The Great Lakes State boasts more than 11,000 inland lakes and 36,000 miles of streams, making it an especially fertile ground for those interested in ecological forensics. In fact, the catastrophic Flint water crisis was uncovered by careful, scientific assessments of lead contamination in the drinking water (Wikipedia 2016). This devastating disaster is just one example of how a subfield of forensics is helping to unearth criminal misconduct.
According to Michigan State University (MSU), additional areas of forensics specialization include biological evidence, toxicology, drugs & firearms, pathology, odontology, anthropology, toxicology, trace evidence, and even entomology (i.e., the study of insects). The American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS 2016) adds to this list the following subfields: arson, bite mark, blood & bodily fluids, crime scene, child abuse, DNA, death investigation, digital evidence, fingerprints, and sexual assault. Forensics students might major in forensic science or pathology, for example, and still have the option to specialize in one or more of those other areas. According to AAFS’s comprehensive career brochure entitled So You Want to Be a Forensic Scientist (2014), forensic scientists typically have at least a bachelor’s degree and maintain responsibilities such as scientifically analyzing different types of evidence (e.g., bodily fluids, soils, plastics, explosives, ballistics, tire impressions, etc.); meticulously documenting laboratory analyses; working with law enforcement and medical personnel; constructing plausible explanations for crime scene findings; and serving in court as expert witnesses.
The Wolverine State is home to a wealth of forensics colleges at every level—including certificate, associate, bachelor’s, and graduate programs—and these professionals are relatively well-compensated. As proof of point, Michigan’s forensic science technicians—one career possibility in this field—make more money annually than the average salary of all occupations across Michigan. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2014) reported that all workers made an average annual salary of $45,140 and forensic science technicians made 29.8 percent more at $58,610 (BLS 2014).
Read on to discover the occupational outlook for forensic scientists in Michigan, as well as the variety of accredited forensics programs in the state and professional certification information.
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As mentioned above, forensic science technicians stand to make more money annually than the average for all occupations across the state (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2014), and there’s more good news for aspiring forensics professionals in Michigan.
First, the BLS (2014) projects that openings across the country for forensic science technicians will swell 27 percent between 2014 and 2024, substantially faster than the average growth anticipated for all occupations during that time period (7 percent).
Second, there are currently 190 forensic science technicians employed in Michigan, but this doesn’t include those in related occupations such as medical examining, forensic nursing, forensic accounting, cybercrimes (i.e., digital evidence tracing), questioned documents, handwriting analysis, forensic odontology, forensic anthropology, DNA analysis, and more. The aforementioned So You Want to Be a Forensic Scientist (AAFS 2014) brochure details the job prerequisites and role responsibilities across the most common subfields of forensics.
Finally, although annual salary ranges in forensic science are somewhat lower in Michigan than national figures (see analysis below), the cost of living is also significantly lower in this state. By illustration, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2015) found that Michigan ranked ninth among all American states with respect to affordability, with particular savings in housing costs compared to other US states.
So how much do professionals in forensic science typically make? The BLS (2014) found the following salary percentiles for forensic science technicians nationwide:
For comparison, Payscale (2016)—an aggregator of self-reported salary data in common occupations—found slightly lower ranges among its 214 reporting forensic scientists around the country:
As mentioned above, Michigan is a cheaper state than most, ranking ninth in affordability (MERIC 2015). This is good news since the salary ranges among forensic science technicians were somewhat lower than national figures (BLS 2014):
Salaries for forensic science technicians also tend to vary by metropolitan area. Across the three designated regions of MI, the BLS (2014) found the following percentiles:
Detroit-Warren-Livonia, MI: 70 forensic science technicians employed
Grand Rapids-Wyoming, MI: 40 forensic science technicians employed
Warren-Troy-Farmington Hills, MI Metropolitan Division: 30 forensic science technicians employed
Finally, salaries also vary by employment sector. The BLS (2014) found that the federal government is the most lucrative place of employment in forensics. The top-paying industries for forensic science technicians nationwide were the following:
It’s clear that a majority of forensic science technicians are employed in the public sector. By illustration, O*NET (2014)—an affiliate of the US Department of Labor—reported that fully 89 percent of people in this field are employed by the government. The AAFS (2016) details common places of employment for forensic scientists including crime laboratories, police departments, medical examiner offices, hospitals, universities, and independent forensic science groups. Some work normal business hours, although due to the nature of crime scene processing and forensic work, they may be called upon to work evenings, weekends, and holidays as needed.
One prominent employer of forensics professionals in the Mitten State is the Michigan State Police. It boasts seven regional laboratories in its Forensic Science Division with testing services for DNA, firearms & toolmarks, latent prints, bloodstain patterns, controlled substances, trace evidence & questioned documents, and toxicology. Additionally, the Midwestern Association of Forensic Scientists (MAFS) hosts job postings, forensics grants, and workshops. For example, in May 2016, it will host an event on “Forensic Paint Examinations and Comparisons” at St. Paul’s Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Other conferences slated for 2016 include a basic fiber comparison workshop and a “chemistry refresher.” Furthermore, the Michigan-Ontario Identification Organization (MOIA)—an affiliate of the International Association for Identification (IAI)—provides a variety of trainings throughout the year in partnerships with local forensics organizations. Offered at centers in Texas and Michigan, MOIA’s 2016 trainings include palm print comparison, crime scene investigation, introduction to fingerprint comparison, cold case homicide investigations, and officer-involved shooting investigations. Finally, the State of Michigan Jobs website provides more information on forensics positions available.
*While this figure in particular seems low, it is faithfully reported according to the BLS data.
For prospective forensic scientists, there is an abundance of forensics programs in Michigan. Prior to enrollment, aspiring students are encouraged to verify the accreditation status of their programs. There are two main organizations to seek out: the Forensic Science Education Program Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) for programmatic accreditation or the regional Higher Learning Commission (HLC) for institutional accreditation. For more information on these approval processes, please see the accreditation section below.
For Michigan’s associate degree programs, admissions committees generally call for official secondary school (i.e., high school) transcripts; TOEFL test scores (for non-native speakers of English); and paying an application fee. For example, Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, MI provides an associate’s degree in criminal justice with instruction in criminal law, criminal justice, and interpersonal communications. Designed to educate entry level professionals in law enforcement such as Border Patrol, Homeland Security, and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents, Kellogg can be an especially attractive option for undecided students who want to transfer to a four-year program.
For Michigan’s bachelor’s degree programs in forensics, admissions committees typically ask for official high school transcripts with a competitive GPA (e.g., >3.0); submitting a personal statement; getting letters of recommendation; sending official scores from the SAT or ACT tests (and TOEFL for non-native English speakers); passing a background check; and paying an application fee. For example, Marygrove College in Detroit provides a bachelor of science (BS) with a major in forensic science. This 128-credit degree has advanced instruction in crime scene investigation & evidence collection, forensic biology, and criminal behavior, in addition to general educational requirements. Also, during their junior or senior years, students must complete a supervised internship to put their forensic abilities to practice. This program is also offered as a minor to students in other departments. Madonna University in Livonia hosts the only FEPAC-accredited bachelor of science (BS) in forensic science degree in Michigan with rigorous coursework in genetics, microbiology, trace & evidence impression analysis, and firearm & toolmark analysis. Students are also given the opportunity to join the prestigious Sigma Zeta Honor Society and the Madonna University Forensic Science Society (MUFSS). Wayne State University of Detroit offers a post-baccalaureate certificate in forensic investigations, combining coursework in criminalistics, anatomic pathology, and forensic analysis with hands-on internships and directed laboratory studies.
For Michigan’s master’s programs in forensics, admissions requirements typically include submitting post-secondary transcripts in a relevant major with a competitive GPA (e.g., >3.25); completing prerequisite coursework (e.g., organic chemistry, biology, genetics, DNA analysis, forensic science, etc.); writing a personal statement; sending letters of recommendation from professors or mentors; sending official scores from the GRE or MCAT tests (and TOEFL for non-native English speakers); being interviewed; and paying an application fee. For example, Michigan State University (MSU) offers a FEPAC-accredited master of science (MS) in either forensic biology, chemistry, or anthropology through its innovative School of Criminal Justice. MSU boasts state-of-the-art facilities for students to learn techniques such as chromatography, advanced microscopy, genetic analysis, capillary electrophoresis, and more. Didactic courses in the two-year, interdisciplinary forensic biology concentration, for instance, include serology, nuclear & mitochondrial DNA, and trace evidence. Finally, the University of Detroit Mercy (UDM) offers a graduate certificate in forensic accounting with courses in fraud detection, auditing, and information technology (use & misuse). UDM’s program is uniquely designed for working professionals with flexible weekend and evening hours.
For more information on forensics degrees and specializations, please visit the forensic programs page.
It’s not always easy to attend an on-campus programs due to familial, professional, or other types of time commitments. Fortunately for residents of rural Michigan, there are distance-based forensics programs available. For example, Baker College offers an online bachelor of science (BS) in criminal justice. This school serves almost 28,000 students online and through its campuses around MI. The program is designed to prepare professionals in law enforcement—including aspiring criminal investigators and other forensics professionals—and has classes such as criminology, legal issues in corrections, and cybercrime investigations. Additionally, Michigan State University (MSU) provides several online graduate certificates related to forensics, including anti-counterfeiting & fraud protection, conservation criminology, homeland security, and law enforcement intelligence & analysis. In its nine-credit conservation criminology option, for example, students take three classes: environmental risk perception & decision-making, corporate environmental crime & risk, and global risks, conservation & criminology.
Due to the nature of online programs, the institutions themselves need not be located in the state of Michigan. For more information on web-based programs, please visit the online forensic science degrees page.
In the state of Michigan, forensics certification may not be required for employment, but it can be advisable. It can enhance a job candidate’s resume and earning prospects, as well as serve as an indicator of one’s skills. Typical requirements for various forensic certifications include having at least a bachelor’s degree in forensic science (or a related field); having at least one year of experience; paying an application fee; and passing an exam. To maintain various credentials, the organizations below generally ask candidates to recertify by paying a fee and fulfilling continuing education (CE) requirements.
There are 17 professional certifications recognized by the esteemed Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB), including:
For some subfields of forensics and employers in Michigan, certification may be required. For example, Michigan’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) reports that in an amendment to the longstanding Professional Investigator Act, computer forensics professionals must have two types of certifications: general information security certification and a computer forensics specific certification.
Since requirements vary by place of employment, interested forensics professionals are advised to check with individual agencies for certification requirements.
As mentioned above, forensics students in Michigan are encouraged to check the accreditation status of their programs or institutions. The main approval body for programmatic accreditation is the Forensic Science Education Program Accreditation Commission (FEPAC), and for institutional accreditation, it’s the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). The former selectively accredits the most competitive forensic science programs across the country. There are currently two schools in Michigan with FEPAC-accredited programs: Madonna University and Michigan State University (MSU). The latter is one of six regional organizations recognized by the US Department of Education which accredits universities as a whole. In addition to Michigan, the HLC approves programs in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
Finally, both accrediting organizations weigh criteria such as student outcomes, faculty effectiveness, comprehensiveness of program curricula, institutional finances, quality of facilities, administrative organization, and other factors in their respective evaluation processes. Please visit accrediting body websites for a full list of evaluation criteria.
|School Name||City||Website||Degrees Awarded||Certificates Awarded||Total Forensics Grads|
|Michigan State University||East Lansing||www.msu.edu||10||0||10|
|Northern Michigan University||Marquette||www.nmu.edu||7||0||7|
|Wayne County Community College District||Detroit||www.wcccd.edu||0||3||3|
|Mott Community College||Flint||www.mcc.edu||0||1||1|
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
Barry is Managing Editor of ForensicsColleges.com, operated by educational web publisher Sechel Ventures Partners LLC, which he co-founded. Barry was previously VP for a financial software company, and currently sits on the board of a K-8 school and lives with his wife and daughters in the San Francisco Bay Area.