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A Matter of Degrees

Before his senior year in college, Erik Stanton landed a summer internship in Washington, D.C. A criminal justice major at Salem College in Massachusetts, Stanton was placed with The Shaw Group, Inc., a Fortune 500 company that provides engineering, design, construction, and maintenance services to government and private sector clients in a range of markets, including infrastructure and emergency response industries. He began working with Shaw’s homeland security team led by Edward Badolato, executive vice president of homeland security, adding some real-life experience to what he learned in the classroom.

With that insider view of the business world, Stanton may have already had a leg up on others his age, but he realized that the top tier of his contemporaries were adding to their credentials through advanced degrees. So Stanton returned to Washington after graduation and began looking into programs with a homeland security bent. An online search led him to George Mason University’s biodefense degree program.

Designed after the 2001 anthrax attacks, the degree focuses on biological weapons, including bacterial and viral agents as well as toxins. Offered as a certificate, a Master of Science degree, or a Ph.D., the program covers such topics as crisis and consequence management, detecting the production of biological agents, epidemiology of a bioterror attack, medical treatments and response, and counterterrorism and civil rights.

Stanton saw the master’s option as “an opportunity to pursue a degree in something that is really unknown, not so popular,” and as a way to “stand out in this new field.” He will complete the degree in December with a concentration in threat analysis of biological weapons and counterterrorism.>

Homeland security programs like the one that Stanton is completing are now garnering more attention on college and university campuses across the United States. The National Academic Consortium for Homeland Security (NACHS), an alliance of colleges and universities engaged in program delivery on the topic, lists more than 300 participating two- and four-year institutions on its Web site.

Among the programs listed are research projects, technological developments, service activities, training, and degree programs. Descriptions provided by the institutions can be searched by 28 “focus areas,” including agroterrorism/defense and food security, critical infrastructure protection, science and technology, and social, religious, and cultural issues.

NACHS was developed by Todd Stewart, Ph.D., who is also the director of the program for international and homeland security at Ohio State University (OSU). OSU brought Stewart in to help establish its homeland security offerings in 2002.

What’s in a Name

Despite the growth of academic programs in homeland security, there is no consensus on what they should cover, how they should be structured, or who should be the target audience. The definition of homeland security is a sticking point for many academicians who agree primarily that the concept of homeland security has not been clearly defined.

David Gilmore, CPP, president of Colonial Safeguards, explains the dilemma: To engineers, homeland security may focus on blast resistance. To an information system security person, it could mean protecting the infrastructure from a cyber attack. A first responder may see homeland security as training for a chemical or biological incident. A scientist may think homeland security combines biochemistry and public health. “All of these functions could be in the realm of homeland security,” says Gilmore.

Representatives from 27 universities and colleges and 20 public and private companies grappled to agree on a definition during the 9th Annual ASIS International Academic/Practitioners Symposium. Gilmore chaired that event, which was held at the University of Maryland in the summer. Most participants felt that the Department of Homeland Security itself was still unsure of its mission and that both government and the private sector entities were still determining what skills and knowledge might be needed to address homeland security issues.

“DHS has yet really to solidify and determine its destiny,” says Eugene Ferarro, CPP, PCI, president of Business Controls, Inc., a firm that specializes in training and education.

Multidisciplinary Approach

However one defines homeland security, it is clearly many faceted and, therefore, requires “a multidisciplinary approach,” says James McClanahan, Ed.D., associate professor, Eastern Kentucky University, and chairman of the ASIS International Academic Programs in Colleges and Universities Council.

That explains why there are so many different approaches among academic institutions. At OSU, for example, rather than developing a discrete homeland security course of study, Stewart explains that he worked “within established degree programs to create areas of concentration, certificate programs, or majors focused on various aspects of homeland security.”

As examples, Stewart points to a major in security and intelligence that is now offered to undergraduates in the OSU School of International Studies. A concentration called public health preparedness is now an option in the university’s master’s of public health degree, which involves faculty from four colleges: medicine, public health, food and agriculture, and veterinary science.

Embedding homeland security programs in security management or criminal justice programs is another model adopted on many campuses. “After 9-11, we felt there was a fundamental shift in criminal justice and security management concerns,” says Robert McCrie, Ph.D., CPP, professor of security management at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. New issues had emerged that focused away from what McCrie calls “episodic crime,” to a new fear of terrorism from foreign or domestic sources that would require a response from the security community.

In response, John Jay added emergency management as a third concentration within its Master of Science in Protection Management, joining security management and fire protection management. New courses were added to the core curriculum, and new electives addressed broad topics such as the psychology of continuity planning.

In addition, all faculty, whether they were teaching corrections, criminal justice or security management, were asked to consider how homeland security affected their field of expertise, resulting in changes to course syllabi. Professors would offer “lectures, discussions, readings on 9-11 issues across a broad range of courses,” says McCrie.

Meanwhile, the president of John Jay brought together a committee composed of faculty as well as representatives from government, psychology, and the forensic sciences to offer suggestions on what they would like to see in a security management degree program that focused on homeland security. As a result, “we will change descriptions on our catalog to reflect issues that are homeland security oriented,” says McCrie, “but we have no plans to change the names of our programs.”

John Hill, Ph.D., director of the University of Denver’s (UD’s) security management program, also supports an interdisciplinary focus to homeland security courses. He cites a fictitious example of a dirty bomb explosion, which could involve hydrologists, hydrogeologists, and toxicologists as well as emergency responders from government and industry. “The consequences of these events do not yield to a single discipline,” he says.

But the interdisciplinary nature of homeland security can also work against the establishment of degree programs because of the realities of how universities work. It raises the question: “Who owns the program?” says Gilmore.

If a department is credited with a certain number of students, and then those students need to take courses in another department, problems can arise. “Universities have the same problems that many government agencies have,” notes Carl Richards, Ph.D., regional director of Webster University’s Washington, D.C.-based programs, and that is sharing information.

Frustrations with collaborative efforts among faculty were expressed by participants in the ASIS academic symposium. “How do we get the biology department to talk to the criminal justice department?” asks Ferraro. Differing political points of view can also affect how faculty see the global war on terrorism, and homeland security by extension. Nonetheless, attendees recounted some models for progress. For example, Stewart at OSU says that because he is a senior administrator, he is in a unique position to facilitate cooperation among the university’s eighteen colleges. “It allows me to cut across the functional stovepipes,” he says.

Other academic institutions have created homeland security centers primarily for research but with some provision for teaching. Frequently those programs address a specific aspect of homeland security. Examples are Carnegie Mellon University’s center of Internet security, Dartmouth College’s Institute of Security Technology Studies, or Kansas State University’s National Agricultural Biosecurity Center.

Not all programs lead to a degree. Certificates in undergraduate and graduate concentrations are available to candidates who may already have an advanced degree but want to retool their credentials before applying for work in homeland security. An example is Johns Hopkins University’s Graduate Certificate in Homeland Security Leadership, where students complete five three-credit courses.

In another case, the University of Connecticut (UConn) recently entered into an agreement with the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), which has for two years offered a Master’s Degree in Professional Studies with a concentration in Homeland Security Leadership at its Monterrey, California, campus. Going forward, the faculty of the two institutions will collaborate on course content and research.

State and local officials as well as military personnel and first responders make up NPS’s traditional student base. Through the partnership with UConn, the curriculum will now be offered to private sector employees. Students will spend five weeks on the UConn campus during the twenty-month master’s degree program.

The first East Coast iteration was offered in September. Courses included asymmetrical conflict in homeland security, critical infrastructure and risk management, and intelligence policies in homeland security.

First responders. Some homeland security programs focus on providing instruction for first responders. The National Domestic Preparedness Consortium is the principal vehicle through which the DHS Office of Domestic Preparedness identifies, develops, tests, and delivers training to state and local emergency responders.

Currently, the consortium operates in five sites: Fort McClellan, Alabama; New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology; Louisiana State University; Texas A&M University; and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Nevada National Exercise, Test, and Training Center.

Typically, these “how-to” training programs offer certificates or associates degrees at two-year schools, community colleges, or private training facilities. In some instances, funding for first-responder training is carved out of block grants given to each state by the DHS to be used for planning, equipment, and training. Schools that put bids in for training funds often reshape existing programs in public safety, law enforcement, fire, or emergency medical response to meet local requirements.

“We have more than 100,000 first responders around the country that need training,” says Bodalato of The Shaw Group, noting the high turnover among this group because they are mostly volunteers. In his view, retraining programs are improving, mainly through a coordinated effort to set standards and provide a basic curriculum that colleges and universities can adapt to local needs.

The Rocky Mountain Center for Homeland Defense, a part of the University of Denver system, focuses on training and planning related to the first response to terrorist events, according to Hill. Students receive a certificate of advanced study. The center also offers short courses, seminars, speakers, and consulting services to the region.

Going the distance. Distance learning and online degree programs are welcome alternatives for working professionals, and many institutions use these technologies either in part or as the primary delivery method. American Public University (APU) caters to students in the military, so online delivery is important because of the transient nature of the audience. In addition to its criminal justice, security management, and intelligence degrees, APU offers both a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts in Homeland Security.

Students can select concentrations in such topics as homeland security resources, law enforcement intelligence, narcotics and homeland security, and public health disasters. “We want to make sure [students] understand the concept, history, theory, rationale, and social impact of terrorism,” says Roger Melton, CPP, department chair, criminal justice and security. As of July 2005, more than 800 students were enrolled in the APU homeland security degree programs.

Mainstays in Matriculation

Given the uncertainties about what constitutes homeland security, not all academicians see the merit in offering homeland security degrees or courses. For example, Richards says, “For us to go in and say we should do this when no one is sure what they need is premature.”

Stewart concurs. “Until there is consensus on what constitutes homeland security, I’m hard pressed to conclude that there is a common body of knowledge,” he says. “Our school’s assessment is that homeland security is not yet an academic discipline,” he says, noting that it could take the better part of a decade for topics to emerge that everybody agrees ought to be in a homeland security bachelor’s degree.

Others point out that the issues involved in homeland security have been around in criminal justice, law enforcement, emergency management, and security management classes for years.

“The reality is that the term [homeland security] is a new buzzword,” says Hill of the University of Denver. The UD Master of Applied Science in Security Management focuses on “the full suite of security measures and management practices needed to keep an organization safe,” says Hill. While courses include how to keep a business viable following a terrorist incident, he says, “We don’t think of it as focused on homeland security.”

Similarly, Webster University has not changed its Master of Arts in Business and Organizational Security Management, a degree initiated in 1986 through the collaborative efforts of Webster and ASIS. Administrators have discussed offering a separate homeland security track but are not ready to move in that direction, according to Richards.

“I’m not sure how it would differ” from Webster’s current course offerings, he says. The courses are delivered worldwide through Webster’s Distance Learning Center.

In Richards’ view, the university’s existing emergency planning curriculum already focuses on aspects of homeland security, such as preparing for and responding to a disaster. The program explains what should be done in a response effort, whether the incident is a terrorist act or not.

James Calder Ph.D., CPP, a professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), would consider presenting homeland security as an element of some other course, but is not convinced that homeland security adds knowledge and value to a student’s education. And he questions whether those programs will have much academic merit in the long run.

USTA’s alternative is to offer a global analysis minor in the political science department. Calder, who switched from criminal justice to political science this fall, will teach a new course called “The Intelligence Community and World Affairs.”

Courses in the minor will teach “the culture of analysis and how you do good analysis in the foreign policy area,” says Calder. The intent is to prepare students for careers in foreign service, intelligence, or international corporate risk analysis. “To me, that adds value to students,” he says

Lawrence Berenson, CPP, who is security director of L-3 Government Services, Inc., and a member of the ASIS Board of Directors, agrees. He says that launching a specific homeland security major is not the ideal.

“The concept of homeland security or security management should be a survey area in all majors,” he says, specifically political science, public administration, international affairs, economics, and the chemical and biological sciences.

“There is nothing new in homeland security, he adds, which, from his perspective includes such security mainstays as personnel security, physical security, intelligence, vulnerability assessment, and risk management. “It’s a perspective, a means of tying things together. As security professionals, we already know this.”

History Redux?

Academics and practitioners who have been in the security field for years draw parallels with funds flowing from DHS today and spending by the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) in the 1970s, which sparked an interest in security education. By 1982, however, LEAA was defunded, and the security, police science, and criminal justice programs begun at many institutions faded away. Some fear that homeland security programs will experience the same fate should federal homeland security priorities change.

Others see another—more positive—parallel with early graduate programs in business administration, “which were regarded with disdain at many institutions before they proved their merit,” says McCrie. Ferraro remembers when courses covering criminal justice topics first came to campuses and the subject matter was viewed as neither academic nor a science. “It probably took three decades for criminal justice to gain acceptance and legitimacy,” he says.

The turning point was the development of a body of knowledge in criminology. As a result, says Calder, today “criminal justice has a highly credentialed and distinguished faculty.” McCrie seconds that view, noting that criminal justice is “the fifth largest undergraduate major for men in the United States.”

If homeland security is to advance as an academic discipline, says Calder, it needs the same level of definition now afforded to criminal justice studies. Without that consensus, he envisions that homeland security programs are “not going to have a good start, and may have a sad ending.”

Career Connections

Ultimately it is the marketplace that drives interest in academic degrees. Melton believes persons will continue to select a homeland security major because their jobs are related. While APU’s traditional student base has been military personnel in law enforcement or security positions, the university is seeing more interest in its homeland security degrees from civilians who currently work in medical facilities, sheriff’s departments, or with transportation and logistics agencies, he says.

Neal Olderman, program manager, College of Continuing Studies at the University of Connecticut, sees the same trend among mission statements from applicants for the first UConn cohort, finding that they were “people who have been profoundly affected by the events of 9-11,” and who want to “create change in their venues.”

Steven Avato represents one example of how these academic offerings are appealing to practitioners. Avato is also pursuing GMU’s Master of Science in Biodefense. He holds an undergraduate degree in biology but has been working for more than 24 years in law enforcement. Currently, he is a supervisory special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives within the Department of Justice (DoJ).

While DoJ does have a homeland security mission, he says, “sometimes you get investigators who are not technically savvy, or experts on biological weapons who don’t understand investigations, law enforcement, or even counterterrorism.” He plans to use his combined knowledge to provide a unique perspective.

For students not already in the field and for those looking to move up the career ladder, a big question is job placement after graduation. “I always tell them to become involved in the profession,” says Melton, through organizations such as ASIS. “Network with people who are already there.”

Professional associations can also be excellent resources for job opportunities and degree programs. ASIS, for example, offers a “Career Center” through its Web site. A recently updated brochure, Career Opportunities in Security, gives details on security disciplines, specialties, and certifications.

Gilmore sees job prospects in three categories: in state and local homeland security departments at the state and local level; in federal jobs connected to airport screening; and in new jobs created within DHS. “I don’t see a lot of new jobs that were created in the private sector as a result of homeland security,” he says, other than in companies that sell related equipment.

There have, however, been some top-level private sector opportunities that have opened up as large corporations recognized the need to strengthen their internal security departments after 9-11. For example, Bank of America hired Neil Gallagher as its homeland security executive following 9-11. Gallagher had recently retired as assistant director of the national security division of the FBI after a 29-year career.

Bank of America wanted “to understand their threat environment and know what they could do as a good corporate citizen to help this new concept called homeland security,” says Gallagher. While he reports to the bank’s corporate director of security, Gallagher acts as “an in-house consultant on matters that have a positive effect on the U.S. concept of homeland security and thereby a residual positive effect on the Bank of America.”

Gallagher does not foresee further staff expansion where he is. If he were expanding his team, however, the most desired quality he would look for in recent college graduates is analytical skills, someone who could “look at databases and help develop a clearer understanding of what is occurring in the environment that touches Bank of America.”

Calder, a former aerospace executive, agrees. As an employer, Calder looked for someone with “a thinking, critical investigative mind. I didn’t care what degree he or she had.”

Ultimately, the question remains: Does academia need to carve out an educational specialty called homeland security? Melvin Bernstein, Ph.D., director of university programs in the DHS Science and Technology Division, which itself funds a highly competitive scholarship and fellowship program, is not sure. The ultimate test “will be whether students who go through these programs find them to be of value in terms of learning and career development,” he says, and “I think the jury is out.”

“If the problem in front of us was more conventional, I think we would be much farther along,” says Ferraro. “But we’re dealing with a fast-moving target. The enemy is changing its tactics as fast as we can respond. What we teach today and qualify as a degree in homeland security may not be valid a year from now,” he says. “The landscape is going to change.”


Academic programs in homeland security are springing up around the country, offering degrees at the undergraduate and graduate levels as well as certificates of study. Identifying exactly what courses should be offered in such programs is a subject for debate, however, and institutions of all types have taken a variety of approaches. The lack of consensus stems, many say, from the variety of ways homeland security can be defined. The result at many institutions is a multidisciplinary approach that reaches across a spectrum of academic disciplines, delivery methods, and target audiences.Research initiatives supported by the Department of Homeland Security have been the impetus for major universities to become involved in esoteric aspects of the topic affecting, for example, economic and agricultural terrorism. Ultimately, though, the longevity of this new academic discipline rests with job prospects for graduates, a point that is too new to assess.

DHS Goes in Search of Excellence

< The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of University Programs has engaged the academic community by creating Homeland Security Centers of Excellence. The centers are multidisciplinary partnerships between a lead university and a team of academics at between four and 10 other universities. Government and private sector participants are included either as principal players or as regional advisors. Each center has received between $12 million and $18 million for a three-year study on a selected topic.

The University of Southern California (USC) houses the first center, known as the Homeland Security Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE). USC and its partners are completing a risk analysis related to the economic consequences of terrorist threats and events.

The research at other centers is equally specific. Texas A&M University and its partners have created the Homeland Security National Center for Foreign Animal and Zoonotic Disease Defense. Their research will focus on potential threats to animal agriculture. A team led by the University of Minnesota established the Homeland Security Center for Food Protection and Defense. This research will address agrosecurity issues related to postharvest food preparation.

A fourth center, at the University of Maryland, will study the origins of terrorism and the response to terrorism. A fifth center is expected to be announced shortly, says Melvin Bernstein, Ph.D., director of university programs in the DHS Science and Technology Division. “The centers will help identify gaps in knowledge and build on core capabilities,” he says. “The topics lend themselves to academic research but are mission-related.”

Whether these research projects have led to academic programs in homeland security is a matter of definition. Most of the universities receiving the grants had ongoing research programs that fit into the interests identified by the Department of Homeland Security.

For the major research universities, landing a major grant is “their measure of merit,” says Todd Stewart, Ph.D., director, program for international and homeland security at Ohio State University. In his view, the current interest is in funding applied research that will turn into practical applications in the near future, particularly in the physical sciences, life sciences, and engineering.

< Research “is the only way practices can improve,” notes Robert McCrie, Ph.D., CPP, professor of security management at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Jeremy Travis, the recently appointed president of John Jay, envisions establishing a national center for security issues that will support research efforts in a united way. As the former director of the National Institute of Justice, Travis funded major initiatives in security research.

That thinking corresponds to a viewpoint espoused by James Calder, Ph.D., CPP, professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio. He advocates establishing a security research center that would assemble currently available information, identify what is not there, and then work on filling the gap by moving across disciplines laterally, using the prototype established by groups such as the Rand Corporation or the Hudson Institute. This way, he asserts, research priorities can be established and a body of knowledge can be assembled for security and the homeland security field by extension.

Mary Alice Davidson heads a publishing consultancy based in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Before retiring from ASIS International, Davidson was director of communications for fifteen years