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Forensics Colleges in Wisconsin

A career in forensic sciences can be a fascinating career path for people who want to use their passion and talents in scientific investigation, data analysis, and meticulous examination to help solve crimes. While Wisconsin (WI) has a relatively low concentration of forensic science positions, there are some opportunities in the state and much more nationally.

According to Projections Central (2023), a career statistics site sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, Wisconsin’s demand for forensic science technicians is expected to grow by 12 percent through 2030, equating to 30 new jobs. While that number is indeed small for a state with approximately 5 million residents, consider that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2022) reports that nationally the demand is expected to grow at a rate of 11 percent over the ten years ending in 2031, which equates to 2,000 forensic science technician job openings.

So what can a person expect from a forensics college in Wisconsin? O*NET (2023)—a data group sponsored by the US Department of Labor—reports that forensic science techs must be trained in a variety of skills including collecting, analyzing, and carefully documenting evidence from crime scenes; liaising with medical, and law enforcement, and other professionals; performing laboratory tests on multiple types of evidence; and testifying as expert witnesses in court. Notably, there are several specialties in forensics such as criminalistics, toxicology, forensic accounting, cybercrime, DNA analysis document examination, ballistics, arson investigations, and other subfields.

While there are a few different paths people can take to work in forensics, majoring in forensic science is perhaps the most direct route. But even for those that have majored in another subject, there are several educational paths to consider. Several colleges and universities in Wisconsin offer certificates and degrees in forensic science and related disciplines, primarily in an on-campus format, in addition to a few available online alternatives.

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How to Become a Forensic Scientist in Wisconsin

The term forensic scientist can be applied to many different but related careers. Unsurprisingly, there are several different ways to prepare for these careers. Because forensic scientists work closely with law enforcement and law enforcement agencies employ many, some people choose to attend a police academy or obtain an entry-level law enforcement position as a first step toward their career.

For those with a college degree, or considering a college degree, there is a more direct path, with the most common steps including:

Step 1: Graduate high school (four years)

There are few absolute requirements for forensic scientists since the job can encompass so many different areas. However, earning a high school diploma is by far the best way to start down the path toward a career in forensics since 97 percent of employed forensic science technicians have a high school diploma or equivalent (CareerOneStop.org). Students should take as many science and mathematics courses as possible and do well in those classes.

Step 2: Earn an undergraduate degree (two to four years)

According to the BLS, forensic science technicians typically need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in order to pursue the career successfully. While some programs offer degrees focused on forensic sciences, many enter the field with a bachelor of science (BS) in a related field such as chemistry or biology. According to Career One Stop, 31 percent have completed bachelor’s degree programs and 14 percent of forensic science technicians have completed only an associate’s degree, so that is another option for those who are unable to attend a 4-year program.

Step 3: Become professionally certified (timeline varies)

The need for professional certification depends on the career goals of the forensic scientist. In the U.S., 10 organizations have been approved by the Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB) to grant professional certification in various fields, including the American Board of Forensic Anthropology, the Board of Forensic Document Examiners, and the American Board of Forensic Toxicology. Each organization has its own requirements for certification, with many requiring a certain number of professional hours worked in the field before becoming eligible.

Step 4: Earn a graduate degree (timeline varies)

For aspiring forensic scientists with an undergraduate degree in another subject or for practitioners looking to specialize or master additional skills in the hopes of taking on more responsibility, graduate degrees are available. Around 11 percent of forensic science technicians have a master’s level degree while an additional 4 percent have a doctoral degree (CareerOneStop.org).

Following the steps above, aspiring forensic scientists in Wisconsin may seek jobs in various contexts, such as police crime labs, psychiatric hospitals, and government at all levels, to name a few.

Occupational Demand in Wisconsin for Forensic Science Specialists

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (2022) projects that openings for forensic science technicians will increase by 11 percent between 2021 and 2031, much faster than the growth rate expected for all occupations during that period (5 percent). And this expected addition of 2,000 positions nationally is only one career possibility for people trained in forensic science.

The job prospects for forensic science technicians in Wisconsin are certainly not as strong as they could be. Bigger states with higher rates of crime and more densely populated cities are likely to be able to offer more jobs and higher salaries. However, for those who decide to stick it out in Wisconsin, there are still jobs to be had, with a 12 percent growth rate expected through 2020, according to Projections Central.

Because the population of Wisconsin is fairly small, there are not as many jobs for forensic science technicians in the state overall. Most jobs are concentrated in the Milwaukee metropolitan area, where approximately 260 forensic science technicians were employed as of May 2022, according to BLS data.

Finally, the ForensicsColleges blog offers several in-depth career articles for graduates in forensic science in its How to Become series, with step-by-step instructions to becoming a profiler, crime scene technician, forensic psychologist, forensic accountant, detective, and more.

Forensics Salaries in Wisconsin

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2022) reported that there were 240 forensic science technicians in the state.

Furthermore, BLS found that the salary figures are somewhat lower than the national salary ranges. 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 WI, the average salary in this field is $61,320.

In more detailed terms, here is a breakdown of the salary percentiles among all forensic science technicians in the country compared with those in WI (BLS May 2022):

United States Wisconsin
Number of Forensic Science Technicians Employed 17,590 260
Annual Mean Wage $69,260 $61,320
10th percentile $39,710 $38,730
25th percentile $49,320 $50,870
50th percentile $63,740 $59,400
75th percentile $82,160 $68,740
90th percentile $104,330 $90,220

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:

  • 10th percentile: $29,000
  • 50th percentile (median): $49,163
  • 90th percentile: $61,000

While the figures for Wisconsin are somewhat lower than the national salary ranges found by both the BLS (May 2022) and Payscale (2023), it’s important to note that the cost of living is substantially lower than in many other US states. For illustration, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2022) found that WI ranked 23rd among all American states with respect to affordability, boasting savings, especially in the realm of housing.

Featured Forensic Science Programs in Wisconsin

Students looking for forensic science schools in Wisconsin will find few options and degree programs. Some of these programs are specifically focused on forensic science, while other schools offer training in related fields such as criminal justice, or other niche areas. One way to distinguish forensic science programs from one another is through programmatic accreditation, specifically from the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC).

TThere are currently no programs in Wisconsin that have obtained programmatic accredited status from the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC). While this does not mean that the programs in the state will not provide a good education, it does mean they have not yet been thoroughly evaluated by that particular board for their forensic science programs specifically.

Marian University

Marian University offers a bachelor of science degree in forensic science. As part of the full-time program, students will learn “essential skills in investigative processing, crime scene reconstruction, criminal laboratory science, DNA analysis, evidence handling, police science, expert witness testimony, and technical photography.”

The program teaches how to analyze and examine evidence from crime scenes to develop objective findings that can assist in investigating crime. Graduates gain the skills, analytical techniques, and knowledge needed for entering this field through coursework taught by experienced faculty members.

As part of the program, students will delve into topics such as introduction to the criminal justice system; survey of forensic sciences; forensic sciences; criminal procedures; forensic photography; principles of judicial practice; crime scene investigation; and rules of evidence.

Graduates will be ready to take up careers in criminalistics, crime scene investigation, bloodstain pattern analysis, forensic photography, electronic digital imaging, law enforcement agency, and industrial product development. They will be able to take up roles such as bloodstain pattern analysts, crime scene investigators, fingerprint analysts, experts in firearms identification, forensic chemists, forensic serologists, and trace evidence analysts.

Location: Fond du Lac, WI
Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
Expected Time to Completion: Four years
Estimated Tuition: $14,760 per semester

University of Wisconsin-Platteville

The University of Wisconsin at Platteville offers students a bachelor of science degree in forensic investigations, which was the first program of its kind in the Midwest. Students learn crime-scene processing techniques, including mapping, fingerprint identification, and forensic photography. A significant number of criminal justice classes also comprise this degree, which is offered as part of the university’s Department of Criminal Justice.

In addition to the forensic investigation program, the University of Wisconsin at Platteville also offers a bachelor’s degree program in criminal justice. With both bachelor of arts and bachelor of science options in criminal justice, students can choose an emphasis in either law enforcement or corrections.

Students must select one of the two emphases within the forensic investigation major: crime scene emphasis or laboratory emphasis. The curriculum includes courses such as introduction to crime scene investigation; evidence collection and preservation; crime scene documentation; forensic criminology; crime scene processing techniques; and research methods in forensic investigation.

The bachelor’s degree program in criminal justice includes courses such as introduction to criminal justice; foundations of policing; foundations of corrections; criminal law; crime and delinquency; research methods in criminal justice; and behavioral research.

Location: Platteville, WI
Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
Expected Time to Completion: Four years
Estimated Tuition: Wisconsin resident ($7,932 per year); non-resident ($16,870 per year)

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee offers several programs related to forensic science: a bachelor of science program in criminal justice and criminology; a master of science program in criminal justice and criminology and three undergraduate certificate programs in death investigation, forensic science, and forensic toxicology.

Students in the BS program study the three broad areas of this profession: corrections, law enforcement, and the courts. They study the causes of crime, the criminal justice system, and the impact of crime on society and individuals. This 120-credit program includes courses such as an introduction to criminal justice; introduction to policing; introduction to corrections; introduction to criminal courts; criminological theory and policy; methods of social welfare research; and race, ethnicity, and justice.

The master’s degree prepares graduates for leadership positions in the criminology and criminal justice field and prepares them for advanced study at the doctoral level. Applicants to this program must have an undergraduate degree from an accredited university with a cumulative GPA of 3.0. The curriculum of this 33-credit program includes courses such as analysis of criminal justice research; administration of criminal justice systems; perspectives on crime and the criminal justice system; and measuring crime and analyzing crime data.

The undergraduate certificate programs, which do not culminate in degrees, offer students a background in essential forensic science knowledge through courses taught by UW faculty on such topics as criminalistics, DNA identification, and forensic anthropology.

Location: Milwaukee, WI
Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
Expected Time to Completion: BS (four years); MS (two years)
Estimated Tuition: Undergraduate (resident: $670.11 per credit; non-resident: $1,164.48 per credit); graduate (resident: $1,001.77 per credit; non-resident: $1,841.21 per credit)

Carroll University

Carroll University offers a bachelor of science program in criminal justice providing students with an understanding of the complexity of the criminal justice system and criminal behaviors. Rooted in sociology, criminology, and social and criminal justice, this program will challenge students to explore some of the most immediate and difficult concerns facing American society. Students in this program can double major or double minor and still complete the program in just four years. Suggested options include forensic science, psychology, communication, organizational leadership, and professional writing.

Some of the topics students will delve into include an introduction to criminal justice; criminology; criminal law; law enforcement and justice; juvenile delinquency; victims and victimology; and sociology of social problems.

Notably, Carroll University also offers a bachelor of science program in chemistry with a forensic science emphasis. courses include an introduction to criminal justice; forensic science; law enforcement and justice; advanced forensic science.

Location: Waukesha, WI
Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
Expected Time to Completion: Four years
Estimated Tuition: $35,360 annually

Hybrid & Online Forensics Programs

In addition to online forensic programs all over the country, there are a few web-based options within the state of Wisconsin:

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

In addition to on-campus programs in criminal justice and criminology, the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee has an online graduate certificate in cybercrime forensics. Offered in collaboration with the School of Information Studies and the Department of Criminal Justice & Criminology, this online certificate provides students with a foundation in legal and policy issues of cybercrime, digital forensic investigation, and cybercrime theory.

Applicants to this program must hold a bachelor’s degree and with a minimum cumulative undergraduate GPA of 2.75 to be admitted.

Comprising 21 credits, the program includes courses such as cybercrime; cybercrime, law, & public policy; ethical hacking; computer forensics; criminal evidence and investigation; and investigating the dark web.

Location: Milwaukee, WI
Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
Expected Time to Completion: Within a year
Estimated Tuition: In-state ($649.17 per credit); out-of-state ($ $807.10 per credit)

Fox Valley Technical College

Fox Valley Technical College located in Appleton, gives students the option of pursuing an associate of applied science (AAS) degree in forensic science. Courses are available both on campus as well as online for this 60-credit degree. Students will learn how to “identify, document, collect, preserve and analyze physical evidence,” in addition to gaining real-world experience through an internship.

Instructors have professional experience in the field they teach and students may be able to use their degree to transfer to a four-year college or university due to articulation agreements. The curriculum includes courses such as introduction to forensic science; cultural diversity in criminal justice; basic crime scene photography; impression evidence; criminal procedures; biological & trace evidence; crash scene investigation; and evidence management.

Graduates of this program will be able to take up positions such as crime scene technicians, evidence & property specialists, evidence custodians, forensic technicians, identification lab technicians, insurance investigators, and police officers.

Location: Appleton, WI
Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
Expected Time to Completion: Two years
Estimated Tuition: In-state ($188.90 per credit); out-of-state ($283.35 per credit)

Accreditation and Professional Certification

There are two types of accreditation for forensic science programs: institutional accreditation and programmatic accreditation. Unfortunately, there are currently no programs in Wisconsin that have obtained programmatic accreditation status from the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC).

While this does not mean that the programs in the state will not provide a good education, it does mean they have not yet been thoroughly evaluated by that particular board for their forensic science programs specifically. Indeed, FEPAC accredits very few programs and its standards are such that criminal justice and crime scene investigation programs are not eligible for accreditation. Applicants to programs that have not earned FEPAC accreditation should be sure to investigate the institution’s overall regional accreditation prior to application.

Each program listed above has achieved some manner of institutional accreditation from a general education organization such as the Higher Learning Commission. This means that the curriculum, faculty, and facilities have been approved after a thorough assessment.

Many forensic science technicians and others working in the field choose to obtain professional certification in order to further their careers. The Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB) has approved 10 organizations to grant professional certification or licensure across the U.S. A full list of these organizations is available on the FSAB website.

School Name City Forensic
Science
Forensic
Psychology
Digital
Forensics
Financial
Forensics
Total Forensics
Grads (2016-2017)
University of Wisconsin-Platteville Platteville x 35
Fox Valley Technical College Appleton x 15
Marian University Fond Du Lac x 4
Milwaukee Area Technical College Milwaukee 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.

WI
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).