How We Rank Criminal Justice Degree Programs

We use a unique methodology for ranking criminal justice programs. On this page, readers can explore the criteria we use and find information on our sources.

When ranking criminal justice programs, we consider four main criteria: academics, affordability, reputation, and program availability and online flexibility. Each point includes 2-4 subfactors. For example, when considering a school’s reputation, we account for the percentage of applicants admitted, admissions yield, and return on investment. This page describes each subfactor in detail below.

Our approach to school rankings centers issues that prospective students prioritize in their search for the right criminal justice program. Academic credibility matters when students enter the job market. A program needs to prepare them for success in the field without requiring them to incur a debilitating amount of debt.

Degree-seekers should feel confident about the expertise of a program’s faculty and the success of each program’s alumni. They must also understand the financial aid opportunities available and the debt students typically face after graduation.

No outside influences impact our ranking methodology for criminal justice schools. Schools cannot pay for a spot on the list. Though we partner with advertisers on our websites, we do not consider those relationships when ranking programs. We compile all of our data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), a federal agency that collects, analyzes, and publishes statistics about education in the United States.

About the Data We Use

A division of the U.S. Department of Education, the NCES studies educational data across the nation and around the world. They gather, assess, and report on their findings, making the information publicly available. The information collected by the NCES covers early childhood, elementary, secondary, and postsecondary education. The agency also looks at areas of education like SAT and ACT scores, subject-by-subject trends, and adult literacy.

As a federal agency, the NCES provides reliable information and educational statistics. They offer a variety of tools including a college navigator, public and private school search engines, and a bibliography section with education-based journal articles. The NCES website also provides a data lab with resources on financial information, faculty, and enrollment for various schools.

Through the NCES’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), we sort through a wealth of educational data. We look up specific institutions and analyze trends in enrollment, graduation rates, staff, and financial aid, and compare details side by side. IPEDS provides statistical tables, summary tables, graphic representations of institutional data, and archived information.

By studying this data, we rank criminal justice programs according to the specific requirements of this website. Our methodology also includes a round of quality assurance, in which the team eliminates schools that do not meet our standards. We also eliminate schools that do not provide enough data about their programs.

Because students need current information, we regularly update our rankings. This involves a thorough reranking, rather than a cursory refresh. During this process, we assess every list again, and readers can expect brand-new rankings for 2021. Generally, this process repeats on an annual basis, though we sometimes redo rankings if significant new data surfaces. For smaller niches, the rankings may update less frequently.

As of Nov. 3, 2020, IPEDS has released only a portion of its updated school data for 2020. Our rankings on this site use the most current data available at the time of publication.

A Breakdown of Our Rankings Methodology

Choosing the right methodology factors ensures that we present lists of quality programs.

With solid academic backgrounds, students can enter the job market with confidence or qualify for advancement opportunities. Affordability helps students receive a good return on investment; reputation offers a measure of confidence in program strength; and flexibility makes it easier to earn a degree under a variety of personal circumstances.

Explore the pie charts below to see how we weigh each factor differently as we rank programs, depending on the degree type.







About Our Ranking Factors

Within each weighted factor category, we consider subfactors, which we weigh to determine each category score. By weighting each subfactor separately, we prioritize the most relevant aspects of each category.

We use IPEDS data to determine the scores for each subfactor.

  • Subfactors for Academics

    • Retention Rate: Retention rate measures the percentage of students who continue their enrollment in a program from one year to the next. Specifically, IPEDS reports on the percentage of students that maintain enrollment between fall semesters. Some attrition naturally occurs in nearly every program, as students address personal situations and clarify preferences. However, a high retention rate can indicate a strong program that meets expectations. Our rankings use IPEDS-reported full-time retention rates for 2018 to report on this subfactor.
    • Graduation Rate: Graduation rate measures the percentage of students who finish a program within 150% of the normal timeline. Among other data points, IPEDS gathers information on how many students enter an institution and whether they complete the program. A requirement of the Student Right-to-Know Act, the graduation rate allows degree-seekers to see how many students complete a program in a timely manner. Our rankings use the 150% portion of IPEDS-reported graduation rates for 2018.
    • Robust Faculty: We use two data points to measure the quality of a program’s faculty: the proportion of full-time faculty — which can point to their level of dedication — and the student-to-faculty ratio. A large group of students amidst a small faculty size can indicate decreased amounts of individual attention. Our rankings use the IPEDS-reported proportion of full-time faculty and student-to-faculty ratio as of 2018.

  • Subfactors for Affordability

    • Price for Students With Grants or Scholarships: This subfactor considers the school’s cost of attendance after removing the average amount of institutional grant and scholarship aid. This figure accounts for tuition and fees, materials such as textbooks, and any applicable room and board. This method provides a measure of a school’s affordability that considers both average financial aid and fees that extend beyond tuition alone. Our rankings use the average net price for students awarded grants or scholarship aid for the 2017-18 academic year.
    • Students Getting Financial Aid: This section incorporates IPEDS data on the percentage of full-time, first-time undergraduates who received financial aid in 2017-18. It also weighs the average amount of grant and scholarship aid awarded in 2017-18. Financial aid directly impacts a school’s affordability. When a program awards higher percentages of grants and scholarships, the average cost drops.
    • Students Getting Federal Aid: Federal student loans awarded can provide a marker of a program’s affordability. We use IPEDS data on the percent of undergraduate students awarded federal student loans for 2017-18, plus the average amount of federal student loans awarded to undergraduate students for 2017-18. Combined, these components present a good picture of how many students take on debt to pay for a school, and how much assistance they actually need.
    • Post-Graduation Student Debt: Post-graduation student debt aims for a full picture of student debt that looks beyond the year-by-year numbers. This data point considers the full amount of money graduates must repay as a measure of the school’s affordability. Using IPEDS reports on the average loan default rate for 2016 and the median debt for students who completed 2018 (six years after entry), we factor post-graduation student debt into the equation.

  • Subfactors for Reputation

    • Percent of Applicants Admitted: This subfactor refers to the percentage of students who gain admission to a program from among the number who applied. Schools that uphold high admission standards tend to merit a stronger reputation. When students enter a program with similar qualifications, they can proceed through the curriculum at a pace with one another. Schools that admit all applicants therefore cannot generally provide the same level of rigor, and IPEDS correlates selective admission rates with high graduation rates. Our criminal justice rankings factor IPEDS data on admission rate for 2018.
    • Admission Yields: Admission yields measure the number of students admitted to a program against the number who choose to enroll. A small yield can indicate that many prospective students selected competing programs, which can damage a school’s reputation. When students eagerly accept admission to a program, this demonstrates confidence in the institution. For this subfactor, we use IPEDS data on enrollment rates for 2018.
    • Return on Investment: Many prospective students want to know what return on investment they can expect from a program. We measure this factor by including the 2018 IPEDS average earnings of students working six years after program entry among our subfactors. When graduates secure well-paying jobs after graduation, it indicates that a program adequately prepares students through relevant coursework. This tendency also demonstrates that employers value the education provided by a program.

  • Subfactors for Program Availability and Online Flexibility

    • Percent of Online Students Enrolled: This subfactor considers the percentage of students enrolled in online programs for the particular degree level alongside the overall percentage of students enrolled online. This measurement only applies to online-specific rankings. High online enrollment rates demonstrate a school’s dedication to distance learning and indicate robust offerings and resources for online students.
    • Percent of Relevant Degree Level Offered: This subfactor measures how much of a particular degree level a program offers online. Depending on the ranking, this measurement may apply to a certificate, diploma, associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree. Online programming availability is important to students seeking distance options. More online options within a degree level indicate greater flexibility for those studying from afar.

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