The best associate degrees in criminology

HomeCriminal JusticeThe best associate degrees in criminology

Introduction to criminology

If you’re planning a career in the criminal justice system, your first step on that path could be an associate degree in criminology. These programs typically prepare you to enter a police academy or get a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.

Generally, there are 2types of associate degrees in criminology:

  • The associate of arts is designed to prepare you for continued study toward a bachelor of arts degree in a similar field. These programs focus on the critical thinking and social side of criminology.
  • The associate of science or programs concentrate on investigation and evidence collection. After earning this degree, you could enter the workforce or pursue a bachelor of science degree.

What can I do with an associate degree in criminology?

There are many roles in the criminal justice system that are open to holders of associate degrees in criminology. These include victim advocacy, law enforcement, security, probation, prison officer, investigator or evidence technician.  

Associate degrees can provide the skills for entry-level jobs in this field. After gaining experience, you may seek promotion or continue your education with a bachelor’s degree or practical training. Many bachelor’s programs allow you to transfer your credits from your associate degree program.

As you advance in your education and experience, you can take on more senior roles, such as lead investigator, prison management, intelligence analyst, or an agent in a government organization. The optimal degree level for criminologists is a master’s or a doctorate which can lead to positions in academia or jobs with greater responsibilities and higher salaries.

Top 10 associate in criminology programs

  • Ashland University

    Ashland University Ohio, Ashland
    Ashland University

    AU’s criminology or criminal justice degree program is taught online. If you have professional training in law enforcement or corrections facilities, you can usually apply with your college credits. The program centers around crime analysis, system practices and policies.

    The associate degree requires 60 credit hours for completion. The program is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. Coursework includes terrorism, restorative justice and ethics in criminal justice. Although the program is 100% online, there are opportunities for hands-on experience with professionals in the field.

    AU also offer a B.S. in criminal justice with 5 concentrations:

    • Criminal justice generalist
    • Legal studies
    • Criminology
    • Law enforcement
    • Correctional administration

    AU has an undergraduate enrollment of almost 6,000 and is known for its small class sizes.

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  • Purdue University Global

    Purdue University Global West Lafayette, Indiana
    Purdue University Global

    The criminology program at Purdue Global includes an associate of applied science in criminal justice degree. It is an online program that requires 15 hours per week over 10 weeks. There are multiple start dates, which makes it a flexible option for studying. There are also transfer credit options for service members or veterans.

    This 90-credit program focuses on criminal law, counterterrorism, evidence collection and investigation techniques. The program is split into core, major and elective credits. There is also a capstone project to help you apply your knowledge to real world scenarios.

    If you choose to continue to a bachelor’s degree at Purdue, your associate degree covers half of the program requirements. The program is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

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  • North Arkansas College

    North Arkansas College Harrison, Arkansas
    North Arkansas College

    North Arkansas College, or Northark, delivers 2 associate degrees in criminology. The associate of science in criminal justice is designed as a transfer program for those who want to earn a bachelor’s degree. The associate of applied science in criminal justice is designed to launch you straight into a career in the field.

    Both programs require 60-62 credits and can take up to 2 years to complete. The coursework includes a mix of general education courses, such as English composition and philosophy, as well as U.S. history, and criminal evidence and procedure. Science courses are available as hybrid or on-campus programs.

    Although Northark does not offer a bachelor’s program, college advisors work closely with other institutions to facilitate transfer to bachelor’s programs. The school is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and the Arkansas Department of Higher Education. Northark has a total enrollment of about 1,800 students.

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  • Alfred State College

    Alfred State College Alfred, New York
    Alfred State College

    Alfred State College of Technology in New York delivers an associate of science degree in criminal justice. This on-campus program is part of the State University of New York (SUNY) system. Students who attended the police academy can transfer up to 6 credits.

    You earn your degree over 4 semesters. There are about 15 credit hours each semester, with a minimum of 60 credits required. The coursework includes psychology, sociology, government, law, criminology and the U.S. corrections process. There is a total undergraduate enrollment of just under 2,000 students.

    The school and its programs are accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE). Students can transfer to the B.S. in criminal justice program at the college, which includes an internship or a lab-based investigation course. The focus of the program is public safety, community relations and ethical law enforcement.

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  • Central Oregon Community College

    Central Oregon Community College Bend, Oregon
    Central Oregon Community College

    COCC has 2 associate degree options for criminal justice. The first is an arts degree, which is ideal for transferring to a bachelor’s program. The second is an applied science degree, which prepares students for a career in law enforcement and corrections.

    The minimum number of credits for the applied science program is 92. Coursework includes sociology, the psychology of violence and aggression, the judicial process and juvenile justice. Students must earn a minimum of 90 credits for the associate of arts program, and certain electives are recommended depending on your target school if you plan to continue on to a bachelor’s degree.

    The programs are a mixture of distance learning and live online classes. The school is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. It doesn’t offer a bachelor’s degree program in criminology, although has links with institutions where you can transfer.

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  • LeTourneau University

    LeTourneau University Longview, Texas
    LeTourneau University

    LETU offers an online associate of science degree in criminal justice that focuses on conflict resolution, restorative justice, criminal behavior and justice within the community. As a religious school, there are also theological aspects of the program.

    The program requires you to complete 63 credits, which are split into theology, general education, a general elective and criminal justice courses. The criminal justice courses include an introduction, criminology, criminal law and 15 hours of electives to tailor the program to your interests. The school has a full-time enrollment of about 1,400 students.

    There are several options for continuing your education at LeTourneau. It has a bachelor of science in criminal justice degree that’s available on-campus and online. Alternatively, there is a bachelor of criminal justice degree, which is online only. The school is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

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  • Central New Mexico Community College

    Central New Mexico Community College Albuquerque, New Mexico
    Central New Mexico Community College

    CNM has an associate of arts program in criminology, which aims to help students understand law, crime and society. The program prepares students for a career in the field or for continued study. There are part-time and full-time options, students can start during any term, and the courses are taught on campus or online.

    Taught over 4 terms, students need a minimum of 60 credits to earn the degree, including general education courses. There are courses on sociology, criminal justice systems and the option to complete a module on research or a capstone project.

    CNM is accredited by the Higher Learning Council. While it doesn’t offer bachelor’s degree programs, the program prepares students to transfer to the University of New Mexico, or elsewhere, for a B.A. in criminology.

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  • Upper Iowa University

    Upper Iowa University Fayette, Iowa
    Upper Iowa University

    UIU delivers an associate of arts degree in criminal justice. The program is available online as well as at the different UIU campuses in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas and Wisconsin. It focuses on a broad range of criminology subjects, including investigation, law enforcement, ethics and corrections.

    Programs are split into semesters of 8 weeks, with 2 sessions per semester and 2 courses per session, along with a 6-week summer option. Most students complete 60-72 credits over the course of the program. Courses include criminal law and procedure, community corrections, victimology, intelligence analysis and sociology.

    If you want to take your education to the next stage, UIU also delivers a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice with a concentration in homeland security. It focuses on sociology, psychology, communications and politics. UIU is a large institution with a full-time enrollment of about 2,600 students. The university is accredited by the Higher Learning Council.

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  • Davis and Elkins College

    Davis and Elkins College Elkins, West Virginia
    Davis and Elkins College

    Davis and Elkins College of West Virginia delivers an associate degree in criminal justice that can lead to a career in the field or prepare you for a bachelor’s degree program. In addition to a theoretical base, this program has practical elements in the fields of law enforcement, juvenile justice and institutional corrections. It is usually taught on campus, although online options are available.

    The program requires you to take 39 semester hours, including courses in criminology, politics, psychology and sociology. Criminology courses include advanced theoretical criminology, juvenile delinquency and justice, law enforcement, law, procedure and investigations. There’s also a criminal justice internship. The college is accredited by the Higher Learning Council.

    You can continue your education in criminology at D&E. It has a bachelor’s degree program in criminal justice, where you can transfer your semester hours to contribute to the 124 credit hours required to complete the program. The college is a promising option if you want a small school with classes that have fewer students, as its total enrollment of full-time students is under 800.

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  • Paris Junior College

    Paris Junior College Paris, Texas
    Paris Junior College

    Paris Junior College in Texas has an associate of science and an applied science program in criminal justice. They are taught on campus or online. Both programs include general education courses, criminology modules, and the opportunity to complete an internship.

    The associate of science program is taught over 4 semesters with 15 credits each. Courses include court systems and practices, correctional systems and practices, and police systems and practices. The associate of applied science follows the same format, and courses include fundamentals of criminal law, the juvenile justice system, and criminal investigation.

    From your associate degree at PJC, you can transition to a program at the Texas A&M University-Commerce. In this case, you can complete 86 credit hours at PJC and transfer them to the bachelor’s program at the university. Paris Junior College is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

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Career options for degree holders

The criminal justice field is competitive in most states. Holding an associate degree in criminology can help candidates improve their chances of gaining a position in this field.

There are a range of jobs available to those who have earned an associate degree, including:

Law enforcement

This area covers a number of positions, including working for a private detective agency or enrolling in a police academy. The median annual salary for these roles is $81,920.

The majority of law enforcement roles can be found within local government, although there are also opportunities with federal agencies, state government and at colleges and universities. The outlook for police and detective roles is positive, with a projected growth of 5% between 2019 and 2029.

Correctional officers

Qualified personnel are often required at jails and prisons across the U.S. This job includes working with inmates in correctional facilities run by state or local governments. Budget issues mean that these positions are projected to decline by 7% from 2019 to 2029.

Another similar position is as a bailiff, overseeing procedures and maintaining order and safety in courts. The median annual salary for this position is $45,300.

Investigative technicians

Usually classed as an evidence technician, this role focuses on investigating and gathering evidence. These positions are typically found within law enforcement agencies or private companies, such as insurance investigators. You’ll need to process evidence and write reports.

A similar but more senior position is a forensic science technician, and the employment of this profession is expected to grow by 14% between 2019 and 2029. The median annual salary for evidence technicians is $39,490.

Future prospects

Many holders of an associate degree in criminology choose to continue their education to enhance their career prospects. A bachelor’s degree can open up additional opportunities to work as a forensic scientist, fire investigator, cybercrime analyst, U.S. marshal or federal agent.

Earning a master’s degree or doctorate in this field allows you to conduct further research and specialize in areas such as homeland security, security law, counterterrorism or law, policy, and the justice system. With these degrees, you may gain a senior position managing law enforcement or at a government agency setting policy and advising politicians on the justice system.

Financial aid

Many of the colleges and universities in this list accept students who have applied for federal financial aid through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. Alternatively, some of the programs offer low-cost tuition for service members and veterans.

Another option would be to apply for a grant or scholarship, such as the Crimcheck Criminal Justice Scholarship, which is awarded to individuals pursuing post-secondary education in the field. Scholarships and grants can contribute between $500 and $3,000 towards degree costs and tuition.