2020 Best Online Law Enforcement Degrees

By OnlineU Staff | Updated March 31, 2020

Online law enforcement programs will help prepare students to work in local police departments, federal agencies, national parks, and courts. The schools that made our list of best online law enforcement colleges are particularly strong options for aspiring law enforcement professionals, based on tuition costs and alumni salaries reported by PayScale. Online law enforcement degrees are available at the associate, bachelor's, master's, and certificate levels.

Students should also consider accreditation and career options when choosing an online degree in law enforcement. Since there is no specific programmatic accreditation for law enforcement degrees, students should focus on institutions with regional or national accreditations when selecting which online schools to attend.

2020 Best Online Colleges Offering Bachelor's in Law Enforcement Degrees

2020 Best Online Colleges Offering Bachelor's in Law Enforcement Badge

Distance students seeking bachelor's degrees in law enforcement will find that these 16 colleges offer the best value based on affordability and alumni salaries. A degree from Western Illinois University has an impressive return on investment, with an annual tuition of $9,179 and alumni reporting a mid-career salary of $76,200. At #2, Southeast Missouri State University has one of the least expensive tuitions on the list, charging only $9,000 per year for its BS in Criminal Justice - Law Enforcement Academy Track.

Alumni salaries were provided by PayScale. View our methodology for more details or learn more about OnlineU.

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2020 Online Colleges Offering Law Enforcement Degrees - Ranking Details

Online Law Enforcement Degree Overview & Career Information

Education requirements vary due to the many career options within the law enforcement field. Entry-level positions at the local and state levels require an associate degree, though some local opportunities may be afforded to those who hold only a high school diploma. With 60 units of required coursework, an associate degree can be completed in two years. In order to be eligible to work for the federal government, professionals must hold at least a bachelor's degree. This degree will take participants around four years to complete; after earning a degree, students may go on to work at agencies like the FBI or CIA. Pursuing a master's degree will help professionals gain advanced positions as well as future promotions and pay increases. A typical graduate program can be completed in two years.

Online Associate Degrees in Law Enforcement

An online associate degree in law enforcement can be pursued at universities, community colleges, and technical schools. Participants will complete 60 units of coursework over the course of two years, gaining knowledge of basic law enforcement and criminology through subjects including judicial administration, criminal procedures, criminal law, police studies, ethics and the criminal justice leader, world civilizations, criminal investigation, statistics, and courts. In addition to the degree-specific topics listed, students must also complete college level English and math in order to graduate. Graduates can put their skills into action immediately in the multidisciplinary field of law enforcement. Entry-level positions are available in private security, crime scene investigation, probation, and court administration. To enroll in an associate program, the applicant must have a high school diploma or a GED equivalent. If the applicant has completed more than 24 units at another institution, official college transcripts must also be provided. English and math placement exams must also be taken before admission is granted.

Online Bachelor's Degrees in Law Enforcement

All federal law enforcement agencies require at minimum a bachelor's degree in law enforcement thus all interested candidates will want to consider enrolling in a bachelor's program. Through four years of study, students will complete a total of 120 units. Students take a wide range of classes on topics like applied criminal justice analysis, criminal justice research, perspectives on crime and delinquency, ethical decisions and police, contemporary police strategies, legal traditions, and criminal investigation. Graduates will be prepared to work in the federal government, but they will also be more likely to earn promotions and pay increases in their current professional settings. First-time freshman will be required to have a high school diploma or a GED plus a satisfactory SAT or ACT score. Bachelor programs in law enforcement are available at the university level as well as at vocational schools. 

Online Master's Degrees in Law Enforcement

Applying for jobs in federal law enforcement will require at minimum a four year degree; however, advanced positions will be available to those who hold a graduate degree. There are a number of jobs in federal law enforcement that a master's degree would prepare students for including working for the FBI, the CIA, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and the Secret Service. Students will participate in 30 to 36 units of coursework, which can take up to two years to complete. Due to the diverse nature of the law enforcement field, there are many different areas of concentration for students to choose from based on their personal interests. These areas of concentration include federal law enforcement, homeland security, behavior management, and crime analysis. Key courses include Research Methods, Youth Cultures and Deviance, Foundations of Addiction, Federal Criminal Justice, Forensic Financial Analysis, Terrorism: Threats and Strategy, and Homeland Security. Applicants interested in a master's program will need to submit their official undergraduate transcripts. An admissions essay along with two letters of recommendation from professional references will also be required. Graduate degrees in law enforcement can only be sought at the university level. 

Online Certificates in Law Enforcement

An online undergraduate certificate can be sought by professionals who already have experience in the field but wish to expand their knowledge and skills. Students will enhance their skills in parole, probation, investigation, and patrol. Such knowledge is gained through the completion of coursework on security, criminal investigation, probation and parole, problems in policing, police organization and management, and the American legal tradition. A typical online certificate program contains 45 to 56 units of coursework. Online certificate programs can be pursued at both universities and vocational schools, but applicants must provide official transcripts from all schools previously attended including high school and college. If the applicant has relevant work experience, a resume will also be key for admission.


Accreditation is an important factor when it comes to committing to a specific school or program. It ensures the quality of the program—meaning the curriculum, faculty, resources, and student evaluation systems have been deemed exceptional through an unbiased review conducted by an outside organization. Students can have full confidence that they are going to receive an education that is going to fully prepare them for their future profession upon graduation. It must also be noted that federal financial aid is only available for students who are taking part in accredited programs. Accreditation can also play an important role in job searching post-graduation. Many employers want to rest assured that their candidates have been properly trained and thus may only recognize degrees received through accredited programs. The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc. (CALEA), is a non-profit organization that internationally accredits law enforcement, communications, training academy, and campus security agencies. CALEA promulgates standards around best practices in public safety and how an agency should operate.

Careers in Law Enforcement

There are many career paths that can be followed within the field of law enforcement. One choice is federal criminal investigator. Individuals with this title investigate crimes that have taken place against the public as well as the government. Daily tasks include things like gathering evidence, conducting interviews to collect intelligence, making arrests, and testifying in court. Criminal investigators will need at least a four-year degree and must be under the age of 37 to qualify for the job. Candidates must also pass a background check before they can be considered. Once a candidate has passed all qualifications, they will then have to undergo basic training, which lasts about two months. During the two months of basic training, candidates will learn about interviewing, case management, surveillance, physical training, firearm handling, and vehicle operation.

Another notable job title is police officer. The main job of a police officer is to serve and protect people and their property. On a daily basis, they enforce laws, respond to calls, conduct patrols, conduct traffic stops, issue citations, arrest suspects, write reports, and testify in court. Police officers may have as little as a high school diploma—however, professionals who hold a college degree will find better career opportunities including promotions and advanced positions. All candidates must be at least 21 years of age, pass a background check, and graduate from a training academy. Once the candidate has been hired with an agency, they will also undergo on-the-job training before being released to conduct duties on their own. Lastly, police officers will need to pass regular physical exams.


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