I have the good fortune to work at the Naval Postgraduate School with smart people who have lots of ideas about how to improve this activity called homeland security. This post is the first of what I hope is a recurring series intended to share some of those ideas on this blog. I’ve asked those who contribute to this series to follow the format you’ll see below.
Today’s post is from Dr. Matthew J. Blackwood, the Homeland Security Coordinator for the West Virginia Department of Agriculture. Matt outlines an argument — one that has broad support among relevant educators — in favor of accrediting homeland security educational programs. (That said, the ideas are Matt’s and do not necessarily reflect any organization he is affiliated with.)
As Matt knows, I disagree with him about the need for accreditation and the process he outlines for deciding what counts as quality in homeland security education. But those disagreements are for another time. First, a succinct and in many ways compelling case for accrediting homeland security educational programs.
1. What one sentence best describes your idea about how to improve homeland security?
A standard curriculum and accreditation process for under-graduate and graduate programs focusing on homeland security will assure quality control.
2. Describe your idea in more depth
Homeland security requires a broad understanding of numerous related fields; there are no standards for the various programs across the United States. In order to prepare homeland security professionals for these challenges, the colleges must offer a curriculum specifying necessary skills and knowledge. While many institutions may have quality programs of study, prospective students or future employers are unable at this time to ascertain the quality. An accreditation process would establish a consistent method of evaluating the curriculum.
The homeland security accreditation process could model that of the ABET which evaluates engineering programs. This process would accredit programs only—not degrees, departments, colleges, or institutions—homeland security programs would follow a specialized accreditation process that examines its specific curriculum. This approach would be similar to that for architecture, medicine, and engineering programs.
Accreditation would be voluntarily initiated by the institution. The purpose should be two-pronged with both internal and external assessments. When an institution of higher education requests an evaluation of its homeland security program, a self-study process begins to determine whether students, faculty, curriculum, and institutional support meet the established criteria. That document would then be submitted to an agency composed of professionals in homeland security for their review. An on-site visit would audit the program with a final report declaring the status of accredited, accredited with provisions, or denied.
The most important consideration is that professionals must establish the criteria by which the programs are evaluated. These standards should reflect what is deemed as necessary skills for homeland security education. Accreditation is important for many reasons:
· Accreditation helps prospective students choose quality college programs.
· Accreditation enables employers to recruit graduates they know are well-prepared.
· Accreditation gives colleges and universities a structured mechanism to assess, evaluate, and improve the quality of their programs.
3. What problem or issue does your idea address?
Colleges and universities are preparing leaders for the myriad of challenges associated with homeland security. In the wake of the attacks on September 11, 2001, many colleges began offering courses and programs to support the homeland security efforts of the United States. Early in the developmental stage there was no agreed upon definition of homeland security and even less agreement related to the courses included in a homeland security curriculum. Working on this problem will address two related issues: (1) establishing a curriculum which offers standard skills for homeland security professionals and (2) developing an accreditation process to evaluate college and university programs. Currently, it is impossible for prospective students to determine which programs offer the proper preparation for a career in homeland security, and it is not feasible for employers to identify a quality program. An accreditation process would establish a consistent method of evaluating the curriculum.
4. If your idea were to become reality, who would benefit the most, and how?
Three groups would benefit from accrediting homeland security programs: students, schools, and homeland security professionals. Students would likely gain the most because they would be guaranteed preparation in the skill sets necessary to succeed in the field. The schools could benefit if the accreditation process were rigorous enough to set them apart from other programs; many programs simply take courses presently offered in other programs and revise them with a homeland security twist. In this respect, the accreditation could be used as a marketing tool and would likely increase their enrollment. Current homeland security professionals and employers would also benefit because accreditation in any profession carries with it status of adequate preparation. Ultimately, accreditation assures that a program has met quality standards set by the profession. All of these groups would benefit if homeland security programs were accredited because the process insures that minimum qualification and standards are achieved.
5. What are the initial steps needed to get the idea off the ground?
The body to fulfill the role of accreditation is the Homeland Security Defense Education Consortium Association (HSDECA). This organization is comprised of academic institutions which offer degrees or certificates in homeland security. Currently, the accreditation process is under development and will begin once approval is granted by the U.S. Department of Education. It is expected that this process “will play a significant role in the cohesion and regulation of homeland security studies across the nation.”
The next step would be to develop a consensus on the standards for homeland security programs. Programs around the country rely on the curriculum established by the Center of Homeland Defense and Security; the University and Agency Partnership Initiative supports this initiative. Members of HSDECA must work together to develop the standards; they will also provide the professionals who evaluate the programs and create the tools necessary to make sure that programs meet the standards.
6. Describe the optimal outcome should your idea be selected and successfully implemented. How would you measure that outcome?
The desired outcome of this initiative would address both the creation of a standard list of skills for homeland security professionals and development of an accreditation process to evaluate college and university programs.
HSDECA will serve as the accreditation-body to create a process for evaluating homeland security programs and provide those programs meeting standards with a seal of approval. Schools would voluntarily ask for their programs to be considered for accreditation. This accreditation could be used as a marketing tool in an effort to set their programs apart from other schools. In order for this certification to carry status, the standards need to be set high.
The end-state of the accreditation would be a process that enables students to choose a quality homeland security program, permits employers to recruit graduates who are well-prepared, and gives schools a mechanism to review, evaluate, and enhance the quality of their homeland security programs.
 ABET changed its name from the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology in 2005.
 Rollins, J. & Rowan, J. (2007). The homeland security academic environment: A review of current activities and issues for consideration.
 Supinski, S. (2009). Homeland Security Education: The CurrentState. Retrieved from: https://www.chds.us
 http://www.chds.us/?press/summit08, ¶ 4.
 Supinski. S. (2009). Personal Interview. June 9, 2009.