Proliferation of Forensic Science Programs

In recent years, increasing attention has been paid to the forensic science disciplines by the media in the form of many new books, movies, high-profile court cases, and, especially, television shows such as Crime Scene Investigation (or CSI).16 This media attention has resulted in explosive demand by college (as well as primary and secondary school) students for academic courses and degree programs that will prepare them for careers in forensic science that are like those portrayed in the media. Evidence of this is the dramatic rise in enrollments in forensic science courses on college campuses.17

One issue facing academic forensic science programs is combating Hollywood’s version of the career of a forensic practitioner. “Students who enter forensic science programs often expect to work in conditions similar to the television crime shows they watch. Many find they are unprepared for the reality of a career in the field. ‘A lot of new students come to our programs looking for an exciting career. Unfortunately, they come with unrealistic expectations,’ says Charles Tindall, director of forensic science at the Metropolitan State College of Denver.”18

Until recently, there were few academic programs in the forensic science disciplines. The earliest forensic science degree programs and the oldest continually functioning educational degree programs in forensic science in the United States were established at Michigan State University in 1946 and the University of California at Berkeley in 1950.19 A survey conducted in the mid-1970s located 22 colleges and universities in the United States offering degrees (in one case a certificate) in criminalistics/forensic science, although some of these institutions offered multiple degrees.20

16

See, e.g., S. Smallwood. 2002. As seen on TV. Chronicle of Higher Education 48(45): A8-A10.

17

There have been similar increases in demand at the K-12 level. Forensic science has become a popular component of science teaching. An informal survey conducted in 2004 by the National Science Teachers Association found that, “Of the 450 middle and high school science educators who responded to an informal survey, 77 percent indicated that their school or school district is using forensic investigations to teach science. When asked if the popularity of forensic-based TV shows had ignited students’ interest in science, the response was a resounding ‘yes’ (78 percent).” NSTA Survey Reveals Forensic Science Is Hottest New Trend in Science Teaching. Available at http://science.nsta.org/nstaexpress/nstaexpress_2004_10_25_forensic.htm.

18

National Institute of Justice. 2007. Addressing Shortfalls in Forensic Science Education. InShort, NCJ 216886. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice.

19

A. Vollmer, Chief of Police, Berkeley, California, established the School of Criminology at the University of California at Berkeley.

20

J.L. Peterson, D. Crim, and P.R. De Forest. 1977. The status of forensic science degree programs in the United States. Journal of Forensic Sciences 22(1):17-33.



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