Not All Criminal Justice Schools Are Created Equally

In the off-line and online arena not all criminal justice schools are created equally. There is no mystical formula that brought me to this assertion, but there are hard facts that stood the test of time, especially when it comes to online education. You see, there are academic institutions out there that are very for-profit. Their main concern is how much money they make and not how many well-educated students they graduate. It is my opinion that this phenomenon is very well visible in the online world and much less visible off-line.

There are literally thousands of universities, colleges and other learning institutions, that offer degree programs, courses, and certificates. With the proliferation of the Internet these academic institutions started to become very competitive. Notice that when you search for terms like: online education, online university, online college, criminal justice online, criminal justice degree online, and other similar terms, that you are inundated with hundreds of offers from many great and not so great institutions.

If you are looking to start your career in law enforcement, go into the academic side of criminal justice, or venture into other CJ arenas, then you should consider your education to be one of the most important factors. This education should be filled with as much exploration as possible, yet affordable. Your college studies should be very interesting, engaging, and challenging. However, not all schools can do that. It takes a different breed of school to achieve those feats and the majority of online education institutions cannot deliver.

Several questions should be instilled in your mind when considering online education:

  • Which institution is going to give me the best bang for my buck?
  • Is the school I want to attend accredited nationally or regionally?
  • Will my degree be recognized anywhere in the nation and overseas? – Meaning, will individuals and organizations know where I graduated from and accept my diploma’s credibility?
  • Is it a fly-by-night type of school?
  • Should I go to a public criminal justice school or a private criminal justice school?

An honest assertion needs to be made when selecting the type of school you would like to go to. You should pull out all the stops and make sure that the decision you are making is really the right decision. Consider the following to be the making or breaking points of your decision-making process:

1.  It is not true that academic institutions that cost more are really better educational venues. Private universities set their own prices in their curriculum and may seem like the program is out of this world, but in reality, many public universities are the ones that are able to provide better education. Public colleges and universities in the criminal justice arena like University of Cincinnati, Pennsylvania State University and Michigan State University are very well known for their brick-and-mortar presence. However, these same institutions are not very visible in the online criminal justice circle, even though they offer Criminal Justice degrees online. The only exceptions to this rule are the great private colleges and universities that are also well-known brick-and-mortar universities. The reason I make this point is because there are close to 100 privately owned universities and colleges that smear the image of online education. It’s not because they are private*, but more because they are for-profit; often spending a much larger budget on advertising than the education. In the end, it is very hard to distinguish which school is really good for you.

* Keep in mind:

Both Public and Private colleges and universities can be excellent, and that not all Private schools are expensive. The distinction between the school should be focused less on whether it’s Public or Private, bur rather if it’s for-profit or not-for-profit.

  • The US Public colleges and universities are universally not-for profit
  • Many great Private colleges and universities – like Stanford University or Boston University (school I attended) – are not-for-profit
  • And, there are still Private schools, like University of Phoenix or Kaplan University, that are for-profit

A lot of people choose Private schools because of the caliber of education they can expect. But not all Private schools have high academic standards. I want to make that clear.

Also, “not-for-profit” is not the same as “non-profit” — you can Google the difference, if you would like.


2.  Accreditation is one of the most important things you need to worry about when selecting your criminal justice university or college online. My rule of thumb, when it comes to educational institutions both online and off, is that the institution is accredited regionally. Regional accreditation is one of the best ways of knowing that your school is not serving up damaged goods. While you search for your criminal justice program online, you will find that many universities are accredited. However, accreditation doesn’t mean anything. There are plenty of those that are accredited, but they only maybe accredited locally or statewide. This is not good if you’re going to be looking for a job or farther education out-of-state or out of the country.

3.  That brings us to the degree recognition fiasco. Will my degree be recognized everywhere? This depends on a couple things. First, is the accreditation mentioned above. Second, is the prominence and prestige of the educational institution you are planning on attending. If you go to some online university, which is not well known in the criminal justice field, both nationally and internationally, then you are setting yourself for possible problems that may be detrimental to your career seeking, career advancement, or farther educational pursuit. You want to go to a university or college which has a great track record in education.

4.  How do you determine if your school is a fly-by-night type of deal? You would be very surprised to how many schools there are online that have no business to exist in the education field. Trust me, they are there. If you don’t know how to spot them, let me help you. They are the type of schools that offer a degree choice to the students for little or no work at all. They are the type of schools that offer life experience credit. I know some of you might be very immersed in the criminal justice field, and would like your experience to count towards your graduation credits. However, I personally don’t advise going to a school that offers such a deal. In the end it may cost you more than your hard earned money. It may cost you precious time, career opportunities, promotions, and farther academic advancement.

My best recommendation, which will help you avoid any unnecessary dilemma, is to research each college or university you plan on attending, thoroughly. Don’t pick the easy school over the harder school. Lookout for scams or lures. And last but not least, make sure that you have some spare change left after you finish your schooling. All these steps plus an ounce of common sense will aid you in your journey to obtaining your criminal Justice degree. Good luck!

Article written by Radek Gadek

Radek holds a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice from Boston University. He is currently doing consulting work and runs this blog to provide relevant information on criminal justice degrees, colleges and related careers.

3 comments… add one
  • Rich

    Great post, lots of good information here. I’ll be finishing up my B.S. in May and I’ve been researching online options for an M.S. tons of resources on here, Thanks!

  • maryoline

    To start of, i’m going to tell you I’m a hispanic female. My mom came here illegally from Honduras in Central America, but is now a US citizen. Right now, I’m only 14, but I want to prepare for the criminal justice program. I would like some advice on courses I should and shouldn’t take or if I should learn another language in particular besides spanish. I want to be able to help other people around the country by being an FBI agent, but I don’t want to be border patrol or in the tobacco and forearms agency. We don’t have a lot of money, but I am hoping to get a scholarship to go to a good university. If not, I will pay for my own tuition at a State University, but I would like some recommendation on courses,universities, or degrees to get.
    Please, anything would be helpful.
    Thank You.

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