Friday, June 12, 2009

Teaching High School Students To Be Intel Analysts (

The Erie City Schools, in cooperation with the Institute Of Intelligence Studies here at Mercyhurst, recently announced that they would begin to offer an intelligence analyst track in one of their high school career academies.

The full news article is here but there is more to this story. This is another one of Bob Heibel's visionary initiatives and it appears to me to be a natural extension of the increasing number of colleges and universities that are offering intelligence courses or even full programs.

While this may sound a bit too visionary for some, let me put it into perspective. We are in the middle of a study that is trying to get at the size, in dollars and people, of the "real" intelligence community. This real community includes all the law enforcement analysts and intelligence professionals in business as well as those in the national security community.

Our initial estimates indicate that there are as many analysts in the US national security community alone as there are petroleum engineers in the entire US (17,000). Our rough estimate suggests that, when you add in all of the law enforcement, competitive intel and other analysts in the business community, the total number of intel analysts in the US doubles. This exceeds the number of chemical engineers (30,000) in the country.

According to the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the chemical engineering profession, however, has nearly 150 colleges and universities feeding it qualified graduates and STEM programs have become a staple offering in virtually every high school in the country. In contrast, there are only a handful (a growing handful but still a handful...) of colleges and universities offering even introductory intel courses, much less a full four year program.

Nearly 20 years ago, Bob started the Mercyhurt program based on a single insight: If the government can depend on academia to educate its entry level doctors and lawyers, engineers and architects, computer specialists and military officers, why can't it depend on academia to provide entry level education to its intelligence analysts? In this light, extending this vision to the high school level makes it seem less radical -- in fact, it looks downright logical.


Anonymous said...

What a dumb idea. No student coming out of one of these high school programs is going to find a job in the intelligence field. Get real. Mercyhurst and Heibel are only doing this to establish a feeder program for the college's regular intelligence programs.

I also take issue with some of your comments, Kris. The demand for intelligence analysts has leveled off considerably in the last few years. I understand your role is to push the program, but you're in major denial about the contractions within the field. There are graduates of your program who can't find jobs. I know one of them who graduated over a year ago and still can't find a job.

Kristan J. Wheaton said...

Thanks for your comment but I have to disagree. You are looking at only a very narrow range of knowledge work.

I agree that there appears to be a leveling and probably a reduction in hiring in the US National Security field for analysts but we see significant long term growth for analysts in the business community along with the continued need for law enforcement analysts.

Our current estimate is that there are more than 30,000 jobs appropriate for intel analysts in the US alone in the combined national security, law enforcement and business fields. This is roughly the size of the number of jobs in Chemical engineering. While there are 150 colleges that provide degrees in chemical engineering there are only a handful that provide degrees in intel analysis.

Our challenge continues to be to figure out how to connect our graduates with the demand. This is largely a task of educating employers about our grad's capabilities. You are correct if you are thinking that this is easiest within the national security arena.

Furthermore, the high school track is really designed to prepare students for the kind of knowledge work that is becoming increasingly important in many college programs (not just ours) and is in demand by local employers of high school grads. In other words, we aren't just looking at intel analyst jobs but also jobs that support intelligence functions in all three disciplines or jobs that require modern knowledge work types of skills.

We certainly hope that some of the best and brightest coming out of this program will come to Mercyhurst. This particular high school also has a large percentage (for Erie) of minority students. We have heard the message repeatedly that the IC wants/needs to hire a more diverse workforce. We not only agree with this goal philosophically, we think it increases these particular student's chances of getting hired.

As for the student you know who cannot find a job, please ask them to contact me. We average about one notice a week (in addition to the "normal" flow of requests to our career services) of businesses or organizations looking for graduates more or less immediately. I can't guarantee anyone a job, but I will be happy to help.

To put your comment in perspective, though, I know of several students who had 3 job offers last year and one student the year before that who had 4! In this economy, if there is only one Mercyhurst grad without a job, I think the program has been pretty successful. That doesn't help that grad very much, I realize, but as I said previously, I am happy to do what I can for this graduate as well.

Finally, for the purposes of clarity, it is decidedly NOT my role to push the program on this blog. This is my blog. I say what I want. If I say good things about the program it is because I believe them, not because I have an agenda or have been "told" to say them. To their great credit, neither the college nor the department have ever asked me to review, censor or retract a single post.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the response, Kris. You covered a lot of ground in your response.

I'll speak to the person I know who cannot find a job. Perhaps he will come and see you. Then again, I find it somewhat disappointing that the college is not aware of this person's plight. After all, job placement is one of the ways your program has always sold itself. This person is bright and did quite well in your program; he would be an asset to any employer.

These kids pay an awful lot of money to come to Mercyhurst. This person I know has a ton of debt, a menial, low-wage job and an intelligence degree. Something is very wrong with that picture. If the demand for intelligence analysts is what you claim, then this person should have had no problem finding a job.

Kristan J. Wheaton said...

I am sorry as well that one of our graduates does not have a job in intel, particularly if they are of the quality you indicate.

I think it is unrealistic, however, to expect the college to know who has a job and who does not. These are not children we are talking about here. They are adults. They can make their own decisions. If they choose not to keep us in the loop after graduation that is their option. I don't know of a single faculty member here who would not continue to help a graduate who was looking for a job -- if they asked for the help.

For your information, there are a couple of reasons students don't get jobs coming out of our program. The first has to do with clearance. We warn them when they visit the college as high school juniors and seniors and continue to warn them each year about the need for a clearance in most of the jobs appropriate for their degree.

If, however, they do something that makes them unclearable, there is little that we can do about it. I am not suggesting that this is the case here but I have seen a number of cases that, when you got down to it, there was something in their past -- unknown to us -- that caused them to have clearance problems.

The number one problem here has to do with polygraphs. I have written elsewhere on my blog on how I feel about the polygraph but it is a fact of life for many of the positions that our students seek.

Waiting for clearances to come through and having contracts canceled while waiting for clearances to come through (thus suspending the clearance process and often the job offer as well) are other problems associated with clearances.

Another common problem is the way the student approaches the job search -- their search strategy. They are often overly focused ("I have to have a job with the CIA!") or they are not focused enough (they spam employers with their resumes). Perhaps they don't bother to take advantage of any of the job search/resume/etc classes that are offered here (they are all voluntary) so their resumes and interview techniques are not as highly polished as these kinds of employers expect. We provide advice and opportunities but we cannot make them listen or take advantage of them.

The final problem has to do with the structure of the market itself. Government intel jobs have a pretty structured market but there are still a number of tricks you need to know to get full access to all the jobs (they are not all on The contractor market that supports the government is more fractured and difficult to understand but we have good contacts there who point us at the appropriate places. As you point out, however, this market is likely to contract over the next few years.

The business market is the largest market but it is very fractured. There are many jobs which COULD work for our students but figuring that out requires a good bit of legwork. We are getting better at understanding this market but it is definitely a moving target.

The law enforcement market is surprisingly rich in opportunities but most of our students are not interested in it, at least initially, because it is the one that pays the least on average.

Bottomline: The "job market" is very different than "finding a job". We think that our grads are very competitive for intel analyst jobs in business, law enforcement and national security and have the record and the employer feedback to prove it. That is great for advertising but not so great for a individual grad who doesn't have a job. I hope I hear from him; I think we can help.


Anonymous said...

Kris, thanks for your thoughts. It's good to know the faculty would still be committed in helping this graduate land a position. I don't believe his situation is the result of being unclearable or polygraph-related. Rather, the only thing I can think of--and I'm not totally sure of this--is perhaps he doesn’t want to work in Washington, DC. I can't say I blame him; the DC-area is enormously expensive.

Your program often touts impressive-sounding starting salaries for its graduates. Although many of those salary numbers would be impressive for a place like Erie, DC is a much different story. A 50 or 60K salary in DC won't buy much. It buys even less when a new graduate is burdened with a huge loan debt--as is the case with many Mercyhurst grads. On the one hand, a resistance to working in DC would obviously complicate things for a new intel grad since so many positions reside in the nation’s capital. On the other hand, doesn't the concentration of intelligence work in DC present a growing challenge to the intelligence field as its participants grow steadily younger?

I think it does, particularly among the younger, academia crowd--those concerned not so much with money but with lifestyle. The country is changing in terms of what people value as important. I've known several people who worked in DC. Among their biggest complaints (aside from the horrendous cost of living) are the commutes. A daily commute in DC often turns an 8-hour day into a 10 or 11-hour day. And with lifestyle and quality of life being more and more of a concern to younger workers, I see the vast concentration of intelligence work in DC as a disadvantage to the continued growth of the field. Unless more of the work can be spread out around the country, you may have dwindling numbers of younger workers interested in the intelligence field–at least in its current form.

That brings us to a related issue, and one you also touched on in your post: the structure of the intel job market. Law enforcement intel jobs pay very little compared to the other sectors. Moreover, the law enforcement folks I’ve talked to told me that intel analysts hired in state and local law enforcement are often former law enforcement officials (cops) hired from within. Where does that leave the new grad with an intel degree? The business sector is an even bigger question mark. Doesn't one of the biggest challenges with businesses reside in getting them to believe they can MAKE USE of someone with an intelligence degree? It seems to me that a strong candidate coming out of an intel program such as yours should be a shoo-in for many entry-level jobs in business, either intelligence or non-intelligence related.

Aside from the analytical training and skills of sifting through vast sums of information that your grads have, they also possess strong skills in (1) writing, (2) speaking and presenting, and (3) team and project work. None of these things should ever be underestimated; all of them are extremely important attributes for a job candidate to possess. Yet there are still many college programs that don’t emphasize these skills to the extent your program does. In fact, I would even bet that your grads (on the whole) possess better abilities in these three areas than do most graduates coming out of business programs, even an MBA. That's why I'm still perplexed by the dreadfully slow pace that the business community is "waking up" to the usefulness of intel grads. Perhaps that will change in time.

Anonymous said...

I also wanted to mention some conversations I had with a couple of different people a few years ago. The first conversation was with a long-term intelligence professional I met while I was in DC. Although he was impressed with your program and the caliber of its graduates, he felt your graduate program is both too lengthy and too concentrated. "Someone wanting to enter the intelligence field out of academia only needs 5-6 courses tops," he said. "The Mercyhurst program is a bit too long." What do you think of those comments, Kris? I realize that his is only one opinion; however, a graduate or certificate program involving only 5-6 courses could be completed in just under a year utilizing your college's trimester system. Would a one-year graduate or certificate program have possibly made more sense? I also talked to a student in one of your graduate classes a couple of years ago. He's now graduated but told me his graduate class was made up almost exclusively of 22-year-old newly minted grads of various colleges. I was quite surprised by this, as most graduate programs have a good number of older students as well as mid-career professionals--who bring with them a useful knowledge background from their own field. Has your graduate program reached out more to older applicants and mid-career folks? Perhaps that would represent another inroad into gaining more acceptability for the intelligence field within other disciplines such a business, engineering or medicine.

I appreciate your thoughts, Kris.

Kristan J. Wheaton said...

Let me start with your first post.

Yes, an unwillingness to work in DC is a hindrance. Most of the jobs we have traditionally placed our graduates in have been in the broader DC (MD, VA) area. It is easiest to find jobs there.

We have realized that this is a bit of a trap and, over the past several years, we have consciously sought out positions for our grads that are outside of the DC area. As a result we have been able to expand our contacts significantly and our grads are getting jobs in many parts of the country and overseas.

Yes, the cost of living is high and the quality of life is questionable in the DC area. I did not take a job in the DC area when I retired precisely because I could not see myself as happy and making the commute each day...

What is interesting about this (and it is also applies to my first comment) is that most of our students WANT to work in DC. They are willing to "sacrifice" to do so. One of my real ah-ha moments in this program was when I formally surveyed our seniors a few years ago. Overwhelmingly, they said that their primary reason for getting into intel was "to make a difference". Every survey I have given since then confirms these results.

We, the dads and moms of the generation, worry about things like debt. Our grads seem to worry more about kicking ass and taking names. I suspect, for example, that the grad you know is more frustrated about not being able to use his skills than worried about having those skills in the first place. They see themselves as professional, entry-level analysts and are ready to go to work.

You are also correct in assuming that the biggest challenge (outside the National Security arena) is getting companies and LE organizations to realize that they can make use of someone with an intel studies degree.

We mostly do this with word of mouth -- with guys like you who are willing to say, "Hey, strong skills in (1) writing, (2) speaking and presenting, and (3) team and project work should not be underestimated." When you look at what employers want and what we provide, there is, as you indicate, a very close match.

But it is "new" and there is an education process that takes place. Usually it involves an intern (or one of our pro bono projects) and then a first hire and then a second and finally the employer starts showing up at our hiring week in October and interviewing dozens of students for a number of positions.

We are chasing a moving target, though. The program keeps getting larger and developing a relationship with an employer takes a number of years. The result is a boom and bust hiring process. A few years ago, seniors had a AVERAGE of 2.2 job OFFERS by their spring term. We are working hard to smooth out the cycle. We are busily approaching new employers and finding new jobs and internships within the widest possible range of locations, agencies, companies and organizations (BTW: If you or anyone else in the community knows of any jobs or internships that might be appropriate, please let us know). None of this is of particular use to the student you know but at least we recognize the issue and are working to address it.

Kristan J. Wheaton said...

Part 2 (included because part 1 above was too long...)

Finally, I have to disagree with your friend about the length of our program. For something as large and as important as intel, I am certain that academia has more of a role than "5-6 courses tops." Based on DEMAND (ie people coming to us), we have begun offering certificates not only in intelligence analysis but also in counterintel and law enforcement intel. We offer an online course in competitive intel and hope to offer a certificate. We hope to offer a course and maybe a certificate in non-proliferation/counterproliferation. We routinely discuss the possibilities of extended coursework in managing the intelligence community and even the idea of a Doctorate of Intelligence (like a JD or and MD).

Bottomline: We see an almost unlimited demand for well taught, academically accredited courses in intelligence across the entire spectrum of intelligence activities. The problems lie in finding the qualified faculty who can actually teach, administering the classes and accrediting the programs, not in the demand for them.

Anonymous said...

Kris, you wrote about the efforts involved in developing relationships with employers. One thing I've read about in several articles is the increasing amount of intelligence work outsourced to entities outside of the government (contractors).

Since 9/11, haven't increasing numbers of your students gone to work for contractors(Booz Allen, Northrop, etc.) rather than for government agencies like the FBI, CIA or NSA? How have your students adjusting to this changing reality of the intelligence field? In other words, when it comes to national security work, do more students still hope to find an intelligence job in government rather than with a private sector contractor? And don't the government jobs offer much more stability in the long run?

It's excellent that your program strives to find new opportunities for intelligence graduates. I'm wondering something, though: What about in unrelated fields such as politics or journalism? It seems to me that an intelligence analyst with the solid skill set discussed above would be a very useful employee in many political or journalistic-related jobs. And what about General Electric? They're a great company that's still on the cutting edge in many things. Does GE employ intelligence analysts and has the local GE plant ever hired a Mercyhurst intelligence grad?

Anonymous said...

I've noticed your growing amount of intelligence course work, certificates and degrees; the program is certainly growing. Your certificates, although impressive, seem a bit limited in terms of access (who can enroll).

Kris, what do you think of the intelligence programs and format used by American Military University? Are you familiar with this institution? Although AMU is an online-only school, I hear it's quite good, particularly for military personnel facing frequent deployments.

Does the Mercyhurst program envision increasing its worldwide reach through a greater embrace of online degrees in a way similar to what AMU does? The Mercyhurst online options still seem somewhat limited.

Finally, you wrote: "The problems lie in finding the qualified faculty who can actually teach, administering the classes and accrediting the programs, not in the demand for them." Kris, is it hard to find qualified intelligence faculty willing to come to a place like ERIE? Has the town itself ever presented a challenge in attracting faculty? One possible advantage I see with increasing online degree offerings is that perhaps it will enable more qualified faculty (from around the world) to have an association with the Mercyhurst program.

Kristan J. Wheaton said...

Yep, many of our students go to work for defense contractors...and businesses like Procter and Gamble and ExxonMobil...and for local and state law enforcement agencies (as well as the FBI).

Beyond that, we have had students working overseas at the IAEA and elsewhere and a number of them have joined the military and are now deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Locally, we have placed people in small to medium sized business and even have a growing number of students who are starting their own businesses.

As for getting people to come to Erie, that is not as much of a problem as you might think. Many people come BACK to Erie upon retirement.

You are also probably thinking of "old" Erie as well. The city has gone a long way towards re-inventing itself as an education (with 16,000 college students at the four universities in the area) and tourism hub (with white sand beaches, a very clean Lake Erie, nearby skiing in the mountains and some of the best hunting and fishing in the lower 48). We also have a cost of living and a 10 minute commute that is the envy of everyone who comes here from DC.

No, the problem is getting people for our online programs. I am not familiar with the AMU offerings beyond the general stuff. Our program differs because it is applied, it is structured and it teaches all three disciplines of intel (national security, business and law enforcement).

Anonymous said...

Kris, thanks for all of your answers and insights. Through these discussions I feel I've learned a lot more about your program. If I come across any potential internship or job opportunities for intelligence analysts you'll be the first to know. Take care and I wish the very best for your program.