Security infiltrates college classrooms

There has been huge growth in the popularity of security-related programs since 2002, when the Department of Homeland Security was created, says David Silverberg, editor of the trade magazine Homeland Security Today. The programs began popping up at community colleges and online-only institutions five or six years ago, and now they are being offered at some of the nation’s most prestigious universities.

"Homeland security has developed as a discipline, and it took time for people to realize that it was a discipline," Silverberg says. "People think of homeland security as just screeners at the airport, and it is way more than that."

In the spring of 2007, Homeland Security Today published its first educational directory, with a list of 81 institutions with homeland security programs. The most recent directory, published last fall, had nearly twice that number.

Silverberg says the growth in academic programs mirrors the job market. The Department of Homeland Security, a labyrinthine federal department made up of 22 agencies with more than 200,000 employees, is just the beginning, he adds. Every state has its own homeland security framework, and job seekers in the private sector, even in seemingly unrelated fields such as nursing and law, find the courses are a résumé builder, he says.

Offerings range from vocational certificates earned in a few weeks to advanced degrees. George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., for example, offers a doctorate in biodefense, which teaches "intelligence and threat assessment, nonproliferation, and medical and public health preparedness," according to the university’s website.

Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., founded its Homeland Security Institute in 2002 as an interdisciplinary program. Director Eric Dietz says the coursework offered through the institute is designed as an enhancement to traditional fields of study, such as engineering and agriculture.

"It’s a new set of thoughts that you can take back to your old job," he says.

Higher quality of programs

Silverberg notes that although small schools, including for-profit online ventures, were the first to offer homeland security courses, the quality of these early programs varied. It took longer for universities to develop programs and hire faculty who met traditional education standards, he says.

Lou Marciani, director of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Spectator Sports Security Management, has been an athletic director for five universities and worked for the federal government evaluating security threats for sports venues. His faculty includes a former FBI counterterrorism expert, who managed security for the 2004 U.S. Summer Olympic team, and a professor whose doctoral dissertation was on security measures for sporting events.

Marciani says his center has an advisory board made up of representatives of every major professional sports league and the National Collegiate Athletic Association to make sure students are getting the skills they need for the workplace.

"It’s a new discipline," he says. "When I came through as a student, I didn’t take any classes in sports security."

Contributing: Joyner reports for The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., and USA TODAY

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