15 Best Value Small Colleges for a Criminal Justice Degree

Updated November 17, 2022

By BVS Staff The United States justice system is complex and includes police, prosecutors, judges, corrections officers, and patrolling authorities. While the skills needed to do these jobs well overlap, each has a unique focus and a place in the flow of criminal justice. For example, forensic nurses combine medicine with investigation to help solve ...

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Valuable Smalls for a Criminal Justice Degree

By BVS Staff

The United States justice system is complex and includes police, prosecutors, judges, corrections officers, and patrolling authorities. While the skills needed to do these jobs well overlap, each has a unique focus and a place in the flow of criminal justice. For example, forensic nurses combine medicine with investigation to help solve crimes; forensic accountants use skills in math and analysis to build cases for things like financial crimes.

The following is a ranking of the best small colleges for a criminal justice major on a budget. Each of the colleges mentioned maintains an overall undergraduate graduation rate of 45%. The programs we've listed here all offer at least two majors, minors, or concentrations for criminal justice students and prioritize both quality of education and affordability. As reported on College Navigator, all of the programs listed have an average yearly cost of less than $22,000 a year. Excited to learn more about these affordable small colleges? The price of #1 will certainly surprise you.

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Each of these top schools offers at least two majors, minors, and/or concentrations for students seeking a bachelor's degree in criminal justice (as well as law enforcement, security studies, forensic science, justice studies, or homeland security). In addition, they each maintain an overall undergraduate graduation rate of at least 45%. Of course, to be a best value, these top-ranked schools also have to demonstrate a genuine commitment to affordable education - which means meeting our net price requirements. All of the programs on this ranking have estimated annual costs (as reported on College Navigator) of less than $22,000 a year. But which of these is the most affordable college for a criminal justice degree? Scroll down to #1 to find out!

15. Anderson University

Anderson, IN


At Anderson, you'll find some of the best undergraduate criminal justice programs with a social science bent. Upper-level courses like "Social Problems" and "Introduction to Social Research" provide theoretical knowledge, but you'll also gain crucial real-world experience with a semester-long internship. And if you're more interested in macro-level security issues, check out the interdisciplinary major in national security studies. Incorporating coursework from myriad fields (political science, history, math, even Christian ministry), the program provides strong groundwork for a career or further studies in American national security. Note that because Anderson is affiliated with the Church of God, much of your work comes from the Christian perspective: Even the national security studies senior capstone includes a "faith-reflective component."

Net Price: $21,945/yr

14. Olivet College

Olivet, MI


The criminal justice major at Olivet focuses on the reduction of both crime and violence, and undergrads can choose from two tracks: corrections or law enforcement. The two tracks share most core courses, but differ in a few key electives. And this top small criminal justice college also offers another option: a minor in forensic science, offered as part of a chemistry major. The nine courses required for this minor provide you with a solid grounding in crime scene investigation, knowledge of criminal justice basics, and relevant details about human biology. A forensic laboratory internship (encouraged but not required) will leave you well prepared for your post-graduation job hunt.

Net Price: $21,449/yr

13. East Texas Baptist University

Marshall, TX


ETBU earns a spot on this affordable criminal justice degrees ranking for its low net price and small size - although those aren't the only reasons this college is worth a close look. First, it offers both a B.A. and a B.S. in Criminal Justice. Second, it provides two concentrations (public safety administration and offender rehabilitation) and a minor in forensic science, letting you mix and match elements of your degree program to create a customized course of study. Finally, it's the only school in Texas that lets you earn your degree while simultaneously completing training at the police academy, a fantastic option that could save you time if you're pursuing a career in detective or police work.

Net Price: $21,361/yr

12. Lake Erie College

Painesville, OH


At Lake Erie, you'll find an Ohio-based top small college for criminal justice majors who might not want to pursue actual fieldwork. For example, you can opt for a forensic accounting concentration within an accounting degree, which prepares you to investigate and analyze finances for fraud or embezzlement. Or you might choose a psychology degree with a concentration in forensic psychology, which gives you the skills to use psychology basics in a legal setting. But if you do want a more traditional degree, don't worry — Lake Erie also offers a straightforward criminal justice major at an affordable net price.

Net Price: $20,795/yr

11. Anderson University

Anderson, SC


Not to be confused with the other Anderson on this list, this school is located in South Carolina and has a few different options to prepare you for a career in criminal justice. As you earn your B.A., you can choose from two concentrations: homeland security/emergency preparedness and law enforcement. Note that the former is intended primarily for working adults, while the law enforcement concentration is aimed primarily at traditional undergrads. And as you attend this top college for a criminal justice degree, you can access a plethora of resources designed to help you succeed, from a robust student success center to course-specific tutors.

Net Price: $20,310/yr

10. Culver-Stockton College

Canton, MO


If you learn best by doing, you'll appreciate the many experiential learning options at Culver-Stockton. This affordable small criminal justice college provides a "courtroom" for simulations and a legal research lab for help with assignments. You can also join one of two teams (mock trial and mediation) to practice your skills in realistic settings, both on campus and at tournaments around the country. Travel study courses and internship opportunities also give you the chance to practice what you've learned, and ambitious students can even aim for acceptance in Alpha Phi Sigma, the national criminal justice honor society.

Net Price: $19,188/yr

9. King University

Bristol, TN


King has 150 years of experience providing a high-quality, Presbyterian education in two sister cities: Bristol, Tennessee, and Bristol, Virginia. Today, it offers some of the best undergraduate criminal justice programs in the country. You can opt for a traditional major in criminal justice or choose from two more niche options: forensic science and security and intelligence studies. Whereas many similar schools offer only a minor in forensic science, King's full major combines biology and chemistry coursework with practical information - like how to effectively present evidence in the courtroom. Meanwhile, the program in Security and Intelligence Studies provides a comprehensive overview of contemporary issues in global and domestic security — and the communication and critical thinking skills crucial for success.

Net Price: $18,504/yr

8. Pfeiffer University

Misenheimer, NC


Students who want to attend a top college for a criminal justice degree that includes substantial mentoring opportunities should consider Pfeiffer. The school's innovative four-year "Pfeiffer Journey" program includes both faculty and peer mentoring to help you get acclimated to college and to succeed in your major. Pfeiffer's small size — fewer than 1,000 undergrads — lends itself to this kind of one-on-one mentoring, meaning you'll get personalized guidance every step of the way. Whether you choose a standard major in criminal justice or a Financial Fraud concentration within the Accounting major, experienced faculty will be there to help you succeed.

Net Price: $18,316/yr

7. University of St. Francis

Joliet, IL


The Franciscan tradition — and its system of ethics — informs all your work at this affordable small college for criminal justice majors. Even the program's name is telling: Criminal and Social Justice. Indeed, you'll be challenged to consider the societal problems that lead to criminal behavior and to apply compassion and empathy to your work. St. Francis even provides some truly unique concentrations that let you focus your studies; options such as Social Work or Languages and Cultural Diversity let you explore less common areas of the field. And you'll wrap up your work with a senior capstone practicum, gaining valuable experience and making important connections.

Net Price: $17,616/yr

6. St. Mary's University

San Antonio, TX


Criminal justice studies at St. Mary's blend a traditional liberal arts education with practical professional preparation. And St. Mary's offers some of the more unique options on this top criminal justice degrees ranking. For example, alongside a traditional criminal justice degree, the school offers a B.A. in Criminology, which focuses on developing public policy to prevent and control crime. You can even pair it with an early admission law program, meaning you can earn both a B.A. and a J.D. in just six years. If you prefer hard science, check out the B.S. in Forensic Science with a focus in either Biology or Chemistry.

Net Price: $17,164/yr

5. The Sage Colleges

Troy, NY


For degree programs that take a big-picture view of criminal justice, check out Sage's innovative options. This top small criminal justice college gives you a few paths for pursuing work in the field, like the B.S. in Law and Society. With this program, you'll study how legal systems interact with social, political, and economic systems, and you can choose a "pathway" (such as Psychology or Legal Studies) to bring focus to your degree. Another great option is the Public Policy, Advocacy and Civic Engagement (PACE) program. PACE provides a broad view of American civics and public policy, and it's a great jumping-off point for graduate study in many fields.

Net Price: $16,890/yr

4. York College

York, NE


Thanks to its affiliation with the Church of Christ, York provides an affordable education grounded in the Christian faith and its ethics. As you complete coursework in its top undergraduate criminal justice program, expect to also take classes in the bible and in religious studies. As you proceed to upper-level courses, you'll be instructed in more pragmatic subjects. For example, the "Research and Writing in Criminal Justice" class will prepare you to be an effective communicator, while "Special Topics in Criminal Justice" give you the opportunity to study contemporary issues facing the field.

Net Price: $16,686/yr

3. Newman University

Wichita, KS


Newman's criminal justice program offers extracurricular activities to both keep you busy and educate you. As you attend this top college for a criminal justice degree, you might join the Justice League, a "service and social organization" that organizes trips to correctional institutions, hosts guest speakers, and meets regularly to discuss relevant issues. Or you might sign up for a placement opportunity, where you'll explore a specific area of interest, such as corrections or probation. If you're a forensic science major, you'll have access to regional anthropology and forensic science centers, along with professional associations to help further your career.

Net Price: $14,407/yr

2. Madonna University

Livonia, MI


If you have specific professional goals in mind, Madonna could be a great place to achieve them. That's because the school offers targeted certificate programs you won't find elsewhere on this affordable criminal justice degrees ranking. Options include Homeland Security, Crime Scene Practice, Private Investigation, Spanish for Law Enforcement, and Animal Cruelty Investigations — all extremely focused programs that would make any resume stand out. You can even earn these professional credentials at the same time you're completing your B.A. And if you're a veteran, note that Madonna provides a robust set of resources to help you succeed - no wonder it's consistently named a Military Friendly School!

Net Price: $13,710/yr

1. College of the Ozarks

Point Lookout, MO


Thanks to a low net price, College of the Ozarks comes in as the most affordable small college for criminal justice majors. Although the program offers just two emphases (Corrections and Law Enforcement), you'll have ample opportunities to pursue areas of study that interest you. Through the school's Criminal Justice Club, you can practice physical techniques - from marksmanship to defense tactics - that are crucial to a career in law enforcement. You'll also get to shadow police officers and participate in "ride-alongs." Or you might choose to keep your skills in tip-top shape by participating in regional competitions for crime scene investigation, physical fitness, or criminal law.

Net Price: $13,567/yr

Want to find out exactly how much it will cost for you to attend one of these affordable undergraduate criminal justice programs? Check out the U.S. Department of Education's Net Price Calculator Center.

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