually became more popular with busy younger students as well as those right out of high school or college. The university now offers a $5,000 grant for online students who enroll in one of its degree programs, which significantly brings down their tuition costs. This program requires that students do four residencies on its campus to interact with their professors and focus more on their specific classes.

8. Colorado Technical Institute

Online Doctor of Management – Criminal Justice

Colorado Springs, Colorado


Online Doctor of Management in Criminal Justice - Colorado Technical University

Student of the Colorado Technical University online Ph.D in Criminal Justice program can enroll throughout the year.

Average Graduate Tuition: $10,540 per year

Formerly called Colorado Technical Institute and Colorado Technical College, Colorado Technical University is a for-profit university that opened in the 1960s with programs aimed towards military students. Many of the programs it offered served as vocational training programs that taught those students the skills needed to succeed after leaving the military. CTU now offers an online doctoral program in criminal justice that allows students to enroll and start classes at different points during the year. It features 96 credits of courses, including security management, current topics in computer science and information systems, quantitative research methods and principles of research methods and design.

7. Northcentral University

Online Ph.D. in Criminal Justice

San Diego, California


Ph.D. in Criminal Justice - Northcentral University

Northcentral University students in the online Ph.D in Criminal Justice program can finish their degrees in 45 months.

Average Graduate Tuition: $10,368 per year

Northcentral University is one of the only online doctoral research campuses operating on the Web today. That designation makes it clear that the university expects its doctoral candidates to do their own original research when working on their dissertations. This university offers a criminal justice program that is part of a business administration degree. It does not have a residency requirement, but it does ask students to take several classes at the same time that they do dissertation work. The program features 20 different classes that are worth a total of 60 credits. Northcentral University students can finish their degrees in 45 months.

6. California University of Pennsylvania

Online Doctor of Criminal Justice

California, Pennsylvania


Doctor of Criminal Justice - Doctor of Criminal Justice

CalU’s online Ph.D of Criminal Justice program is a two-year cohort program.

Average Graduate Tuition: $10,339 per year

California University of Pennsylvania is a public school that gets its name from the town of California, which is a small town located in Pennsylvania. Founded in 1852, Cal U started out offering bachelor’s programs before adding some master’s programs, but its first doctoral programs did not start until 2015. Its CJ doctoral program launched in July of 2017 and is a two-year cohort program designed to help students learn from their professors as well as their peers. Students enrolled in this program have the chance to complete work that will earn them credentials from the Pennsylvania Center for Criminological and Forensic Sciences.

5. Texas State University

Online Doctoral Program in Criminal Justice

San Marcos, Texas


Doctoral Program in Criminal Justice - Texas State University

Students in the online Ph.D in Criminal Justice program at Texas State University come from across the country.

Average Graduate Tuition: $9,605 per year

Texas State University is one of the largest public university systems in the state. Founded in 1899 as a normal school that offered education training programs to future teachers living in the Southwest, it later expanded to include programs on other topics, which led to it becoming both a state college and then a university. Its doctoral program accepts students from all across the country every year. Students must take some specific advanced courses in addition to working on their dissertations such as environmental criminology, criminal justice forecast and policy analysis, academic scholarship and communication and law and behavioral science.

4. Arizona State University

Online Criminology & Criminal Justice, Ph.D.

Tempe, Arizona


Criminology & Criminal Justice, Ph.D. - Arizona State University

ASU is home to one of the largest university systems in the country offering many degrees, including an online Ph.D in Criminal Justice.

Average Graduate Tuition: $8,234 per year

Arizona State University is one of the largest university systems in the country and has a total enrollment of more than 70,000 students across all of its campuses. U.S. News & World Report ranked it the most innovative university in the United States and one of the country’s top schools, and ARWU and Washington Monthly also ranked it on a national scale. ASU is home to one of the nation’s highest rated criminal justice doctoral programs too. Students take courses on criminology and research methods before taking a comprehensive exam that determines if they should remain in the program. Only after passing the exam do they begin their dissertation work.

3. Sam Houston State University

Online Ph.D. in Criminal Justice

Huntsville, Texas


Ph.D. in Criminal Justice - Sam Houston State University

Students in the Sam Houston State University online Ph.D in Criminal Justice program must complete 58 credits.

Average Graduate Tuition: $7,762 per year

Sam Houston State University ranks among the oldest colleges in Texas and in the Southwest. Founded in 1879 and named after the Texas soldier of the same name, it began life as a normal institute that only offered classes in education and teaching. As its curriculum expanded over the years, SHSU developed a strong reputation that helped it grow to an enrollment of more than 20,000 students. Students in its criminal justice program must complete 58 credits to earn a doctoral degree, but 12 of those credits come from their dissertation work. They earn credits for taking classes like administration of justice and research design too.

2. University of Nebraska Omaha

Online Ph.D. in Criminology and Criminal Justice

Omaha, Nebraska


Ph.D. in Criminology and Criminal Justice - University of Nebraska Omaha

The online Ph.D. in Criminology and Criminal Justice program at the University of Nebraska Omaha requires 36 credits of advanced work.

Average Graduate Tuition: $7,204 per year

The University of Nebraska Omaha is the main campus in this school system, which includes two other campuses in smaller cities. Founded in 1908, it is a metropolitan campus that sits in a major city. The university raised money to expand its facilities and provide more opportunities to its students. Omaha has a Ph.D. program that requires students complete 36 credits of advanced work above the graduate level. Students also work on their dissertations while taking some of those classes. The university offers students the chance to publish their dissertations and provides both online and traditional students with different financial aid and funding programs.

1. University of Maryland-University College

Online Criminal Justice Ph.D. Program

Adelphi, Maryland


Criminal Justice Ph.D. Program - University of Maryland University College

Students in the online Ph.D in Criminal Justice program at University of Maryland University College have up to five years to complete the program.

Average Graduate Tuition: $7,176 per year

The University of Maryland-University College is one of the largest schools in the state with an enrollment of more than 80,000 students. Originally founded as an extension campus run by the University of Maryland, it later split off and became a university of its own. Its Ph.D. program is open to students with a master’s or a bachelor’s degree, and those with a bachelor’s degree have the chance to earn a master’s and doctoral degree at the same time. Courses in this Ph.D. program include structural modeling, analysis of complex sample data and policy analysis. Students have up to five years to complete the program and their dissertations.

Other Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice Offerings

Michigan State University

Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice

Graduate Tuition Per Year: $14,062


University of the Rockies

Online Doctor of Psychology, Criminology and Justice Studies

Graduate Tuition Per Year: $18,336


Nova Southeastern University

Online Ph.D. in Criminal Justice

Graduate Tuition Per Year: $28,736


What Type of Careers are Available to Ph.D. Holders?

One of the common questions that many students have before enrolling in one of these programs is about the type of careers that are open to them once they graduate. Many students complete their degrees, because they want to work in colleges as professors. Professors are responsible for grading papers, assigning work, working with students and teaching classes nearly every day. Some teach three to five classes or more each semester. Colleges may require that professors continue doing research to receive tenure. Those who do not want to teach will find that they can seek work in research institutes across the country and for government agencies. These organizations hire Ph.D. holders to conduct research on subjects such as the risk factors associated with criminal behavior and what treatment options are best for repeat offenders.

How Much Do Criminal Justice Professionals Earn?

Some students may hesitate before enrolling in a criminal justice online Ph.D. program, because they think that the cost is not worthwhile. Those who weigh the cost of their education against the amount they can make later will find that it is worth the time to go back to school. Professors working for four-year public colleges can make more than $65,000 a year, and those working for private institutes have the chance to make even more. Junior and community colleges generally pay a little less. Vocational and tech schools also hire criminal justice professors with professional experience to train students on how to act and work in the field. Anyone working for a private research firm will find their salaries vary based on the need for workers.

What are Some of the Criminal Justice Disciplines?

Though criminal justice itself is a discipline or field of study, there are different disciplines available within this field. Some choose to study rehabilitation and corrections, which refers to the treatments and options offered to criminals. This can include jail or prison time as well as fines and therapy. Rehabilitation also includes the study of probation and parole programs. The law enforcement discipline focuses more on what officers do in the field. Research into law enforcement often looks at ways to increase the safety of those workers. Students can also choose to focus on subjects such as the court system, business administration or criminology. While criminal justice is essentially the study of the legal system as a whole, criminology focuses more on the reasons why criminals engage in illegal activities. Criminology courses cover risk factors, genetics and other issues that may make an individual prone to engage in these behaviors.

Is a Ph.D. Required for Government Workers?

Undergrads often enroll in criminal justice programs because they want to work for government agencies like the Department of Homeland Security, Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation. Those departments usually require that those applying for jobs have a bachelor’s degree. Some positions are only open to those with a graduate degree, but most agencies do not require that workers have a PhD. Students can get a criminal justice doctorate online while working for the government or before applying for any open position. These jobs often have other requirements such as the ability to pass a criminal background check. Applicants will usually need to pass a physical exam and a psychological exam too. They may need to take and pass multiple tests in between meeting with interview boards to get a job offer. The government will conduct a background check that looks for felonies and any other potential problems before offering an individual a job.

Do Colleges Require Doctoral Candidates Have a Master’s Degree?

Though some assume that online Ph.D. in Criminal Justice programs only admit students who already have a master’s degree, this isn’t necessarily true. A large number of schools actually have combined programs that give students the option of earning a graduate degree and then immediately making the transition to the doctoral program. Other schools give students the chance to do doctoral work while still working on a master’s degree. This is a good option for those who want to earn their degrees faster and those who want to dedicate a specific amount of time towards working on college. These programs may require that students do a thesis and then work on a dissertation just a year or two later, but there are programs with a non-thesis option that lets students take two or more extra graduate courses and skip doing a thesis.

What are Some of the Benefits of an Online Criminal Justice Ph.D.?

One major benefit of a cheap online criminal justice Ph.D. program is that it allows students to save more money on the cost of their education. Our list includes several programs priced at well under $10,000 a year that help students pay for their costs out of their own pockets or through other means. Unlike traditional programs that require students drive to the campus for classes and adviser meetings, online programs do not have any transportation expenses. A small number of programs have a residency requirement that asks students to spend time studying and working on the campus, but those schools will often help students cover the cost of their residences.

These programs have some other benefits for students too, including:

  • Giving students the chance to set their own schedules and study around all their obligations
  • Allowing students to find and use their own resources when doing work on their dissertations
  • Helping students maintain any commitments they have while in school such as caring for loved ones or working a full-time job

How Can Ph.D. Students Pay for College?

Paying for a Ph.D. is on the mind of any student thinking about applying for a spot in one of these programs to study financial aid. In addition to the cost of tuition, students may face other expenses like transportation to and from the campus for a residency, transportation to libraries and other facilities to do research and textbooks and supplies needed in their classes. Some students will also want to purchase a new computer and/or software to use for dissertation work.

Traditional criminal justice programs often offer fellowships and programs that pay students for working as research and teaching assistants. Those attending online classes will need to look at other financial aid options such as grants. Grants are available from schools as well as research groups and public or private organizations relating to the criminal justice field. Some schools offer new Ph.D. students grants worth $1,000 to $5,000 or more as an incentive to enroll. There are scholarships available for those at the doctoral level too. Students can also apply for unsubsidized loans from the government that go to students in professional and doctoral programs. The government loan program actually allows students to borrow more than the $20,500 limit that they could borrow per year in their earlier years.

What is the Future Outlook for Criminal Justice Professionals?

Outlook is a term that analysts use when determining what the future looks like for certain industries and job types. The future outlook for those with a criminal justice Ph.D. is fairly high, but the exact outlook depends on the job that individual seeks and where he or she lives. Large cities like Miami, Los Angeles and New York have a greater need for research analysts and forensic specialists who can investigate crimes and prove the certain people committed those crimes. Those cities pay more but also have a higher cost of living, which means that workers pay more of their salaries for rent, food and other expenses. Smaller towns may have a high need for professionals with criminal justice experience. As those towns receive funding and grant money to modernize facilities, the town will need people skilled in new forms of technology to run those facilities.

We hope that the information provided here helps students find the right Ph.D. programs for them. Students who have less free time and those who work full-time, but still want to work in the field and get a doctoral degree, will find a good choice in an online Ph.D in Criminal Justice.

This concludes our ranking of the Top 10 Most Affordable Online PhD in Criminal Justice Programs for 2018.

GSH Staff
January 2018