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 and continues to be well known for its historical place in music history as well as important American cultural indicators such as bourbon and horse racing.
For aspiring forensic scientists, Kentucky may not be the most populous, or have the most educational opportunities, but it is possible to build a career in the state with the right amount of dedication and some luck. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are currently 60 forensic science technicians employed in Kentucky (BLS, 2017). With overall job growth in the field expected to hit 17 percent between 2016 and 2026, there could be many more positions in the coming years (BLS 2017).
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, but no matter where it starts and what specific path is chosen, the job is sure to 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 class nearby or online. Kentucky offers a number of such programs. Keep reading to learn more about these programs, and about becoming a forensic science technician or crime scene investigator in Kentucky.
When you are 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.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, just 60 forensic science technicians are employed in Kentucky as of 2017 (BLS, 2017). 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.
In terms of salary, Kentucky pays forensic science technicians significantly less than the national average. The salary ranges as reported by the BLS for forensic science technicians in Kentucky are as follows:
Comparatively, the median annual wage (50th percentile) for forensic science technicians across the whole country is $61,220. The cost of living in Kentucky also comes in below the national average, ranking as the 16th least costly place to live in the U.S., according to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, which is worth considering and will influence how far any salary in Kentucky will go.
An on-campus learning experience can be ideal for many students. The camaraderie with classmates as well as closer relationships with professors can provide the structure and encouragement that many forensic science students need. In addition, those who are investing in an 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 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 between a BS in forensic biology or forensic chemistry. Courses include such topics as DNA profiling, forensic trace evidence, and expert witness testimony.In addition, EKU has earned full FEPAC accreditation for their bachelor of science in computer science with a concentration in computer forensics and security program.
Further, the university allows students to combine degree programs and complete that bachelor’s degree as well as a master’s of science degree in chemistry through a 3+2 program. This accelerated program saves students a full year of school work.
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. Both options have coursework in legal perspectives, forensic science, and other foundational topics. The program costs $915 per credit-hour, excluding fees.
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.
In addition to its highly regarded on-campus program, Eastern Kentucky University has an online component that can help to make learning faster and easier. For forensic programs in particular, it is possible to take the university’s arson investigation courses online as well as other course offerings.
Students willing to look beyond campus-based forensic science schools in Kentucky can find additional options online, including Champlain College, which offers an online bachelor of science degree in computer forensics and digital investigations. For students interested in the computer science component of forensics science, this program could be a top choice, as SC Magazine named it the Best Cyber Security Higher Education Program in 2013.
Many more master’s degrees are available online, and provide students interested in choices beyond campus-based forensic science schools in Kentucky. For example, the University of Florida provides students with the ability to pursue a master’s of science degree in forensic science as well as three other related forensic science degrees through programs that are offered entirely online.
Students evaluating forensic science programs in Kentucky 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, Eastern Kentucky University holds accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, as does Thomas More College.
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, 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 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 experience to a bachelor of science degree with three years 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 be applicable 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.