In the 1980s, a contraction of programs occurred—particularly at the graduate level. Stoney argues that this was because of a lack of financial and administrative support.21 Higgins and Selavka suggest that the end of funding provided by the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration in 1978 took important federal support away from many institutions.22 Additionally, they suggest that the then-declining enrollment in graduate programs might have reflected the generally low-paying opportunities available to newly minted graduates.

In recent years, this trend has reversed itself. Many colleges and universities, seeing the potential revenue from increasing numbers of new students, have responded by creating all manner of new academic programs. The American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) now lists 138 undergraduate, 59 graduate, and 6 doctoral forensic science degree programs in the United States.23 Not all are science based—many are criminal justice programs. The curricula of these degrees range from rigorous scientific coursework amounting to a degree in chemistry or biology with forensic science content, to little more than criminal justice degrees with an internship.

Doctoral Programs in Forensic Science

There is no doctoral program specifically in forensic science; the programs noted by AAFS offer Ph.D.s (mostly in chemistry) with a concentration in that area. Some scholars consider this to be a shortcoming in forensic science education. More than 20 years ago, Kobilinksy and Sheehan conducted a survey of crime laboratories throughout the United States and found that almost 73 percent of those responding believed there was a need for a Ph.D. program.24 The advantages of a Ph.D. program lie in its positive effect on basic research in the field. Doctoral programs offer more research depth and capacity, have ties to other fields, have high expectations for quality, supply graduate student personnel to question and check past work and challenge conventional wisdom, and inspire more mentoring, which has two-way benefits.


D.A. Stoney. 1988. A medical model for criminalistics education. Journal of Forensic Sciences 33(4):1086-1094.


Higgins and Selavka, op. cit.




L. Kobilinksy and F.X. Sheehan. 1984. The desirability of a Ph.D. program in forensic science. Journal of Forensic Sciences 29(3):706-710.

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