What is a Homeland Security Degree?

A security specialist at an airport communicates with colleagues via an earpiece.

On any given day, the United States faces a host of potential threats from both within and beyond its borders. From terrorist attacks to infectious disease outbreaks and natural disasters, devastating events can ruin lives, cripple the nation’s infrastructure and inflict widespread fear.

Fortunately, dedicated homeland security and emergency preparedness officials devote their careers to keeping the country safe. Working in a variety of settings, these officials share a common mission: to devise and deploy strategies aimed at protecting citizens and communities from hostile threats and supporting emergency preparedness and response.

Individuals with a passion for this work can pursue an advanced degree, such as a Master of Arts in Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (HSEP). This program can empower degree holders with the knowledge and skills to defend the country against threats near and abroad, as well as prepare for and respond to disasters. What is a homeland security degree and how does it prepare individuals to safeguard the nation?

What Is Homeland Security?

Homeland security refers to the efforts, procedures and initiatives that keep a country’s citizens and infrastructure safe from threats.

Days after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the U.S. government created the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), bringing together 22 different federal agencies to create the third-largest federal department. The objective was to achieve “a more secure America that is better prepared to confront the range of threats we face,” according to the DHS website.

While each agency within DHS has a defined role, the goal is for them to “function as one … with integrated, results-based operations,” the DHS website states.

Homeland security degree holders can potentially work in the following areas.

  • Border security — Stopping potential threats from passing through United States borders
  • Counterterrorism — Identifying and stopping new and existing terrorist threats at home and abroad
  • Cybersecurity — Keeping the nation’s digital infrastructure safe from domestic and foreign hackers and agents
  • Economic security — Ensuring the U.S. economy and financial institutions are secure and unbreached by external threats
  • Preparedness — Maintaining a culture of readiness and resilience in the event of a domestic or foreign terrorist attack
  • Departmental improvement — Developing ways to further strengthen and advance the DHS, along with other governmental and private sector organizations.

Homeland Security Degree Overview

A homeland security degree can prepare graduates to take on meaningful and challenging careers in nationalhomeland security. This field requires a unique set of skills and professional training, and the HSEP program is optimal for individuals looking to save lives from disasters, terrorist attacks and other threats.

Because this career field overlaps with other industries and professions associated with protecting the public — such as law enforcement, public health and information technology — students in an HSEP program are able to learn skills they can also apply in those fields, like employing drones or satellite imaging systems to identify and surveil potential terrorist activity.

Skills Gained in a Homeland Security Degree

The knowledge bases and advanced skills students learn in the program are essential to a successful career in homeland security. The curriculum will help students develop expertise in the following concepts and topics.

  • Preparation and response to specific weapons or technology used to obstruct American safety, such as chemical, biological and radiological devices
  • The transformation of justice and security organizations and their coordinated responses to terrorist threats and attacks
  • Combating and counteracting tactics used by terrorist groups
  • Techniques for mitigating and evaluating short- and long-term emergency risks
  • Identifying and interpreting strengths and weaknesses in emergency policies
  • Maintaining and enforcing strict cybersecurity protocols within government and private organizations
  • Crisis management within local, state and federal law enforcement
  • Methods of effectively preparing and responding to threats, such as natural disasters, emerging infectious diseases, catastrophic terrorism and bioterrorism
  • Supporting and uplifting populations impacted by disastrous events, such as through stockpile management, surge planning and hazard planning

The Wilder School HSEP degree program’s faculty experts explore subject matter across multiple industries, providing students with the confidence and skills to develop responses to sensitive issues.

While specialized knowledge in security and emergency response forms the core of what a homeland security degree focuses on, students can also develop crucial soft skills, like strong communication, planning and interpersonal skills to effectively work with their peers and other organizations.

What Can You Do With a Homeland Security Degree?

The possibilities for what you can do with a homeland security degree are plentiful. Graduates of the HSEP program are prepared to pursue a variety of rewarding positions, including:

  • Border patrol agent — These professionals are dedicated to keeping the nation’s borders safe. They monitor and evaluate potential threats entering the country at border checkpoints or along the border itself. Their total compensation ranges from $70,200 to $111,400 per year, depending on experience level and status, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.
  • Cybersecurity/information security analyst — These professionals work to maintain the security and structure of computer systems and networks within a government agency or other organization. Graduates with an HSEP degree will likely need to obtain more advanced technical and digital skills for this position. However, their strong background in national security can help distinguish them from the pack. Information security analysts earned a median annual wage of $102,600 in May 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS projects employment for these types of roles will grow by 33% in the next decade.
  • Emergency management specialist — Developing responses and solutions to impending disasters such as hurricanes or floods, these professionals work with officials and aid individuals and communities impacted by those events. They work with government entities, agencies and nongovernmental organizations. Payscale reports the median annual salary for emergency management specialists was approximately $64,500, based on July 2022 data. Professionals with 10 or more years of experience can earn upwards of $75,000. The BLS projects employment for this type of role will grow by 6% between 2020 and 2030.
  • Law enforcement officer — Working in a local, state or federal capacity, these professionals are primarily focused on one thing: enforcing laws and making sure people are safe. The specific duties can vary by position, but law enforcement officers commonly issue citations, conduct arrests and investigate significant crimes, such as thefts and drug trafficking. Police officers and detectives earned a median annual wage of $66,020 in May 2021, according to the BLS. Employment of law enforcement officers is projected to grow by about 7% between 2020 and 2030.

Enroll in a Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Degree Program

Security and preparedness professionals are always in high demand. Students who enroll in VCU Wilder School’s Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness online program can develop the necessary skills to make a positive impact on the safety of individuals and communities.

Learn more about the HSEP program and enroll today.