Affordable Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice

When thinking about pursuing a master’s degree in criminal justice, there are many considerations to keep in mind. The time it takes to complete the program, the rigor of the coursework and the benefits of the degree should all play a part in the decision. Cost, however, may be the primary concern. Fortunately, there are affordable programs for those who wish to pursue a master’s degree in criminal justice.

The Rising Cost of Graduate School

Those pursuing a master’s degree in criminal justice should consider the trend of rising tuition so you can make decisions that consider your budget. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the average graduate tuition at public institutions was $12,394 for the 2020-2021 school year, equating to nearly $25,000 for a two-year master’s degree.

This figure is almost twice what the same degree cost in 1999-2000 in inflation-adjusted dollars. Plus, NCES’ public school tuition figures reflect the average of in-state and out-of-state tuition. And, notably, out-of-state tuition can be over three times the cost of in-state tuition in some states. Further, NCES reports the average graduate tuition at private schools was $26,621 in 2020-2021, meaning a two-year master’s would average over $53,000 in total tuition.

This level of financial investment can be prohibitive to many people, especially working professionals who depend on their regular income. Students who attend traditional campus-based graduate programs may have to give up working full-time and earning a consistent wage, resulting in a hefty “opportunity cost,” the income and other opportunities students miss out on while in school.

Is It Worth It?

While the cost of a master’s degree is rising, the investment may be worth it. Consider the benefits of a master’s degree in criminal justice. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that those holding a master’s degree earned a median weekly salary of $1,574 in 2021, versus $1,334 for workers with only a bachelor’s degree. That equals an annual median wage premium of nearly $12,500 for having a master’s degree.

Further, the 2021 unemployment rate of those holding a master’s degree was 2.6%, roughly half the unemployment rate of workers with only a high school diploma and nearly a percentage point lower than workers with only a bachelor’s. The benefits of an advanced degree, it seems, may outweigh the costs.

Where Can I Get One?

A number of colleges offer online criminal justice graduate programs. For example, Lamar University offers an online Master of Science in Criminal Justice degree program which costs only $9,735 in total tuition. And, due to the program’s convenient online design, students can keep working full time while completing their degree, avoiding the opportunity cost of lost wages.

Plus, this cost is effectively offset by the potential earnings of someone who holds a master’s degree in criminal justice. For example, the median yearly pay for police and detectives exceeded $66,000 in 2021, according to the BLS. A master’s in criminal justice can help boost a law enforcement career, preparing graduates for supervisory roles. BLS reports the median 2021 salary for first-line supervisors of police and detectives to be $99,330.

With a master’s degree in hand, you may also be able to work toward an advanced career in the FBI, CIA or other federal law enforcement agency, where salaries fall under the GL (Law Enforcement Officer) or GS (General Schedule) pay scales. 2022 salaries for the highest-level, supervisory roles in the GS-15 federal paygrade range from $112,890 to $146,757. And factors like locality pay, premium pay and law enforcement availability pay (LEAP) can add substantially to federal law enforcement salaries, regardless of GS or GL paygrade level.

A master’s degree in criminal justice may be a smart choice to advance your career and boost your earning power. Since tuition is rising for everyone, it is important to see if the investment in your education will pay off in the long run.

Learn about the Lamar University online MS in Criminal Justice program.

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