WASHINGTON – College students are encountering a new option when it comes to choosing a major. No longer are they relegated to business,English or history — the newest wave in higher education is homeland security.
From research think tanks to certificates and degrees,universities are rushing to develop programs in homeland defense in an effort to attract students and cash in on federal research grants.
Because the trend is so new there are no statistics on how many programs there are,but people in academia say they can feel the demand.
“People in and around the government made it perfectly clear that a program like this was needed,” said Richard Eaton,director of public affairs for the University of New Haven. “When there's a pronounced need,students tend to flock to that. They flock to that like a magnet.”
Students also flock to money,and the Department of Homeland Security has lots of it. This year,the department will award up to $2 million in financial aid and internships to students interested in science and technology through the Homeland Security Scholars and Fellows Program,said Michelle Petrovich,spokeswoman for the department's science and technology division.
“As a part of the Homeland Security Act,it was requested that some sort of educational program be added,” she said. “We're moving forward with that.”
Funding for the program is expected to double for 2004.
Petrovich said that the department would also name one Homeland Security Center of Excellence at a university by the end of November,with up to nine others to follow by the end of 2004.
Those centers will partner with the department to do research on issues related to homeland security. Although no exact figure has been set,Petrovich said the centers will receive a portion of the $10 million set aside for university programs. The application process began this week.
Petrovich said that the department does not set up the programs directly but will look for universities that are working in relevant subjects.
“If there is a college that sets something up,that's something they've set up on their own,” she said.
Homeland security programs are a natural progression in education as universities strive to prepare their students for work in an increasingly complex world,said David Goldfischer,director of the homeland security program at the University of Denver.
“Our country has a long history of ignoring the defensive side,” he said. “Thinking though all of the choices to be devoted to homeland security,we're trying to really provide a comprehensive framework for future administrators and policy makers in the field to grapple with this challenge.”
In the fall,Denver will begin offering courses such as international terrorism,intelligence and national security,and homeland security and the law to allow students to obtain a certificate in homeland security or a graduate degree in either international security or global studies.
Goldfischer said the university registrar contacted him after an article announcing the new security courses ran in the local paper.
“They told me that in the first few days,we had gotten 40 calls or e-mails of inquiry into the program,” he said,“With little or no advertising,we'll have a very healthy group this first year.”
Michael Greenberger,dean of the Center for Health and Homeland Security at the University of Maryland,said that homeland security programs are popular because safety is one thing that is on everyone's mind.
“There are very few issues that are as consuming of the elected officials and the public as protecting the country against catastrophic terrorist events and being able to respond to any such event,” Greenberger said.
The university opened its center in October 2001. It pools research efforts among the university's six graduate colleges in Baltimore.
“Its very clear that work concerning homeland security has a lot of issues that require the collaboration of all kinds of health professionals as well as legal professionals,” Greenberger said.
So far,the center has helped coordinate a bio-terrorist exercise for Baltimore,begun researching neurotoxin mechanisms and set up a “civilian tool kit” on the university's Web site to tell residents what to do if a biochemical or terrorist situation arises,among other things. Greenberger said the university is working to develop a certificate program in the near future.
“The center allows us to harness all of our efforts and make the university a really active player in an important arena,” he said.
While most universities recognize the benefits of having programs in homeland security,they'd rather not be seen as just another follower of the latest trend.
Thomas Johnson,dean of the School of Public Safety and Professional Studies at the University of New Haven in Connecticut,said the university began working on a degree-granting program in national security long before others jumped on the bandwagon.
“We started building the program prior to 9-11 because there were not a lot of programs to provide educational background to those willing and interested in working for the 14 national intelligence agencies,” Johnson said.
The university launched its master's degree in national security at the Sandia Laboratories,a military research center in Livermore,Calif.,in January. Twenty-eight students are enrolled in the program,which will expand to the Connecticut campus in the fall. Johnson said that 32 students have been accepted into the Connecticut program and another 15 will begin in California.
Eaton said that by not naming the New Haven program “homeland security” the curriculum isn't limited to the United States,but rather encompasses security concerns in all countries.
“National security means it could be exported to Ireland and be appropriate there as well,” he said.
Eaton said that the programs are particularly relevant in light of America's current position in Iraq.
“There are 200,000 soldiers and Marines,” Eaton said. “Some will come back and try to figure out what they are doing with their futures. This might be an option for them.”
That is,if the programs are still around when the troops get back.
Because the programs surfaced in the aftermath of Sept. 11,2001,Goldfischer said he believes that,unfortunately,another incident of that scale will have to occur for the programs to stay relevant.
“It depends on whether the United States is attacked again on the scale of 9-11,” Goldfischer said. “If years go by and there is no subsequent attack,there is a risk of complacency,and the programs may be seen as a fad during an interval of quiet. … If there is another attack,at programs like mine and others across the country,phones will be ringing off the hook.”