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 many more nationally.
According to Career One Stop, a career statistics site sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, the demand for forensic science technicians in Wisconsin is expected to grow by 23 percent through 2024 (CareerOneStop.org), which equates to 10 new jobs every year for a total of 180 full-time forensic science technicians. While that number is indeed small for a state with approximately 5 million residents, consider that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2017) reports that nationally the demand is expected to grow at a rate of 17 percent over the ten years ending in 2026, which equates to 2,600 forensic science technician job openings.
While there are a few different paths that people can take to work in the forensics field, majoring in forensic science itself is perhaps the most direct route. But even for those that have majored in another subject, there are a number of 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 online alternatives that are available.
The term forensic scientist can be applied to many different but related careers, and not surprisingly there are several different ways to prepare for these careers. Because forensic scientists work closely with law enforcement and many are employed by law enforcement agencies, some people choose to attend a police academy or obtain an entry-level law enforcement position as a first step towards the career.
For those with a college degree, or considering a college degree, there is a more direct path, with the most common steps including:
Because the population of the state 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 state capital of Madison and the surrounding metropolitan area, where approximately 50 forensic science technicians were employed as of 2017, according to BLS data.
Of course, salary is always a concern when it comes to choosing a career, and the salary ranges for forensic science technicians in Wisconsin, as reported by BLS in 2017 are:
Comparatively, the median annual wage (50th percentile) for forensic science technicians throughout the country is $57,850, making Wisconsin a lower-paying state. However, the cost of living in Wisconsin is below the national average, with particularly low housing costs (Missouri Economic Research and Information Center 2017).
Surprisingly, the salary data for the Madison, Wisconsin area shows that forensic science technicians employed in that area actually tend to make a bit less than the average of the state overall. The median annual wage for forensic science technicians in Madison is $46,520.
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 23 percent growth rate expected through 2024, a low cost of living, and a safe Midwestern lifestyle.
If you are ready to start exploring your options for a forensic science education in Wisconsin, keep reading.
The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee offers three certificate programs in forensic science, including:
These 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.
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 61 credit hour 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 University of Wisconsin at Platteville offers students a bachelor’s of science degree in forensic investigations, which was the first program of its kind in the Midwest. Students learn crime-scene processing techniques that include crime scene 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.
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.”
Online courses for some areas of study are available through different schools, which can make learning much easier for those who have busy schedules. Fox Valley has online learning, but other, fully online schools have courses of study in forensics as well.
Liberty University, for example, offers an online bachelor’s of science degree in criminal justice with a focus on forensics that teaches students analytical and scientific practices germane to forensics and law.
In addition, National University allows students to pursue an online master’s of science (MS) degree in forensic science and graduate-level certificates in forensic and crime scene investigations. These types of programs allow students in Wisconsin who may not be able to attend courses at a local college or university to still obtain the educational foundation they need to start their careers.
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 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. 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 institutions 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 curriculum, faculty, and facilities have been approved after 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.
|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.