15 Best Criminal Justice Associate Degrees 2021

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Criminal justice associate degrees provide a solid foundation in areas like criminal law, juvenile justice, and homeland security. The degree offers excellent job prospects: The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 17% job growth for social service case managers and 10% job growth for paralegals and legal assistants between 2019 and 2029, much higher than growth projection for all occupations.

A criminal justice associate degree can be a promising stepping stone to a criminal justice career. Some students who complete an associate in criminal justice begin the job search process right after graduation, while others choose to pursue an additional two years of schooling to earn a bachelor’s degree in the field.

The rankings below include detailed descriptions of the best associate in criminal justice programs. This page also discusses why prospective students may choose an associate in criminal justice, potential careers in the field for graduates, and how to choose the right criminal justice program.

Top 10 Best Criminal Justice Schools

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Why Get an Associate Degree in Criminal Justice? 

Criminal justice is the interdisciplinary academic study of law enforcement, criminal courts, correctional facilities, and juvenile justice agencies.

An associate in criminal justice prepares learners for entry-level positions in law enforcement, forensic science, and legal assistance.

Studying full time, an associate in criminal justice typically takes two years to complete, enabling graduates to secure jobs and earn salaries more quickly than those opting for bachelor’s degrees. Below, we describe three key benefits of earning an associate in criminal justice:

Variety of Careers
Graduates qualify for a variety of well-paying and rewarding criminal justice associate degree jobs, including police officer, paralegal, forensic science technician, and social and human service assistant.
Increased Salary Potential
Criminal justice jobs are often in demand and offer competitive salaries.
Possibility of Credit Transfer
Most four-year colleges and universities allow criminal justice associate degree-holders to apply the 60 course credits from an associate degree toward a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.

Criminal Justice Associate Versus Bachelor’s Degrees

Prospective criminal justice students may wonder how an associate in criminal justice differs from a bachelor’s. Associate degrees in criminal justice are usually shorter and more succinct than bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice. This condensed format may appeal to prospective learners who cannot commit to a four-year degree or who want to save on their bachelor’s by taking an associate degree at a community college and then transferring to a four-year college.

The table below highlights the key differences between a bachelor’s and an associate in criminal justice.

Comparing Associate and Bachelor’s Degrees 

Criminal Justice Associate DegreeCriminal Justice Bachelor’s Degree
Degree RequirementA high school degreeA high school degree
Minimum Unweighted GPA2.0 or higher2.0 or higher
Program Length2 years4 years
Number of Credits60 credits120 credits
Available OnlineYesYes
Possibility of SpecializingYesYes
Read More About Criminal Justice Bachelor's Programs

The Top Associate in Criminal Justice Schools of 2021

This guide includes a ranking of the best 15 criminal justice associate degree programs for 2021. See the link below for more about our methods for assessing schools.

  • What the Best Criminal Justice Programs Have in Common

    Each person’s college experience is unique, but the best associate in criminal justice programs share many common characteristics. Below, we outline some factors often found at the top schools.

    • They are accredited. Accreditation measures school quality by assessing quality of academic programs, faculty credentials, and student services. Earning a degree from a regionally accredited college makes it easier to transfer credit to another school or qualify for financial aid. All the criminal justice associate degree programs on our list hold regional accreditation. Look for the following accrediting agencies when choosing a college.
      • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
      • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
      • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
    • They offer strong academic programs. We measure academic strength by looking at student retention rate, number of full-time faculty, and student-to-faculty ratio. High-quality colleges prioritize hiring enough professors and keeping classes small. For example, SUNY College of Technology at Alfred features an 18-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio. Choosing a strong academic program ensures you get the education you need to succeed in criminal justice.
    • They are reputable. Reputability includes the percentage of applicants admitted, average earnings of graduates after six years, and admissions yield. Choosing a reputable school signifies quality and indicates what type of education you can expect. For example, LaGuardia Community College ranked fifth among colleges in fostering economic mobility, according to a Chronicle of Higher Education Study.
    • They are affordable. We measure affordability by assessing the percentage of students who receive financial aid, the amount of aid awarded, and average price. Affordability is important because many learners either cannot or do not want to take on massive debt to earn a degree. At CUNY Kingsborough Community College, two out of three students attend tuition-free and three out of four graduate without debt.

  1. CUNY Kingsborough Community College
    Location

    Brooklyn, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Founded in 1962 in Brooklyn, CUNY Kingsborough Community College is one of 25 City University of New York colleges serving 275,000 students.

    Criminal Justice AA

    KCC offers a 60-credit criminal justice associate degree that takes two years to complete. The on-campus program is a joint effort from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the CUNY Justice Academy. The degree provides a foundation in criminal law, criminal investigations, victim rights, and the criminal justice system.

    Major requirements include classes like American government and politics, the American legal system, corrections and sentencing, and minorities and the criminal justice system. Students develop communication, critical thinking, and analytical skills. Criminal justice majors gain access to support services like career development assistance, IT help, and access to library resources.

    Applying to KCC

    Applicants (unless exempt) must pass the CUNY assessment tests in reading, writing, and ACCUPLACER CUNY assessment test in math, or complete developmental courses.

    Program at a Glance

    • School Type: Public
    • Accreditation: MSCHE
    • Tuition: $2,400/semester (in state); $320/credit (out of state)
    • Required Credits: 60 credits
    • Program Length: 2 years
    • Delivery Format: On campus
  2. Northeast Mississippi Community College
    Location

    Booneville, MI

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    A comprehensive public community college, Northeast Mississippi Community College in Booneville serves 3,600 students. Established in 1948, the space-grant institution offers a variety of associate degrees and professional certificates.

    Criminal Justice AA

    Northeast's criminal justice associate degree prepares graduates for careers in law enforcement and future education opportunities. Graduates can transfer to a variety of four-year partner institutions with the first two years of their bachelor's degree already complete.

    The division of social, behavioral, and applied sciences offers the two-year, 62-credit program. The program requires 32 general education credits and major classes like administration of criminal justice, criminal investigation, criminal law, and juvenile justice. Learners must earn a minimum 2.0 GPA to graduate. The college offers support services like a student success center, library resources, and financial aid.

    Applying to Northeast

    Applicants must hold a high school diploma, GED certificate, or equivalent. Northeast also requires ACT/SAT scores for applicants under the age of 21.

    Program at a Glance

    • School Type: Public
    • Accreditation: SACSCOC
    • Tuition: $1,735/semester (in state); $3,300/semester (out of state)
    • Required Credits: 62 credits
    • Program Length: 2 years
    • Delivery Format: On campus
  3. SUNY College of Technology at Alfred
    Location

    Alfred, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Part of the State University of New York system, SUNY College of Technology at Alfred offers more than 80 associate and bachelor's degrees to more than 3,700 learners. The college features 100 student clubs and $4 million in merit-based scholarships.

    Criminal Justice AS

    Alfred State's social and behavioral sciences department offers an associate in criminal justice that develops critical thinking and communication skills. The curriculum emphasizes practical, career-relevant skills and knowledge with a focus on management issues in criminal justice. Notable courses include abnormal psychology; policing in a free society; power, privilege, and difference; and an introduction to law.

    The 60-credit, two-year program prepares students for careers in law enforcement, juvenile and adult parole and probation, private investigations, and criminology. Graduates can also transfer to Alfred State's bachelor's program in criminal justice after earning their associate degree.

    Applying to Alfred State

    Applicants must hold a high school diploma or its equivalent. Alfred State prefers prospective students with an overall high school average of 75. The college evaluates each applicant holistically.

    Program at a Glance

    • School Type: Public
    • Accreditation: MSCHE
    • Tuition: $7,070/semester (in state); $11,040/semester (out of state)
    • Required Credits: 60 credits
    • Program Length: 2 years
    • Delivery Format: On campus
  4. Olney Central College
    Location

    Olney, IL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Founded in 1963, Olney Central College in Olney, Illinois, offers more than 100 certificate, degree, and transfer degree programs. Four of the college's sports teams participate in the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I level.

    Administration of Justice AAS

    Created for pre-service and in-service officers, OCC's criminal justice associate degree prepares students for careers in correctional facilities, private enforcement agencies, police departments, and the courts. The 60-credit, two-year program requires classes like first aid and safety education, police report writing, substance abuse issues, and fundamentals of effective speaking.

    Criminal justice majors can apply for a variety of financial aid opportunities, including scholarships, grants, and student loans. OCC also offers support resources like an academic success center, the Anderson Library, tutoring, and career services. Learners can participate in a variety of student clubs, OCC athletics, and campus arts and culture.

    Applying to OCC

    OCC's open admission policy welcomes all applicants age 17 and older with a high school diploma or its equivalent. Applicants must submit a completed application, standardized test scores, and official high school and/or college transcripts.

    Program at a Glance

    • School Type: Public
    • Accreditation: HLC
    • Tuition: $100/credit (in district); $278/credit (out of district); $342/credit (out of state)
    • Required Credits: 60 credits
    • Program Length: 2 years
    • Delivery Format: On campus
  5. SUNY College of Technology at Delhi
    Location

    Delhi, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    A public college in Delhi, New York, SUNY College of Technology at Delhi emphasizes applied learning. The school offers more than 60 career-focused, hands-on programs in subjects like construction management, business administration, and veterinary science.

    Criminal Justice Studies AA

    SUNY Delhi's associate in criminal justice program provides a foundation in the criminal justice system. Students receive internship opportunities and training exercises with local law enforcement agencies like the Delaware County Sheriff's Department, the university police, and the Delhi Police Department.

    The 62-credit, two-year program requires classes like criminal evidence and procedure, criminal law, civil liberties, and corrections. The faculty features experienced criminal justice professionals. The program prepares graduates for entry-level jobs in areas like policing, probation, the courts, and child protective services. Many criminal justice graduates from SUNY Delhi earn their bachelor's degrees and pursue law school eventually.

    Applying to SUNY Delhi

    Applicants must hold a 75 high school GPA with a Regents diploma or a minimum 2.0 GPA for transfer students. The program recommends that prospective students complete prerequisite coursework in geometry, algebra, and biology.

    Program at a Glance

    • School Type: Public
    • Accreditation: MSCHE
    • Tuition: $295/credit (in state); $452/credit (out of state)
    • Required Credits: 62 credits
    • Program Length: 2 years
    • Delivery Format: On campus
  6. Lewis and Clark Community College
    Location

    Godfrey, IL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Located in Godfrey, Illinois, Lewis and Clark Community College encompasses multiple campuses, a training center, a river research center, and community education centers across seven counties.

    Criminal Justice AAS

    Designed for both pre-service and currently employed criminal justice professionals, L&C's criminal justice associate degree offers two levels of entry: a standard 60-credit, two-year program for pre-service individuals and a 30-credit option for more experienced enrollees. The curriculum focuses on issues like the constitutional limitations of surveillance, effective patrolling during civil disturbances, and proper courtroom procedures.

    Students must complete all major requirements with a grade of C or better. Notable courses include the juvenile offender, crime prevention and patrol techniques, corrections law, and criminology. The program also offers a criminal justice internship that students can take for elective credit.

    Applying to L&C

    Applicants need a high school diploma, GED certificate, or equivalent. Admission requirements include a completed application, official transcripts, ACT or SAT scores, and college placement tests for applicants who graduated from high school more than three years ago.

    Program at a Glance

    • School Type: Public
    • Accreditation: HLC
    • Tuition: $125/credit (in district); $375/credit (out of district); $500/credit (out of state)
    • Required Credits: 60 credits
    • Program Length: 2 years
    • Delivery Format: On campus
  7. Central Wyoming College
    Location

    Riverton, WY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    A two-year public college located in Riverton, Central Wyoming College owns Wyoming PBS, the state's only public television network. Founded in 1966, CWC offers 40 academic programs.

    Criminal Justice AA or AAS

    CWC offers an associate in criminal justice program with the option to earn either a 60-credit AA or 61-credit AAS. Students planning to transfer to a four-year bachelor's program usually choose the AA, while the AAS serves as a terminal degree and meets the needs of pre-service and in-service criminal justice professionals.

    The program focuses on criminal justice law and theory, court systems, and forensics. Degree-seekers develop critical thinking, communication, problem-solving, and ethical decision-making skills. The interdisciplinary curriculum includes coursework in politics and the judicial process, law enforcement, corrections, and criminal justice research.

    Applying to CWC

    An open-enrollment school, CWC requires applicants to submit high school or GED/HISET and college transcripts along with a complete online application form.

    Program at a Glance

    • School Type: Public
    • Accreditation: HLC
    • Tuition: $4,500/year (in state); $10,440/year (out of state)
    • Required Credits: 60-61 credits
    • Program Length: 2 years
    • Delivery Format: On campus
  8. CUNY LaGuardia Community College
    Location

    Long Island City, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Founded in 1971, LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City, New York, offers over 60 majors. The school enrolls more than 33,500 students from 158 countries and who speak 89 different languages.

    Criminal Justice AS

    LaGuardia's social science department offers a 60-credit criminal justice associate degree that serves as excellent preparation for an entry-level career in criminal justice. Graduates also qualify for guaranteed admission to the John Jay College of Criminal Justice bachelor's in criminal justice program, and can earn a four-year degree after completing an additional 60 credits.

    The curriculum includes courses like U.S. power and politics, corrections and sentencing, crime and justice in urban society, and philosophy of law. LaGuardia partners with the New York Police Department (NYPD) on the Academic Preparation Program for Law Enforcement Corps, an initiative that creates pathways for students to launch public service careers at the NYPD.

    Applying to LaGuardia

    LaGuardia requires prospective students to submit an online application, high school diploma and transcripts or GED/TASC diploma and scores, and an application fee.

    Program at a Glance

    • School Type: Public
    • Accreditation: MSCHE
    • Tuition: $4,800/year (in state); $9,600/year (out of state)
    • Required Credits: 60 credits
    • Program Length: 2 years
    • Delivery Format: On campus
  9. County College of Morris
    Location

    Randolph, NJ

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    A public community college in Randolph, New Jersey, County College of Morris offers 45 associate degree programs and more than 200 transfer agreements with four-year universities in and out of the state.

    Criminal Justice AS

    CCM's associate in criminal justice program offers specialized tracks in areas like policing (including internships), computer forensics, arson investigation, and homeland security. With a criminal justice associate degree, jobs open up in county and state corrections; local, county, and state police agencies; private security; and probation and parole.

    Students take classes like public safety careers, police and the community, criminal law and procedure, and criminology. CCM's criminal justice department offers transfer agreements with at least seven four-year institutions, including Rutgers, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Fairleigh Dickinson University, and West Virginia University.

    Applying to CCM

    Applicants must hold a high school diploma or GED certificate and submit ACT/SAT scores (exemptions available). Some prospective students may need to complete a placement test.

    Program at a Glance

    • School Type: Public
    • Accreditation: MSCHE
    • Tuition: $177/credit (in county); $288/credit (out of county); $414/credit (out of state)
    • Required Credits: 60-62 credits
    • Program Length: 2 years
    • Delivery Format: On campus or hybrid
  10. Northwest College
    Location

    Powell, WY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    A public community college in Powell, Wyoming, Northwest College awards more than $5 million in scholarships and grants each year. Its students choose from 45 transfer degrees, 19 technical degrees, and 22 certificates.

    Criminal Justice AA or AAS

    NWC offers two options for earning a criminal justice associate degree: an AA for those planning to transfer to a bachelor's program, or an AAS for those seeking immediate entry-level employment. The AA and AAS both require 60 credits in classes like emergency management, criminal justice, criminal justice ethics, and sociological principles.

    Criminal justice majors may qualify for a Wyoming Works grant, a state program that provides financial assistance to Wyoming residents for in-demand technical programs. Jobs for criminal justice associate degrees from NWC include probation officer, crime scene investigator, and police patrol officer.

    Applying to NWC

    Applicants need a high school diploma or GED certificate and ACT, SAT, or Compass scores.

    Program at a Glance

    • School Type: Public
    • Accreditation: HLC
    • Tuition: $99/credit (in state); $297/credit (out of state)
    • Required Credits: 60 credits
    • Program Length: 2 years
    • Delivery Format: On campus

Jobs for Criminal Justice Associate Degree Graduates

Graduates with an associate in criminal justice can pursue a variety of rewarding careers. For many occupations in the field, The BLS reports median annual salaries higher than the national median of $39,810. For example, the median salary for paralegals was $51,740 as of 2019, and the median wage for forensic science technicians was $59,150 as of 2019.

Criminal justice professionals who earn licenses and certifications in their areas of expertise can expect even higher annual earnings.

Below we provide details about potential careers for criminal justice associate degree-holders, including police officer, paralegal, social service case manager, and forensic science technician.

  • Police Officer

    Typical job duties for a police officer include responding to emergency calls, patrolling areas within their district, obtaining warrants, and arresting suspects.

    • Required Education: Varies from a high school diploma to a college degree
    • Job Outlook (2019-29): +5%
    • Median Annual Salary: $65,170

  • Paralegal

    Paralegals help lawyers prepare for hearings, trials, and settlements in legal cases. Typical job duties include gathering evidence and affidavits for attorney review, drafting letters and legal documents, and scheduling meetings and depositions with clients and witnesses.

    • Required Education: Associate degree
    • Job Outlook (2019-29): +10%
    • Median Annual Salary: $51,740

  • Social Service Case Manager

    Social service workers specializing in criminal justice provide assistance to people with court orders, including probationers and recovering addicts. Typical job duties include helping clients complete applications for degrees, jobs, or assistance programs; working with social workers, psychologists, or probation officers to coordinate client services; and checking in with clients to ensure that they continue to receive the services they are entitled to.

    • Required Education: An associate or bachelor’s degree
    • Job Outlook (2019-29): +17%
    • Median Annual Salary: $67,150

  • Forensic Science Technician

    Forensic science technicians work in laboratories or on crime scenes, collecting and analyzing evidence. Typical job duties include collecting crime scene evidence, such as fingerprints, bodily fluids, and weapons; taking photos of crime scenes and evidence; and performing chemical and biological analyses of criminal evidence.

    • Required Education: Associate or bachelor’s degree
    • Job Outlook (2019-29): +14%
    • Median Annual Salary: $59,150

Explore Criminal Justice Careers

What To Expect From Associate in Criminal Justice Programs

Criminal justice associate programs typically take two years to finish. Students complete 60 credits of coursework offering a foundational exploration of theoretical and practical criminal justice concerns. Some classes ask students to consider the history and efficacy of the legal and correctional institutions in the U.S., and others teach learners the real-world practices required for common criminal justice jobs.

Associate degrees typically cost much less than bachelor’s degrees. Moreover, associate degree graduates are prepared to pursue further education or a variety of jobs in the criminal justice field, some of which pay double the median annual salary for all occupations.

Read More About Criminal Justice Programs

The Admissions Process

To apply for a criminal justice associate degree, prospective students need to submit materials like a resume/CV, a statement of purpose, high school transcripts, and ACT/SAT scores. Students may be able to test out of certain required courses, allowing for faster completion of the program. Many degree-granting institutions require a minimum unweighted GPA of 2.0 or higher. 

Degree and Concentration Options

Different programs offer different types of associate degrees in criminal justice. The three most common degrees are:

Associate of Arts


An AA tends to involve fewer STEM courses and more humanities and social science courses compared to the other associate degrees. Coursework completed during an AA can typically be applied toward a BA.

Associate of Science


An AS requires more STEM courses than an AA and fewer applied courses than an AAS. Coursework completed during an AS can usually be applied toward a BS.

Associate of Applied Science


An AAS requires more STEM courses than an AA, but a greater proportion of the AAS courses provide hands-on experience, thus preparing learners for a job immediately after graduation.

Some programs also offer coursework concentrations in subfields of criminal justice, including homeland security, criminology, and forensic science. These prepare graduates for more niche jobs in the field. 

Popular Criminal Justice Courses

Most criminal justice curricula require students to take at least 30 credits of core courses in criminal law, criminal investigation, juvenile justice, and homeland security. Commonly offered electives include forensic science, corrections, and probation. Some programs also offer an optional internship, providing supervised training from seasoned professionals. Below, we describe some typical courses learners may encounter in a criminal justice associate degree program:

Criminal correction is typically a mandatory course in criminal justice curricula. This class examines the success of different types of criminal correction, such as incarceration, rehabilitation, and drug courts.
In this class, students learn about the origin of the U.S. legal system, how to interpret and apply criminal statutes, and how to comply with the Bill of Rights.
A methods in criminal justice course is usually mandatory for learners on an associate of science track. In this class, enrollees gain insight into the methods of data acquisition and statistical analysis used to research the causes and distribution of crimes.
Typically offered as an elective course, a class in juvenile justice focuses on the socioeconomic factors behind the high crime rates among minors in the U.S. Students learn methods for preventing juvenile crime and gain a deeper understanding of juveniles’ enhanced need for rehabilitation.

How Much Will an Associate in Criminal Justice Cost?

The cost of a criminal justice associate degree varies by type of school (public or private), program format (online or in-person), and state residency. At public colleges and universities, out-of-state tuition tends to be substantially higher than in-state tuition. Out-of-state tuition is typically comparable to the tuition at private institutions. 

Learners who plan to get a bachelor’s in criminal justice can save money by completing the first two years of their degree at a community college, then transferring to a four-year college or university to complete the rest of their degree.

Students should consider other costs they may incur while earning an associate criminal justice degree. Costs to figure into the budget include the price of books, the cost of an internship, and potential loss of wages while studying. Learners opting for a standard on-campus degree may also incur extra living expenses. Financing options for a criminal justice associate degree include scholarships, student loans, and grants.

Choosing the Right Criminal Justice Program

Although we cannot ignore the importance of attending a highly ranked program, there are many other factors to consider. Here, we look at three such factors: institution-wide accreditation, program-specific accreditation, and program cost.

To ensure that you receive a quality education, make sure the institution you attend has been accredited. Nonprofit, academically focused colleges and universities are eligible for regional accreditation. Trade and vocational institutions may hold national accreditation, but credits from nationally accredited schools rarely transfer to four-year schools.

Program-specific accreditation also matters to the quality of a criminal justice program. The leading accreditation body for criminal justice education programs is the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS). A stamp of approval from ACJS signals that the program offers education that meets set internal quality standards.

Finally, consider program costs. Weigh each school’s tuition and seek out scholarships and grants that may help lower the out-of-pocket cost of attendance. If considering an online degree, seek out schools who charge in-state tuition to all learners as a way to save money.

Should You Get Your Associate Degree Online?

Earning an online criminal justice associate degree can be an attractive option for prospective students looking to cut costs or avoid relocating away from their career or family obligations.

Some online programs provide synchronous lectures, class discussions, and networking events, which give enrollees the opportunity to learn in real time. Other distance learning programs provide fully asynchronous courses, which enable students to listen to lectures and contribute to online message boards at their own pace.

Prospective learners who opt for online programs must consider whether they would prefer a synchronous or an asynchronous format. Students who value the increased flexibility of studying at their own pace may prefer fully asynchronous programs. Degree-seekers who strive in group settings where they can engage with teachers and peers in real time may lean toward synchronous programs.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What kind of degree do you need for criminal justice?

    Acceptance into an associate in criminal justice program requires a high school diploma or an equivalent degree. An associate, a bachelor’s, a master’s, and a Ph.D. in criminal justice can all lead to jobs in criminal justice.

  • Is an associate in criminal justice worth it?

    Yes. An associate in criminal justice can provide a quick return on investment. Most criminal justice programs take around two years to complete, and graduates who enter the profession immediately typically earn significantly more than hires with only a high school diploma.

  • How long does it take to get an associate degree in criminal justice?

    Students can typically complete a criminal justice associate degree in two years of full-time study. Learners who opt to study part time can expect to complete an associate in criminal justice in about 3-4 years.

  • What can you do with a criminal justice associate degree?

    Graduates with an associate in criminal justice qualify for a wealth of entry-level positions in criminal justice. These graduates may also pursue a bachelor’s in criminal justice, requiring 60 additional credits.

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Looking to earn an online bachelor's in criminal justice? We researched and ranked the top 15 online criminal justice programs of 2021.

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