Cover: Defense Security Cooperation University Expert Course of Instruction

Defense Security Cooperation University Expert Course of Instruction

Content, Design, Implementation

Published Dec 1, 2020

by Jefferson P. Marquis, Jennifer D. P. Moroney, Pauline Moore, Rebecca Herman, Jonathan Welch, Reid Dickerson

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Research Questions

  1. What are the main KSA that expert-level SC professionals need?
  2. What are best practices for developing these KSA?
  3. What role does networking play in SC work, and how can it be supported?
  4. How should an expert-level COI be designed to meet course objectives, while taking into account such considerations as duration, cost, and the military and civilian training cycles and job demands that affect SC professionals?

In the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, the U.S. Congress called for the professionalization of the security cooperation (SC) workforce and placed the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) in charge of this effort. Accordingly, in January 2020, DSCA established an SC Workforce Certification Program (SCWCP) with four proficiency levels that reflect increasing responsibility and greater knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA). Asked to help develop training course requirements for expert professionals that would capture what they need to know regarding the integration of SC into the national security framework, RAND researchers set out to identify training requirements for SC experts and best practices in senior leader education and training outside the Department of Defense.

The ultimate goal of the professionalization process should be a "T-shaped" leader with both depth and breadth in terms of training and experience. The researchers also found that developing an effective and implementable course of instruction (COI) for SC experts depends on balancing requirements for deep and broad knowledge, on the one hand, and desired course content and practical considerations, on the other hand. To this end, the researchers propose an SC expert COI that takes into account not only course objectives and associated design elements but also duration and cost considerations and DSCA priorities and constraints.

Key Findings

  • Based on DSCA guidance, the study assumes that a centrally managed, progressive, multilevel training and education (along with continuous learning and opportunities for broadening experiences) is the best approach to professionalizing the SC workforce.
  • The main KSA to develop are in-depth knowledge of an area of concentration (AOC), broad knowledge of one or more other AOCs, strategic thinking skills, problem-solving skills, and management capability, which includes communication and collaboration skills.
  • To build an advisory capability, SC experts need both SC-related KSA and professional networks that can provide additional information and assistance in developing and implanting SC plans and programs.
  • An ideal SC professionalization COI not only develops the main KSA through interactive instruction but also includes opportunities for networking and mentoring.
  • A viable and valued COI instills pride in participants in the expert status they achieve, builds the reputation of the course and the institution delivering it, and attracts qualified candidates.


  • Ensure that SC professionals achieve sufficient mastery in their primary AOC prior to transitioning to the expert stage of development.
  • Broaden SC knowledge of expert candidates by developing certain knowledge areas that the SC community has determined to be important for most individuals at their level rather than requiring them to self-select a secondary AOC that might not be as appropriate.
  • Focus expert skill development on strategic thinking and complex problem-solving.
  • Assist expert candidates in further developing their networks of knowledgeable and experienced contacts in key areas of the SC community.
  • Grow and retain SC experts by developing an SC advisory capability based on in-depth and broad KSA as well as a diverse network of SC contacts; an SC management capability that includes experts skilled in collaboration, communication, and mentoring; and a cadre of senior professionals who are proud of the status acquired by participating in a rigorous and well-regarded COI.
  • Initially, consider keeping the COI short (under six months) while also taking steps to increase its duration and expand its content over time. Also consider targeting certain kinds of students early on while striving to broaden the student body in the long run.

This research was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense's DSCA and conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center and the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

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