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For many U.S. school children, their knowledge of Mississippi does not extend beyond the sing-songy way that they learn to spell the Ojibwe word “Mississippi”. However, the Magnolia State has been an important part of the United States since it joined the union in 1817. As the site of important civil right battles and rich antebellum history, Mississippi is the heart of the American South.
Mississippians interested in exploring a new career may want to consider the possibility of forensic science. Although the absolute number of forensic science technician jobs in Mississippi is somewhat low, with just 110 currently employed technicians according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are opportunities (BLS, 2015). Education is essential for aspiring forensic technicians. There are a few schools with both online and on-campus programs available for Mississippi students.
Keep reading to find out more about schools and employment opportunities in the forensic science field for Mississippi.
Every career path has its own twists and turns. It is a good idea to get as clear a picture as possible of what it means to pursue a certain career before jumping in head first. Following are some of the most common steps that successful forensic science technicians take on their way to employment.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 110 forensic science technicians are employed in Mississippi as of 2014 (BLS, 2014). The state is expected to see 18% growth in the field through 2024, which is slower than the expected national growth rate of 27%, but still much faster that the average expected growth for all careers (7%).
Most jobs are concentrated in the state capital of Jackson and the surrounding metropolitan area, where 90 forensic science technicians were employed as of 2014, according to BLS data.
Salary is always a concern when it comes to choosing a career, and the salary ranges for forensic science technicians in Mississippi, as reported by BLS in 2014 are:
Comparatively, the median annual wage (50th percentile) for forensic science technicians throughout the country is $56,320, making Mississippi a lower-paying state. However, the cost of living in Mississippi is among the lowest in the country, making the small discrepancy in average salary less important.
Those who are working in the field are working in a number of different areas, including with law enforcement and at crime labs throughout the state. The majority of the jobs are going to be in the areas that have higher populations, such as Jackson, Gulf Coast, and Biloxi. The Mississippi Department of Public Safety offers information about careers, and much more, on their site.
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Two Mississippi schools provide programs focused on forensic science.
Northwest Mississippi Community College in Senatobia functions as one of the forensics colleges in Mississippi providing programs. Students can complete an Associate of Arts degree in Pre-Forensic Chemistry, which prepares them for entry level work in a forensics lab. Students may also choose to use their AS degree to transfer into a four-year program in Mississippi or elsewhere.
The University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg offers a variety of choices for students, including a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Forensic Science with an emphasis in criminal justice. This program is open to freshmen students as well as those transferring in. Further, the university provides a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Forensic Science with an emphasis in anthropology in addition to similar forensic science degrees in the biological sciences, physics, and even polymer science.
The only Mississippi program accredited by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) is at the University of Mississippi (also known as Ole Miss). The Chemistry department at Ole Miss offers a Bachelor of Science Degree in Forensic Chemistry. The program requires between 46 and 50 credit hours of chemistry courses in addition to a summer internship at a local, state, or federal crime laboratory. Because of its accreditation and internship opportunities, the Ole Miss program is likely to be quite competitive and provide a strong background for future employment.
Some colleges, such as Northwest Mississippi Community College, offers online and hybrid learning programs. However, the college does not offer all forensic science courses and training online, so it is important for students to speak with counselors about the program if they are unable to be on campus.
Students can find an assortment of programs available on a national scale and through schools with campuses based in other states. For example, the University of Maryland University College offers an online Bachelor of Science degree in Forensic Investigations. This 120-credit degree program educates students in the realms of investigative, scientific and lab-based forensic science studies.
In addition, the University of Florida offers a Master’s of Science degree in Forensic Science that is available entirely through e-learning. Other options available entirely online and that may catch the interest of students interested in forensic science colleges in Mississippi or elsewhere, include master’s degrees in Forensic DNA and Serology, Forensic Toxicology, or Forensic Drug Chemistry. A variety of graduate level forensic science certificates are also available through the university through entirely online learning.
Students evaluating forensic science programs in Mississippi and beyond should look for both institutional and programmatic accreditation. Institutional accreditation means that the schools as a whole has been evaluated for its standards and efficacy. For instance, Northwest Mississippi Community College holds accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
The Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) offers accreditation that is specific to forensic science programs. Although this accreditation is not necessary for most entry level jobs or certifications, it can be an important indicator of a program’s history in higher education. The University of Mississippi is currently the only program in the state with FEPAC accreditation for their Forensic Chemistry program.
Requirements for professional certification differ for each specialty. For instance, in order to become a Certified Forensic Anthropologist, applicants must a doctoral degree in forensic anthropology, although there are no accreditation requirements. On the other hand, applicants for a Latent Print Certification through the International Association of Identification (IAI) must have at least two years experience in the field.
Ultimately, students should investigate their chosen specialty thoroughly to ensure that they are earning an education that will be applicable to their future career goals.
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.