College courses in homeland security on the rise

Colleges and universities increasingly are offering homeland security courses, as higher education is coming to accept the new subject area but perhaps not fully embrace it as a distinct discipline.

"The jury's out on whether or not this will evolve," said Todd Stewart, a retired Air Force major general, who is now director of Ohio State University's Program for International and Homeland Security. However, he added, homeland security is believed among experts to be the "most rapidly growing area of new academic programs."

Stewart also serves as the director for the university's National Academic Consortium for Homeland Security, which has attracted more than 300 colleges and universities as members. "There was very little academic discipline [in the area of homeland security] before [Sept. 11, 2001,]" said David O'Keeffe, chief executive officer of the Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security.

O'Keeffe's Naval Postgraduate School offers a master's degree that allows students to spend most of their time away from the campus. That isn't to say the master's program is taken lightly; each student must submit a thesis of up to 100 pages.

State and local emergency responders and homeland security officials are the primary applicants, O'Keeffe said, adding that there is a wide range of students inside the classroom, beyond government employees.

"There's a huge private sector interest" in homeland security programs and degrees, Stewart said.

Some of the programs are made possible through partnerships with the federal government. Homeland Security Department funding helped in developing courses at New York University and state universities such as the University of Maryland and the University of North Carolina.

Ohio State's program offers its certificate after students complete an online course, for which they - or their employers - pay about $5,000. The Naval Postgraduate School's master's degree program is free for eligible state, local and federal employees. To be eligible, students must work in a position with homeland security responsibilities, have an undergraduate grade point average of at least 3.0 and agree to spend at least two years after graduation in the homeland security field.

Not every school with homeland security courses offers a postgraduate or even a bachelor's degree in the area, however. Some have decided to incorporate such coursework into other types of degree programs. For instance, some tuck homeland security and emergency response classes into criminal justice, political science or international relations programs.

At Stanford University's Center for International Security and Cooperation, Paul Stockton, a senior research scholar, oversees a program that allows undergraduates to pursue research in the homeland security field, but not for a degree -- only to complement other degrees. Stanford does offer courses for postdoctoral degrees in homeland security though, Stockton said. He described the interest of mid-career employees in the program as "huge."

But despite the proliferation of programs and courses, some are doubtful the area will have staying power as a distinct discipline. Skeptics said homeland security can be encompassed in other subject areas, potentially eliminating the need for separate programs.

Homeland security involves a range of skills -- engineering, operations research, public health and even agriculture -- that is too broad to include under one degree program, Stockton said. "I don't believe that homeland security should ever become an academic discipline of its own," he said.

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