The industry academics

Degree-granting programs, proliferating at the right pace?
Saturday, March 1, 2008

The first course offering in Homeland Security came as an elective in 1999 at the National War College in D.C. But it was only after Sept. 11, 2001, that the concept of "Homeland Security" became part of daily parlance, and a more important area of study and training for institutions of higher learning.
In the less than seven years since the 9-11 attacks, a number of colleges and universities have put together varying certificate, degree and even master's programs in attempt to train professionals in Homeland Security.
Several have emerged as acknowledged leaders: The Naval Postgraduate School's master's program through its Center for Homeland Defense and Security (the first master's program in the field); National University's Homeland Security and Safety Engineering master's program in San Diego; and Long Island University's Homeland Security Management Institute.
And as schools have begun to focus on the subject area, concentrating disciplines into a course of study, the programs are being tweaked, and knowledge gaps have been identified.
"Homeland security did not exist as a discipline back in January 2003 when the program was started and it is still evolving today and will continue to mature for sometime," said David O'Keeffe, chief executive officer at the Center for Homeland Defense and Security. "Therefore, it is extremely important that the curriculum continue to evolve to remain both current and focused on what is over the horizon."
O'Keeffe said his program has an independent evaluator from the Department of Homeland Security who goes over each course each time it is taught, spending time with participants to get feedback on quality and relevance of the curriculum, faculty, and course delivery and logistics. The feedback is incorporated into the courses, so they can reflect current needs, said O'Keeffe.
Since the program's inception, 178 local, state and federal Homeland Security professionals have gone through the master's degree program. The school now graduates three Homeland Security master's degree classes per year, with approximately 90 participants total.
O'Keeffe said that the academic field overall faces some challenges. An effort is under way to establish an accreditation body in order to develop some standards and consistency in what academic degree programs offer.
"Unfortunately, many programs have jumped on this bandwagon as they see the profit making potential," said O'Keeffe. "Some have even renamed existing courses by adding the term 'Homeland Security' but often the nexus to the actual field is remote."
He noted that "perhaps the greatest challenge" that this academic community faces is the lack of qualified faculty.
There are currently no PhD programs that can help develop such faculty, O'Keeffe said, and most consist of practitioners who have moved into academia or academics from other disciplines who have a personal or professional interest. This has at times hampered program development at universities, he said.
David McIntyre, director of the Integrative Center for Homeland Security at Texas A&M University, hopes to see an HS PhD program at his school within 10 years. But first he needs to get the master's program launched. Today, the school offers a strong Homeland Security certificate program. It's working on a Master's of Science in "policy, science, engineering and technology for Homeland Security," said McIntyre.
The program is fast-tracked, in a sense. The last such program that A&M built took about 11 years. McIntyre expects that in a year, he'll be able to tell students what electives will apply to the program so they can begin taking them. In fall of 2009, he hopes to have the core courses read.
"Two to three years is a huge long time to my way of thinking. The longer we wait, the longer it takes to put people in the field," he said.
That said, having a few years of development isn't necessarily a bad thing.
The business community is where there is major, long-term need for Homeland Security, said McIntyre. Eighty-five percent of critical infrastructure is in private industry's hands, he said.
"Private industry has not yet come to grips in what they're looking for and what to expect [in a degree program]," McIntyre said.
He said the program will have a policy course at its core, but will also look at the application of science to Homeland Security. There will be an engineering element (to be determined), and likely will focus on geographic information systems (GIS) as a case study for technology.
There will be two quantitative research methodology courses required, and two courses in statistics, as well.
Where Texas A&M can add to the body of knowledge is in application of research to the field, said McIntyre.
"What's completely missing in Homeland Security education right now--completely missing--is serious research. It's easy, especially for operators, to laugh that off as professors in tweed coats, but all the real progress in Western culture in the last 500 years has been based on the careful collection of data, analysis, application of scientific analysis and principles, careful engineering studies," said McIntyre. "Those are the things that have proved effective."
Shekar Viswanathan, professor and chair of National University's Department of Applied Engineering and lead faculty for the Homeland Security and Safety Engineering Program, said he believes Homeland Security education needs to continue to evolve.
"I have not seen a program that can cover all areas required to be covered in Homeland Security. For example, in the asset protection, we look at aspects such as chemical plant protection," said Viswanathan. "However, infrastructure protection such as a building protection, structural protection, bridge protection, border protection is equally critical. In our program, we cover IT security. However, data security is a large area and that may require more than one course."
His own program has graduated 18 students, and has added emergency management and disaster response and preparedness courses since Hurricane Katrina. He said he'd like to see the program expand in two areas, maritime security and intelligence analysis.
Viswanathan said he thinks a future program must contain a few core courses, a few specialization courses and a few electives, to provide the opportunity to candidates to select their area of specialization while being proficient in the core Homeland Security area.
"It is not possible for a single person to become proficient and expert in all areas. However, one should be able to select an area of interest and specialize," he added.