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Best Criminal Justice Schools in Tennessee: Online/Campus

Explore the full range of degrees and certificates, both undergraduate and graduate, offered by the best criminal justice programs in Tennessee today. Discover how an online or campus-based criminal justice program can help you launch or advance your career as a law enforcement, security, or legal professional.

Author: Michael Hoffman
Editor: STEPS Staff
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Serving your community while protecting the rights of individuals: Criminal justice professionals in Tennessee do both. Through careers as police and corrections officers, probation and parole officials, private investigators, security experts, policymakers and more, criminal justice pros are on the front lines of ensuring the public’s safety. Getting started in your criminal justice career, though, requires a formal education, the kind available from degree and certificate programs at criminal justice schools throughout the state.

We’ve created this guide to introduce you to the best criminal justice schools in Tennessee today. You’ll start by exploring the top on-campus and online criminal justice degree programs in Tennessee. Then you’ll learn about financial aid options, and we’ll also give you a preview of the job opportunities awaiting you upon graduation. If you’re ready to serve your community by earning your criminal justice degree, keep reading to discover the best Tennessee has to offer.

Best Colleges in Tennessee to Earn Your Criminal Justice Degree: 2024

One of the best ways to find out what a criminal justice education is all about is to look at what the best degree and certificate programs have to offer. That’s why we surveyed the criminal justice schools in Tennessee and chose three of the very best to spotlight below. Our selections were made by considering several important student-focused program factors, including accreditation, affordability, quality curriculums and faculty, and access to useful academic and career support services. Bookmark this page, as we have a complete ranking of criminal justice schools in Tennessee coming soon.

East Tennessee State University

East Tennessee State University in Johnson City offers lots of quality, affordable options for criminal justice students through its Department of Criminal Justice & Criminology. Undergraduate students choose between a general Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice and Criminology or a degree with a concentration in Social and Behavioral Science. Both bachelor’s programs include the same set of core criminal justice courses. Select seniors have the option of participating in a 200- to 400-hour field experience (available during the summer semester only) with a program-affiliated law enforcement agency or other criminal justice organization.

ETSU offers its Master of Science in Criminal Justice and Criminology in both on-campus and fully online formats. On-campus students have the option of completing either a thesis or comprehensive exam as their culminating experience, while online students are limited to the comprehensive exam only. Also available is a 100% online graduate certificate in Forensic Document Examination designed for students seeking credentials in handwriting and document analysis.

Program Highlights:

BA in Criminal Justice and Criminology

  • Credits: 120
  • Length: 4 years
  • Cost (tuition + fees): $441 per credit in-state | $469 per credit border states (GA, KY, NC, SC, VA) | $569 per credit out-of-state | $1,202 per credit returning USA seniors and international students
  • Delivery: On campus; Full time
  • Specializations: General; Social and Behavioral Science

MA in Criminal Justice and Criminology

  • Credits: 33 (with thesis); 36 (with comprehensive exam)
  • Length: As few as 20 months
  • Cost (tuition + fees): $613 per credit in-state | $1,454 per credit out-of-state | $550 per credit all online students (after tuition waivers)
  • Delivery: On campus; Fully online; Full time; Part time
  • Specializations: None

Graduate Certificate in Forensic Document Examination

  • Credits: 12
  • Length: 1 year
  • Cost: $550 per credit all students (after student tuition waivers available to all online students)
  • Delivery: Fully online; Part time
  • Specializations: None

Tennessee State University

The Criminal Justice Department at Tennessee State University in Nashville offers both undergraduate and graduate degree programs, including a very unique bachelor’s degree option for off-campus students. The Off-Campus Bachelors Degree Completion (2+2) Program allows area students to earn their TSU criminal justice bachelor’s at select community colleges in the Middle Tennessee state region. Students first earn a criminal justice associate degree at their community college, and then complete all junior and senior year TSU criminal justice coursework at that same community college campus. This program is currently available in partnership with Motlow State Community College and Volunteer State Community College, but TSU expects to add additional schools to the program in the future.

TSU additionally offers a standard BS in Criminal Justice degree that can be completed online, as well as a campus-based Master of Criminal Justice (MCJ) program that features both thesis and non-thesis (comprehensive exam) options.

Program Highlights:

BS in Criminal Justice

  • Credits: 120
  • Length: 4 years
  • Cost (tuition + fees): $500 per credit in-state and out-of-state
  • Delivery: Online; Full time
  • Specializations: None

Off-Campus BS in Criminal Justice Degree Completion

  • Credits: 120
  • Length: 4 years
  • Cost (tuition + fees): $500 per credit in-state and out-of-state (TSU courses only). Check with the community college you wish to attend for associate degree tuition rates.
  • Delivery: Blended; Full time
  • Specializations: None

Master of Criminal Justice

  • Credits: 36
  • Length: Varies (depending on student’s chosen study pace and choice of thesis or exam culminating experience).
  • Cost (tuition + fees): $533 per credit in-state | $1,115 per credit out-of-state
  • Delivery: On campus; Full time; Part time
  • Specializations: None

University of Memphis

The University of Memphis is a major public research university serving over 21,000 students on its Memphis and satellite campuses, as well as around the world through its UofM Global program. UofM’s Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice is home to bachelor’s and master’s criminal justice degree programs available both on-campus and online. Students in the Bachelor of Arts in Criminology and Criminal Justice program can complete their coursework entirely online, entirely on-campus (at either UofM’s main campus in Memphis or its Lambuth campus in Jackson), or through a hybrid approach. Additionally, bachelor’s students who have completed at least 55 course credits with a GPA of 3.25 or higher may apply for the department’s Honors Program. All UofM students interested in the fields of criminology and criminal justice, regardless of whether they are pursuing a degree in the field, may join the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice Student Association — with active groups on both the Memphis and Lambuth campuses.

Program Highlights:

BA in Criminology and Criminal Justice

  • Credits: 120
  • Length: 4 years
  • Cost (tuition + fees): $431 per credit in-state and all online students | $616 per credit out-of-state on-campus students| $801 per credit international on-campus students
  • Delivery: On campus; Online; Hybrid; Full time
  • Specializations: None

MA in Criminal Justice

  • Credits: 33
  • Length: Varies by student’s chosen study pace.
  • Cost (tuition + fees): $623 per credit in-state and all online students | $846 per credit out-of-state on-campus students| $1,069 per credit international on-campus students
  • Delivery: On campus; Online; Full time; Part time
  • Specializations: None

Top Online Criminal Justice Degree Programs in Tennessee

As the spotlights above indicate, some criminal justice programs in Tennessee are available online. These programs offer busy students, especially working professionals, the flexibility and convenience of completing some or all criminal justice coursework at home or from anywhere with access to a reliable internet connection. Saving students the added cost of traveling to and from campus to attend classes is another major feature of earning your degree or certificate online. To learn more about the benefits of online study and to explore online criminal justice programs in Tennessee and other states, be sure to visit our guide to online criminal justice degrees. And here’s a look at three quality schools offering online criminal justice degrees in Tennessee:

Austin Peay State University

Austin Peay State University in Clarksville offers two bachelor’s and two master’s degree options through its Criminal Justice Department, all four of which are available fully online. Bachelor’s students additionally have the option of completing their coursework entirely on campus or by combining online and on-campus classes. All on-campus classes are available on both the Clarksville and Fort Campbell campuses. Students on both degree levels have the option of either a standard criminal justice curriculum or a concentration in Homeland Security. Faculty members are drawn from both APSU’s criminal justice department and military members from Fort Campbell. The bachelor’s program is presented in a four-year, full-time format, while master’s students choose between one-year of full-time study and two-year, part-time study. Tuition discounts are available to all uniformed military personnel. All qualifying APSU criminal justice students, on-campus and online alike, can take advantage of the many benefits of membership in the Phi Kappa Chapter of the Alpha Phi Sigma National Criminal Justice Honor Society.

Program Highlights:

BS in Criminal Justice

  • Credits: 120
  • Length: 4 years
  • Cost (tuition + fees): $410.35 per credit in-state (online) | $375.35 per credit in-state (on-campus) | $556.35 per credit out-of-state (fully online students) | $606.35 per credit out-of-state (on-campus and hybrid students)
  • Mode: Online; On campus; Hybrid; Full time
  • Specializations: Homeland Security

MS in Criminal Justice

  • Credits: 30
  • Length: 1 or 2 years
  • Cost (tuition + fees): $609.35 per credit in-state | $844.35 per credit out-of-state
  • Mode: Fully online; Part time; Full time
  • Specializations: Homeland Security

University of Tennessee Martin

The Department of Behavioral Sciences at the University of Tennessee Martin features what is likely the most comprehensive slate of online criminal justice degree and certificate program options available from any four-year college or university in the state. On the undergraduate level, UTC offers five options as part of its Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice program. Students choose either the Generalist curriculum or one of four specialization tracks in Forensics, Justice Studies, Juvenile Justice, or Law Enforcement. The Generalist track can be completed 100% online, while each of the other tracks includes some program elements that must be completed on campus or otherwise in person. Graduate students can also complete UTM’s Master of Science in Criminal Justice entirely online. UTM additionally offers three fully online graduate certificates in Corrections Administration, Law Enforcement Administration, and Leadership. MSCJ students may incorporate the Corrections Administration Certificate or the Law Enforcement Certificate, or both, into their master’s course of study.

Program Highlights:

BS in Criminal Justice

  • Credits: 120
  • Length: 4 years
  • Cost (tuition + fees): $425 per credit in-state (on-campus courses) | $677 per credit out-of-state (on-campus courses) | $434 per credit in-state (online courses) | $472 per credit out-of-state (online courses)
  • Mode: Fully online (Generalist); Hybrid (all others); Full time
  • Specializations: Generalist, Forensics; Justice Studies; Juvenile Justice; Law Enforcement

MS in Criminal Justice

  • Credits: 30
  • Length: Varies by student’s chosen study pace
  • Cost: $644 per credit in-state | $702 per credit out-of-state
  • Mode: Fully online; Part time; Full time
  • Specializations: None (but may complete graduate certificates as part of their master’s curriculum)

Criminal Justice Corrections Administration Graduate Certificate

  • Credits: 12
  • Length: Varies by student’s chosen study pace
  • Cost: $644 per credit in-state | $702 per credit out-of-state
  • Mode: Fully online; Part time; Full time
  • Specializations: None

Criminal Justice Law Enforcement Administration Graduate Certificate

  • Credits: 18
  • Length: Varies by student’s chosen study pace
  • Cost: $644 per credit in-state | $702 per credit out-of-state
  • Mode: Fully online; Part time; Full time
  • Specializations: None

Criminal Justice Leadership Graduate Certificate

  • Credits: 12
  • Length: Varies by student’s chosen study pace
  • Cost: $644 per credit in-state | $702 per credit out-of-state
  • Mode: Fully online; Part time; Full time
  • Specializations: None

Volunteer State Community College

Individuals seeking a quick, affordable route to launching their criminal justice career will want to consider earning an associate degree or undergraduate certificate. The good news is that quality, fully accredited degree and certificate programs are available throughout Tennessee — like the Criminal Justice Program at Vol State Community College in Gallatin. What’s more, all programs are available on campus or entirely online — except for the Corrections Officer Technical Certificate, which includes 32 contact hours through the Tennessee Corrections Institute.

Students intending to transfer to a four-year college to earn their bachelor’s degree can choose either the Associate of Arts (which includes coursework in a foreign language) or Associate of Science (includes additional criminal justice courses in place of the foreign language coursework). The Associate of Applied Science in Criminal Justice is designed for students intending to move directly from their degree program into the job market. And students looking to take the most direct path into entry-level employment can opt for either the Criminal Justice Technical Certificate or the Corrections Officer Technical Certificate program.

Program Highlights:

AA in Criminal Justice

  • Credits: 60
  • Length: 2 years
  • Cost (tuition + fees): $246 per credit in-state | $308 per credit out-of-state
  • Mode: Fully online; Full time
  • Specializations: None

AS in Criminal Justice

  • Credits: 60
  • Length: 2 years
  • Cost (tuition + fees): $246 per credit in-state | $308 per credit out-of-state
  • Mode: Fully online; Full time
  • Specializations: None

AAS in Criminal Justice

  • Credits: 60-61
  • Length: 2 years
  • Cost (tuition + fees): $246 per credit in-state | $308 per credit out-of-state
  • Mode: Fully online; Full time
  • Specializations: None

Criminal Justice Technical Certificate

  • Credits: 16
  • Length: As little as 1 semester
  • Cost (tuition + fees): $246 per credit in-state | $308 per credit out-of-state
  • Mode: Fully online; Full time; Part time
  • Specializations: None

Types of Criminal Justice Degree Programs in Tennessee

For each of the many criminal justice career paths available to you, you’ll find specific types of degree or certificate programs that are ideal to get you started. To help you determine the right one for you, here are descriptions of the five most common criminal justice program types, along with real program examples in Tennessee for each.

Associate Degrees

The criminal justice associate degree is primarily for students seeking a foundational education that prepares them for entry-level employment. During your program search, you’ll notice that many criminal justice associate degree programs come with the Tennessee Transfer Pathway (TTP) designation. TTP programs allow students to begin their college education at a more affordable community college (or similar two-year program) and then transfer the credits earned in that program to a four-year college or university to earn their bachelor’s degree. Criminal justice associate degree programs in Tennessee may be campus-based or online and typically require two years of full-time study to complete.

Examples of Accredited Tennessee Colleges with this Criminal Justice Degree

CollegeLocationDeliveryAccreditation
Bethel UniversityMcKenzieOnlineSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
Columbia State Community CollegeColumbiaOn-CampusSACSCOC
Jackson State Community CollegeJacksonOnlineSACSCOC
Northeast State Community CollegeBlountvilleOnlineSACSCOC
Southwest Tennessee Community CollegeMemphisOn-Campus; OnlineSACSCOC

Bachelor’s Degrees

While requiring more time than an associate degree program, a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice offers students the advantage of additional general education and major-specific coursework, an attractive feature to many employers. The bachelor’s also prepares students to continue their studies on the graduate level. Bachelor’s degree criminal justice programs in Tennessee are offered by four-year colleges and universities, both public and private, and happen on campus, online, or as a hybrid. Like most bachelor’s programs, students should expect to invest four years of full-time study into earning their degrees.

Examples of Accredited Tennessee Colleges with this Criminal Justice Degree

CollegeLocationDeliveryAccreditation
Cumberland UniversityLebanonOn-CampusSACSCOC
South CollegeAshville; Knoxville; NashvilleOnline; HybridSACSCOC
Tennessee Tech UniversityCookevilleOn-CampusSACSCOC
Tennessee Wesleyan UniversityAthensOnlineSACSCOC
University of Tennessee KnoxvilleKnoxvilleOn-CampusSACSCOC

Master’s Degrees

Master’s degrees in criminal justice are, in most cases, designed to prepare professionals currently employed in any of the many criminal justice-related fields for advanced practice and leadership positions. Master’s programs also provide the academic credential needed to continue on to earn a doctoral degree for those seeking academic careers. You’ll find that many criminal justice master’s programs in Tennessee are available fully online in part-time formats, meant to allow the greatest study convenience and flexibility to working professionals. Program lengths vary as a result, but most students will complete their studies in around 1.5 to 2 years.

Examples of Accredited Tennessee Colleges with this Criminal Justice Degree

CollegeLocationDeliveryAccreditation
Bethel UniversityMcKenzieOnline; On-Campus; HybridSACSCOC
Lincoln Memorial UniversityHarrogateOnlineSACSCOC
Middle Tennessee State UniversityMurfreesboro Online; On-CampusSACSCOC
University of Tennessee ChattanoogaChattanoogaOn-CampusSACSCOC
University of Tennessee SouthernPulaskiOnlineSACSCOC

Doctoral Degrees

A doctoral degree in criminal justice is strictly for professionals seeking the highest tier of practice in the criminal justice field. There are two basic criminal justice doctoral degree types: the PhD in Criminal Justice, which prepares graduates for top-level positions in academic research and teaching; and the less common Doctorate in Criminal Justice, which is geared more toward those interested in leadership positions.

There are, however, currently no criminal justice doctoral degree programs based in Tennessee, though the University of Tennessee, Knoxville does offer a PhD in Sociology with a Criminology specialization (linked below). You can also earn an online PhD or doctoral degree from schools outside of Tennessee.

Examples of Accredited Tennessee Colleges with this Criminal Justice Degree

CollegeLocationDeliveryAccreditation
University of Tennessee, KnoxvilleKnoxvilleOn-CampusSACSCOC

Certificate Programs

Criminal justice certificate programs in Tennessee are available on both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Undergraduate certificates are designed primarily to provide students with a faster and more affordable credential leading to entry-level employment than an associate or bachelor’s degree. Graduate certificates provide current professionals a way to gain additional knowledge and skills in criminal justice generally or in a specific area of the profession without the need to complete an entire graduate degree program. Completion times vary, but most can be earned with six months to one year of part-time study.

Examples of Accredited Tennessee Colleges with this Criminal Justice Degree

CollegeLocationDeliveryAccreditation
East Tennessee State University (graduate)Johnson CityOnlineSACSCOC
Nashville State Community College (undergraduate)NashvilleOn-Campus; OnlineSACSCOC
South College (graduate)Nashville; KnoxvilleOnlineSACSCOC
Tennessee College of Applied Technology (undergraduate)HumboldtOn-CampusCommission of the Council on Occupational Education (COE)
University of Tennessee Martin (graduate)MartinOnlineSACSCOC

Financial Aid Opportunities for Criminal Justice Students in Tennessee

If you know where to look, you’ll find plenty of resources out there to help you pay for on-campus and online criminal justice degrees in Tennessee. Your logical first stops are at the financial aid offices at each of the criminal justice schools in Tennessee you’re considering. There you’ll find leads to a full range of funding opportunities, including:

And be sure to check out this Criminal Justice Scholarships and Resources guide to learn more about how to fund your criminal justice education.

Demand and Earnings for Criminal Justice Professionals in Tennessee

We’ve listed in the chart below recent Tennessee earnings and job growth figures from the U.S. Department of Labor for five common criminal justice positions. In a state with one of the lowest costs of living in the U.S. (45th among all states, according to recent data from Forbes), it’s not surprising that salaries for criminal justice professionals in Tennessee are markedly lower than those for the nation overall. However, according to the most recent Projections Central figures, job growth estimates for many criminal justice-related occupations in Tennessee are in line with — and, in some cases, higher — than for those occupations in the nation as a whole. That’s a positive sign for anyone intending a long career after earning an on-campus or online criminal justice degree in Tennessee.

Keep in mind as you look over these figures that what you actually earn will vary depending on several factors such as your geographic location, specific job title and employer, and your level of professional experience. You can also expect your earnings to be positively impacted by the fact that you hold a degree or certificate from a respected criminal justice program in Tennessee.

Job Growth Rate
(2020-2030)
Average Annual Openings
(2020-2030)
Annual Mean Wage
(2022)
Detectives and Criminal Investigators3.3%110$74,500
First-Line Supervisors of Police and Detectives8.2%280$67,690
Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers8.8%1,120$50,020
Private Detectives and Investigators5.5%70$57,620
Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists7.3%180$47,310

Sources: Projections Central;Bureau of Labor Statistics

Resources for Criminal Justice Students and Professionals in TN

  • Alpha Phi Sigma: The Criminal Justice Honor Society
    The only criminal justice honor society recognized by the Association of College Honor Societies, Alpha Phi Sigma is a major presence on over 500 campuses in the U.S. and Canada. Alpha Phi Sigma chapters are currently in operation in Tennessee at Austin Peay State University, Tennessee State University, the University of Memphis, and on seven other campuses throughout the state.
  • Criminal Justice & Criminology Society (East Tennessee State University)
    This student-run organization is open to ETSU students interested in criminal justice, the law, current issues, and other related topics. Members attend meetings with guest speakers, take field trips to criminal justice and criminology-related agencies and facilities, and participate in charitable/volunteer activities. Similar clubs and organizations are active on many other Tennessee campuses. Examples include Tennessee State University, the University of Memphis, and the University of Tennessee Southern.
  • International Association for Identification – Tennessee Division (TNIAI)
    The TNIAI is a professional association of detectives, police officers, forensic scientists, crime scene technicians, and others working in the crime scene processing and forensic identification fields. Student memberships are available, offering access to a range of networking benefits and scholarship opportunities.
  • Southern Criminal Justice Association (SCJA)
    Active in 11 southern states (including Tennessee) plus Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the non-profit SCJA is a professional association that serves students, researchers, educators, and practitioners in the criminal justice field. Student memberships are available, allowing students to participate in a variety of SCJA activities. Graduate student members are additionally eligible for the annual Outstanding Graduate Student award.
  • Tennessee Justice Center
    For nearly 30 years, the Tennessee Justice Center has supported and advocated for the rights and well-being of the state’s most vulnerable children and families. Internship and volunteer positions are available to criminal justice students and members of the general public alike.