North Carolina (NC) hosts a number of certificate and degree programs in forensics, both online and on-campus. This is not surprising given the Tar Heel State’s proud history with respect to education. In fact, NC boasts the first state art museum and the first public university in the nation: the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Government of NC).
So what can a person expect from a forensics college in North Carolina? O*NET (2016)—a data group sponsored by the US Department of Labor—reports that forensic science technicians must be trained in a variety of skills including collecting, analyzing, and carefully documenting evidence from crime scenes; liaising with medical, law enforcement, and other professionals; performing laboratory tests on multiple types of evidence (e.g., fingerprints, bodily fluids, hair, fibers, soils, documents, electronics, tool marks, etc); and testifying as expert witnesses in court. It’s important to note that there are many specialties in forensics such as criminalistics, toxicology, forensic accounting, cybercrime, DNA analyses, document examination, ballistics, arson investigations, and other subfields.
Finally, the Old North State is uniquely strict about who can seek employment in state crime labs. By illustration, the General Assembly of NC passed widespread reforms on the use of forensic science in the state in 2011. The new law, known as the Forensic Sciences Act of 2011, established the Forensic Advisory Board; created protocols to decrease human error in forensics examinations; elucidated rules concerning the admission of forensic evidence into courts of law; and most impactfully for aspiring forensics professionals in NC, has called for the State Department of Justice to hire exclusively certified professionals.
Read on to discover the employment outlook in forensics, as well as to learn about forensics colleges in North Carolina, professional certification, and program accreditation.
There is excellent news for aspiring forensics professionals in NC: forensic science is a field on the rise. As proof of point, the the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2017) projects that openings for forensic science technicians will increase 17 percent between 2016 and 2026, nearly four times the growth rate expected for all occupations during that time period (7 percent). And this expected addition of 2,600 positions nationally is only one career possibility for people trained in forensic science. Following the completion of a degree program and specialized training, people with degrees in forensics may pursue jobs as crime scene investigators, laboratory scientists, toxicologists, medical examiners, forensic engineers, cybercrime analysts, forensic accountants, criminal profilers, forensic nurses, odontologists, document examiners, arson investigators, and more.
The BLS (2017) reported that there were 520 forensic science technicians working in NC with the following salary ranges:
These figures are somewhat lower than the national salary ranges found by both the BLS (2017) and Payscale (2018). The BLS (2017) found the following salary percentiles nationwide:
By comparison, Payscale (2018)—an aggregator of self-reported salary data—found slightly lower ranges among its 295 reporting forensic scientists from around the country:
Although the wages in NC are slightly lower than the national averages in forensics occupations, it’s important to note that the cost of living is also significantly lower in North Carolina. By illustration, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2017) found that NC ranked eighteenth among all American states with respect to affordability, boasting savings especially in the realm of housing costs.
Also, not surprisingly, salaries vary by metropolitan area as well. Here are the annual salary data for the top four regions of NC when it comes to forensic science technician employment (BLS 2017):
Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill, NC-SC: 190 forensic science technicians employed
Raleigh, NC: 90 forensic science technicians employed
Winston-Salem, NC: 50 forensic science technicians employed
Durham-Chapel Hill, NC: 40 forensic science technicians employed
There is an abundance of places of employment for aspiring professionals in forensics. The BLS (2017) states that 86 percent of forensic science technicians work in crime laboratories, morgues, police departments, or medical examiner offices. Additionally, depending on a person’s specialty, (s)he may work in private laboratories, pharmaceutical companies, ecological research institutes, biomedical research organizations, private investigation (PI) offices, law firms, insurance companies, and other businesses seeking forensic expertise. Although many forensics specialists work during normal business hours, due to the nature of the profession, those who work in criminal investigations may be called upon to work evenings, weekends, and holidays.
One eminent employer of forensics professionals is the North Carolina Department of Justice State Crime Lab, which has branches in Raleigh, Asheville, and Greensboro. This lab provides free forensic examinations to public law enforcement agencies, including local, state, federal, military, and railroad security divisions. The lab is internationally accredited under ISO/IEC 17025 standards, the predominant criteria established to demonstrate a laboratory’s technological competence. In addition to job opportunities, the NC DOJ Crime Lab provides summer internships at the state crime laboratory across all forensic subfields such as trace evidence, digital evidence, latent evidence drug chemistry & toxicology, firearms & toolmark, and forensic biology & DNA.
For more information on job openings in forensics in North Carolina and nationwide, there are several resources:
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For aspiring forensics professionals, there are several reputable degree and certificate programs in NC. It’s important to note that many undergraduates choose majors tangentially related to forensics such as biology, chemistry, sociology, criminal justice, or criminology. The University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNCW) points out that many schools don’t offer bachelor’s degrees in forensic science since it can be difficult to secure employment without graduate-level training. Therefore UNCW advises that students consider a minor in forensics.
For associate degree programs, typical application requirements include sending official secondary school transcripts with a competitive GPA (e.g., >3.0); taking the TOEFL test (for non-native speakers of English); and paying an application fee. For example, Fayetteville Technical Community College provides an associate of applied science (AAS) in criminal justice technology with a latent evidence concentration. Students take courses such as introduction to criminal justice, juvenile justice, crime scene processing, and constitutional law. Additionally, students get hands-on exposure to skills such as classifying fingerprints, recognizing tire-tracks, and computer-assisted crime scene processing. Fayetteville also offers certificate programs in crime scene investigation and latent evidence processing.
For bachelor’s degree programs, typical application requirements include sending official secondary school transcripts with a competitive GPA (e.g., >3.0); submitting official scores from the SAT or ACT tests; taking the TOEFL test (for non-native speakers of English); and paying an application fee. Admissions committees may also prefer candidates with some experience in forensics or related fields such as volunteering through a local police department, hospital, or medical examiner office.
Fayetteville State University provides a bachelor of science (BS) program in forensic science with a concentration in either biology or chemistry. The forensic biology concentration at Fayetteville State is the only program in North Carolina that has earned accreditation from the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) The interdisciplinary biology concentration offers advanced instruction in DNA analysis, forensic microscopy, microbiology & immunology, and legal aspects of criminal justice. By comparison, the chemistry concentration involves coursework in forensic professional practice, analytical chemistry, chemical instrumentation, and criminal justice ethics.
North Carolina State University (NCSU) in Raleigh hosts the Forensic Sciences Institute, a facility which offers forensic science as a minor to students in a variety of undergraduate disciplines. This minor involves the completion of at least 15 credit hours in areas such as fundamentals of forensic anthropology, introduction to forensic science, forensic chemistry, and materials forensics.
Finally, North Carolina Central University (NCCU) in Durham offers a bachelor of science (BS) in chemistry with a concentration on forensic science. In a collaboration between multiple departments, NCCU has advanced training in techniques such as DNA analysis, chromatography, and infrared imaging. Courses in this program include legal aspects of forensic science, criminal justice court processes, and statistical methods.
For more information on various forensics programs—including options in computer forensics, crime scene investigation (CSI), cybersecurity, criminal profiling, forensic accounting, forensic engineering, forensic anthropology, forensic nursing, and more, please visit the forensic programs page.
For working professionals, parents, and people with other time commitments, there are many online and hybrid forensics programs available. In addition to a quality on-campus forensic science program, Western Carolina University (WCU) offers an online bachelor of science (BS) degree in criminal justice. The curricula includes theories of crime, statistical analysis for criminology & criminal justice, and legal liability of criminal justice personnel. Also, students have several extracurricular opportunities such as joining the Student Association of Criminal Justice Affairs (SACJA) or even studying abroad.
Another school, the University of Mount Olive, has locations throughout NC and provides an online bachelor of science (BS) in criminal justice and criminology with instruction in juvenile justice & delinquency, victimology & advocacy, punishment & corrections, and law enforcement. Mount Olive also boasts small class sizes and a generous policy for transferring credits.
Finally, the North Carolina Office of Indigent Defense Services (NCIDS) has free online forensics training in a variety of specialty topics such as digital forensics for attorneys, presumptive & confirmatory forensic tests, and cell phone forensics, among others.
For more information on distance-based education and specialities, please visit the online forensic science degrees page.
As mentioned in the introduction, the General Assembly of North Carolina passed widespread reforms on the use of forensic science in the state. The Forensic Sciences Act of 2011 established the Forensic Advisory Board and has called for the North Carolina Department of Justice to hire exclusively certified professionals. Therefore, it may be advisable to seek professional certification for those who want to pursue this career in North Carolina.
Prerequisites for certification typically include completion of a formal training program; one- to three-years of experience in the field; professional references; and completing an examination.
There are a variety of organizations which provide professional certification to forensic science professionals nationwide. The Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB) has recognized 10 specialty organizations including:
Prospective forensics students in North Carolina are encouraged to verify the accreditation status of their programs. The Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) is the primary institutional accreditation authority in this region which is recognized by the US Department of Education.
Additionally, the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) accredits forensic science programs. As of April 2018, the forensic biology BS program is the only FEPAC-accredited program in NC. However, it is important to note that FEPAC has accredited very few programs overall, which means many highly regarded forensic science programs do not have accreditation. Further, FEPAC only accredits those forensic science programs that focus heavily on the natural sciences (such as biology or chemistry), which makes many criminal justice or crime scene investigation programs ineligible for accreditation.
Depending on one’s specialty, other forensic program accreditation bodies can include:
Ultimately, although institutional or programmatic accreditation may not be necessary to enter a career in forensics, these approval bodies can serve as indicators of quality by evaluating the administration, school finances, student support services, faculty effectiveness, facilities, program mission statement, and other relevant factors.
|Fayetteville Technical Community College||Fayetteville||x||38|
|Wake Technical Community College||Raleigh||x||27|
|Forsyth Technical Community College||Winston-Salem||x||x||17|
|Blue Ridge Community College||Flat Rock||x||14|
|Western Carolina University||Cullowhee||x||14|
|Catawba Valley Community College||Hickory||x||13|
|Central Carolina Community College||Sanford||x||9|
|Fayetteville State University||Fayetteville||x||9|
|Guilford Technical Community College||Jamestown||x||9|
|Johnston Community College||Smithfield||x||9|
|Nash Community College||Rocky Mount||x||9|
|Wayne Community College||Goldsboro||x||6|
|Coastal Carolina Community College||Jacksonville||x||x||5|
|St. Andrews University||Laurinburg||x||x||4|
|Surry Community College||Dobson||x||4|
|Stanly Community College||Albemarle||x||3|
|Southwestern Community College||Sylva||x||2|
|South Piedmont Community College||Polkton||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.