VCU first major research university to offer bachelor’s degree in homeland security

Virginia Commonwealth University has received state approval for a Bachelor of Arts degree in homeland security and emergency preparedness, making it the first major research university in the country to offer such a program.

The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia today approved the undergraduate degree program, which was developed by faculty in VCU’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs with assistance from several federal and state agencies, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.

The program is designed to teach students theoretical and practical knowledge and skills in preparing for natural disasters, critical system failures and terrorist attacks. 

“Government officials told us that an academic background in these areas is absolutely necessary if the theory and practice of homeland security is to develop in a mature direction,” said Robert D. Holsworth, Ph.D., director of the VCU Wilder School.  “The new major gives VCU students a significant new career option and will provide government agencies and companies involved in homeland security and emergency preparedness with the type of employees they want to hire.”

Students with a bachelor of arts degree in homeland security will be able to pursue government jobs at the local, state and federal level in homeland security and emergency preparedness, law enforcement and intelligence. They also will be prepared for employment with for-profit and nonprofit consultants and research organizations, as well as private sector employment with businesses that require emergency planning to protect critical infrastructure. 

“The events of 9-11 sent a very clear signal to our nation, and in order to meet the enduring challenges of the threat of terrorism to the United States, we must build a national level of awareness and response that allows us to maintain our way of life,” said William H. Parrish, associate professor and former U.S. Department of Homeland Security senior official, who will head the undergraduate homeland security degree program. 

Parrish said that VCU’s program will play a major role in achieving a national-level response through a rigorous academic environment and internship programs that expose students to the practical and operational sides of homeland security issues.

The undergraduate degree program will cover a broad range of topics related to homeland security and emergency preparedness, including counter-terrorism, public budgeting and legal and constitutional questions. Students will learn advanced methods of assessing risk and will develop analytical and research skills. They also will evaluate scholarly literature and government emergency preparedness policies. 

“Homeland security may be the most challenging and most critical public policy issue of our era, similar in importance to the challenge of dealing with nuclear weapons in the post-World War II world,” said William Newmann, Ph.D., associate professor and expert on national and international security and terrorism, who will serve as a faculty member in the new degree program. 

“Merging the policy and academic perspectives within a university setting is the unique contribution of VCU’s program,” Newmann said. “We believe this approach will ultimately help the nation design policies that defend the United States without disrupting our way of life.”

According the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, VCU will be the first major research institution to establish a degree program in homeland security and emergency preparedness.

About VCU and VCU Medical Center

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 226 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Sixty-seven of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 13 schools and one college. MCV Hospitals and the health sciences schools of Virginia Commonwealth University comprise VCU Medical Center, one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers. For more, see