Twenty-four Phoenix TSA officers earn a new Homeland Security certificate www.privateofficer.com
Connie Chambers, a human resources specialist for TSA in Phoenix, was among the graduates. She said the TSA Homeland Security certificate she earned through GateWay Community College is her first step toward earning a four-year degree in criminal justice.
“For years, transportation security officers have been asking for college assistance,” said Chambers, 48, who has been with the agency since Congress established it after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. “This was a wonderful opportunity for me to continue my education in a whole new direction
GateWay Community College, north of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, is among 62 community colleges nationwide that offer the federal certification, TSA spokesman Nico Melendez said.
The federal government is hoping the program can improve retention in an agency that has struggled with that and worker advancement, according to federal-worker surveys and reports by Congress’ investigative arm, the Government Accountability Office.
To qualify as an airport screener, the federal government encourages but doesn’t require a college degree. A screener’s annual salary can start at $29,302 a year, the TSA website shows.
That’s slightly more than the average salary for a taxi driver.
Few screeners have college degrees. The TSA estimates that 14 percent of its 50,000 screeners — an estimated 7,000 workers — have two-year associate’s degrees or higher.
Currently, TSA screeners and other TSA staff at 71 airports can earn the certificate, said Melendez.
The program is in its fourth year. The federal government piloted it in fall 2008 with airport screeners at Baltimore/Washington International Airport and Reagan National Airport near Washington, D.C.
The colleges are all part of a network, Global Corporate College, that is dedicated to corporate training.
The certification for TSA officers is voluntary. To earn the certificate at GateWay Community College, the workers complete the following classes: Introduction to Homeland Security, Intelligence Analysis and Transportation and Border Security. The courses at GateWay are taught by former and current law-enforcement officials, said Nance Harris, the college’s director of business and industry training.
The classes introduce TSA officers to the various agencies within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security with missions that involve national security and that utilize intelligence-gathering in security operations.
Harris said the courses combine for nine credit hours toward an associate’s degree.
TSA covers the cost of the Homeland Security certification program, which costs $4 million a year. The expense likely will increase as the program is expanded to TSA officers at all 91 hub airports in the country.
Workers who’ve gotten the certificate and want to continue their college education must bear those costs themselves.
Since 2008, an estimated 2,500 TSA workers have registered for the certification program.