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Master of defense: Getting a graduate degree in homeland security

Mar. 8, 2011 - 01:04PM   |   Last Updated: Mar. 8, 2011 - 01:04PM  |  
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Where to get one

The Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security maintains a list of colleges and universities offering homeland security programs at

Now is the time to go for a graduate degree that's likely to advance your career in and out of uniform.

Gone are the days when the surest ticket to professional advancement was spelled out in the letters MBA. Unleash your inner Jack Bauer and go for a master's degree in homeland security, where you can leverage your military experience in a cutting-edge area of study.

A decade ago, the term "homeland security" didn't even exist. But in the years since Sept. 11, colleges and universities have scrambled to meet demand for trained workers in the field. Today, there are about 320 to 350 homeland security-related programs at schools across the country, from associate level to Ph.D.s, according to Glen Woodbury, director of the Naval Postgraduate School's Center for Homeland Defense and Security. Many certificate programs exist, as well.

As the field of homeland security matures, more attention is being given to graduate-level programs, which aim to teach current and future leaders critical thinking and analytical skills that will better enable them to fight terrorism and respond to emergencies.

"The idea of the master's [programs] are the creation of new knowledge, and not the receipt of knowledge," Woodbury said.

It's a move from tactical to strategic operations levels, explained Vincent Henry, a veteran of the New York Police Department who established Long Island University's Homeland Security Management Institute in 2006.

"We wanted to reach out immediately to the managers and executives who were making the decisions," Henry said of the institute, which offers both an advanced certificate and a master's degree in homeland security management in a fully online degree program. "We didn't want to do a bachelor's program and have to wait 10 years for them to be influential."

Course offerings

The curricula, and even the names, of homeland security programs vary widely. Look for offerings in security studies, emergency and disaster management and homeland defense.

As for content, programs generally look at the big picture, with classes on terrorism, infrastructure, intelligence and policy issues, but many allow students to specialize further. Some degrees devote more time to natural disaster response than others. Some focus on management; some are more technical.

At LIU, for example, course work includes "Psychological and Sociological Aspects of Disaster and Terrorism" and "Homeland Security and the Private Sector." At CHDS, the master of arts in security studies includes such courses as "Comparative Government for Homeland Security," "Strategic Planning and Budgeting for Homeland Security," and "Technology for Homeland Security."

"It can be confusing," Woodbury said. "You have to look under the label. What is the curriculum? What courses do they teach? Do they interest me and what I want to do in the future?"

Job prospects

Speaking of the future, prospects for employment and career advancement with a graduate degree in homeland security are very good in both the public and private sectors.

"Inside government, there is a large demand," Woodbury said.

In fact, the Department of Homeland Security is projected to make 65,730 new mission-critical hires from fiscal 2010 to 2012, according to the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, which promotes government service. That's about 66 percent more mission-critical hires than it made in fiscal 2007 and 2008. Currently, DHS has more than 230,000 employees.

Woodbury predicts continued growth in private-sector jobs, as well.

"The world is going global, or flat," he said. "Corporate responsibilities are merging with homeland security responsibilities. It's not just public sector anymore."

As the definition of homeland security keeps broadening, someone coming out of school with a homeland security graduate degree has training in crisis and consequence management that is appealing to large companies, Woodbury said. A company like Verizon, for example, needs individuals on board to help mitigate possible disruptions in service in the event of such natural disasters as hurricanes.

For those planning to stay in uniform, an advanced degree in security can have tremendous benefits for one's career, as well, said Ariel Roth, associate program chair of global security studies at Johns Hopkins University.

It makes troops "better and more thoughtful in the long term," Roth said. "As America is engaged in these conflicts where public affairs is as much of the battle as tactical operations, having [troops] who are thoughtful and have these skills for thinking about the complexity of political relationships are going to be able to execute their missions more smoothly."

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