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Forensic Science Colleges in Montana

Most people may not know that dental records can be helpful in identifying bodies that have been damaged beyond recognition. That’s not the only intriguing fact about forensic science. Maggots found on decomposing bodies can provide other clues, such as how long a body has been decomposing. For those curious few in whom these facts do not elicit a squeamish response, and who like and have a knack for natural sciences such as biology and chemistry, a career in forensic science could be the right path.

Of course, education is an important component of the career, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reporting that a bachelor’s degree in the natural sciences and a master’s degree in forensic science are typically important steps to entering the occupation. This type of academic training can introduce students to the essentials in the sciences, and not just biology or chemistry, but also where these two combine, like biochemistry. Prospective forensic science technicians should also gain an understanding of criminal justice procedures and processes as well. That’s because whether a technician is working in a lab, or in any advanced niche forensic science field, like forensic entomology, understanding how the law applies to the science is fundamental.

For those who are more interested in being out in the field – like actually being at the scene of the crime, a career in crime scene investigation (CSI) could be the right choice. For CSI, professionals need to know how to collect and preserve evidence at a scene, but also how to secure a scene and make sure that evidence is not contaminated. Whether working in a lab or out in the field, it could be hard to find a job without the needed background and training – and that is typically through a college education, or in many cases for CSI, completing a police academy.

No matter which path a student chooses to follow, it is important to investigate the educational programs available in their area. In Montana (MT), there are a few programs that could launch them into an exciting and fulfilling career.

Forensic Science Career Outlook and Salary Data in Montana

Here’s another interesting feature of a forensic science career – the job can pay more than other occupations. Consider that the mean annual pay for forensic science technicians in the U.S. was $71,540, according to May 2023 data from the BLS. This compares well to the mean wages for all occupations combined in the U.S., which is $65,470.

Of course, wages can vary based on educational level, time on the job, and even the state in which the technician works. As a side note, the mean pay for forensic science technicians working in Montana was $65,500 (BLS May 2023)—the latest data available as of May 2024.

The following chart illustrates the earning potential for forensic science technicians in Montana at various earning percentiles compared to national figures:

United States Montana
Number of forensic science technicians employed 17,520 60
Average annual salary $71,540 $65,500
10th percentile $41,410 $37,500
25th percentile $50,480 $52,220
50th percentile (median) $64,940 $62,620
75th percentile $84,720 $80,890
90th percentile $107,490 $80,890*

*Although this looks to be an error, this is the figure reported on the BLS website as of May 2024.

Nationwide, job opportunities for forensic science technicians are expected to grow by 13 percent from 2022 to 2032, according to the BLS (2023), which could result in approximately 2,300 new positions becoming available during this time.

These prospects look bright even in Montana. Projections Central (2024) found that openings for forensic science technicians are expected to increase by 25 percent between 2020 and 2030—much higher than what’s anticipated nationally.

How to Become a Forensic Science Technician in Montana

A master’s degree is usually needed to become a forensic science technician, but one can make a start by building strong skills at the undergraduate level. Science will be an important part of a forensic science technician’s education whether they are pursuing forensic science at the very beginning or starting out with an undergraduate degree in a specific science. Below are the most common steps professionals take toward building forensic science skills and obtaining that first job.

Step 1: Obtain a bachelor’s degree.

Most bachelor’s programs take four years to complete and can lead to a degree in the natural sciences, like biology or chemistry, or in the forensic sciences. Both can be important building blocks to advanced study. How important is a four-year degree? According to Career One Stop, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, 35 percent of all forensic science technicians in the U.S. have a bachelor’s degree in forensic science.

Step 2: Work on a master’s degree (optional).

The BLS shows that individuals with a master’s degree in forensic science may have some of the best job opportunities. Master’s degrees can take two years of full-time study to complete and even longer for students enrolled on a part-time basis. A thesis may be required at the master’s level, while lab and core coursework are an essential part of any program.

Step 3: Pursue a doctoral degree (optional).

Not all fields of forensic science require this level of education, but it is needed for some fields, like forensic anthropology, according to the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS). No one may be interested in the word dissertation either, but be aware this could be part of a PhD program. Depending on whether students are enrolled full- or part-time, a PhD typically takes between three to seven years to complete.

Board certification can be a final step in developing a career. Not every field of forensic science offers certification, but it is available for forensic anthropology and forensic toxicology, as examples. Organizations like the American Board of Forensic Anthropology and the American Board of Forensic Toxicology provide more information about these two specific board certification processes. Other organizations offering certification can be found listed on the Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB) website.

Becoming a Crime Scene Investigator in Montana

CSI provides a different way to enter the forensic science field. Instead of working in a lab, it gives individuals the opportunity to be out in the field actually collecting and preserving evidence and also keeping a scene secure to prevent evidence contamination. Crime scene investigators need to obtain a variety of skills related to the criminal justice system, including how to present evidence in court, which is why education is so important. Common paths to enter CSI include:

Option 1: Complete a certificate or associate degree.

Requiring one to two years to complete, a certificate or associate degree may lay the foundational skills needed for the field, but may not be adequate for advancement. The BLS reports that a bachelor’s degree is typically needed for investigators who are non-uniformed, i.e., not part of law enforcement. Still, an education at this level can provide the building blocks to continue learning later on.

Option 2: Work on a bachelor’s degree.

Typically taking four years to complete, a bachelor’s degree in forensic science, or in a natural science, is usually important for non-uniformed individuals to make a start in the field. Frequently, many of these degrees are available in criminal justice with specific CSI skills offered as a specialization.

Option 3: Be accepted into a police academy.

Often, the education needed to work as a crime scene investigator can be obtained by becoming a police officer and working on the job. Law enforcement officers working as detectives or investigators might become highly skilled in CSI. In fact, the International Crime Scene Investigators Association (ICSIA) reports that most investigators are actually law enforcement officers.

There are numerous certifications available in CSI, offered through organizations such as the International Association for Identification (IAI) and the ICSIA. Usually, specific education is needed to undergo the certification process and once certification has been obtained, there are very specific steps that need to be followed to be recertified in the future.

Job Opportunities in Montana

Even though the population of Montana is just over one million (less than the population of some cities in the U.S.), crime still occurs there. In fact, the Billings Gazette includes a list of the state’s most wanted individuals who are sought by the United States Marshals Service Montana Violent Offender Task Force. From Billings to Bozeman, job opportunities could be available within law enforcement agencies or for other types of governmental organizations.

One of the more prominent places to look for employment could be with the Montana Department of Justice State Crime Lab. The lab is set up to have many different sections including breath alcohol, drug chemistry, latent prints and impressions, and serology/DNA. Accredited by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors Laboratory Accreditation Board since 2011, the lab is located in Missoula and is overseen by a director who has a PhD. Other places to look for employment in Montana could include:

Individuals can also offer their services as a consultant. However, 86 percent of forensic science technicians are employed by a state or local governmental agency, according to the BLS. Employment is typically found with coroner’s offices, crime laboratories, morgues, and police departments. The AAFS additionally reports that forensic scientists may find work with international organizations, private labs, as well as hospitals and universities.

Featured Forensic Science Colleges in Montana

There are several different undergraduate programs offered in the forensic sciences in Montana but unfortunately, none are accredited through the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC), the accrediting branch of the AAFS. This accreditation may not be necessary for seeking employment, however, but could be preferred by some hiring agencies. Learn more about programmatic and institutional accreditation further down on this page. Some forensic science options in Montana include:

Flathead Valley Community College

Flathead Valley Community College, in Kalispell, offers an associate degree in forensic science that can later be used to transfer to the University of Montana at Missoula. The 78-credit program includes organic chemistry, college physics, college chemistry, calculus, and other courses, but can be modified for specific forensic science tracks available at the University of Montana.

The college also offers an associate of applied science degree in criminal justice assisting students in preparation for entry-level positions in the criminal justice field. This 63-credit program includes courses such as introduction to criminal justice; principles of criminal law; introduction to corrections; police organization; forensic science; criminal evidence and procedure; and introduction to juvenile delinquency.

  • Location: Kalispell, MT
  • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two years

University of Montana

The University of Montana, in Missoula, offers a certificate in forensic studies for students who may be later interested in pursuing a bachelor’s degree. The certificate is 18 credits and includes an introduction to forensic science and forensic science beyond the crime lab. The UM program also requires students to take two science courses, a communications course and an ethics course.

The University of Montana also offers a bachelor of science degree in chemistry with a concentration in forensic chemistry; a master of arts degree in forensic and biological anthropology; a bachelor of arts degree in anthropology with a concentration in forensic anthropology; and a bachelor of arts degree in criminology.

  • Location: Missoula, MT
  • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Expected Time to Completion: One to four years

University of Providence

The University of Providence, in Great Falls, offers a bachelor’s degree program allowing students to choose between forensic science, forensic biology, and forensic chemistry. In these degree programs, students learn about important forensic science elements, including DNA analysis, human pathology, toxicology, and evidence analysis.

This forensic science program spends the majority of its time on chemistry, biology, mathematics, and physics which make up the forensic science field. The program covers an entire range of forensic science topics, ranging from DNA analysis, fingerprint analysis, blood spatter analysis, and serology, to evidence and lab analysis of hair, glass, soils, skeletal analysis, drugs, poisons, and some thirty other areas.

Graduates in this program will develop skills in proper evidence handling, crime scene processing, genetics, blood spatter analysis, chain of custody, and identification and processing of patterned evidence, impressions evidence, body fluids, blood, and blood DNA.

In addition to coursework, students will be encouraged to complete internship hours and an original research project during their senior year.

Notably, the university also offers an associate and bachelor’s degree program in criminal justice.

  • Location: Great Falls, MT
  • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Four years

Montana State University-Northern

Montana State University-Northern, in Havre, offers a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, introducing students to such topics as criminal law, corrections, and criminalistics. Instructors with real-world experience in the courtroom or law enforcement offer classes. While this is not a forensic science degree, it can help students to enter the related field of criminal justice. This program is available both online and face-to-face.

The curriculum includes courses such as introduction to criminal justice; fundamentals of forensics; introduction to criminology; police organization; introduction to corrections; criminal justice and community relations; juvenile justice; victimology; sociology of violence; criminal justice ethics; and addictive studies.

  • Location: Havre, MT
  • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Four years

Dawson Community College

Dawson Community College has several options for students interested in the criminal justice field.

The two-year associate of applied science degree in criminal justice supports both the goals of employment and academic transfer.

The college’s associate of science degree in criminal justice law enforcement peace officer option provides graduates with a foundation of knowledge in the field of public safety and prepares them for a career in the profession of law enforcement.

The associate of applied science program in criminal justice law enforcement private security option provides graduates with a foundation of knowledge in the field of private security and prepares them for a career in the profession of security and loss prevention.

Finally, the college’s one-year certificate of applied science – corrections officer certificate provides students with a foundation of knowledge in the field of corrections and the institutionalization of criminal offenders. This certificate program prepares them for a career in both public and private corrections and detention facilities.

Sample some of the courses in the curriculum: police patrol procedures; basic police firearms training; traffic accident investigation; police report writing; criminal investigation; defensive tactics; introduction to criminal justice; principles of criminal law; introduction to corrections; deviant behavior; and introduction to criminology.

  • Location: Glendive, MT
  • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two years

Other alternatives for students in Montana include pursuing a bachelor’s degree in the natural sciences, such as biology or chemistry, and then completing a master’s degree in forensic science. Students looking for on-campus options at the graduate level may need to seek programs in nearby states or consider online graduate training.

Hybrid & Online Programs

Online education can be another way for students in Montana to seek CSI and forensic science studies. At the undergraduate level, many of the programs are available in criminal justice with a CSI focus while at the upper level, online degrees can be specifically found in forensic science. The AAFS also has a listing of undergraduate and graduate degrees and certificate programs that are available online.

University of Florida

The University of Florida of Gainesville offers four master’s degrees and five specialized graduate certificates in forensic science and related fields such as forensic toxicology and forensic DNA & serology. These programs are offered entirely online with asynchronous elements and can be completed anywhere.

The 32-credit master’s degree in forensic science includes courses such as principles of forensic science; biological evidence and serology; forensic toxicology; and applied statistics for data analysis. The program was founded in 1999 and has graduated more than 1,000 students from 40 different countries.

  • Location: Gainesville, FL
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two years

Oklahoma State University

Oklahoma State University offers a hybrid master of science program in forensic science. It offers abundant flexibility with many classes online, including thesis and non-thesis program tracks with specializations in forensic psychology (100 percent online); forensic biology/DNA; forensic chemistry; arson, explosives, firearms, and tool marks investigation; and forensic investigative sciences (100 percent online). Graduate and nursing certificates are also available.

  • Location: Tulsa, OK
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two years

Students may also discover more online educational opportunities by joining a specific forensic science organization like AAFS. Continuing education is often an important part of learning; sometimes, these resources are available online.

See also our listing of online programs available at the graduate, undergraduate, and certificate levels, broken down by specialization such as computer forensics or forensic psychology.

Program Accreditation & Certification

While FEPAC is the accrediting agency for forensic science programs, it does not accredit any programs within Montana. However, that does not mean that other programs are without value. Not only has FEPAC accredited very few programs overall (fewer than 50), but they only accredit those programs that heavily feature natural sciences such as chemistry and biology. As such, FEPAC accreditation would not even be available to CSI or criminal justice programs.

Another way that students can be assured they are enrolling in a quality program is to see whether it is institutionally accredited. In Montana and several nearby states, regional institutional accreditation is awarded through the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU). This accrediting organization is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and oversees accreditation at 162 institutions.

As mentioned previously, students may want to seek certification in their field at some point in their careers. From fingerprint identification to crime scene reconstruction and bloodstain pattern analysis, a vast number of certifications are available. In some cases, certification may prove helpful in obtaining a job or advancing in a career. Other options are to join an organization that can provide members with networking and advocacy opportunities. In addition to the AAFS, this can include statewide organizations such as the Montana Violent Crime Investigators Association or the Montana Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association. Other entities to look into include:

  • American Board of Criminalistics (ABC)
  • American Board of Forensic Anthropology (ABFA)
  • American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors (ASCLD)
  • American Academy of Forensic Scientists (AAFS)
  • International Association for Identification (IAI)
  • International Crime Scene Investigators Association (ICSIA)

Those who wish to have detailed information on credentialing within each subfield of forensics can visit our programs or careers page.

Joining one of these organizations can be helpful in many ways. Not only do they allow members to meet new people, but they can provide access to presentations and conferences, information on jobs, and even updates on new advances in the field.

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Writer

Farheen Gani

Farheen Gani writes about forensics schools across the United States, and has covered topics such as forensic chemistry and forensic science and biochemistry since 2018. She writes about healthcare, technology, education, and marketing. Her work has appeared on websites such as Tech in Asia and Foundr, as well as top SaaS blogs such as Zapier and InVision. You can connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter (@FarheenGani).

Writer

Willow Dawn Becker

Willow is a blogger, parent, former educator and regular contributor to www.forensicscolleges.com. When she's not writing about forensic science, you'll find her blogging about education online, or enjoying the beauty of Oregon.