Fresno State could take the lead in training the next generation of security experts to protect California from terrorist attacks and natural disasters.
The university is preparing to launch a new bachelor's degree program in homeland security and emergency management as part of an effort by CSU leaders and state and local government officials to bolster the state's security.
The program, touted as the most comprehensive in the country, will create jobs in the Central Valley and produce more trained professionals for an industry facing a shortage of qualified workers, college officials say.
So far, CSU has dedicated three years and $60,000. The bachelor's degree is the first piece in a program that will involve all CSU campuses and the state's community colleges – a model CSU officials say is the first of its kind. Students will have the option to get an associate's in homeland security and emergency management at a community college, then transfer to Fresno State for a bachelor's and CSU Long Beach or San Diego State University for a master's.
Long Beach and San Diego have offered master's programs in emergency management and preparedness for years, while San Jose State offers a certificate in transportation security, but the CSU has never had a bachelor's option.
"We're really going to need to get the work force started now," said Keith Clement, a Fresno State criminology professor who is leading the program's creation. Otherwise, he said, "we as a society should be prepared to pay the cost of not having a safe and secure environment."
Fresno State will join a list of 69 bachelor's and master's degree programs in homeland security and emergency management across the country, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Most started after 9/11 and the creation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Forty-five are offered on campuses of the for-profit University of Phoenix, including the Fresno campus.
Education leaders said the trend reflects a growing awareness of natural disasters and terrorist attacks, and the role of universities in reducing those threats.
"We're getting on board with what's happening nationally," said Craig Zachlod, an emergency management expert who trains colleges and is helping to create Fresno State's program. "We don't want to live with continuous fear or pretend these things are not going to happen, because they are. So all the more reason to be prepared."
Promise of jobs
CSU plans to launch the program in the fall of 2013, Clement said, but first Fresno State has to formally recognize the degree, and CSU has to find funding. Officials don't know how much the program will cost or where the money will come from, but they do know they can't rely on the state, which slashed the system's budget by $650 million this fiscal year. That leaves grants and the tenuous federal budget – and students' tuition – to support the program.
The university won't need to hire many new teachers. Clement said CSU faculty will teach most of the courses, which will be both online and on-campus, but the university would look for professionals to teach courses that require more technical expertise. Plans include classes such as cybersecurity and border security.
And experts say the down economy won't be an obstacle for graduates looking for work. Emergency management jobs are projected to increase by 22% by 2018 – more than twice as fast as the average of all other jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The same data is not available for homeland security jobs, but Clement said there is demand in the private sector.
Graduates would be qualified for jobs in all levels of government.
But Clement said he wants graduates to stay local, so some parts of the program will focus on the Valley's security needs. The area needs more experts to protect water resources, agriculture and livestock from bioterrorist attacks, Clement said. Concerns are growing, too, about floods, fires and other extreme weather, which are expected to become more severe with climate change and could devastate the Valley's agriculture industry.
"How many counterterrorism specialists could end up in Fresno County? A couple," Clement said. "But what about agriculture and livestock inspectors? ... I don't think that there will be a shortage of those jobs."
The high-speed rail also will create opportunities for jobs developing new security technology. The 800-mile track would run through the heart of the Valley and be a prime target for terrorists, said Rod Diridon Sr., executive director of Mineta Transportation Institute, a transportation security policy center at San Jose State.
"This is a wide-open field," Diridon said. "If we don't pay attention to it, we're damn fools."
Fresno State's degree program is being developed by CSU's 300-plus member Council for Emergency Management and Homeland Security, which formed in 2008 with a $60,000 state grant to improve teaching and research in those areas. The council includes experts from the California Emergency Management Agency, the Fresno County Department of Public Health and other agencies that have joined CSU to develop a program that will help fill their security needs.
The federal Homeland Security agency also is involved. Stanley Supinski, a director at the Center for Homeland Defense and Security that's based at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey and funded by Homeland Security, said he has provided course material for the Fresno State program.
"The field is new, and a lot of people don't know what the curriculum is supposed to be," Supinski said. "But they recognize what the country needs, and for the most part, they want to help."
While government experts often collaborate with faculty, CSU officials say they haven't before been this involved in creating a new program.
"There's always a general concern" when this happens, and faculty should have the final say in how the program is taught, said James Postma, chairman of the CSU Academic Senate.
Some experts caution that too much government input could restrict teachers' freedom.
Teachers need to feel they can be critical of the government and encourage students to question authority, said John Curtis, director of research and public policy at the American Association of University Professors, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization.
Curtis said CSU needs to "create a program that makes students into thinkers and leaders, rather than employees of a certain agency."
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