There is skepticism in the academic world that the sudden dominance of security programs is a good thing.

A few weeks ago, 24-year-old Amanda Stirrat completed her master’s degree in public health at Purdue University. Most of her peers struggled to find work. As for Stirrat?

“The job market seemed easy,” she said with a shrug.

She credited her studies in Purdue’s extensive homeland security program for quickly landing her a job to help coordinate Indiana’s response to large-scale public emergencies. Purdue gave her the chance to work with retired military officers and other security specialists to write a thesis on disaster preparedness. The expertise set her apart, she said.

The 2001 terrorist attacks ushered in a major shift on American college campuses—tragedy giving way, 10 years later, to innovation and opportunity.

Today, domestic security has become, by some measures, the fastest-growing area of study, fueled largely by an explosion in federal money. Scores of programs have popped up, from community colleges to graduate schools. Thousands of students across the country are enrolled in courses that didn’t exist a few years ago—delving into the psychology of terrorists and rogue regimes, and in Indiana, studying emergency response by simulating mass-casualty disasters at the site of the Indianapolis 500.

Entire disciplines that had lost relevance have been resurrected. Some microbiology programs were folding before Sept. 11. Overnight, studying once-obscure germs like anthrax and Ebola became vital; National Institutes of Health funding soared by a factor of 30, and students have been pouring into the field ever since.

Some of the programs have already produced novel advances. At Texas A&M University, federally funded researchers have affixed radiation sensors to cockroaches—on tiny backpacks—that could be deployed to search for a “dirty” bomb.


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