Alabama residents who work in forensic science labor alongside law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and other crime scene analysts to reconstruct the events of a crime and ultimately help to convict or exonerate the accused.
Projected employment growth for Alabama forensic scientists (denoted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as Forensic Science Technicians) is on a par with the growth opportunity nationally. CareerOneStop, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, has found that the demand for forensic scientists in Alabama will grow by 25% from 2014 to 2024, which is similar to the nationwide expected growth rate of 27% (CareerInfoNet.org, 2017).
Alabama residents who are committed to pursuing a forensics career in their home state should start with a strong educational foundation. There are a few local options available for dedicated students, primarily traditional, campus-based programs, along with some online programs offered by out-of-state universities.
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There are a few different ways that people can come to work in the forensic science field. For instance, some forensic technicians begin their careers at the police academy while others come directly from a 4-year university. The following steps indicate one of the more direct pathways leading to a career in forensic science:
While Alabama does not have the highest concentration of forensic science specialists or jobs for those specialists, there are still opportunities for the right people. Because large swaths of Alabama are quite rural, about half of all forensic science technicians are employed in the Birmingham metropolitan area, which amounts to about 70 jobs, according to the BLS.
In terms of salary, Alabama is fairly competitive with the U.S. overall. The salary ranges for forensic science technicians in Alabama, as reported by BLS in 2014 are:
The salary data for Birmingham shows that forensic science technicians employed in that area actually tend to make a bit more than the state average, with the city’s median annual wage for forensic science technicians resting at $55,770.
Comparatively, the median annual wage (50th percentile) for the whole country is $56,320, making Alabama a bit below the national average. However, the cost of living in Alabama also comes in below the national average, so each dollar earned should go further.
Those who are considering going to school in the state will find that forensic science colleges in Alabama are in short supply. In fact, just two traditional campus programs are available as of 2016. Interested students who do not want to attend one of the programs below can still look to online options or neighboring states for additional programs.
The University of Alabama at Birmingham offers a number of different programs for those interested in the field. This includes a Master’s of Science degree in Forensic Science, which emphasizes use of scientific methods and technologies in the the legal proceedings field. In addition, the school offers a certificate in forensic accounting and a graduate certificate in computer forensics. Graduates of the school’s master’s degree program have gone on to find employment with organizations like the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences and a toxicology laboratory in New Mexico.
Alabama State University in Montgomery also offers an MS in Forensic Science program. To be eligible for admission, students must have a minimum GPA of 3.0 in their undergraduate coursework. The also must have completed courses in general chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, physics, and cell biology. The program also notes that it is specifically designed to “provide the State of Alabama with high quality forensic practitioners to work in the State’s forensic laboratory system and to prepare scientists that can also work in the growing private sector for forensic providers.”
While none of the forensic science programs in Alabama offer an online or hybrid component, there are other options. Students in Alabama who do not have time or who do not live near one of the on-campus forensic programs may choose to take online courses from a school outside of their state.
For example, the University of Maryland University College is an online school that offers a bachelor’s degree program in Investigative Forensics. The 120 credit hour program is available entirely online and tuition discounts are available for military service members and their spouses.
The University of Florida offers an online Master of Science or Graduate Certificate in Forensic Science. The online program has been the recipient of the Award of Excellence in Distance Education and does not require any campus visits to complete the degree. Rolling admissions means you can apply to the UF program and start any semester, so you can begin your education as soon as possible.
Students evaluating forensic science programs 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. The University of Alabama at Birmingham, for example, holds accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. In addition, the Forensic Science Master of Science program at UAB has been accredited by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC), meaning that the forensic science program specifically has been evaluated for its faculty, courses, and facilities. UAB is currently the only forensic science program in Alabama to have earned FEPAC accreditation.
In terms of professional certification, requirements differ for each specialty. For instance, someone who wants to apply for certification from the American Board of Criminalistics must have a degree from an accredited university, but the science or criminal justice program itself does not need to have programmatic accreditation. For a certification such as Blood Pattern Analysis, from the International Association for Identification, there are education requirements but no accreditation standards. 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