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Forensics Science Colleges in Iowa


Many people have heard of forensic scientists, such as Michael Baden and Henry Lee, who have testified in famous cases or provided professional input and insight. While forensic scientists often work for governmental agencies, some may go on to gain such expertise that they work as consultants or even as experts who provide independent counsel and review. The truth is that to enter the forensic science field, education is typically required because students need to become well versed in multiple fields of science, particularly biology and chemistry, as well as criminal justice and the law.

A bachelor’s degree in the natural sciences followed by a master’s degree in forensic science is one common path followed to enter the field, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). While a master’s degree may give students the advanced science skills that they need, there are also a number of bachelor’s degree programs specifically geared toward forensic science. Forensic science training typically prepares students with the knowledge and skills that are needed for working in a crime lab. There, they will need to be able to analyze a variety of evidence, ranging from blood samples to small clothing particles, as well as know how to preserve and protect those samples.

Another path in forensic science is to pursue crime scene investigation (CSI). This option often entails work at and around crime scenes, collecting and delivering evidence, and documenting and recording details found at a scene. A bachelor’s degree is often needed to enter the field, but, more often, people obtain training by gaining experience on the job, particularly if they are already in law enforcement.

Students in Iowa (IA) will find a number of programs, both on-campus and online, that will given them the foundational skills that they need to earn an entry-level position as a forensic science technician and begin down the path of this exciting and in-demand career.

Job Demand for Forensic Scientists

Since education is an important and potentially costly component of starting a forensic science career, it may be worthwhile to consider the potential financial gains of going into this type of program. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), forensic science can be a high paying field, relative to other occupations. The mean nationwide average for workers in the field, was $61,220, as of May 2017 (BLS). Of note, this is much higher than the $49,630 mean for all occupations combined across the country, suggesting that forensic science technicians can make higher than average incomes.

What’s even more affirming is that forensic science technicians working in Iowa earned mean annual wages of $70,410, according to May 2017 BLS data. In Iowa, the mean average wage for all occupations was $44,730, showing again that forensic science technicians have significant financial opportunities. Job opportunities across the U.S. for forensic science technicians are also good, with demand expected to grow by 17 percent from 2016 to 2026 and in Iowa specifically by 23 percent (CareerOneStop.org). This is significant job growth, meaning Iowa students may have ample opportunities when they graduate from either undergraduate or graduate programs.

How to Become a Forensic Scientist in Iowa

Individuals who want to enter the forensic science field should plan on attending college. Understanding how to work in a lab is essential, as is knowing how to handle fluids and other pieces of evidence to prevent them from becoming contaminated or damaged. One of the most common paths to enter the forensic science field includes the following steps:

  • Step 1: Work on a bachelor’s degree (4 years). Four-year programs can be found either in the natural sciences, such as biology and chemistry, or specifically in forensic science. Choices may be driven by the types of programs that are near students if they are interested in staying where they already live and attending an on-campus program. A bachelor’s degree program often includes components of criminal justice, which ties in closely to the career. Thirty-two percent of people in the U.S. working as forensic science technicians have earned a bachelor’s degree, reports Career One Stop.
  • Step 2: Advance with a master’s degree (2 to 5 years). A master’s degree in forensic science may be particularly pertinent for a student who has an undergraduate degree in the natural sciences. An advanced program allows students to focus their science learning specifically in the domain of the forensic sciences. Completing a master’s degree may also be an advantage when seeking employment because the BLS notes that many of the best job opportunities are available to those with both an undergraduate and a graduate degree. Many master’s degrees take between two or five years to complete, depending on if you are attending full- or part-time. You might also find graduate-level certificates to pursue, which are generally comprised of four to six courses, and can often later be applied toward a full master’s degree.
  • Step 3: Consider a PhD (timeline varies). Obviously, this advanced degree is not right for everyone, but it can be pivotal for those seeking top-of-the-line career opportunities, whether this is working for yourself, managing or directing a lab, or even instructing in forensic science at a university. This is truly niche learning as Career One Stop points out that only 4 percent of forensic science technicians have a professional or doctoral degree.

A final step in your career path can include seeking board certification. Certification is not available in every niche field, but for those that do offer certification, it can be an important tool for career advancement. An organization that provides more details about specific forensic science disciplines and the education and certification available in each is the American Academy of Forensic Scientists (AAFS), which also does accreditation of forensic science program through its Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) arm.

Pursuing a CSI Education & Certification in the Hawkeye State

Properly overseeing a crime scene is of utmost importance when it comes presenting evidence that stands up in a court of law. Securing a crime scene might be one of the most important steps that a crime scene investigator does, followed by collecting physical evidence and ensuring it is properly labeled and stored. Some paths for entering the field of crime scene investigation include:

  • Option 1: Work on a certificate or associate degree in CSI. Although a four-year degree or on-the-job training are both typical entry points into CSI, there are also many certificates and associate degrees available providing foundational knowledge. These may be useful in obtaining entry-level criminal justice careers or completing a bachelor’s degree down the road. A certificate program usually takes a year to complete while an associate degree can take two or more, depending on whether a student attends classes full-time.
  • Option 2: Complete a bachelor’s degree instead. Often, CSI degrees are offered as bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice with a specialization in CSI. Students might take classes such as Criminal Law, Law Enforcement Communications and Organized Crime. Internships or other hands-on experiences are also likely to be part of one of these four-year programs.
  • Option 3: Gain CSI experience on the job. Many individuals learn about CSI on the job, working as a law enforcement official or becoming a member of a specific department. In rural areas, less of a formal education may be required to obtain a CSI position with people being hired as a result of years of on-the-job experience.

Upon graduation from an academic program or learning on the job, individuals may want to seek CSI certification through organizations, such as the International Association for Identification (IAI). The IAI offers four specific certifications in CSI as well as others including forensic photography, forensic video, and tenprint fingerprint certification .

Occupational Demand in Iowa

Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, and Davenport are some of the largest cities in Iowa, with a combined population of more than 400,000. These cities could be good places to look for jobs simply because there may be more law enforcement and criminal justice agencies there, but there also could be more crime demanding more CSI or forensic science services. The identification department of the City of Des Moines Police Department is open 24 hours a day and provides discovery, documentation, preservation, and analysis services while employing a wide range of people, including several law enforcement officials, a multitude of civilian technicians and a senior clerk, making this department one place to look for a CSI job. Others could include:

Interestingly, each of these is a governmental agency. This is not far off the mark in terms of the kinds of agencies offering employment, as the BLS reports that every nine out of 10 forensic science technicians is employed for a state or local agency. These positions can vary, but include employment in crime labs, morgues, medical examiner’s offices and police departments. The AAFS job board is another place to look for opportunities. Searches can be performed by state and also by title. The Iowa Division of the International Association for Identification may also be a good networking source.

Featured Forensic Science Colleges in Iowa

A number of forensic science programs are available in Iowa from the undergraduate to graduate level. The state has more campus-based options compared to some other states, making it a good place to seek on-campus learning. Unfortunately, as of 2018 none of the programs in Iowa have earned FEPAC accreditation. Notably, FEPAC only accredits forensic science programs, and accredits relatively few programs nationally. So there are many other high-quality forensics programs available, and the quality of those programs can be determined in several ways, perhaps most importantly by looking at their institutional accreditation, which is described at bottom.

  • Upper Iowa University, in Fayette, has a bachelor’s of science (BS) degree in forensic science available for students who want to go on and pursue more education at the graduate level. The degree includes 19 core courses, such as forensic biology, forensic chemistry, and elementary statistics, as well as a requirement for four elective courses.
  • St. Ambrose University in Davenport provides a bachelor’s of arts (BA) degree in forensic psychology. The BA program allows students to explore the nexus between psychology and criminal justice and could be a good option for students pursuing post-baccalaureate education who want a strong foundation in psychology or the physical sciences.
  • Iowa State University, in Ames, has a graduate certificate in forensic science available through its department of anthropology. At least 12 credits in coursework and seminars are required at the school as is at least 2.5 days spent attending a regional or national conference. One graduate credit of independent study is also required for the program.
  • Simpson College, in Indianola, Iowa, offers a forensic science/biochemistry major that includes 10 capstone courses as well as three electives. A forensic science minor is also available and requires seven courses, including one elective, for completion.

You might find additional forensic science options by completing a bachelor’s degree in the natural sciences, such as biology or chemistry, and then following up with a master’s degree in forensic science. There are also various educational options available online, which can provide you with more choices when it comes to forensic science degrees and programs.

Hybrid & Online Programs

Many of the forensic science programs available online are offered at the graduate level while those at the undergraduate level more often center on criminal justice with a forensic science or CSI focus. Below is a small listing of hybrid or online programming available in the field.

  • Canton State University of New York provides a bachelor’s of technology (B Tech) with a focus on criminal investigation that can be completely partially online. Students learn about forensic photography, latent prints and impressions, investigative interviews and much more in this degree program. An internship is also part of the program but can be completed in states other than New York.
  • University of Florida offers a master’s degree in forensic science that can be completed online and that offers courses in biological evidence, blood spatter, drug analysis, toxicology and more. The degree is offered through the school’s College of Pharmacy.
  • National University also offers a master’s degree in forensic sciences that can be completed online, requiring eight core courses plus four courses in a concentration, either criminalistics or investigations. In order to pursue the criminalistics concentration, students must have a undergraduate degree in a laboratory science.
  • Saint Leo University Online is another school offering a master’s of science (MS) degree in criminal justice with a forensic science specialization. The MS program includes five course in criminal justice, four courses in forensic science and two electives.

Program Accreditation & Certification

Graduation from a FEPAC-accredited program can prove advantageous when it comes time to seeking a job. However, there is not a wide selection of programs accredited through FEPAC. The mission of FEPAC is “to maintain and enhance the quality of forensic science education through a formal evaluation and accreditation system for college-level academic programs that lead to a baccalaureate or graduate degree.”

As of 2018, there are fewer than 50 undergraduate and graduate FEPAC-accredited programs nationwide, making it difficult to graduate from a program with accreditation in some states. Since there are no FEPAC-accredited programs available in Iowa, students may want to make sure their school is accredited though a regional institutional accrediting agency instead. In Iowa, institutional accreditation is offered by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), and this regional accreditation is another way of ensuring that the school has been assessed by an outside organization and been found to offer a quality education.

As mentioned earlier, students also might want to seek board certification of their skills. Becoming a member of a organization is another option. Either of these should prove valuable in providing access to meaningful resources, including seminars, annual conferences, continuing education, and networking. Some organizations that could be worthwhile considering include the:

Finally, an organization like the Iowa Division of the International Association for Identification could be helpful as could membership through the AAFS. The AAFS provides access to a variety of sources, including the Journal of Forensic Sciences, meetings and seminars, a website and an annual scientific conference.

School Name City Forensic
Total Forensics
Grads (2016-2017)
Eastern Iowa Community College District Davenport x 15
Saint Ambrose University Davenport x 11
Western Iowa Tech Community College Sioux City x 9
Simpson College Indianola x 4
Upper Iowa University Fayette x 4
University of Dubuque Dubuque x 1
Des Moines Area Community College Ankeny x x 1
Mount Mercy University Cedar Rapids 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.