Colleges expand degrees in security

army times logoNovember 6, 2006 – Don Panarello leads a busy life. He works full time as a correctional officer, is a member of the Rhode Island Air National Guard and has three kids who are active in sports. But every night, he carves out time to study.

“I tell my wife and kids, ‘[Pretend] I’m not home,'” Panarello said. “I go into my computer room, I close my door, and I work on my courses.”

Panarello is studying for a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice with a specialty in homeland security, completing courses online through Grantham University of Kansas City, Mo. “If I keep it up and don’t get deployed again within the next six months, I should be done by May of ’07,” said Panarello, a senior master sergeant who has more than 20 years of service, including a year on active duty for Operation Enduring Freedom.

“I’m looking to branch out and try something different,” Panarello said. “[Homeland security] is an up-and-coming field.”

In the five years since Sept. 11, 2001, many colleges and universities have added studies in corporate and homeland security to existing programs, or have created new programs that prepare workers for careers in security. Today, students interested in this field can earn associate, bachelor’s or master’s degrees, or can obtain certificates in related areas, including counterterrorism, emergency preparedness and disaster management. Job prospects are bright for those who focus their education on homeland security, educators say.

For many military members, accredited distance-learning institutions are a good option. Students complete courses online at their own pace and may receive credit for their work experience. Among the distance-learning institutions offering such degrees are Keiser College of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which has an associate of arts degree in homeland security, and Rasmussen College in Minnesota, which offers an associate of applied science degree in criminal justice that includes courses in homeland security law and terrorism.

Joe McHale, the criminal justice program director at Grantham University, described the program as “a cutting-edge take on how homeland security will assist somebody in employment or understanding national concerns.”

Approximately 150 students are working on the homeland security specialty, McHale said, adding that Grantham graduates in the criminal justice program typically seek jobs in law enforcement, dignitary protection, federal service and immigration and naturalization, among other fields. The homeland security degree is a plus when job seekers want to enter the security career field, he said.

The degrees are offered in two- and four-year programs. For example, Anne Arundel Community College in suburban Baltimore offers an associate of applied science degree in homeland security management. The program includes courses in topics such as intelligence analysis, protecting infrastructure, developing catastrophic incident response, cyberforensics, transportation and border security, and terrorism and counterterrorism.

The community college also offers an associate of applied science degree in information systems security, which began in the fall of 2005.

“It was the first such program to be offered in Maryland and was developed to help meet the exploding need for work force training in computer networks and cybersecurity skills,” said Fred Klappenberger, chair of the college’s computer information systems department.

Thirty percent of the program can be completed online, Klappenberger said, but “initiatives are underway to increase the number of online courses that will be available.”

“The job outlook [for graduates] is excellent,” he added. “There is a huge unmet need for trained security technicians and professionals.”

Mercy College’s campuses in Dobbs Ferry and the Bronx, N.Y., began a bachelor’s degree program in corporate and homeland security this fall.

“Mercy College recognized that there was a void in academia in preparing college students with security awareness, whether at home, in the workplace or in the community, as part of their social responsibilities in post-9/11 America,” said Phil Sarcione, a retired special agent with the FBI and program director for the college’s undergraduate degree program.

“Because the program is so new, online courses are not yet available,” Sarcione said, but they soon may be an option.

As with homeland security, the job prospects in corporate protection are excellent.

“When one considers that 85 percent of America’s critical infrastructure is privately owned or operated, the number of jobs that could benefit from a degree linking business and security skills becomes abundantly apparent,” Sarcione said.

Elias Lopez, an Air Force ROTC student at Mercy, hopes to graduate in 2008 with one of the new degrees. “Upon commissioning, I want to be among the first in the military to have received an education in homeland security,” Lopez said. “Our enlisted members and officers are really going to have to adapt to the exponential change that is facing the national security and defense, and my degree will prepare me for this challenge.”

William Woods University in Fulton, Mo., revised its bachelor’s criminal justice program in the fall to emphasize homeland security.

The program focuses on analyzing terrorism and homeland security issues.

“It is not a program designed to train first responders,” said Cynthia Kramer, associate professor of legal studies and director of the program. “Our goal is to provide students with the academic background to understand the complex social, political, legal and economic issues surrounding terrorism and homeland security so that if they decide to pursue employment with a front-line delivery entity, they will already have the necessary background to understand the issues.”