A Conversation About the Future of Homeland Security Education

By Stephen Recca, M.A.

CTU Homeland Security Degree - Homeland Security EducationI recently wrote a short essay for Journal of Homeland Security Education that graded general state of Homeland Security (HS) education today. I proposed – at the risk of offending most of our colleagues – that homeland security-specific academia would receive a solid C. Our community has done plenty right. Yet, we have plenty of room for improvement.

Homeland Security Education 1.0

In the decade since 9/11, which jump-started Homeland Security as a discipline within higher education, there has been a rapid and steady growth in the number and the quality of academic offerings. Universities, and more often than not a highly-motivated individual faculty member or small team, pushed hard to identify, build and deliver core HS content to a student population hungry to understand a new security paradigm. Academia had straightforward motivations:

  • Unique aspects of Homeland Security set the field apart from other disciplines;
  • High levels of student demand drove development of HS-related content, particularly in areas of terrorism, infrastructure protection and related strategies, policies and legal issues; and,
  • Government interest and funding stoked the initial fire.

Higher education’s response during this initial phase was generally positive. The success of the first university HS programs fueled interest that led to the rapid expansion in offerings that we see today. Public, private and for-profit universities have grabbed the baton and have run with it. In academic standards, the development of these new programs has been quick and acknowledges the need to bring Homeland Security into higher education. Perhaps we can call this first round of activity “Homeland Security 1.0.”

Homeland Security Education 2.0

Not surprising, higher education tracked closely with developments in national policy, strategy and funding. So, when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, and government structures and processes designed to respond proved inadequate, universities looked for ways to engage. In many cases, the existing programs that were closest to the problem were those working Homeland Security. Of course, even with the focus on terrorism prevalent in 2005, education and research already wrestled with tough questions in intra- and inter-agency relationships, technical challenges in a multidimensional operating environment, as well as other regulatory considerations. Katrina and the aftermath may have provided the forcing function, but again academia came through the period with a fundamental appreciation that Homeland Security and Emergency Management were conjoined, in the classroom if not in culture. This, in simplified form, might be classified as “Homeland Security 2.0.”

Looking back, 1.0 and 2.0 might be considered the prerequisites for the upper-level work at hand. But, there is a question about the state of HS since. It is absolutely not the case that program quality has decreased. On the contrary, programs are refining and maturing their Homeland Security (and Emergency Management) content, while developing assessment tools to align content with the demands of the professional field and job market.

So the Homeland Security education challenge is not one of quality, but of breadth. Faculty at the Associates, Bachelors and Masters levels are teaching strong, well designed core HS and EM courses. Yet, are we – in another context – fighting the last war? Outside of a few well-resourced or extraordinarily creative programs, there is no wave of new content or new offerings in exotic areas of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. “Exotic” refers to those seemingly peripheral elements of our discipline, which may be the cornerstone to understanding the next generation of Homeland Security challenges. A short list might include segments of “concern” areas already included in many survey courses:

  • Cyber Security. While today’s hot topic, the cyber domain – and, in particular, the policy aspects – will clearly outlive most of us as an area of research and education.
  • Border Security. Much of the content appears to focus on gates, guards and guns. NEXGEN border courses might consider cultural, financial, social and technical aspects of security.
  • Arctic Security. The Arctic would seem to be a microcosm challenging security issues: environmental, transportation, border security, international relations and national sovereignty. It might seem a stretch to connect the Arctic to Homeland Security. If for no other reason than that the Departments of Homeland Security and Defense are looking at the region, HS education should consider preparing to expand under the Northern Lights.
  • Comparative Homeland Security. The last issue of the JHSE published a solid study on European versus U.S. approaches to Homeland Security (and HS education).
  • Risk Management. “Risk” – very much like “security” – is an oft-used term, but with different meaning depending on where you sit. The financial industry thrives on taking risks (or, having others bet their money on risk), while physicians and security officers seek to eliminate risk. This seems an area where our community both can learn from and inform colleagues in business, insurance and medical disciplines.
  • HS Education Delivery. Without opening a rather large can of worms with a discussion on in-residence versus online learning, perhaps there is reason to consider the impact of the next bogey: free-ware. Is Homeland Security and Emergency Management education a likely home for developing and offering degree-compatible content – for free – via the Web, a la MIT's OCW or Stanford?

With the exception of HS Education Delivery, these topics are introduced in many Homeland Security academic programs. The question is whether we are delivering the depth and breadth of content that will stir the critical thinking about next-generation threats, hazards and unknowns. And more important, what is missing from our content?

Homeland Security Education 3.0

CTU’s new Master of Science in Homeland Security, with course requirements in Cyber, Public Heath Security and Comparative Security is designed to challenge students to answer this question. For both students and alumni, continuing the classroom discussion in the thought-leading journals such as the JHSE, Homeland Security Affairs or others, to sustain the conversation around the future of the HS academic discipline is critical. To bump the “C” grade up a notch or two, the challenge will be to work the hard edges of uncertainty and create Homeland Security 3.0 before the next major event.

Image credit: Flickr/U.S. Army