Although many security jobs do not require a college education, a security management associate degree, or a security degree with a focus on law enforcement or information security, can open up more careers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 5% growth from 2016-2026 in protective service occupations, which includes security guards, first responders, investigators, and law enforcement officers. While a high school diploma may provide the minimum entry-level requirement for many of these security jobs, an associate degree or higher can lead to a wider variety of jobs, higher salaries, and better chances for career advancement.
Employment prospects in certain security-related areas currently rank among the best in the nation. For example, the BLS projects a 28% increase in cyber security jobs between 2016 and 2026. Additionally, employment opportunities in emergency preparedness and disaster relief doubled between 1990 and 2017, with even more growth projected through 2026. Although these positions typically require a bachelor's degree, earning a security associate degree can represent an important step toward succeeding in this field.
Should I Get an Associate Degree in Security?
Students considering a security associate degree can choose from many options. A security degree with a general emphasis or criminal justice focus may appeal to students interested in working at law enforcement agencies or with private security companies. Alternatively, some specialized security associate degrees train students for careers in emergency preparedness and homeland security. Additionally, students who want to develop their management, investigative, and analytical skills -- to prepare to enter positions in business and technological settings -- can choose a security management associate degree or an information security program.
Students should also decide whether to pursue an online security associate degree or enroll in a campus-based program. Distance learning formats may appeal to working professionals considering a career change or busy parents whose family responsibilities make it difficult to attend a traditional on-campus program. Alternatively, many recent high school graduates decide to enroll in campus-based associate programs directly after leaving secondary school. Many of these individuals already know they would like to work in security but want to gain some college-level experience and knowledge before entering the job market.
Students enrolled in on-campus programs may benefit from a greater amount of personal interaction with their peers and faculty. They often participate in fieldwork and internships at corporate offices, government agencies, law enforcement organizations, and security firms. Prior to completing their degree, they can also take advantage of their school's career placement center. As the demand for skilled security professionals continues to expand in the public and private sectors, associate degrees provide graduates with a competitive edge over applicants without any postsecondary training.
What Can I Do With an Associate in Security?
The knowledge and skills acquired while earning a security management associate degree translate into job opportunities in fields that include law enforcement, emergency management, cybercrime investigation, counterterrorism, and corporate security. An associate degree can also serve as a stepping stone to a bachelor's program or the foundation for certification and licensing.
- Police Officer
The duties performed by police officers depend on their position and jurisdiction. At the most general level, they attempt to prevent crimes and reduce threats to public safety. Police officers may investigate criminal activity, arrest suspects, collect evidence, and testify in court. In many law enforcement agencies, promotion requires a postsecondary degree at the associate or bachelor's level.
Median Annual Salary: $50,359
- Security Officer
These professionals oversee the maintenance and safety of a variety of properties, including business centers, school campuses, shopping malls, offices, hospitals, and government agencies. Primary job responsibilities include preventing theft and responding to emergencies. A security degree provides the training and skills needed to advance into security administration, manage personnel, and develop and implement crisis response plans.
Median Annual Salary: $36,042
- Transportation Security Officer
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) hires the majority of transportation security officers. TSA agents provide security and protection for air travelers, airports, and aircraft. While not required for TSA employment, applicants with postsecondary training in security management, criminal justice, or global and information security tend to hold an advantage over applicants without degrees.
Median Annual Salary: $38,174
How to Choose an Associate Program in Security
Some students earn a security associate degree on the way to earning a bachelor's degree, while others prefer a shorter program because it lets them enter the workforce faster. Most on-campus and online security associate degree programs consist of around 60 semester credits. Full-time students generally earn their associate degree in two years, although part-time enrollment may stretch the completion time to three years or more. Whatever delivery format a student chooses, they should make sure to enroll at an accredited school listed in the databases maintained by The Council for Higher Education Accreditation or The U.S. Department of Education. Accreditation ensures that earned credits will transfer to a four-year college and that employers will recognize the validity of a degree
Online and hybrid programs, which often offer more flexible schedules and part-time or accelerated options, may appeal to working professionals and students grappling with personal responsibilities. Some students maintain their full-time status for the entire two years of an associate program, while others can only manage to take one or two courses per term. An associate degree may also take less than two years to complete if an individual holds high school AP credits or transfer credits from another college. Some schools also offer credit for law enforcement or military experience. Students who plan to live on campus or commute should consider transportation, lodging, and other living expenses. Finally, before making a final decision, check with the college's admission office to find out about financial aid opportunities.
Associate in Security Program Admissions
Applying for an associate degree takes time and planning. While some community colleges and online programs offer rolling admissions, many schools set hard application deadlines, which typically fall about six months before a terms starts. Because mosts schools charge an application fee, applying to several schools can get expensive. As a rule of thumb, students should select a couple "target schools" and one or two "safety schools." Some students also send applications to one or two reach schools -- particularly good schools where they think they hold a smaller chance of getting accepted.
Each school sets its own admissions requirements. While some associate programs value SAT or ACT scores strongly, most schools look at an applicant's overall academic performance, co-curricular service, and experience. Working professionals and students who did not finish high school recently may find that online schools give more weight to life experiences and less to standardized tests or grades.
- Application: Submitting applications can take a lot of time, especially if an individual plans on applying to several schools. Students should begin this process several months before deadlines.
- Transcripts: Most colleges require applicants to submit a stamped, official high school transcript with their application. Many schools charge a small fee to prepare each transcript.
- Application Fee: Most institutions of higher education charge a submission fee, which students submit with their application; this fee usually ranges from $40-$50. Students who can document financial hardships may request an application fee waiver.
Educational Paths for Security Associate Programs
A security management associate degree prepares graduates for many entry-level careers in the field. Additionally, two-year degree holders who transfer into related bachelor's programs can go on and pursue more rewarding employment. For example, information security analysts, who generally need to hold a bachelor's degree, earn a median salary of $95,510.
- Bachelor's in Information Security
Information security professionals develop, implement, and troubleshoot IT systems to protect and maintain an organization's information. This degree prepares students for many career paths in business, government, healthcare, and law enforcement settings. Coursework encompasses subjects such as computer forensics; infrastructure design; data protection; and internet, software, and network security.
- Bachelor's in Emergency Management
The emergency management degree integrates management strategies and fieldwork to prepare graduates for many emergency management and disaster preparedness careers. Students learn to prepare for, prevent, and mitigate natural and human-created disasters and emergencies. The curriculum offers courses in natural resource management, epidemiology, victim services, supplies and logistics, and public safety.
- Bachelor's in Homeland Security
A bachelor's in homeland security program teaches students how to address, prevent, and respond to terrorism, natural disasters, and other major threats to public health and safety. Through coursework, internships, and field placements, students gain the skills needed to move into positions related to emergency planning, terrorism prevention and response, immigration control, and cybersecurity.
What Else Can I Expect From an Associate Program in Security?
Security associate degree programs provide learners with a strong academic foundation, preparing graduates to enter the workforce or pursue a bachelor's degree and advanced training. Some schools offer a security management associate degree, while others focus on information security or law enforcement. As the demand for skilled professionals in emergency preparedness and homeland security expands, several programs have also begun to emphasize coursework in these areas.
Courses in an Associate Program in Security
The coursework and requirements for security associate degree programs vary considerably by school. However, while each program customizes its course offerings, individuals pursuing security associate degrees often take similar introductory courses, including some of the ones listed below. Additionally, all students complete general education requirements in English, math, and the liberal arts and sciences.
- Security Management
Using situational analysis and case studies, students review and analyze principles and issues in organizational security management related to personnel, facilities, and information. This course examines the role of security managers in protecting the physical safety of buildings, people, and resources. Covered topics include loss prevention, the protection of assets and information, and network systems protection.
- Personnel and Workplace Security
This course introduces students to the procedures used by organizations to prevent and detect theft or unauthorized access of assets. Participants go over background screening, ethical codes, audits, and other methods to strengthen an organization's security culture. Students also learn about personnel protection, security in high-risk environments, and workplace violence mitigation.
- Information Security and Cyber Crime
Students preparing for work in the areas of information security, computer security, or information assurance learn about best practices for protecting information and information systems against unauthorized access, disruption, or destruction. Topics include internet fraud, cyber crime, digital vandalism, eCommerce fraud, identity theft, and domestic and international threats to organizational and government infrastructure.
- Introduction to Homeland Security
Students learn the practices needed to gain employment as homeland security personnel at governmental agencies and in the private sector. Learners investigate shared principles, procedures, and strategies in national security, private security, and public safety. This course analyzes security in the context of national policy directives, legislation, civil liberties, and human rights.
- Emergency Management
Emergency management curricula address the ways communities can reduce their vulnerability to natural disasters, environmental hazards, and human-created threats to safety and health. This class introduces students to the four phases of emergency management: mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. Coursework prepares students for a variety of careers, including first responders, public safety officers, and preparedness specialists.
How Long Does It Take to Get an Associate in Security?
Most associate degrees take two years of full-time study and require students to complete 60 credits of coursework. However, learners who take classes during summer sessions or those who take a heavier than normal course load each term may finish sooner. Alternatively, students who need to work while earning their degree can enroll part time, although this prolongs their graduation timeline. Fieldwork and internships requirements can also affect completion times. Additionally, students should know that some schools charge fees for dropping down to part-time status, stopping and restarting a program, or taking more than a certain number of credits, which can affect the overall cost of a degree. Finally, individuals with experience working in a security-related field, or returning to school after serving in the military or law enforcement, can sometimes receive credit based on these experiences.
How Much Is an Associate in Security?
While the average cost of college tuition continues to increase, earning an associate degree still costs significantly less than a four-year degree and can result in faster entry into the workforce.
Tuition costs vary widely based on a school's type. According to the College Board, two-year community colleges offer the lowest rates, with an average annual tuition of $4,570 during the 2017-2018 academic year. Alternatively, public four-year colleges cost an average of $9,970 for in-state residents and $25,620 for out-of-state students. Private schools charge even more, with average tuition exceeding $34,000 annually. Attending a school in your state of residence generally costs less than studying in another state, although many online programs offer the same tuition rate to all distance learners, no matter their state of residence.
When deciding on a program, students should also make sure to account for other expenses, such as costs related to transportation, housing, books, and/or food.
Professional Organizations in Security
Individuals pursuing an associate degree in security management or a related area (e.g., emergency preparedness or cybersecurity) should consider joining a professional organization. These organizations help student members learn about potential careers and network with others in the field at annual conferences. They may also provide information about certification. Students enrolled in a security program often receive discounted membership and gain access to career resources and job listings.
This society includes workers at all levels of the field, from entry-level security managers to chief security officers of major corporations. ASIS provides members with access to publications, certification information, and a job bank.
ISSA represents the interests of cybersecurity professionals from around the world. It provides industry tools, career resources, and professional development. The association also sponsors an annual conference, educational forums, and webinars.
NEMA members work in all areas of public safety, emergency preparedness, and national security. The association organizes conferences, offers professional development workshops, and provides online resources.