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Best Criminal Justice Schools in Illinois: Online/Campus

Considering a college education to start or advance your career in criminal justice? Explore the many undergraduate and graduate options available — both online and campus-based — from today’s top criminal justice programs in Illinois. Discover the perfect fit for your academic and professional goals.

Author: Angela Myers
Editor: STEPS Staff

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A criminal justice degree is the first step to a career serving your community. It can lead to a career as a correctional officer, police officer, paralegal, probation officer, or one of many other rewarding jobs. But before you make any decisions, it’s important to do your homework and find a quality program that gives you the training and knowledge to succeed once you graduate.

Luckily, there are some great criminal justice schools in Illinois and degrees available at the associate, bachelor’s, and graduate levels. This guide dives into the top-ranked criminal justice programs in Illinois and helps you determine what type of program is right for you.

Best Illinois Colleges for Criminal Justice in 2024

Since there are many quality criminal justice schools in Illinois, it’s a challenge to choose the top programs in the state. The three programs below stand out because of their challenging curricula, affordability, and flexibility. All three offer a high-quality education, opportunities to specialize or take a variety of electives, and student support resources. They also have a high job placement rate for graduates and are invested in their student’s success inside and outside the classroom.

While these three were initial standouts, a full ranking of criminal justice programs in Illinois is coming soon.

University of Illinois Chicago

The University of Illinois hosts a high-quality criminal justice degree through its Chicago campus. The school’s criminal justice department offers an undergraduate degree that takes four years to complete on average. It also offers a minor for students who want to dip their toes into criminal justice while majoring in something else. For students who already have their undergraduate degree, the University of Illinois Chicago offers a master’s program with 12 research groups and six specializations. Research groups include intersectional critical criminology, carceral studies, gender-based violence and sexual assault, courts and law, abolition and alternatives to incarceration, qualitative criminology, policing dimensions of space and place in violence, crime and policing, surveillance studies, immigration, re-entry and community supervision, and Chicago-area focused research. The undergraduate programs don’t have set specialization tracks, but students can take electives in areas of interest to them. As of 2023, all programs are offered in person through the Chicago campus.

Program Highlights:

  • Credits: About 120
  • Length: 4 years
  • Cost: $372.60 per credit in-state |$1,036.60 per credit out-of-state
  • Delivery: On-Campus
  • Specializations: None
  • Credits: 18
  • Length: 1-2 years
  • Cost: $372.60 per credit in-state | $1,036.60 per credit out-of-state
  • Delivery: On-Campus
  • Specializations: None
  • Credits: 135-176
  • Length: 2 years
  • Cost: $519.58 per credit in-state | $1,082.92 per credit out-of-state
  • Delivery: On-Campus
  • Specializations: Violence studies; survey research methodology; gender studies; Latino studies; Black studies

Illinois Central College

If you’re looking to enter the field but are unsure if you want to pursue a four-year degree, Illinois Central College may have the criminal justice program for you. In the two-year associate degree, students take some general education classes and foundational courses in criminal justice. Criminal justice courses cover topics like law, security, public safety, and corrections. With the total tuition and fees for the 2023-2024 school year being $9,920, this program is more affordable than other criminal justice schools in Indiana. Plus, the program takes only five semesters to complete, meaning most students graduate in a little over a year. The university also has campus resources to help students who complete their degree while working full time, and many classes are offered at various times, including evenings and weekends.

Program Highlights:

  • Credits: 60
  • Length: 1.5 years
  • Cost: $165.33 per credit in-state | $195 per credit out-of-state
  • Delivery: On-Campus; Online; Hybrid; Full-Time; Part-Time
  • Specializations: None

Illinois College

Illinois College offers a robust four-year bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. Unlike other programs, the one from Illinois College is interdisciplinary. This means students take traditional criminal justice courses alongside classes that explore justice from different disciplines. These disciplines include life science, psychology, history, and the humanities. Specific course topics include issues in policing, criminal investigations, victimology, and criminal law. Students also have opportunities to practice what they learn in the classroom, either at internships, working on research projects, or both. The internship and independent study options are only available to students in the undergraduate major program, not the minor program. Faculty members are working professionals in police work, law, and community corrections. By the time students graduate, they are prepared to enter the criminal justice field or continue to law school or another graduate degree.

Program Highlights:

  • Credits: 44
  • Length: 3-4 years
  • Cost: $165.33 per credit in-state | $195 per credit out-of-state
  • Delivery: On-Campus
  • Specializations: None
  • Credits: 20
  • Length: 2-4 years
  • Cost: $165.33 per credit in-state | $195 per credit out-of-state
  • Delivery: On-Campus
  • Specializations: None

Top Online Criminal Justice Degree Programs in Illinois

Over 73% of students prefer online or hybrid programs, according to 2021 research published in Inside Higher Education. To meet this demand, many criminal justice schools in Illinois offer online or hybrid programs.

Students of online criminal justice degrees in Illinois receive the same quality of education as on-campus students, but they complete all coursework online. Hybrid students complete a mixture of both types of learning. Either option adds flexibility to an academic schedule, making both a great option for working professionals and anyone else in need of a flexible schedule. Since online education also cuts transportation costs and other fees associated with in-person programs, online criminal justice degrees in Illinois are often more affordable.

For a better idea of what an online program might look like, explore these three stand-out virtual or hybrid criminal justice programs in Illinois.

Southern Illinois University

Southern Illinois University is one of the most flexible criminal justice schools in Illinois. Its online programs include a variety of degree types, including a bachelor’s degree, an accelerated bachelor’s and master’s degree, and a minor for undergraduate students. The school features a fully online bachelor’s degree option, though classes in this option are still offered in a synchronous format with set class times. Students can also choose to take undergraduate courses in person or complete their degree in a hybrid format, in which some courses are completed in person and others virtually. While SIU does offer a fully online criminal justice undergraduate program, their accelerated bachelor’s and master’s degree is only offered as a hybrid degree, with the master’s courses taking place in person. Students in these programs also complete supervised field experience so they can practice what they’re learning before they graduate.

Program Highlights:

  • Credits: About 120
  • Length: 4 years
  • Cost: $321.25 per credit
  • Mode: Fully-Online / Hybrid
  • Specializations: None
  • Credits: 180
  • Length: 5 years
  • Cost: $321.25 per credit at bachelor’s level | $469.50 per credit at master’s level
  • Mode: Hybrid
  • Specializations: None
  • Credits: 15
  • Length: 2-4 years
  • Cost: $321.25 per credit
  • Mode: Fully-Online / Hybrid
  • Specializations: None

Lincoln Land Community College

Lincoln Land Community College’s associate degree is commonly considered one of the best online criminal justice degrees in Illinois. In this two-year program, students take courses in criminal justice, human service studies, the sciences, and humanities to understand the criminal justice system from various perspectives. Students also complete an internship for hands-on experience in the field. The program format is flexible, giving students the ability to pursue their degrees in-person, online, or in a hybrid format. While hybrid and in-person classes have set class times, online courses are delivered asynchronously. In this format, you watch the lectures and complete course assignments when it is convenient for you. Hybrid courses can also vary significantly, since each instructor determines how much of the course is completed online and in person. Graduates are prepared for entry-level roles in law enforcement, forensic investigation, corrections, probation, parole, and human services.

Program Highlights:

  • Credits: 60-63
  • Length: About 2 years
  • Cost: $137 per credit in-district | $274 per credit in-state | $411 per credit out-of-state
  • Delivery: Online; Hybrid; Full-Time; Part-Time
  • Specializations: None

Lewis University

If speed is of the essence, the program from Lewis University should be on your list of criminal justice schools in Illinois to explore. Students in the school’s bachelor’s degree can choose between two distinct timelines: the traditional four-year program or an accelerated program. The accelerated option is faster and more flexible since all coursework is online. Students in the online, accelerated track take courses in eight-week modules. Since this track is shorter, it’s designed for those who already work in law enforcement. Synchronous class sessions are offered at times that work with a full-time work schedule, though most of the degree requirements are completed asynchronously. Courses for the in-person and online track cover the same topics, including the juvenile justice system, criminology, court systems, and probation. Unlike other criminal justice colleges in Illinois that focus on a wide variety of career options, the program from Lewis University specializes in training students to become police officers.

Program Highlights:

  • Credits: 128
  • Length: 2-4 years
  • Cost: $445 per credit
  • Delivery: Online; Hybrid
  • Specializations: None

Types of Criminal Justice Programs in Illinois

There are a several types of criminal justice programs in Illinois, available both online and on-campus, catering to students at various stages of their criminal justice education and professional journey. As you delve into the section below, you’ll find comprehensive information about each degree program and explore top-notch schools that offer these programs. While not every program may align with your goals, there’s likely to be a program that’s a perfect fit.

Associate Degrees

A criminal justice associate degree program is ideally suited for students seeking an entry point into the field. Tailored for those interested in law enforcement, corrections, or security, this program offers foundational knowledge in criminal justice principles, legal systems, and ethical considerations. Job titles of recent graduates from the Lincoln Land Community College associate program include patrol officers, bailiffs, and crime scene investigators.

Examples of Accredited Illinois Colleges with this Criminal Justice Degree

CollegeLocationDeliveryAccreditation
Lincoln Land Community CollegeSpringfieldOnline; On-Campus; HybridHigher Learning Commission
Illinois Central CollegeEast PeoriaOn-campusHigher Learning Commission
Triton CollegeRiver GroveOn-campusHigher Learning Commission
McHenry Community CollegeCrystal LakeOn-campusHigher Learning Commission
Generations CollegeChicagoOnline; hybridHigher Learning Commission

Bachelor’s Degrees

A bachelor’s degree in criminal justice opens up more opportunities than an associate degree, though it’s also a bigger commitment. These degrees typically take four years of full-time to complete and allow students to specialize in certain subfields of criminal justice. Some programs, such as the program from Southern Illinois University, can be completed entirely online for added flexibility. Graduates of these programs are equipped to work in many different capacities within the criminal justice system, from being a crime analyst to a corrections officer.

Examples of Accredited Illinois Colleges with this Criminal Justice Degree

CollegeLocationDeliveryAccreditation
Southern Illinois UniversityCarbondaleOnline; On-CampusHigher Learning Commission
Lewis UniversityRomeovilleOnline; On-campus; HybridHigher Learning Commission
Illinois CollegeJacksonvilleOn-campusHigher Learning Commission
University of Illinois ChicagoChicagoOn-CampusHigher Learning Commission
Southern Illinois University EdwardsvilleEdwardsvilleOnlineHigher Learning Commission

Master’s Degrees

Students serious about advancing their careers and diving deeper into a specific area of criminal justice should consider getting their master’s degrees. Usually, master’s criminal justice programs in Illinois give students the chance to explore a specific area of research through coursework and a research thesis. At the University of Illinois Chicago, for example, students can choose from twelve research clusters for their master’s research. Upon graduating, students are eligible for a wider variety of criminal justice roles.

Examples of Accredited Illinois Colleges with this Criminal Justice Degree

CollegeLocationDeliveryAccreditation
University of Illinois ChicagoChicagoOn-CampusHigher Learning Commission
Southern Illinois UniversityCarbondaleOnline; On-CampusHigher Learning Commission
Southern Illinois University EdwardsvilleEdwardsvilleOnlineHigher Learning Commission
Illinois State UniversityNormalOn-CampusHigher Learning Commission
Loyola University of ChicagoChicagoOn-CampusHigher Learning Commission

Criminal Justice Doctoral Degrees in Illinois

A doctoral degree is ideal for professionals who already have their master’s degree and some work experience in the criminal justice field. A doctorate typically leads to a role in academia or as an expert in the criminal justice field. Several quality criminal justice schools in Illinois offer doctoral degrees such as the University of Illinois Chicago and Southern Illinois University.

Examples of Accredited Illinois Colleges with this Criminal Justice Degree

CollegeLocationDeliveryAccreditation
University of Illinois ChicagoChicagoOn-CampusHigher Learning Commission
Southern Illinois UniversityCarbondaleOnline; On-CampusHigher Learning Commission

Certificate Programs

Criminal justice certificates are most commonly available at the bachelor’s level, though some master’s or associate programs may offer them as well. With a certificate, you take less courses in criminal justice, but you get a broad overview of the field. Sometimes, these programs manifest as minors, such as the program from the University of Illinois at Springfield. This is a great option for those who want to dip their toes into the field but major in a different discipline.

Examples of Accredited Illinois Colleges with this Criminal Justice Degree

CollegeLocationDeliveryAccreditation
University of Illinois at SpringfieldSpringfieldOn-CampusHigher Learning Commission
Illinois CollegeJacksonvilleOn-CampusHigher Learning Commission
University of Illinois ChicagoChicagoOn-CampusHigher Learning Commission
Illinois State UniversityNormalOn-CampusHigher Learning Commission
University of Illinois Urbana-ChampaignChampaignOn-CampusHigher Learning Commission

Financial Aid Options for Criminal Justice Students in Illinois

As is the case in any state, college can be costly, and criminal justice schools in Illinois are no exception. The average bachelor’s degree at a state school in Illinois costs $26,252 annually for in-state residents, and tuition costs continue to creep up every year. Luckily, there are many financial aid opportunities to bring the cost down. As a criminal justice student, you may be eligible for:

There’s also resources available exclusively for Illinois residents, such as Illinois state government scholarships and aid from the Illinois Student Assistance Commission. City government entities, such as Chicago Family & Support Services, and police departments, such as the Cook County Police, also offer scholarships.

To make sure you have accessed all financial aid possible, make sure to search opportunities by your state, city, county, and degree.

Job Demand and Earnings Potential for Criminal Justice Grads in Illinois

Graduates of criminal justice schools in Illinois can expect higher-than average-salaries and an 11% job growth rate from 2020-2030. There’s a special demand for criminal justice majors who are interested in serving as social and community managers in Illinois. Because of this, combining criminal justice and social work classes may make candidates particularly attractive for in-demand roles.

Job growth isn’t the only thing that increases with a criminal justice degree. Earning potential does too. Across all careers in the United States, full-time employees make about $57,200. Almost all the criminal justice jobs we researched made more than that, with some roles having the potential for employees to earn double the average U.S. wage as their career progresses. For more insight on annual salaries and the outlook for specific careers in Illinois, explore the table below.

Job Growth Rate
(2020-2030)
Average Annual Openings
(2020-2030)
Annual Mean Wage
(2022)
Bailiffs3.1%160$49,810
Compliance Officers6.7%910$88,590
Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Teachers, Postsecondary7%40$64,850
Detectives and criminal investigators6%230$100,140
Social and Community Service Managers11.1%630$76,340

Sources: Projections Central;Bureau of Labor Statistics

Illinois Criminal Justice Resources for Students and Professionals

  • Illinois Department of Corrections
    The Illinois Department of Corrections is responsible for managing the penal justice system in the state. Anyone interested in working within this system should explore the careers section on their website.
  • Illinois Correctional Association
    This organization provides training, online resources, and in-person events for Illinois professionals working within the correctional system. They also have a section devoted to criminal justice students who want to explore opportunities in this sector.
  • Illinois Bar Association
    While a state bar association may bring up images of lawyers, the Illinois Bar Association offers useful resources for criminal justice workers across all disciplines. This includes online blogs, trainings, and in-person events.
  • Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority
    Interested in criminal justice administration? You may want to check out this state-funded association. The Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority offers research and resources for criminal justice professionals as well as funding for criminal justice administration research.
  • Criminology, Law, and Justice Student Society
    Joining a student organization can be a great way to connect with your peers, network with industry professionals, and attend free professional development seminars within the criminal justice field. Many criminal justice schools in Illinois have such programs, including this society from the University of Illinois Chicago.