Online Degrees in Homeland Security

If one global issue has become clear in the 21st century, it is that the need for trained homeland security specialists is clearer than ever. These intelligence and law enforcement agents work in both the public and private sector to secure our borders, identify possible threats and respond to emergency situations.

In the U.S., these law enforcement careers are generally at the federal level and typically require applicants to be U.S. citizens and pass comprehensive background checks for security clearance. Those interested in these professions should be able to think critically and react calmly to stressful situations. According to O*NET OnLine, a website run by the U.S. Department of Labor, most occupations falling under the homeland security category are well-suited to realistic people, who enjoy investigative work. Those who are procedure-oriented and good at following a chain of command might also find these careers enjoyable.

While not every occupation in the field requires a formal degree, such training can be attractive to employers. Online law and criminal justice degrees in homeland security are most often available as two- and four-year programs. Master's degree programs are also available from many institutions.

Graduates with a degree in another field may want to consider a homeland security certificate program. Entry-level positions should be most accessible to those with associate and bachelor's degrees, while management positions may be reserved for those with advanced education or experience.

At each level, online degrees usually provide instruction in the following topics:

  • Emergency and disaster management
  • Counter-terrorism
  • Risk management and prevention
  • Consequence mitigation
  • Intelligence studies

However, courses can vary depending on an individual's chosen specialty. For example, those interested in bio-terrorism may study public health, policy planning and facilities management in addition to more general topics.

Occupations falling under this umbrella are diverse. ASIS International, an organization of security professionals, identifies this as an emerging, cross-cutting discipline that includes a number of specialties, including:

  • Physical security
  • Personnel security
  • Information security
  • Information systems security
  • Critical infrastructure protection

Individuals may work as cyber security specialists who protect critical computer systems. Others may be chemists or epidemiologists dedicated to analyzing harmful substances and developing response methods for chemical attacks. Emergency management directors and military personnel also provide vital services in the field.

Job prospects vary depending on the occupation. Cyber security specialists should see much faster than average job growth, as rapid as 30 percent from 2008 to 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Epidemiologists specializing in bio-terrorism and infectious disease should see faster than average growth of approximately 15 percent.

Incomes can also vary significantly. Police patrol officers earned mean annual wages of $55,620 in 2010, while their supervisors earned $80,770, according to BLS data. Emergency management directors saw mean annual earnings of $60,330, and epidemiologists made a mean salary of $61,360. In this case falling under network systems and data communication analysts, computer security specialists brought home a mean annual wage of $71,100 in 2010.

Homeland security at a glance:

  • Education options: Associate, bachelor's and master's degrees, and certificate programs are available.
  • Salaries: Averages range from $55,620 for police patrol officers to $80,770 for law enforcement supervisors, according to 2010 BLS data.
  • Certification: Certified Protection Professional certification available from ASIS International.

Designing effective disaster preparedness and response plans requires intimate knowledge of complex systems in intelligence, infrastructure and crisis management. Leaders in law enforcement, public administration, disaster preparedness and public safety are responsible for analyzing potential threats and developing both proactive and reactive measures to handle such dangers. A doctoral homeland security degree helps proffer the in-depth research and analysis skills required to ensure public safety.

What Does a Doctoral Degree Program in Homeland Security Entail?

Homeland security degrees come in multiple specializations and may be offered through colleges of criminal justice, public health, public administration or management. Most graduate-level programs offer a variety of concentrations:

  • Homeland security policy and coordination
  • Terrorism
  • Leadership and policy
  • Biosecurity and disaster preparedness

Most programs offer a Doctor of Philosophy, or Ph.D., in homeland security. Some programs that feature a focus on management rather than research may grant a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) or Doctor of Management (D.M.). Individuals looking to enter senior leadership or executive positions after graduation are likely to get the most out of DBA programs, while those who plan to go into education, law enforcement or health services might be better prepared for their future careers with a Ph.D.

Online doctoral degree programs in homeland security generally combine a flexible approach to coursework. Most programs mandate on-campus residencies, or short periods of practical study that complement classroom work. Residencies are often spaced throughout the program to guide students through key milestones, and at some schools, these stays can comprise as many as 16 to 20 hours of the doctoral curriculum. Some programs accommodate busy work and family schedules by offering qualified students the opportunity to attend virtual residencies through an online service.

Admissions and Program Requirements

Most doctoral programs in this field require candidates to have earned a master's degree before consideration for enrollment. In many cases, applicants must take and pass the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) before applying. Admissions requirements vary by program, so check with your school for more details.

Homeland security doctorate programs generally take a minimum of three years to complete, and many students require more time for research on the dissertation. Depending on your program, the dissertation may be original research work on a theoretical topic in the field or it may be a more applied document analyzing case studies or creating a disaster response plan for a real-world organization.

Finding the right doctoral program requires careful consideration of the various offerings and schools. Get started by requesting additional information from the prospective programs below. Arrange to speak with an admissions representative at schools that interest you.

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