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Has anyone heard of a degree in "strategic intelligence"?
April 9, 2014 10:21 AM   Subscribe

So I've now had two young people in the last month ask me for career advice who told me they were planning to major in "strategic intelligence." Has anyone heard of such a thing? I hadn't, and had to look it up. From what I can gather it seems to be basically a hybrid history/poli-sci degree. Is that accurate? And more than that, is such a degree worth the paper it's printed on?

My sense of the thing is that it's just one more made up discipline for for-profit/non-competitive/uncompetitive and generally just low-end schools to snare naive applicants into a cool-sounding degree that is functionally useless beyond checking off the "has college degree" box on your resume. Kind of like pre-law/pre-med, only without a corresponding grad school destination. I told both of the kids who asked me that they'd be better off getting a "real" liberal arts degree like history or philosophy or a foreign language,* as I didn't think employers who hire people to be actual intelligence analysts would look kindly on such the major.

Does anyone have information to the contrary? Do employers actually value this degree? Do academic programs?

*And going to schools with better reputations, but that's a different discussion.
posted by valkyryn to Education (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I didn't think employers who hire people to be actual intelligence analysts would look kindly on such the major.

Those employers are more concerned with where they went to school and what experience they have than their majors. It's more likely to exist in a for-profit school, yes, but a BSI from Horvard University (TM) (a subsidiary of EduCo) is just as valuable as a BA from Horvard (TM) would be. That is, not very -- they're better off with basically any degree from a good school. But languages are their best bet, whether majoring in them or being testably fluent in them.
posted by Etrigan at 10:40 AM on April 9


From what I can tell, this is something that is supposed to prepare one for a career in the "national intelligence" fields. I see that it's offered by the National Intelligence University (background and information here and here). To my thinking, unless someone had a USIC job or a pretty good sense that they were going to get a USIC job, it doesn't seem worthwhile and I imagine that the usual pathway into these institutions does not go through a degree in "strategic intelligence." More to the point, given the specialize nature of the degree, it's hard to imagine the point of getting it anywhere other than NIU, and I agree that it sounds like a bad idea for an undergraduate degree.
posted by slkinsey at 10:44 AM on April 9


I'm more familiar with the Master's level degree - the MSSI - so straight away the perception that there is no grad school destination is simply incorrect. Many of the programs are handled through the National Intelligence University and are intended for mid-career military and intelligence officers (NIU is part of DIA) who are looking for a graduate degree as a preface to more senior leadership positions.

From my admittedly limited understanding, history and polisci are a big part of it, but there's also a dollop of things like decisionmaking theory and skillsets peculiar to the intelligence & military world. My impression is less that employers give a fusty ruck where you went to school than that having a degree is a simple litmus test to automatically (dis)include you from consideration for employment.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 10:46 AM on April 9 [2 favorites]


If they're taking it at the Coast Guard Academy, I say, Good on Ya Mate!

If they're taking it at Patrick Henry College....not so much.

I suppose I'd have to feel confident that the actual student had intelligence, before I'd be comfortable passing judgment on a major in Strategic Intelligence.

But it screams military to me.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:58 AM on April 9


I see that it's offered by the National Intelligence University. . .

Many of the programs are handled through the National Intelligence University and are intended for mid-career military and intelligence officers (NIU is part of DIA) who are looking for a graduate degree as a preface to more senior leadership positions.


Okay, hadn't heard of NIU, but neither of these kids were talking about NIU. A military officer or intelligence analyst getting such a degree makes perfect sense, particularly from NIU.

But we're talking about aspiring freshmen with no background in or aspirations for the military. I don't think either of them could get in to the NIU if they even knew it existed (which I doubt), as it's limited to current/former federal employees.

Are there other programs out there? And again, are there employers other than DoD and USIC that would find either degree valuable as such beyond its merely being a degree?

My impression is less that employers give a fusty ruck where you went to school than that having a degree is a simple litmus test to automatically (dis)include you from consideration for employment.

Definitely don't think that's true, but that's a discussion for a different time.

If they're taking it at Patrick Henry College....not so much.

No kidding. I note that the site says that their graduates have interned at various three-letter agencies. Doesn't say that any are actually employed there.
posted by valkyryn at 11:03 AM on April 9 [1 favorite]


No. Learn Quant skills (BS Mathematical Sciences - not BA Mathematics Education) and Psych/Sociology skills with strong poli-sci electives (and a minor) as well as somewhat obscure language electives might serve someone pursuing this line of work better.

Why? If you pigeonhole into a very singular degree, your versatility external is minimized as well as your worldview. While that can be fine if you are a top student at a top school, a generalized choice with a specialization at the masters level gives you choices. A lot of people like the look of Crime Dramas on CBS, fewer people find they have the stomach for parts of investigating murders. At 18 years old, a BS in Strategic Intelligence might sound really good. But, if there are minimal employers in the field, you are sort of hosed if college didn't go perfectly - and college doesn't always go perfect. Its a good goal for a job, but specializing when one should still be acquiring skills is a recipe for limited job opportunity.

Now a MSSI sounds interesting and that might get someone where they want - but its better to make sure that they have the coursework required to get into the program but from a more versatile degree to get there. People change their minds about a lot of things over 4 years, let alone two more years for their Masters.
posted by Nanukthedog at 11:06 AM on April 9


Approximately 15 years ago, when colleges still sent physical brochures to students who met their demographic interests, I was the only one out of my group of similar-demographic highschool friends (same school district, SAT scores, coursework, grades, etc) to get a brochure from Mercyhurst College's Research/Intelligence Analyst Program, listing the various three-letter agencies their graduates ended up at. This led to a lot of speculation among us about why I was the best suited for spy work.

This was pre-2001, so I assume that many more programs have sprung up since them.
posted by nonane at 11:07 AM on April 9 [1 favorite]


This is a useful degree for folks who want to / currently do work for military intelligence or one of the national intelligence agencies. (There's some applicability to jobs where geopolitical analysis is important, such as in finance, but less so than government work.)

In terms of the undergraduate programs:

Most of the folks in these programs are current enlisted military personnel, where getting the undergraduate college degree is a helpful career move. While some schools provide a quality experience (military schools and Mercyhurst both pop to mind), in these cases, the quality of the university is typically less important. They're more mature students, drawing on their day jobs and real life work experiences more, and theoretical or textbook concepts less. That's harder for an 18-year-old undergraduate who has never worked to do.

At the graduate level:

As folks have mentioned, this is a common degree at NIU and some of the military-run graduate programs (which tend to be very demanding academic programs, but open to very limited student populations).

My take: If these kids are civilians, and not planning on joining the military or working in intelligence, they should shy away from these programs. They'll certainly find them interesting, but not as well recognized or valued once they graduate and are out on the job market. A history degree with a behavioral science minor from a reputable school might be just as good a fit, and provide a better return on investment.

I've done this type of work in government, and I'm familiar with some of the programs, so feel free to MeMail me if you have any questions.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 11:25 AM on April 9


Sounds like graduation in a cloak (no dagger), and placement in a cubicle with multiple screens.
posted by Cranberry at 11:26 AM on April 9


At my university, I've seen the intelligence community recruit from the global politics program and from the information science (sometimes called library science) program. Research skills are required for these jobs, as are foreign languages.
posted by tofu_crouton at 12:30 PM on April 9


Other than the military context, strategic intelligence can also be a buzzword that means doing research to help businesses compete. There's not a widely agreed on meaning. I've seen it refer to everything from simple searches in Hoover's/Dun & Bradstreet, market research using surveys and focus groups, web analytics, internal data-mining, and many other things, even corporate espionage. It's part of the field of "information science," as in "library and information science."
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 1:02 PM on April 9


Both of the programs in question are attached to Politics departments.
posted by valkyryn at 2:43 PM on April 9


If it is military connected, it sounds like it might be a specialization under security studies. Essentially, security studies under some sort of international relations program.
Lots of IR programs have some sort of grand strategy dimension, it could fit. And many IR programs feed people into the intelligence community. However, that ability is related more to people's own skills at networking than having a specific specialization.
posted by troytroy at 9:10 PM on April 9


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