By Adam Dodge 

Last week I had the pleasure of spending a Sunday afternoon watching football and eating pizza with Michael and his family. During one of our discussions, Michael mentioned a recent USA Today article he came across on new “Homeland Security” degrees that many colleges and universities now offer. Knowing that I am currently pursuing a Master’s Degree from Norwich University, Michael wondered what I thought about this new degree.

Let me state from the outset that, as someone with an excessive amount of education (one associates, two bachelor’s and an upcoming master’s degree), I believe that higher education is a good thing. However, the particulars of the “Homeland Security” major seem a bit off to me. According to the article, this new degree allows students to “do everything from create emergency management plans to design gas masks.” I will allow everyone a moment to let that last statement sink in.

Ignoring, for a moment, that designing gas masks and creating effective emergency management plans require an individual to have two completely different skill sets and aptitudes, is there any job in existence that requires a candidate to be fluent in both these areas? Yes, engineering, emergency management, language skills, cyber-security, international relations, and many more fields are all very important aspects of Homeland Security. However, it is unrealistic to believe that anyone would be able to master these diverse fields by the time they achieve their PhD with multiple years of work experience, let alone an undergraduate degree. The field itself is simply too broad.

So when organizations hire individuals with this type of training, these individuals might have a passing familiarity with most of the Homeland Security concept. At best this individual will have one or two areas of core strength and a shallow understanding of the rest of the field. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, wouldn’t this individual be better served by a bachelor’s degree in their area(s) of strength and perhaps a minor, concentration or certificate showing a base understanding in the area of Homeland Security? This way an individual with a public administration degree could still do emergency planning for Homeland Security, but would also have options should they choose pursue employment outside of emergency planning. The same goes for an engineering student that is fed up with designing gas masks.

In addition, the strength of Homeland Security, much like the strength in a good Information Security program, comes from the various viewpoints of those involved. A single individual’s viewpoint of a topic is just that, singular. No matter how hard they try, a single individual will never be able to see all aspects of an issue. This means that no matter what our education level, what our experiences, alone we will never see the whole picture.

However, by gathering a number of individuals that have different backgrounds in areas relevant to the topic at hand (Homeland Security), we can gain a much better understanding of the issues. For example, pulling together a team composed of engineers, emergency planners, border guards, intelligence individuals, etc, gives a Homeland Security team multiple viewpoints from multiple subject matter experts that have dedicated their lives to a single area of expertise and therefore bring a unique understanding to the team.

The need for this type of in-depth experience on a broad number of subject areas is why a degree in Homeland Security does not make sense. As the article points out, government agencies are looking to hire individuals in Homeland Security roles with expertise in technical areas as well. I find it very hard to believe that a student will gain this type of expertise in one of these new Homeland Security programs.

I understand the appeal these Homeland Security degrees have. After all, one single degree offers the allure of being able to make a difference, helping the country and studying current hot topic areas. However, I strongly urge any student interested in Homeland Security issues to take a more traditional major such as political science, international relation, engineering, computer science, information security, etc. and perhaps minor one of these “Homeland Security” programs if they wish.

Another option colleges and universities might wish to consider is creating concentrations in Homeland Security aspects for degree fields where there is a need. For example, a political science degree with a concentration in Homeland Security, or an engineering degree with a concentration in important areas to Homeland Security. This option allows students to gain a strong understanding of a career field while also learning how to apply this field of student to Homeland Security issues.

The added benefit to the students, again, is that these students have multiple job opportunities when they graduate. It is import for educational institutions to make sure that the student’s best interests are kept in mind with these new “Homeland Security” degrees and that it does simply become about gaining federal grant money. Incorporating Homeland Security concerns into more traditional degree fields or creating a minor in Homeland Security issues does just this. Not only will colleges and universities help arm students with the knowledge to better assist securing the country and ensuring the safety of its citizens, but they will be arming students with traditional degrees which translates into more job options then simply those involving Homeland Security.

About the Author Guest Blogger

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