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The Grand Canyon State boasts one of the most thriving professional and academic environments for people interested in forensic science. As proof of point, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2015)—the main occupational data branch of the Department of Labor—reported that Arizona employed the fourth most forensic science technicians among all American states, just behind the much more populous California, Florida, and Texas. Furthermore, Arizona has the highest concentration of jobs in this field in the nation with 0.30 forensics science technicians per 1,000 people. In sum, Arizona offers many opportunities for people interested in this high-growth field.
To facilitate the training of legal experts in the state, the state Attorney General announced the creation of the Arizona Forensic Science Academy, a one-of-a-kind regional organization with training in DNA analyses, toxicology, death investigations, crime scene investigations, controlled substances, ballistics, fingerprints, and more. The comprehensive training school is run by experts at the Phoenix Police Department and the AZ Department of Public Safety. Additionally, the state has a Forensic Science Advisory Committee. Established in 2007, the FSAC coordinates Arizona’s forensic science services and laboratories, offering a cross-disciplinary discussion forum for forensic scientists, police, attorneys, and local communities. Most importantly, this group has worked tirelessly to standardize forensic science procedures and improve transparency into the state’s criminal justice system at large. With these statewide services coupled with the wealth of jobs and academic training programs, AZ is one of the most fertile grounds for forensic science in the country.
In more granular terms, what do forensic science technicians and forensic scientists do? According to the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS), there are several branches of forensic science based on different types of evidence including arson, blood & bodily fluids, DNA, sexual assault, and many others. There are also 10 certification boards recognized by the Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB), which offer credentialing in specific competencies. Forensic scientists take on numerous responsibilities such as examining and analyzing various types of evidence (e.g., bodily fluids, hairs, soils, metals, plastics, tire-tracks, etc.); presenting detailed findings to colleagues; collaborating with other professionals in litigation, medicine, or law enforcement; helping to construct plausible scenarios from crime scene evidence; and testifying as expert witnesses in court cases.
This piece examines the accredited forensics colleges in Arizona and gives an overview of the occupational demand, salaries, and certifications available in the state.
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There’s ample evidence that forensic science is a high-growth and relatively lucrative career in Arizona. By illustration, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (Dec. 2015) anticipated a 27 percent increase in openings for forensic science technicians nationally between 2014 and 2024, much higher than the average growth projected across all US occupations during that time period (7 percent). Furthermore, there’s evidence that the future job prospects in this field may be even brighter in Arizona. As proof of point, Projections Central (2017) reported that there would be a 31.1 percent explosion in forensic science tech openings in Arizona during that same decade. With the expected addition of 220 fresh openings in the state, not to mention related industries and employers in forensic science, people trained in this field should have plenty of career opportunities into the future.
Also, this is a high-paying career within AZ. In fact, the BLS (May 2015) reported that the 790 forensic science technicians in the state earned an average annual salary of $55,960, fully 23.5 percent higher than the mean salary of all AZ occupations ($45,310, BLS 2015). In more detailed terms, here were the annual wage percentiles among the AZ forensic science techs:
Arizona (790 forensic science technicians): $55,960 annual average salary
Put into hourly figures, these AZ wage estimates became:
Arizona: $26.90/hour average
The BLS (May 2015) also offered salary figures in this career for various regions within Arizona. The top-paying and top-employing area for forensic science techs was the Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale metropolitan region. Here were the numbers of forensic science techs employed, the average salaries, and wage percentiles among the three BLS-designated regions within AZ:
Flagstaff, AZ (40 forensic science technicians): $56,880 annual average salary
Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ (570 employed): $57,970 avg.
Tucson, AZ (120 employed): $50,150 avg.
One prominent employer of forensic science professionals is the City of Mesa, which in addition to various lab and field positions, also provides a Forensic Services Internship. This opportunity is open to candidates with at least a bachelor of science in chemistry, biochemistry, forensic science, or another relevant field. Luckily for people interested in this internship and other hands-on experiences, there is a wealth of forensic science schools within Arizona, including some online programs.
Prior to seeking admission to any forensic science program in Arizona, aspiring students are strongly encouraged to check out its accreditation status. The main programmatic accreditation body in this field is the Forensic Science Education Program Accreditation Commission (FEPAC), which as of January 2017 did not have any programs in AZ. That said, the Department of Education has approved six main regional accrediting agencies throughout the country. In AZ, the predominant accreditation entity is the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). To learn about how programs are approved, please reference the HLC website or accreditation section below.
In Arizona, there are associate, bachelor’s, and master’s programs in forensic science. To gain entry into one of these programs, admissions offices typically ask for:
Other programs may ask for letters of recommendation, years of relevant experience, or a candidate interview.
One standout two-year degree is available from the HLC-accredited Phoenix College, which provides an associate of applied science (AAS) in forensic technology. This 60-credit degree program includes instruction in substantive criminal law; constitutional law; evidence technology & fingerprints; criminalistics (biological evidence); procedural criminal law; and courtroom testimony. For Maricopa County residents, this program costs $86 per credit hour. For out-of-county residents, it’s $383.
Scottsdale Community College provides an AAS in forensic science with a focus on crime labs. Courses include ethics & the administration of justice; physical evidence; chemistry with quantitative analysis; and other fundamentals. Similar to the Phoenix College program, SCC costs $86 per credit hour (Maricopa County residents) or $383 (nonresidents).
In a 2017 interview with Forensics Colleges, several professors across the country stressed the importance of having a rigorous education in science to maximize one’s professional and academic opportunities in this field. For students in AZ seeking a more science-heavy curriculum, here are a few of the relevant bachelor’s programs in the state.
Grand Canyon University of Phoenix provides a bachelor of science (BS) in forensic science. It provides instruction in chemistry; human anatomy & physiology; crime scene processing; pathophysiology; biochemistry; organic chemistry; genetics; physical evidence; physics; instrumental analysis; toxicology; and body fluid & DNA analysis. This on-campus program costs $8,250 per semester.
Arizona State University of Tempe also provides a BS in forensic science at the school’s West Campus. It focuses squarely on natural sciences and mathematics, and even offers opportunities to complete internships in Phoenix-area crime labs. The 120-credit hour degree has coursework in modern concepts in biochemistry; professional practices in forensic science; forensic toxicology; molecular genetics; cultural diversity in the US; and literacy & critical inquiry, among other classes. This program costs approximately $9,530 annually for AZ residents and $22,980 for nonresidents, although additional fees may apply.
Finally, Northern Arizona University of Flagstaff provides a BS in chemistry with an emphasis on forensics and criminalistics. In addition to foundational coursework in atomic theory, thermodynamics, and other chemistry fundamentals, students in the forensics specialization take classes in the measurement of chemical & physical properties, chemical instrumentation, and forensics & criminalistics. Tuition depends on the number of credits a student takes and can be found through the tuition calculator.
While these are some of the most promising associate and bachelor’s degree programs in AZ, there are academic opportunities in this high-growth field all over the nation. To examine the opportunities at all degree levels, please visit the main forensic science programs page.
For residents of more rural states of AZ or those with unbreakable time commitments, there are some online and hybrid forensic science programs available at AZ-based institutions. For example, Mesa Community College provides an online associate of applied science (AAS) degree in forensic investigations focused on the administration of justice. It requires minimal campus visitation and has courses in substantive criminal law; ethics & the administration of justice; the correction function; criminology; and more. To find out how much this program costs, interested students should use the MCC tuition calculator. Also, Arizona State University provides a hybrid bachelor of science (BS) in criminology and criminal justice. This program boasts flexible course scheduling in online, in-person, and multi-campus formats. Classes include leadership & change; sustainable communities; and other topics relevant to the field.
Prior to enrolling in any online or hybrid forensic science program, students should check out the ‘state authorization’ status of their school. Due to differing state laws governing the delivery of online education, it may not be allowed for an institution based in one state to provide online education to a student residing in another state. Reach out to program coordinators for details.
For an overview of distance-based forensic science programs across various specializations, please visit the main online forensic science degrees page.
As mentioned in the introduction, there are various forensic science credentialing agencies available. To achieve national certification, candidates typically need at least a bachelor’s degree; one year of relevant forensic science experience; and a passing score on a comprehensive examination.
As of January 2017, there were 10 professional certification entities recognized by the Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB), including:
Please note that there are some states which offer credentialing to forensic science professionals, although the AZ Department of Public Safety Crime Lab does not note any such requirement in the Grand Canyon State.
Lastly, as mentioned in the programs section, there are two main entities in AZ which approve forensics programs. First, the Forensic Science Education Program Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) provides programmatic accreditation in this field, although there are currently no FEPAC-accredited programs in AZ. Second, the Department of Education-approved Higher Learning Commission (HLC) offers institutional accreditation to schools in Arizona. The HLC weighs factors such as quality of school facilities, student outcomes, program funding & administration, and other measures of effectiveness. In addition to Arizona, the HLC approves programs in Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
|School Name||City||Website||Degrees Awarded||Certificates Awarded||Total Forensics Grads|
|Scottsdale Community College||Scottsdale||www.scottsdalecc.edu||4||34||38|
|Pima Community College||Tucson||www.pima.edu||0||21||21|
|Mesa Community College||Mesa||www.mesacc.edu||0||16||16|
|Chandler-Gilbert Community College||Chandler||www.cgc.maricopa.edu||0||5||5|
|Arizona Western College||Yuma||www.azwestern.edu||3||0||3|
|Grand Canyon University||Phoenix||www.gcu.edu||2||0||2|
School data provided by IPEDS (2013), and includes all certificates and degrees awarded for the following programs: Arson Investigation, Computer Forensics, Forensic Accounting, Forensic Chemistry, Forensic Psychology, Forensic Science and Technology, and Law Enforcement Investigation