New All-Online Criminal Justice Degree

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There are two reasons why UW Tacoma’s newest criminal justice degree is pathbreaking. One: it was designed by social work faculty. Two: it’s all online.

In the fall of 2014, a cohort of students will begin their criminal justice (CJ) studies by logging on to their computers. This new online offering is the first all-online upper-division degree program at UW Tacoma. A campus-based CJ major—with face-to-face classes—was inaugurated in the fall of 2010, and graduated its first students in June of 2012.

UW Tacoma is the only UW campus that offers a criminal justice degree. The online and campus-based programs both are created and administered by UW Tacoma’s Social Work Program. A growing cohort of social-justice minded criminal justice faculty (there will be eight beginning autumn 2014) teach CJ courses and help guide the program’s development.

The involvement of faculty with a social work background in a criminal justice program is what sets UW Tacoma’s program apart from almost every other CJ program in the country. Most CJ degrees emphasize a narrower law enforcement or legal approach, but this program takes a broad look at the human impact of crime on perpetrators and victims.

“We want to turn out people who are prepared for a criminal justice career, but we want them to come from a frame of valuing and understanding the importance of social justice,” said Social Work Program Director Diane Young.

“Traditionally, criminal justice starts with a very punitive approach. The predominant view is that if we treat offenders harshly, they will learn a lesson and stop doing crime. But, throughout our country’s correctional systems, we have tremendously high recidivism rates. Something is really going awry. What we would like to suggest—and what we want our students to think about—is maybe there is a different way to do this,” said Young.

Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Lindquist is a big supporter of UW Tacoma’s criminal justice degree. “Early intervention and crime prevention are critical to a safe community. UW Tacoma’s program is one of the few in the country that emphasize a balanced corrections system. Taking the program online will give UW Tacoma access to a national market,” said Lindquist.

Alissa Ackerman is an assistant professor in Social Work at UW Tacoma who teaches criminal justice courses, and who will be teaching in the new online program. “Anyone is welcome to enroll in the online degree, but we’re particularly targeting active military, working professionals, and anyone for whom regular access to campus would be difficult,” said Ackerman.

The online learning experience is not for everyone, said Ackerman. “Our teaching and learning technologies office has pulled together some resources to support online students, including a self-assessment for online learning readiness.” Ackerman says the online criminal justice program will be a “cohort-based” model, meaning students will proceed through the program in groups, forming bonds through study groups, a sense of community and a strong team-based learning experience.

UW Tacoma is still accepting applications to the criminal justice degree program for autumn quarter 2014, both face-to-face and online offerings.

For more information about UW Tacoma’s online criminal justice degree program, contact Jill Haugen, academic support services specialist, at 253-692-4577 or

June 10, 2014
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, Media Relations,, 253-692-4536