Though formed only recently in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has grown to encompass more than 20 agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Transportation Security Administration, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. However, the concept of homeland security has opened up a world of opportunity in the private and public sectors for college hopefuls who want to use their degree to protect and provide for their communities.

What is a Homeland Security Degree?

A degree in homeland security – or Bachelor of Arts in Homeland Security and Emergency Management, as it’s also known – explores counterterrorism, crisis management, cybercrime, research and analysis, emergency disaster planning, and other topics essential to security and preparedness. Upon graduation, you will enter the workforce with the skills needed to find solutions and prevent threats at the local, regional, and national levels.

What are the Benefits of a Homeland Security Degree?

Every college student wants a degree that will give them job security, and while nothing is ever guaranteed, the field of homeland security is so vast that you will be able to use your degree to pursue opportunities at every level of government — local, state, and federal, as well as private companies and nonprofits. To put a finer point on it, the term “essential worker” gained prevalence during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, and essential is exactly the word that can describe professionals working in homeland security. 

Let’s break it down and examine two key reasons why a homeland security degree is beneficial:

1. Diversity of Employers

Jobs in homeland security are available in the air, on land, and at sea. That creates opportunity in the sense that you may be able to find work in your local community and beyond. All of it depends on where you want to take your career. You have several options:

U.S. Department of Homeland Security
The DHS employs more than 240,000 people in offices throughout the country, and in addition to federal positions, the agency also employs a number of contractors. There are also advisory councils, national laboratories, and research and development centers that work with the DHS.

Federal employment
The DHS isn’t the only agency that’s focused on counterterrorism and emergency preparedness. You can use your homeland security education to pursue opportunities with the U.S. Department of Labor, which employs inspectors for emergency and hazardous situations; the U.S. State Department, which employs agents to advise U.S. ambassadors and protect foreign dignitaries; and even the Central Intelligence Agency. 

State and local government work
Closer to home, you’ll find homeland security related work being done in your own community, whether it’s the job of a local first-responder or a safety worker at a utility. State and local governments also have their own emergency management agencies to respond to threats and disasters. 

Private companies and nonprofits
Corporations have made security — specifically data security — a top priority. Nonprofit organizations also look for workers with homeland security backgrounds to respond to emergencies or conduct research and assessments.

2. Diversity of Careers

As Homeland security extends to so many different areas, college students have the opportunity to follow their passion and make an impact in multiple sectors. The fact that many jobs, on the surface, have little to do with preventing terrorism, but are homeland security-adjacent provides even more incentive for a broad-based education focused on keeping people and places secure. Career categories that fall under this umbrella include:

Business continuity
This field ensures that critical infrastructure and businesses are able to get up and running after a disaster, such as a hurricane or terrorist attack.

Emergency management
Workers in this field are involved in a variety of work, including mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery.

Information security
The aforementioned threat of cybercrime makes workers with the knowledge needed to protect data of all types indispensable in today’s workforce.

Infrastructure protection
Communications, utilities, transportation systems, public health systems, and even the financial system all fall under this category. Infrastructure remains a priority at the federal level, with both parties of the U.S. Congress committed to making investments that will lead to new jobs. 

Intelligence analysis
Filtering data, piecing it together, and uncovering clues to help prevent threats is an essential part of the homeland security process. 

Law enforcement
From local police to federally employed agents, law enforcement is an essential part of homeland security. There are dozens of federal agencies that employ law enforcement agents and officers, and even more at the local and state levels.

Physical security
This category includes the Transportation Security Administration but also the employment of security workers in private corporations or at healthcare facilities. Any organization or municipality that is at risk of disaster or attack needs educated homeland security professionals to secure vital data, infrastructure, and people.

Scientific study
Not all counterterrorism takes place in the field. Scientists in laboratories play a large role in protecting communities from risks that include chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threats. 

What Do You Learn When Earning a Homeland Security Degree?

A homeland security degree is designed to give you a broad understanding of the aforementioned topics related to emergency management and terrorism. When looking for a homeland security degree that is right for you, you’ll want to ensure the program covers four key areas: criminal justice, homeland security and emergency management, political science, and sociology – the latter two being necessary to your understanding of everything from ethics to international relations and how the government responds to crises within the framework of the U.S. Constitution. 

Whether you are attending school in-person or pursuing your online homeland security degree, you’ll want to make sure that your program includes the following curriculum:

Emergency Planning and Response

This course will provide students with the skills to develop a comprehensive plan for risk analysis, threat assessment, staffing an emergency operations center, coordinating with supporting agencies, and the creation of a continuing testing program. Analysis of historical incidents as well as realistic scenarios are used to teach students how to plan for natural disasters as well as terrorism and other emergencies at the federal, state and local levels. This course is designed to provide students with the ability to evaluate an emergency incident, determine its scope, understand the function of the first responders, learn the communication procedures necessary to alert the appropriate agencies, and understand how first responders are dispatched. Students will create a recovery plan for response to large-scale incidents.

Applied Constitutional Issues

This course will introduce students to constitutional rights and issues as they apply to the work of police departments and other law enforcement organizations at the federal, state, and local level. The course will focus on the Bill of Rights, particularly the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, as well as the Fourteenth Amendment. The course examines the application of these rights in the enforcement, investigation, and adjudication of crime.

Counterterrorism and Intelligence Analysis

Students in this course study and analyze counterterrorism including the evolution of counterterrorism, and the specifics of the typology and anatomy of terrorist operations. The course includes an overview of the intelligence community, collection, analysis, requirements and dissemination.

Introduction to Cybercrime

With cybercrime projected to cost the world $10.5 trillion annually by 2025, employers throughout the public and private sectors will be looking for college graduates who know the technical aspects of digital crime, as well as the behavioral aspects of computer hackers, virus writers, and other cyber terrorists. A course in cybercrime draws on real-world incidents, such as the rising threat of ransomware attacks, to test your understanding and readiness. 

This course focuses on the technical aspects of digital crime as well as behavioral aspects of computer hackers, virus writers, terrorists and other offenders. Using real life examples and case studies, students will examine the history, development, extent and types of digital crime and digital terrorism as well as current legislation and law enforcement practices designed to prevent, investigate and prosecute these crimes.

Research Methods

This course examines quantitative, qualitative, mixed methods and associated data interpretation within the context of research, policy and practice within the social sciences. This course also examines the relationship between research, policy and/or theory. Students will examine types of data, measurement scales, hypotheses, sampling, probability, and varied research designs for research in the social sciences and related disciplines.

Other coursework in your degree will include immersion in DHS functions, criminal law, and the psychological and physiological responses to natural and manmade disasters, including terrorism. In the end, you should be able to: 

  • Demonstrate comprehension of relevant bodies of law, the intelligence community, as well as international, political, social, and cultural environments
  • Develop critical thinking skills for effective problem-solving relative to crisis management issues, principles, and procedures
  • Understand the importance of the historical, cultural, and diversity aspects of selected populations
  • Demonstrate the ability to write a substantive report or analysis using strong research skills and technical writing proficiency
  • Evaluate data and analyze the validity of the information
  • Create a report that demonstrates the ability to retrieve information from relevant websites, including pertinent government websites and repositories of information
  • Evaluate the ethical implications of homeland security measures

What Can You Do with a Homeland Security Degree?

While the field of homeland security covers so much ground, let’s narrow the focus to some occupations with high growth potential, beginning with what the BLS describes as “protective service” occupations. Employment in this category is projected to grow by 3%, adding about 95,200 new jobs, through the end of the decade. Further, the BLS projects that employment in disaster relief jobs will grow “faster than average” through 2026.

Now let’s look at some specific jobs that are ideal fits for homeland security degree graduates.

Homeland Security Agent

The Department of Homeland Security employs more than 230,000 people in jobs that range from “aviation and border security to emergency response, from cybersecurity analysis to chemical facility inspections.” Agents, investigators, and others employed at DHS work in sectors that include:

  • Cybersecurity
  • Information Technology
  • Intelligence
  • Law Enforcement
  • Business Operations/Mission Support
  • Immigration
  • Travel Security
  • Prevention and Response
  • Emergency Management

Security Analyst

Security analysts, also called information security analysts, are responsible for protecting data, computer networks, and systems. This role, which requires a bachelor’s degree, is projected to grow by 31% through 2029, according to the BLS, due to the increased threat of cyberattacks and the need for “innovative solutions to prevent hackers from stealing critical information or causing problems for computer networks.”

The role of a security analyst may include:

  • Monitoring networks for security breaches and investigating violations
  • Installing and using software, such as firewalls and data encryption programs
  • Preparing reports that document security breaches
  • Conducting penetration testing to look for vulnerabilities in systems before they can be exploited
  • Researching the latest IT security trends
  • Developing security standards and best practices for their organization
  • Recommending security enhancements to management or senior IT staff
  • Helping users when they need to install or learn about new security products and procedures

Emergency Response Manager

An emergency response manager must do everything from maintaining inter-agency relationships to overseeing operations, and facilitating response in times of emergency. Typical duties of an Emergency Response Manager may include:

  • Developing timelines and preparing schedules
  • Interpreting, applying and explaining laws, rules, regulations, policies and procedures
  • Working with people from diverse cultures, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds 

How Long Does it Take to Earn a Homeland Security Degree?

A Bachelor of Arts in Homeland Security and Emergency Management typically takes about four years to complete as you work through the core courses and electives in your program. At the University of Arizona Global Campus (UAGC), you also may have the opportunity to take emphasis courses to enhance your degree and your understanding of a particular subject. These emphases include courses in:

  • Business Economics
  • Cognitive Studies
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Health and Wellness
  • Real Estate Studies
  • Supply Chain Management 

An online degree program like the one at UAGC will allow you to attend school on your schedule, from anywhere, anytime. You can also shorten the length of your program via transfer credits, traditional credits that come from another school and non-traditional credits that include military service or work experience. 

Is a Homeland Security Degree Right for You?

Before you enroll in your degree program, you should ask yourself if a degree in homeland security is right for you. Like every major decision, you’ll want to research and understand your options, as well as your obligations. Keep in mind that many homeland security-related careers – notably those in government and border patrol – require background checks and security clearances in order to gain employment. That’s one example of something you’ll want to consider before you enter school. 

If you feel you’re ready to pursue an education that’s focused on the security of your country and community, reach out to an advisor today. 

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