Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 4, 2012

Badges? In a homeland security education future, your kids might actually want some stinkin’ badges.

Filed under: Education — by Christopher Bellavita on September 4, 2012

This week’s post is an excuse to share a video a friend showed me a few days ago. (Thanks RNG.) But since this is a homeland security blog, I want to first make the connection between the video and homeland security.

Last week I had the chance to talk with homeland security educators from around North America. I came away from the conversation thinking about three issues: jobs, curriculum, and the costs of education.

Jobs was the big issue. Depending on what counts as homeland security higher education, there are between 200 and 400 programs across the nation. Where are the graduates of these programs going to find jobs? That was the number one question being asked.

There were very not many answers. A few programs (one of which I will mention later) did not have a significant problem finding jobs for its graduates. But those programs were the exceptions.

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The second issue was what to teach in a homeland security program. This issue is as old as homeland security. So that means not very old if you are in the “homeland security started after 9/11/01″ camp. Or really old if you’re part of the “we’ve always done homeland security” tribe.

The curriculum answer is often arrived at through vigorous assertion, sometimes supported by focus groups (as if focus groups are representative of anything other than the interests in the room); sometimes by more systematic analysis: for instance here and here.

According to the people in the room, employers know what skills they want from the people they hire: critical thinking, the ability to collaborate, the ability to communicate effectively. Knowledge about specific homeland security skills — whatever they might be — was not emphasized, at least not in the conversations I heard.

I don’t know how much critical thinking employers actually want in the public sector, or the private sector for that a matter. But I don’t know the data either way on this topic.

I am reminded, however, how organizations can conduct a nationwide search to try to get the very best person available. Once that person his hired, he or she has to then fit in with the rest of the people. Maybe not all the time. But enough.

“It’s path dependency,” a smart friend explained to me today.

In my opinion, there is no consensus on what should be included in homeland security curriculum. I think we are still in 100 flower territory.

Before too long the 100 flowers may fragment into 1000 flowers. And that could be a good thing for homeland security education and for homeland security. That leads to a third issue: money.

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The third issue that came up was the cost of education. The “total outstanding student loan debt in the United States now stands at above $1 trillion dollars.”

I find it interesting the student loan figure runs parallel to Mueller and Stewart’s finding that “the increase in expenditures on domestic homeland security over the decade exceeds $1 trillion.”

No doubt just a coincidence.

But I don’t know anyone who knows what a trillion dollar really means. So I suppose the best one can say is a lot of money was spent on homeland security during it’s first decade. And students owe a lot of money for going to college.

What the nation received for the trillion dollars in homeland security spending remains an open question. Apparently it’s even harder to figure out what college students got for the trillion dollars they borrowed.

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One person I heard speak is working at a new edge of homeland security education. It’s an edge where badges (sometimes called certificates) are more valued than degrees.

His program (the name is not important for the point I’m making) is not concerned about granting degrees. Instead, his organization trains/educates (discussing the distinction would add several hundred more words to the post) people to be intelligence analysts. The students in that program graduate with demonstrated competence in a skill certain employers want. They don’t end up with a degree. But they do get hired.

Badges/certificates are not especially new. Computer professionals and emergency managers, among others, have been collecting badges for decades. But the looming rupture of the student loan bubble portends an opportunity for the “Badges not Degrees” movement.

If the badges trend grows, what might the future of homeland security education look like?

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That’s a very long way to get to what I actually wanted to write about.

Here’s a link to a ten minute video introducing a quasi-science fiction concept called EPIC 2020. (There’s a longer video on the page, but the first one gets the main idea across.)

If you’re interested in where education, curriculum and assessment might be going, the ten minute video is worth your time.

Maybe some of the concepts are fanciful (e.g., Apple buys Amazon, and Google buys the Khan Academy). Other ideas, like the student loan bubble, are a disturbing reality. Still other parts of the trend are happing now (a Stanford professor taught one course to 160,000 students from all over the world; that’s more students than most faculty teach in a lifetime).

The badges approach is not without downsides. But the current approaches to homeland security education — to higher education in general — also has its problems.

(Caution: very long sentence with unconventional spacing coming up. )

What could it mean for homeland security education
if we moved toward a future where a degree in homeland security
(or in any of the dozens of disciplines and professions related to it)
did not matter as much as a badge that certifies a potential employee demonstrated competence
in one of the higher level skills homeland security employers want:
collaboration, being comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty, measurement, mash ups, social networking, resilience…
who knows what else?
—————————————–

I don’t know how many people are entering homeland security higher education programs this fall.

But I’m guessing the jobs the best of those students will be competing for when they graduate haven’t been invented yet.

That is an interesting curriculum design problem.

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4 Comments »

Comment by Philip J. Palin

September 4, 2012 @ 8:45 am

Education should not be mostly focused on jobs. A focus on jobs is inherently retrospective. Given the pace of economic change, a jobs-oriented education is very quickly out of date… whether the job is in homeland security or not.

Given the nature of the contemporary jobs market, the sort of education that is most amenable to long-term employment effectiveness and flexibility develops core competencies in critical analysis, creative synthesis, independent thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration in decision-making and execution of decisions.

The value of these core competencies persist even as the focus-of-application changes.

At the same time, practical short-courses – certifications, if you want – can be very helpful, especially if the student has mastered the core competencies. There will always be discreet skills to learn. Khan-like ways of learning these skills will improve and expand.

The video is provocative. It is also fanciful. My own fantasy is that precisely because Khan-like learning can be done more efficiently outside the educational institution, the educational institution will give increasing attention to core competencies.

Comment by William R. Cumming

September 4, 2012 @ 3:01 pm

Another brilliant post from Chris! Perhaps the HS definition would prove more scalable if the focus had been on the non-military defense and civil security of the nation, this or any other. And in particular doing that in a way that preserves democractic norms.

After all all nation-states have the construct but many just rely on force of arms, even for internal “enemies” and have no concept that perhaps they could build a juster, better society for more of their people by their polioies as chosen and implemented.

Thus, if the civil-military interface and integration of technical expertise into political decision making had been the focus or even what parts of our federal system have the most applicable capabilities perhaps we and others would be futher ahead.

What are the policies and drivers that led WMD to become CBRNE for example and why was nuclear strike doctrine exempt from HS review or concerns?

Well documentation of the Arab Spring, US involvement and choices and the forthcoming intervention of the US in Syria and Iran will perhaps postpone for another decade the hard choices democracies sometimes are faced with in order to survive.

For example how have energy policies in the USA the last decade impacted HS? Medical policies and resilience?

A new CRS report on Critical Infrastructure Protection and resilience might have some clues.

AS FOR THE NEW FEMA, internal drainage of storm rainfall not flooding of rivers or streams or coastal surge appears to have been an overlooked concern as tghe fallout from Hurricane Issac continues to provide new lessons learned for HS and EM!

Comment by Claire B. Rubin

September 4, 2012 @ 3:42 pm

Does anyone have any advice for a focus group on the topic of EM? Do you think that is easier to define and/or easier to prepare students for likely jobs?

Claire B. Rubin
DisasterBookstore.com

Comment by John Comiskey

September 5, 2012 @ 5:44 pm

I have been asking HS policy makers, practitioners, educators, and others how should colleges and universities educate (prepare) HS policy makers and practitioners to secure the homeland.

First some definitions are in order:

1. HS as used here refers to an all-jurisdiction, organizational (public and private), and citizen all-hazards effort to secure the homeland.

IMHO; NSS 2010 assertion that HS is ultimately about NS is a valid claim.

2. All-hazards as used here refers to intentional (criminal, terrorist), natural (hurricanes, earthquakes, etc), and accidental (includes manmade e.g. Deep Water Horizon) threats and vulnerabilities.

3. Secure as used here refers to efforts to make people feel safe in secure in their persons and property. In addition, security is used here in the context of the National Security Narrative conclusion that Americans view security in the broader context of peace and mind. See: http://www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/A%20National%20Strategic%20Narrative.pdf

4. Homeland is used in the context of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, i.e. the United States.
Theoretically, HS policy makers and practitioners include all US citizens and legal residents. In practice the core professionals (some volunteers too) include military, law enforcement, fire service, emergency medical service, emergency management, public health, public, and others as needed/available.

HS policy makers will tell you that they want:

1. Honest hard working people with critical thinking and writing skills, knowledge of HS policy (NRF, ICS, others), and real world experience.

2. Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities TBD on a case by case basis.

Conclusion: HS policy makers and practitioners need education and training. The distinction with a difference is that the former best prepares you for the unknown and training best prepares you for what is known and needs to explained and applied.

I offer a quick case study:

NYPD aspirant applies for the Department:

Prerequisite: 64 undergraduate credits (in anything) OR completion of three years active duty US military service.

Moral aptitude: No felony or certain misdemeanor convictions.

Psychologically sound: NYPD doctor says you’re crazy enough to be a police officer.

Aspirant becomes a Recruit and enters PARTS (Police Academy Recruit Training School).

PARTS is a six month program that includes: social science, police science, law, first aid, firearm, drivers training, and miscellaneous others.
Recruit becomes a Rookie.

Rookie does OJT under supervision of a training sergeant for 18 months.

2 years later Rookie ends formal probation but does not earn first service stripe until 5 years of service and is still considered a rookie by most (especially those with 6 to 10 years).
Police Officer receives refresher training in most everything annually.

Periodically, police officers, depending on their assignments, receive specialized training in: radar, CBRNE, WMD, HAZMAT, IDTU, VBEID, CSU, and many others with equally irritating acronyms.

Most of this training is hands on and entails certification (badges), i.e. PO Jones is qualified to XYZ.

Sergeant, Lieutenant, and Captain aspirants must have 64, 96, or Bachelor’s Degree respectfully for promotion eligibility.

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