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Getting an Online Degree in Homeland Security

Aug 15, 2007 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

When we think of homeland security, most of us think of counterterrorism: preventing tragedies like the attacks of 9/11.  Naturally, most people hope there won’t be a growing need for homeland security experts in decades to come.

But Hurricane Katrina made a painful point: we’re vulnerable to natural disasters as well.  Many homeland security programs teach you skills that are as valuable in the face of floods and epidemics as they are in terrorist attacks.  It’s likely that this field is here to stay, regardless of the international situation.

If you’re considering a career in this important field, here are some things you should know.

What’s Covered?

Homeland security programs vary from school to school.  However, common areas of study include disaster management, infrastructure protection, and counterterrorism. 

Some programs have a medical perspective, and their curriculum may focus on bioterrorism, agricultural safety, and emergency response.  Others may focus on law enforcement issues, intelligence, international relations, or policy administration. 

Some schools offer degrees in criminal justice with a concentration in homeland security.  These programs usually have a more general curriculum, with only a few homeland security-specific classes required.  

Where Can I Get a Degree?

Online classes in homeland security are becoming more common.  Here are just a few places where you can earn a Bachelor’s, Master’s, or professional certificate online.

Kaplan University

Kaplan has a regional accreditation, and its courses are all offered online.  Even better, the school hires faculty that are also practicing professionals in their fields of study.

Kaplan offers an online bachelor’s degree in criminal justice with a concentration in homeland security and counterterrorism.  This degree includes disaster response, crisis negotiation and conflict resolution.  It’s broad enough to appeal to those looking for work in law enforcement, investigation, and private security as well as in government agencies and disaster relief agencies.

Penn State

A respected traditional college, Penn State also offers an online Master’s degree in homeland security.  This program includes disaster planning, prevention, and response; bioterrorism and agricultural safety; infrastructure protection; and incident management for both terrorist and natural disasters.  It’s the only online homeland security program in the country offered through a traditional medical school.

In addition, Penn State offers two certificates related to homeland security: bioterrorism preparedness and disaster preparedness.  These certificate programs can be used as stand-alone professional certification, or as preparation for the Master’s program.

Walden University

A distance-learning school in existence for over 35 years, Walden is also a member of the Homeland Security and Defense Education Consortium.  This network of schools is committed to promoting homeland security by working with the Department of Defense, developing curriculums, and producing research.

Walden offers a online MPA with a focus on homeland security policy.  This program teaches students how to create security policies that keep people safe without compromising individual freedoms.

Tiffin University

A traditional school with a strong e-learning program and a regional accreditation, Tiffin offers identical degrees to its traditional and online graduates.  One of its degrees is a online master’s of science in criminal justice, with a concentration in homeland security administration.

This program is designed for law enforcement and emergency-response professionals who need a homeland security degree to advance their careers.  It includes border security, protection of critical infrastructure, emergency preparedness, and intelligence administration.

American Military University.  This online university has both national and regional accreditation.  Many of its students are military personnel serving overseas, but you do not have to be a member of the military to enroll. 

The school offers both Bachelor’s and Master’s online degrees in homeland security.  The Bachelor’s degree covers wide-ranging topics from American history to international relations, plus more specific national security courses.  The Master’s degree is more focused, including classes in computer crime, airport security, disaster management, and port security.

Evaluating a Homeland Security Program: What to Look For

As with any online program, the school that you choose must be accredited by a regional or national accrediting agency

There are a few other criteria you can use to judge a school’s program as well.  These include:

Faculty with on-the-job experience

Homeland security is a new discipline.  There is no tradition of scholarship and research behind it, and its textbooks are only now being written.   It’s crucial for teachers to have field experience to impart to their students.

Plenty of credit hours

Every school manages their credit system differently.  But keep in mind that a Bachelor’s degree usually takes about four years to complete, and a Master’s takes approximately two years for most disciplines.  Before enrolling, take a look at the curriculum for the program you’re considering.  If it doesn’t look rigorous enough, look elsewhere.

Hands-on learning

Most experts would agree you’re not ready for a career in homeland security without a lot of practical application.  Look for a program that replicates realistic situations and teaches students to think creatively, work as a team, and solve real-world problems. 

A good match

It’s a mistake to think that all homeland security programs are the same.  Look at the required course list before signing up, and make sure the program you’re choosing is an exact match to your interests.  If it isn’t, you’re likely to find a better-fit elsewhere.

Homeland security is likely to be a growing field in years to come

This isn’t a bad thing.   We need homeland security experts not only to protect us from terrorism, but also to improve our response to natural disasters.  With an influx of experts in disaster relief and first response, counterterrorism and border protection, and policy-making that both protects us and preserves our freedom, our country can only become safer—and more free to live without fear.


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