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Colleges embrace homeland security curriculum   Post comment Printer friendly versionMore notes

Colleges embrace homeland security curriculum
By Julia Neyman, USA TODAY
universities, education, security, terrorism
Thursday, August 26, 2004 21:17 GMT

Anti-terrorism as a career option for the "brightest and best".

See original article here

Homeland security has become a hot topic in American culture, and higher education has been jumping on the bandwagon.

Hundreds of community colleges, four-year universities and postgraduate programs have begun offering degrees and certificates in emergency preparedness, counterterrorism and security. Students study topics from political science and psychology to engineering and biotechnology to prepare for possible disasters.

"Homeland security will be the biggest government employer in the next decade or so," says Steven David, chair of the graduate certificate program in homeland security at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, which also offers a master's in government with a concentration in homeland security. "America continues to face threats, and terrorism will never go away," David says.

Interest in homeland security proliferated after the 9/11 attacks, but efforts to increase awareness in the field were underway long before, says William Kelley, a researcher working with the Office for Domestic Preparedness in the federal government's Department of Homeland Security.

The idea for a professional training program was born when Kelley and others realized there was insufficient training in more analytical aspects of homeland security.

"You have to go back to 1997 or 1998, to the (first) World Trade Center bombings, Oklahoma City, the Centennial bombings at the Atlanta Olympics," Kelley says. "A succession of events built up an interest, and 9/11 had a culminating effect."

Now, many companies have added homeland security sectors, and those educated in the field are in demand, says Mel Bernstein, director of university programs for the Department of Homeland Security.

"Some graduates will work in the financial sector, for the government, in insurance, for consulting companies. ... If you look across the country, almost every company or agency has something they call a 'homeland security initiative,' and they will need people."

One of the programs that the Department of Homeland Security sponsors is an 18-month, highly selective professional training effort at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. The school educates high-ranking emergency management and public safety officials about policy analysis, advanced strategy and information technology.

"We're taking the best and the brightest and giving them additional education so that they can go back to their cities and assume the highest positions," says Paul Stockton, associate provost at the school.

Most universities have not yet adopted full degree programs, partly because some are skeptical of the value of an entire degree focused on homeland security. So some offer certificate programs and concentrations within more traditional majors instead:

-- At Ohio State University, students can get a degree in political science, sociology or computer science with a concentration in homeland security, in which they focus on such areas as network security and bioterrorism.

"In most cases, there is not yet a sufficiently well-developed body of knowledge that would declare (homeland security) to be a legitimate academic specialty," says Todd Stewart, director of the Program for International and Homeland Security at Ohio State.

-- At George Washington University in Washington, D.C., certificates are offered in crisis and disaster management, telecommunications and national security; they're offered through the school's Homeland Security Policy Institute.

-- Northeastern University in Boston offers programs in the law-enforcement aspect of homeland security through its College of Criminal Justice. Northeastern also received a grant from the National Institute of Justice to educate students about al-Qaeda banking and the "gray market," the practice of transferring money from abroad to other countries, possibly to finance illicit activities.

Compared with universities, community colleges are more comfortable giving degrees in homeland-security-related fields because they train first responders - police officers, emergency medical technicians, firefighters and others who are directly involved in their communities.

"Ours is likely to be a more hands-on approach," says Norma Kent of the American Association of Community Colleges.

Monroe Community College in Rochester, N.Y., for example, has a $26 million Homeland Security Management Institute complete with a crime scene simulator, forensics lab, hazardous-materials training area and aircraft simulator. It also offers training that educates community members on what to do if disaster strikes.

The diverse approach that schools are taking goes to show that the nature of the homeland security field does not lend itself to a uniform program, Bernstein says.

"We need people with many skills who can apply them to this particular area."