The basic foundation for any homeland security professional is a college education, which is required by almost all employers in this demanding field. Since the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001, an enormous amount of funding has gone into improving national security through a variety of federal, state, and private sector programs. These programs require knowledgeable and well-trained professionals who can design and execute effective homeland security strategies.
Prior to 2000, many homeland security professionals obtained their academic preparation through a variety of educational disciplines like international relations, public administration, or computer security systems. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, more universities and colleges have combined existing courses into departments devoted specifically to homeland security studies.
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Many two year colleges now offer associate’s degree programs that can provide a firm foundation for homeland security work. These programs may provide a general introduction to a particular field of homeland security like terrorism, criminal justice, or hazardous materials management. The key concepts found in these two-year programs involve introduction to the Department of Homeland Security, basic concepts of domestic and international terrorism, and key operational skills to enter a homeland security profession.
Almost every state has at least one university or four year college with a criminal justice department offering programs specific to or with concentrations in homeland security studies. For prospective homeland security professionals, a bachelor’s degree is the ideal way to prepare for a career in this field since it is a requirement of most employers in both the private and public sectors.
At the bachelor’s degree level, there is also more diversity in the field. More homeland security studies departments have the option of providing greater specialization and a wider array of course offerings. In most of these degree programs, the first two years are devoted to general skills like communications, math and physics, which can prove valuable to more specialized courses. It is also at this point that students acquire and understanding of the most basic concepts in homeland security studies like:
- Domestic terrorism and international terrorism
- Technology and homeland security
- Diplomacy in national Security
- Homeland security intelligence
- Multijurisdictional coordination
- Homeland security and civil liberties
- Introduction to emergency management
Once students have a basic understanding of the geopolitical considerations of homeland security, they can begin to acquire a more advanced knowledge of homeland security in practice. The last two years of undergraduate education allows students to delve more deeply into the details of counter-terrorism operations. These can include courses in:
- Intelligence and homeland security
- Electronic intelligence analysis
- Security planning and assessment
- Psychology of disaster
- Constitutional issues
Although a bachelor’s degree is usually the entry level academic requirement for most homeland security professionals, many employers expect specialists to either possess extensive experience within a specialized area or possess an advanced degree like a master’s. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, only 25 universities within the country currently possess a master’s degree program in homeland security. As this is a young field, there are a limited number of professors and professionals who currently possess the expertise to teach at the graduate level, but this is expected to change as more professionals enter the field.
One of the most prestigious universities currently offering a master’s degree in government with a concentration in homeland security had a syllabus with courses in:
- Defense policy
- Theory and politics of terrorism
- Administrative law
- Microbial pathogens and the impact on national security
- Threats to America’s national security: history and theory
Because the field of homeland security is still maturing and most of its practitioners are currently working in the field, many of these master’s degree programs are tailored to working professionals. These programs provide theory and expertise that is often critical to assuming an administrative or executive position.
While other degree programs are intended to help working professionals, the doctorate degree programs in homeland security studies are intended for students who wish to join the highest levels of government or academia. There are only a handful of these programs in the U.S. and almost all of these are newly created, so they emphasize pioneering work that advances the field. PhD students must conduct independent research and produce peer-reviewed studies that can be presented through a dissertation. Most doctoral students must present their research to faculty and undergo rigorous questioning that demonstrates a comprehensive grasp of the material.
Following graduation from a doctoral program, graduates may seek a position teaching students. In this particular field, the brightest and most promising minds are drafted into public policy think tanks or assume a position in government where their expertise may be utilized to help defend the country. Many of these outstanding students enter the intelligence branches where they initially serve as analysts and later ascend to policy-making positions.