To most of the world, Kentucky (KY) may be best known for its gastronomical contributions (vis a vis fried chicken), but the state has contributed much more than its blend of herbs and spices. The Bluegrass state was the 15th state admitted to the union. It continues to be well known for its historical place in music history and important American cultural indicators such as bourbon and horse racing.
Kentucky may be less populous for aspiring forensic scientists or have the most educational opportunities. Still, building a career in the state with the right amount of dedication and luck is possible. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 40 forensic science technicians are currently employed in Kentucky (BLS May 2022). With overall job growth in the field expected to hit 11 percent nationally between 2021 and 2031, there could be many more positions in the coming years (BLS).
Those interested in pursuing a career in forensic science should expect a job that allows them to hone their observational skills and attention to detail while working alongside law enforcement and other officials in investigating criminal activity. The forensic science career can go many different ways, from work in a laboratory to detailed evidence collection. Still, no matter where it starts and what specific path is chosen, the job will surely be interesting and challenging.
A strong educational foundation is key to pursuing this career, and many forensic science programs are designed specifically for working adults looking to balance a busy schedule with a program that allows them to attend classes nearby or online. Kentucky offers many such programs. Keep reading to learn more about these programs, and about becoming a forensic science technician or crime scene investigator in Kentucky.
When starting on the path to any career, it is understandable to want a clear vision of where to go and what steps to take. Although not all forensic scientists have precisely the same background, titles, degrees, or experience, you can assess the following common steps for a good overview.
Career One Stop is an employment statistics site that sources data from the U.S. Department of Labor. According to this site, 97 percent of forensic science technicians have at least a high school diploma or GED. Because forensic science undergraduate programs can be competitive, it is important for high school students to do well in their relevant coursework, particularly science courses like biology and chemistry, as well as mathematics.
A forensic science career requires a strong background in the scientific method, data collection, and analysis. Earning an undergraduate degree is the most effective way to obtain this background education and to begin to specialize in the area of forensics. Career One Stop states that 14 percent of forensic science technicians have an associate’s degree (2 years), while more than 31 percent have a bachelor’s degree (4 years). Forensic science-specific degrees are available at some institutions, but other degrees may also be relevant, such as biology or chemistry for lab work, or criminal justice for work in the courtroom or legal system.
After earning an undergraduate degree, most forensic scientists will find an entry-level position at a lab or with a police department. Those who wish to specialize or advance beyond entry-level will often seek professional certification. Professional certification is available in various fields, with the Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB) having approved 10 different organizations to issue professional certification. Some available certifications include forensic toxicology, forensic document examination, forensic anthropology, and forensic odontology.
Around 11 percent of forensic science technicians have a master’s degree, while 4 percent have a PhD. Earning a graduate degree is certainly not essential to pursuing this career. Still, those that do will be better suited to certain high-level positions, as well as pursuing the academic study of forensics through teaching.
Overall growth in the forensic science occupation is quite solid. As proof of point, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2022) projects that openings for forensic science technicians will increase 11 percent between 2021 and 2031, much faster than the expected growth rate for all occupations (5 percent). And this expected addition of 2,000 positions nationally is only one career possibility for people trained in forensic science.
However, as mentioned above, the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that just 40 forensic science technicians are employed in Kentucky as of May 2022 (BLS May 2022). Judging from the growth expected across the country, that number should rise in the coming years. Unfortunately, there is no specific growth estimation for Kentucky itself, nor is there data available for specific geographic areas within Kentucky.
The BLS found that 27 percent of forensic science technicians in the US work for the state government, and 62 percent work for the local government. They work in morgues, crime laboratories, medical examiner offices, or police departments. There are several other places of employment in forensic science, depending on one’s specialty.
These professionals may go into several available careers, such as forensic engineers, medical examiners, crime laboratory analysts, crime scene examiners, document examiners, physical anthropologists, behavior scientists, criminal profilers, and digital analysts.
The experiential requirements, education, and training may vary for these professionals. The American Academy of Forensic Scientists (AAFS) has various resources for these professionals, including a list of journal articles, networking organizations, and continuing education opportunities.
Finally, the ForensicsColleges blog offers several in-depth career articles for forensic science graduates in its How to Become series, with step-by-step instructions to becoming profilers, crime scene technicians, forensic psychologists, forensic accountants, detectives, and more.
In terms of salary, Kentucky pays forensic science technicians significantly less than the national average. 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 Kentucky, the average salary in this field is $53,280.
In more detailed terms, here is a breakdown of the salary percentiles among all forensic science technicians in the country compared with those in Kentucky (BLS May 2022):
|Number of Forensic Science Technicians Employed||17,590||40|
|Annual Mean Wage||$69,260||$53,280|
The national figures were slightly different according to another source of data, PayScale (July 2023), which relies on self-reported salaries. Among the forensic science techs reporting their annual salaries, PayScale found these percentiles for the US:
While the figures for Kentucky are significantly lower than the national salary ranges, it’s important to note that the cost of living is also lower than in many other US states. For illustration, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2023) found that Kentucky ranked 22nd among all American states concerning affordability, boasting savings, especially in the realm of housing.
An on-campus learning experience can be ideal for many students. The camaraderie with classmates and closer relationships with professors can provide the structure and encouragement that many forensic science students need. In addition, those who are investing in advanced forensic science education may also want to consider the program’s accreditation.
The Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) is the main accrediting body for forensic science programs. Although there are less than 50 FEPAC-accredited programs in the U.S., Kentucky has two of them, both offered by EKU and detailed below.
Eastern Kentucky University (BS in Forensic Science)
Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond may interest students seeking a forensic science college in Kentucky. EKU established its forensic science program in 1974, making it among the oldest in the country and among only 18 undergraduate programs that have earned FEPAC accreditation. EKU students can choose a bachelor of science program in forensic science with a concentration in either forensic biology or forensic chemistry.
Courses include DNA profiling; forensic trace evidence; expert witness testimony; introduction to forensic science; genetics; bloodstain pattern analysis; drugs & toxicology; forensic toxicology; fire, arson, and explosion investigation; fire and explosion scene analysis; and criminal evidence.
Eastern Kentucky University (BS in Digital Forensics)
In addition, EKU has earned full FEPAC accreditation for its bachelor of science program in digital forensics and cybersecurity. Students in this program learn and develop the required skills and knowledge for becoming qualified professionals who defend cyber networks, quickly respond to cybersecurity incidents, and examine digital devices such as mobile electronic devices, network devices, and computers for collecting digital evidence that can be used in a court of trial for a criminal or civil case.
This 122 to 124-credit program includes courses such as data structures and programming; digital storage device forensics; network forensics and investigation; personal electronic device forensics; computer forensics; multimedia system and forensics; internet forensics; introduction to forensic science; introduction to criminal justice; and microcomputer & network security.
Graduates can take up roles such as cybersecurity analysts, digital forensics analysts, and information security analysts.
Additionally, the University of Kentucky in Lexington offers a professional master’s in forensic toxicology and analytical genetics—the fifth such program in the country. It boasts two emphases: forensic toxicology/chemistry and forensic/analytical genetics.
The core curriculum includes courses such as fundamentals in forensic sciences; forensic science standards and practices; ethics and professional practice in forensic science and analytical DNA; communicating in the forensic science profession; and internships in forensic toxicology and analytical genetics.
The forensic toxicology/chemistry concentration comprises 36 credits and includes courses such as drug metabolism and disposition; forensic and analytical toxicology; general instrumental techniques in forensic chemistry; and fundamentals of biochemistry.
The forensic/analytical genetics concentration requires the completion of 37 credits and includes courses such as advanced human genetics; population genetics; molecular biology and genetics; forensic and analytical DNA; and fundamentals of biochemistry.
Thomas More University’s bachelor of arts program in criminal justice is a liberal arts degree, the curriculum of which includes courses in the arts, theology, philosophy, natural sciences, and history. Graduates of this program will be equipped with skills such as critical thinking, oral and written communication, computer knowledge, and research experience that are transferable to any career.
This 120-credit program includes courses in introduction to criminal justice; criminology; theory and philosophy of policing; criminal law and courts; juvenile justice; substance abuse; and research methodology. The program also includes an internship in the senior year.
Graduates can take up roles such as drug treatment specialists, correctional educators, juvenile court advocates, and probation or parole officers.
Kentucky Wesleyan College offers a bachelor of science program in criminal justice and criminology introducing students to the study of criminal justice systems, criminal behavior, law, and social justice. Students in this program will study the complexities of relationships among the social, legal, historical, psychological, and political influences affecting crime, criminals, and law processes.
The major requires 37 credits and a total of 120 credits are required for the degree. The curriculum includes courses such as an introduction to criminal justice; statistics in the behavioral sciences; research methods in criminal justice; critical issues in policing; courts and procedure; juvenile delinquency; criminology; and criminal investigation.
Graduates can take up roles such as correctional officers, crime scene analysts, criminal investigators, probation officers, and security managers.
For more information on forensics schools, please visit the forensic programs page.
Students that have difficulty making it to campus for regular courses due to other commitments or distance may want to explore online or hybrid learning options. Online learning allows students to take entire courses online with no campus visits, while hybrid courses have some online work and some in-person requirements. In Kentucky and online, there are good options for students who want this kind of flexibility.
University of the Cumberlands offers an online master of science program in digital forensics, helping students develop the knowledge and skills needed to impact the digital crime-solving world. Helping students in enhancing their credentials and accomplishing their professional goals, this online degree is intended for those who have earned a bachelor’s degree and are working in the field.
Made up of 31 credits, the curriculum of this program will engage students in the strategies, tactics, and theories involved in the field, including triaging criminal cyber-events, communication leadership, investigating and mitigating malware and gathering evidence. Additionally, students can choose one of the two specializations in cybersecurity or criminal justice.
Some of the courses in the curriculum include digital forensics tools and techniques; windows digital forensics; wireless security and forensics; digital forensics evidence; computer crimes and digital forensics; web browser forensics; and criminological theories in justice administration.
The University of Louisville offers both a bachelor’s as well as a master’s in criminal justice in both on-campus as well as online formats. The online bachelor of science program in criminal justice provides students with working knowledge of the criminal justice process and the issues surrounding each portion of this process. Students will develop knowledge of current criminology theories, moral and ethical considerations, emerging policies, and effective communications strategies.
Made up of 121 credits, the online BS includes courses such as crime and justice in the United States; law enforcement in the United States; criminal behavior; criminal procedure; research design; quantitative analysis; juvenile justice; criminal law and evidence; and corrections in the United States.
The online MS in criminal justice degree is ideal for professionals working within the legal system who wish to advance their careers or strengthen their knowledge. Comprising 36 credits, the program includes courses such as legal aspects of criminal justice management; theories of crime and delinquency; applied statistics in criminal justice; research methods in criminal justice; and the criminal justice system.
In addition to an on-campus bachelor’s degree, Kentucky Wesleyan College also offers a fully online bachelor of science degree completion program in criminal justice & criminology. With transferable general education courses, students can complete their degree in just two years.
The curriculum of this program introduces students to the study of criminal justice systems, criminal behavior, social justice, and law from a multidisciplinary, liberal arts perspective. Students will develop critical thinking skills and be prepared for leadership roles in court administration, law enforcement, juvenile justice, corrections, probation, and parole.
Consisting of 120 credits, the program includes courses such as an introduction to criminal justice; statistics in the behavioral sciences; research methods in behavior science; critical issues in policing; courts and procedure; juvenile delinquency; criminology; and corrections.
For more information on distance-based education and specialties, please visit the online forensic science degrees page.
Students evaluating forensic science programs in Kentucky and beyond should look for both institutional and programmatic accreditation. Institutional accreditation means that the school has been evaluated for its standards and efficacy. For instance, Eastern Kentucky University and Thomas More College hold 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. Eastern Kentucky University is currently the only program in the state with FEPAC accreditation.
Requirements for professional certification differ for each specialty. For instance, to become a Certified Forensic Anthropologist, applicants must have a doctoral degree in forensic anthropology, although there are no accreditation requirements. On the other hand, applicants for a Footwear Identification Certification through the International Association of Identification (IAI) must have some combination of education and experience, ranging from a high school diploma with eight years of experience to a bachelor of science degree with three years of experience. The footwear certification also does not have any accreditation requirements.
Ultimately, students should investigate their chosen specialty thoroughly to ensure that they are earning an education that will apply to their future career goals.
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.
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.