For Texans with inquisitive minds, a knack for reconstructing events, and strong stomachs, becoming a forensic scientist can be a fitting career choice. Luckily for people living in the Lone Star State, there is a wealth of educational and career-related opportunities available.
By illustration, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2017) reports that Texas (TX) employs the third most forensic science technicians of any state in the U.S. with 1,100 working currently. Career One Stop—a research organization sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor—expects this figure to grow 42 percent in Texas between 2014 and 2024, much faster than the 17 percent growth in this job anticipated for the country at large (BLS 2017).
Becoming a forensic science tech is only one of many career paths chosen by people with degrees from forensics colleges in Texas. These individuals also go on to become criminal investigators, profilers, digital scientists, toxicologists, handwriting experts, and forensic anthropologists, to name a few.
To learn more about the bright academic and professional landscape in Texas—including how to become a forensic scientist, the occupational demand in TX, featured programs around the state, and program accreditation—read on below.
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There are a variety of paths to becoming a forensic scientist or technician in Texas. Some choose to join a police academy and get extensive on-the-job training and may get a college degree later to complement their empirical knowledge, while others may pursue postsecondary education prior to employment.
Here is the most common path to becoming a forensic scientist in Texas:
As one of the most populous states in the U.S., Texas has a promising job outlook for graduates of forensic science programs. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2017) finds that among the 1,100 forensic science technicians working in the state, these are the top-employing regions:
As stated above, openings in this profession are expected to swell 42 percent in Texas between 2014 and 2024 resulting in many more opportunities in metropolitan and rural areas.
So how much do forensic science technicians make in Texas? Here are the salary ranges for these professionals in the Lone Star State (BLS 2017):
In general, metropolitan and more densely populated regions in Texas tend to pay forensic science technicians more. Here is a breakdown of the top-paying regions in the state:
Overall, since the projected growth in openings for forensic science technicians in Texas is higher than the national average, residents of the Lone Star State may have an advantage in the job hunt. The first step to securing work in forensic science in Texas, however, is getting an education. Read on to explore some of the quality, accredited forensics colleges in the state.
As mentioned above, Texas hosts four programs which are accredited by the prestigious Forensic Science Educational Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC):
Sam Houston State University (SHSU) of Huntsville, in the heart of the scenic Sam Houston Forest, boasts “one of the best educational values in Texas.” In addition to advanced coursework in areas such as instrumental analysis, pattern and physical evidence concepts, and forensic biology, this school places students in supervised internships for empirical instruction in controlled substance analysis, firearms, and DNA analyses, among other concepts. At SHSU, students can earn a FEPAC-accredited master of science in forensic science (MSFS) degree, with graduates having placement rates of more than 90 percent in forensic science laboratories and research positions across the U.S.
Texas A&M University of aptly named College Station, located in east-central Texas, offers one of the only FEPAC-accredited bachelor of science (BS) programs in the nation. The forensic and investigative science program offers two distinct emphases: pre-law and science. The university offers extensive online syllabi for most of its coursework to give prospective students a flavor for the program. In the biotechnology and forensics course, for instance, week one covers topics such as collections of biological material and specialized blood topics (e.g., antigens, immunoassays, isoenzymes). Texas A&M also offers several certificate programs through its extension program (including online course options), which are discussed below.
The University of North Texas (UNT)—located in Denton, north of Fort Worth and Dallas—has full FEPAC accreditation for its forensic science certificate in conjunction with its biochemistry, chemistry, and biology bachelor’s programs. After nearly 50 years in operation, UNT offers a 19-semester-hour forensic science curriculum with instruction in courtroom testimony, quality assurance, ethics, and forensic microscopy, among other subjects.
The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth has a unique master of science (MS) in forensic genetics program. The coursework for this program hones in on one of the biggest breakthroughs in crime-solving of the past century: DNA analysis. With extensive instruction in biochemistry, cell biology, immunology, and molecular biology, students are required to complete a thesis and a “moot court” experience, which serves as their oral competence-based exam.
In addition to these FEPAC-accredited options, there are a number of other degrees and training programs available to aspiring forensic scientists including:
Texas Tech University’s Institute of Forensic Science in Lubbock has a master of science (MS) in forensic science degree. Students can choose from two tracks: scientist or investigative. The former is designed for people who want to work in a laboratory setting and have a hard science background. The latter is for those interested in working in the field with social science training.
There are some online forensics colleges in Texas in addition to the national database of online forensic science programs:
Texas A&M Extension has a number of certificate programs comprising courses approved by the International Association for Identification (IAI) and the International Association of Bloodstain Pattern Analysts. These certificates cover a variety of professions and competencies—forensic technician, forensic investigator levels I/II, major crimes investigator and property, and evidence management—and are approved by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement. Some of the courses are offered online such as basic criminal investigation, death investigation, and basic property technician training.
The University of North Texas Health Science Center offers some free online training through its Center for Human Identification. These courses include forensic anthropology, developing a missing person protocol, and investigative strategies, among others.
It is important to note that while some courses can be completed online, a majority of forensics programs have some in-person or laboratory component due to the hands-on nature of the field.
The Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) is the primary accrediting agency for these types of programs in the country and has approved four programs in Texas. While graduating from a FEPAC-accredited program may not be a prerequisite for employment in TX, it can be an indicator of a student’s quality of education, as FEPAC weighs criteria to gauge a program’s value such as course offerings, faculty research, and physical facilities. However, a program that lacks FEPAC accreditation can still be well-regarded, particularly in the criminal justice and crime scene investigation fields, since FEPAC does not accredit such programs.
In addition to prgrammtic accreditation from a source like FEPAC, schools should have institutional accreditation. There are other regional and institutional accrediting bodies as well in Texas, including the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
After graduating from a forensic science program and getting some work experience, some professionals choose to get certified in their specialty. The Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB) has approved 10 organizations to grant professional certification or licensure across the U.S. The prerequisites to join each of these certifying boards differs, but generally involves some measure of educational attainment, work experience, and an exam. Some of the specialty boards include:
|Coastal Bend College||Beeville||x||46|
|The University of Texas at Austin||Austin||x||40|
|Sam Houston State University||Huntsville||x||30|
|Texas A & M University-College Station||College Station||x||22|
|The University of Texas at El Paso||El Paso||x||13|
|Texas Tech University (TTU)||Lubbock||x||11|
|University of Houston-Victoria||Victoria||x||10|
|St. Mary's University||San Antonio||x||9|
|Saint Edward's University||Austin||x||9|
|Tyler Junior College||Tyler||x||6|
|Howard Payne University||Brownwood||x||2|
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.