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The following essay lays out an argument for program level accreditation in academic homeland security (HS) programs. Admittedly, neither the practice nor the educational components of the HS discipline are standardized. Indeed, a recent analysis by the Congressional Research Service indicates that there remain several operational definitions of HS in practice. Regardless, this paper provides rationale which argues that after roughly eight years, academic HS has developed enough to be able to identify and support a distinct set of student learning outcomes— knowledge, skills and attitudes—that can both characterize and define the discipline.

Generally, program level academic accreditation requires a discipline to have identified and vetted a set of student learning outcomes. Academic programs, in turn, integrate this set of outcomes into their core curriculum and students of a given discipline acquire a common set of knowledge, skills and attitudes deemed central to their discipline regardless of where they are educated. Hence program level accreditation works proactively and continuously to address questions about degree integrity, professional competence, truth in advertising, professional boundaries, certification, licensure, quality improvement and control. Without accreditation it remains extremely difficult for a discipline to demonstrate true legitimacy since anyone would be able to teach anything they want. Indeed by extension, one might easily argue that so long as such questions are unanswered, there can be no discipline. Further, for true professional legitimacy to accrue, even when a discipline is able to identify, vet and develop a defining set of student learning outcomes, it still needs to integrate them into a recognized accreditation process and then develop incentives for academic programs to adopt accreditation into a wide spread practice in higher education. Indeed, these last two challenges characterize several related disciplines (such as occupational safety and health, emergency management, intelligence studies, criminal justice, cybersecurity, etc.). Ultimately, critical to the ongoing maturation and legitimization of the HS profession is the need to develop and pursue program level accreditation.

Publication Title

Journal of Homeland Security Education