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Forensics Colleges in Arizona

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 (BLS 2022)—the main occupational data branch of the Department of Labor—reported that Arizona (AZ) 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 0.31 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 (FSAC). 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 in 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 country’s most fertile grounds for forensic science.

According to the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS), several branches of forensic science are based on different types of evidence, including arson, blood & bodily fluids, DNA, sexual assault, and many others. There are also ten 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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How to Become a Forensic Scientist in Arizona

For prospective forensic professionals in Arizona, there are several experiential and educational paths, although these candidates typically pursue at least a four-year degree in natural sciences before employment.

Career One Stop (2023)—a job-planning tool sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor—reports that 31 percent of forensic science technicians have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 14 percent with associate degrees and 24 percent with some college education.

The most common path to becoming forensic scientists or technicians in AZ is detailed below:

Step 1: Graduating from high school.

Since forensic techs or scientists often possess degrees in natural or physical sciences, so having strong grades in chemistry, physics, statistics, mathematics, and biology may prepare them for postsecondary work.

Step 2: Pursuing a bachelor’s degree (four years).

Many forensic techs or scientists hold four-year degrees, typically a bachelor of science (BS), in a subject such as biology, chemistry, engineering, psychology, or even computer science. The right degree will usually depend on the individual’s intended specialization.

Step 3: Applying for certification through a national organization (optional, timeline varies).

Although certification is not necessary for practice in all forensic science branches, it can indicate a level of achievement or professional standards to employers, especially in fields that are more competitive. There are ten professional certification organizations accredited by the Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB), including the American Board of Forensic Toxicology (ABFT), the American Board of Criminalistics (ABC), and several other subfields. Please note that these specialties may involve experiential requirements, examinations, or advanced training before admission.

Step 4: Pursuing an advanced degree in forensic science or a specialty discipline (optional, timeline varies).

A more advanced degree is typically required for forensic techs or scientists looking for increased responsibilities, deeper knowledge, and possibly higher pay. According to Career One Stop, 11 percent of forensic scientists hold graduate degrees.

Occupational Demand for Forensics Professionals in Arizona

There’s ample evidence that forensic science is a high-growth and relatively lucrative career in Arizona. By illustration, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2022) anticipated an 11 percent increase in openings for forensic science technicians nationally between 2021 and 2031, much higher than the average growth projected across all US occupations during that time period (5 percent). Currently, there are 17,590 of these professionals nationwide, not including those in related occupations.

Furthermore, there’s evidence that the future job prospects in this field may be even brighter in Arizona. For instance, Projections Central (2023) reported that there would be a 13 percent explosion in forensic science tech openings in Arizona during the span between 2020 and 2030.

One prominent employer of forensic science professionals is the City of Mesa, which provides a Forensic Services Internship in addition to various lab and field positions. 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, Arizona has a wealth of forensic science schools, including some online programs.

Degrees in forensic sciences can be versatile, and these graduates in Arizona may go into a variety of careers, such as:

  • Forensic engineers
  • Medical examiners
  • Crime scene examiners
  • Physical anthropologists
  • Crime laboratory analysts
  • Behavior scientists
  • Document examiners
  • Digital analysts
  • Criminal profilers

The training, experiential requirements, and education may vary for these professions. The American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) provides a career resource list with professional associations, organizations, and networking opportunities across various disciplines in forensic science.

Finally, the ForensicsColleges blog offers several in-depth career articles for graduates in forensic science in its How to Become series, with step-by-step instructions to becoming a profiler, crime scene technician, forensic psychologist, forensic accountant, detective, and more.

Forensics Salaries in Arizona

Featured CSI & Forensic Science Programs
Purdue Global BSCJ - Crime Scene InvestigationVisit Site
Grand Canyon University MS - Forensic ScienceVisit Site
Arizona State University Forensic Science (BS)Visit Site
Arizona State University Forensic Science (PSM)Visit Site
Stevenson University Online Online Master of Forensic Science (MFS)Visit Site
Stevenson University Online Online Master's in Crime Scene InvestigationVisit Site
University of West Alabama (Campus) Chemistry Comprehensive - Forensic Chemistry (BA/BS)Visit Site
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The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2022) reported that there were 820 forensic science technicians in the state.

Furthermore, BLS found that the salary figures are lower than the national salary ranges. As proof of point, the United States employs 17,590 forensic science technicians with an average annual salary (mean annual wage) of $69,260. In AZ, the average salary in this field is $66,280.

In more detailed terms, here is a breakdown of the salary percentiles among all forensic science technicians in the country compared with those in AZ (BLS May 2022):

United States Arizona
Number of Forensic Science Technicians Employed 17,590 910
Annual Mean Wage $69,260 $66,280
10th percentile $39,710 $40,760
25th percentile $49,320 $49,290
50th percentile $63,740 $62,760
75th percentile $82,160 $82,550
90th percentile $103,330 $103,620

The national figures were slightly different according to another source of data, PayScale (June 2023), which relies on self-reported salaries. Among the forensic science techs reporting their annual salaries, Payscale found these percentiles for the US:

  • 10th percentile: $29,000
  • 50th percentile (median): $49,328
  • 90th percentile: $61,000

When reviewing any state or local salary data, it is important to consider the cost of living in that area. For instance, according to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2023), Arizona ranked 37th in affordability, making it more expensive than the majority of states.

Featured Forensic Science Schools in Arizona

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 June 2023, did not have any forensic science programs in AZ.

That said, the Department of Education has approved seven main regional accrediting agencies nationwide. AZ’s predominant accreditation entity is the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). Please reference the HLC website or accreditation section below to learn about how programs are approved.

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:

  • Official transcripts from secondary or postsecondary institutions with proof of specific coursework in science or math
  • A competitive GPA (e.g., >3.0)
  • Test scores (SAT/ACT, GRE, or TOEFL test scores for non-native speakers of English)
  • Personal statement (500-600 words)
  • Passing a background check
  • Application fee

Other programs may ask for letters of recommendation, years of relevant experience, or a candidate interview.

Maricopa Community Colleges

One standout two-year degree is available from the HLC-accredited Maricopa Community College, which provides an associate of applied science (AAS) program in forensic science at several locations around Arizona. The Maricopa County Community College District, also known as Maricopa Community Colleges, is a community college district in Arizona. This program’s campuses include Chandler-Gilbert Community College; Glendale Community College; Mesa Community College; Paradise Valley Community College; Phoenix College; Scottsdale Community College; and South Mountain Community College.

The curriculum of this program presents a specialized scope of knowledge about the collection and preservation of evidence, investigative strategies, and photography. Students will have an important knowledge base for investigative specialization in several careers and disciplines. This pathway for this degree also allows students to complete two Certificates of Completion (CCL) in fingerprint identification and photography, and crime scene investigation.

This 61 to 68-credit degree program includes courses such as an introduction to criminal justice; ethics and the administration of justice; criminal investigation; crime scene technology: physical evidence; forensic science: biological evidence; substantive criminal law; forensic anthropology; procedural criminal law; evidence technology/ fingerprints; and evidence technology/photography.

Graduates of this program will be ready for positions such as forensic science technicians, first-line supervisors of police and detectives; detectives and criminal investigators; compliance officers; and police and sheriff’s patrol officers.

  • Location: Chandler, AZ; Glendale, AZ; Mesa, AZ; Phoenix, AZ; Scottsdale, AZ
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Four semesters
  • Estimated Tuition: Maricopa County residents ($85 per credit); out-of-county residents ($472 per credit)

Grand Canyon University

Grand Canyon University (GCU) of Phoenix offers a bachelor of science (BS) program in forensic science for students interested in collecting, analyzing, and processing forensic evidence related to various types of legal and other investigations. In addition to learning about chemistry and biology, students in this program will be provided with training in forensic photography, crime scene processing, serology, forensic DNA analysis, and toxicology.

Made up of 120 credits, the program includes courses such as criminal law; critical analysis in forensic science; forensic photography & reconstruction; crime scene processing; toxicology & instrumental analysis; physical evidence analysis; genetics; and body fluid and DNA analysis.

As graduates of this program, students may seek employment in several public or private forensic science and conventional analytical laboratories. Upon graduation, they may pursue careers in DNA analysis, crime scene investigation, toxicology, firearms analysis, latent fingerprint development and analysis, drug analysis, medicolegal death investigators, autopsy assistants, questioned document examination, or lab technicians.

  • Location: Phoenix, AZ
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $8,250 per semester

Arizona State University

Arizona State University in Tempe offers a bachelor of science program 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. Notably, this program can also be completed online.

The 120-credit degree has coursework in modern concepts in biochemistry; history of genocide; sacred crimes: religion and violence; principles of forensic science; fundamentals of forensic analysis; testimony and ethics in the forensic sciences; analytical chemistry for life sciences; and fundamentals of genetics, among other classes.

Graduates of the program will be ready to take up roles such as biological technicians, evidence technicians, chemical technicians, crime scene investigators, clinical trial managers, health sciences managers, life scientists, and medical scientists.

  • Location: Phoenix, AZ
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 months
  • Estimated Tuition: Arizona resident ($882 per credit); non-resident ($1,299 per credit)

University of Arizona (Related)

The bachelor of applied science program in cyber operations at the University of Arizona offers three unique tracks and multiple undergraduate certificates. One such specialization is in defense and forensics. Students in this track learn about defending networks and systems and how to identify and apply techniques used in collecting and analyzing cyber-based evidence.

As part of the program, students will delve into topics such as fundamentals of cybersecurity; from incident to digital forensics; network forensics; mobile device forensics; host and file system forensics; enterprise and file systems forensics; cyber investigations and forensics; advanced cyber forensics; and wireless and networking and security.

Graduates can take up roles such as digital forensics analysts, cyber threat analysts, security operations center analysts, incident responders, penetration testers, and computer network defenders.

  • Location: Sierra Vista, AZ
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 months
  • Estimated Tuition: Arizona resident ($13,200 per year); non-resident ($39,600 per year)

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (Related)

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University offers a bachelor of science program in forensic biology providing students with a foundation in chemistry, law, and biology with the necessary coursework for becoming certified molecular biologists or chemists by the American Board of Criminalistics (ABC) through examination upon graduation. The program has several laboratory components that offer ample hands-on experience with techniques and equipment.

In the forensic biology and crime scene investigation labs, students will participate in crime scene investigation, evidence collection, DNA and biological specimen analysis techniques, and tissue sampling and analysis. Combining the disciplines of chemistry, law, and biology, the program provides students with the knowledge, skills, and background that professionals in forensic science laboratories, law enforcement, and related fields need.

This 123-credit program includes courses such as forensic DNA analysis; courts and criminal justice; investigative methodology and forensic science; procedural laws and evidence; instrumental analysis and trace evidence; genetics; and microbiology.

Notably, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University also offers a BS in forensic psychology as well as a BS in forensic accounting and fraud examination.

  • Location: Prescott, AZ
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $1,695 per credit

Northern Arizona University

Finally, Northern Arizona University of Flagstaff offers a bachelor of science program in chemistry with an emphasis on forensics and criminalistics. This emphasis provides students with valuable education and experience if they plan to pursue careers in criminal investigation laboratories, medical examiner’s offices, drug-testing facilities, and DNA forensics laboratories.

In addition to foundational coursework in atomic theory, thermodynamics, and other chemistry fundamentals, students in the forensics specialization take classes in analytical chemistry; instrumental analysis; fundamental biochemistry; introduction to crime and justice; criminal law; criminal procedure and constitutional rights; and criminal investigation.

  • Location: Flagstaff, AZ
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 months
  • Estimated Tuition: Arizona resident ($11,024 per year); non-resident ($26,286 per year)

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. Please visit the main forensic science programs page to examine the opportunities at all degree levels.

Hybrid & Online Forensic Science Programs in AZ

For residents of more rural counties of AZ or those with other commitments, there are some online and hybrid forensic science programs available at AZ-based institutions.

Arizona State University

Arizona State University (ASU) offers an online bachelor of science program in criminology & criminal justice designed to equip students with the skills and knowledge required for exploring the impact of crime and implementing effective strategies for reducing it. Moreover, students will gain the analytical, communication, and research skills required for working in complex criminal justice occupations.

The curriculum will prepare students in conducting appropriate research, developing theories, investigating crime scenes, and composing reports. Comprising 120 credits, the program includes courses such as introduction to criminal justice; statistical analysis; criminology; criminal justice crime control policies and practices; introduction to corrections; introduction to policing; and courts and sentencing.

Graduates will be ready for roles such as forensic specialists, correctional officers, customs and border protection officers, detective sergeants, fraud investigators, intelligence officers, and police sergeants or detectives.

Notably, this bachelor’s program can be completed as part of an accelerated master’s program. When accepted, they can earn their master of arts degree in criminal justice in as little as one year after completing this undergraduate degree.

  • Location: Phoenix, AZ
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $641 per credit

University of Arizona Global Campus

University of Arizona’s College of Arts and Sciences offers an online master of science program in criminal justice that helps students in developing their skills and knowledge in the areas of forensics, criminal justice, criminal law, crime scene investigations, management, cybercrime and technology, ethics, constitutional processes, comparisons of criminal justice systems, victimology, and other current and related topics.

The program requires the completion of 36 credits for students who have earned an undergraduate degree in criminal justice or have successfully completed undergraduate coursework in criminal justice, criminal law, and constitutional law. For all other students, the program requires the completion of 39 credits. Students will also have the option to choose a concentration in either homeland security or law enforcement & corrections administration.

The curriculum will include courses such as criminal justice policy & theory; criminological theory; constitutional & judicial processes; victimology; research methods in criminal justice; psychological factors in criminal justice; and ethics in criminal justice.

  • Location: Tucson, AZ
  • Accreditation: WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $740 per credit

Grand Canyon University

Grand Canyon University’s master of science (MS) program in forensic science can be completed entirely online. The program is ideal for professionals who wish to advance their forensic science careers and those who plan to begin working in crime scene processing, forensic science, law enforcement, medicolegal, and criminal professions. Offering an advanced study in forensic science, the program is focused on helping students build a solid foundation of theoretical knowledge and practical skills.

Consisting of 36 credits, the program includes courses such as advanced body fluid and DNA analysis; crime scene processing and medicolegal death investigation; applied statistics for forensic science; microscopy and instrumental analysis methods in forensic science; advanced topics in forensic science; and courtroom presentation of scientific evidence.

  • Location: Phoenix, AZ
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $565 per credit

Before enrolling in any online or hybrid forensic science program, students should check the ‘state authorization’ status of their school. Due to differing state laws governing online education delivery, 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.

Professional Certification in Forensic Science in Arizona

As mentioned in the introduction, various forensic science credentialing agencies are available to forensic professionals. 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 June 2023, there were 10 professional certification entities recognized by the Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB), including:

  • American Board of Criminalistics (ABC)
  • American Board of Forensic Toxicology (ABFT)
  • Board of Forensic Document Examiners (BFDE)
  • International Board of Forensic Engineering Sciences (IBFES)
  • American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators (ABMDI)

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.

Arizona Forensic Science Program Accreditation

Lastly, as mentioned in the programs section, two main entities in AZ 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 the 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 Forensic
Science
Forensic
Psychology
Digital
Forensics
Financial
Forensics
Total Forensics
Grads (2016-2017)
Phoenix College Phoenix x 63
Scottsdale Community College Scottsdale x 26
Grand Canyon University Phoenix x x 25
Arizona State University-West Glendale x 24
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Prescott Prescott x x x 12
Mesa Community College Mesa x 11
Chandler-Gilbert Community College Chandler x 1

School "total forensics grads" data provided by IPEDS (2018) for the 2016-2017 school year, and includes all certificates and degrees awarded for the following programs: Criminalistics and Criminal Science, Forensic Chemistry, Forensic Science and Technology, Forensic Psychology, Cyber/Computer Forensics, and Financial Forensics and Fraud Investigation.

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Jocelyn Blore is the chief content officer of Sechel Ventures and the co-author of the Women Breaking Barriers series. She graduated summa cum laude from UC Berkeley and traveled the world for five years. She also worked as an addiction specialist for two years in San Francisco. She’s interested in how culture shapes individuals and systems within societies—one of the many themes she writes about in her blog, Blore’s Razor (Instagram: @bloresrazor). She has served as managing editor for several healthcare websites since 2015.