Oct 24 2016

5 Tips for Building a Successful Cybersecurity Education Program

How colleges can develop cybersecurity programs for traditional and nontraditional students.

With the cybersecurity job market booming, colleges and universities are building education programs to meet growing demand from both students who want to enter the cybersecurity field and the IT industry, which desperately needs more security specialists.

For example, John A. Logan College (JALC), a community college in Carterville, Ill., developed an associate’s degree in applied science in information security, and it has grown from five students a year ago to 40 students today, says Mark Rogers, an associate professor in computer information systems at JALC.

“We have the biggest freshman class that I’ve ever had,” he says.

Elsewhere, the University of Maryland University College (UMUC), primarily an online college, offers three bachelor’s degrees and four master’s degrees in cybersecurity.

Undergraduate students at UMUC can pursue a bachelor’s in computer networks and cybersecurity, which prepares students to take a variety of IT certifications; a degree in cybersecurity and management and policy for those who want to enter leadership roles; and a software development and security degree to train programmers to develop secure applications.

Enrollment has skyrocketed in recent years, says S.K. Bhaskar, vice dean of the Computer Information Systems and Technology department at UMUC’s undergraduate school. For example, the computer networks and cybersecurity degree, launched in 2010, has seen a 32 percent increase in enrollment from the spring 2015 semester to the spring 2016 semester, he says.

Bhaskar and Rogers offer these best practices to other colleges interested in developing cybersecurity educational programs for both traditional and nontraditional students.

1. Consult with Local Businesses

Universities and colleges should create an external advisory group and talk to IT professionals and employers in their local market to understand their workforce needs in cybersecurity, Bhaskar says. That way, you can teach students the skills they need to get jobs after graduation.

“Talk to the major employers, find out what they need and what they need students to do when they graduate, so they can hire them,” he says.

Building the relationship with local employers will also open up internship opportunities for students, he says.

2. Support from Campus Leadership Is Critical

To build a program, JALC’s administrators provided the funding needed to build computer labs full of servers, high-powered computers, a network made up of Cisco Systems networking gear and Palo Alto Networks next-generation firewalls, and high-speed internet access, Rogers says.

Campus administrators also funded training to allow professors to get the remaining IT certifications they needed to teach their courses. The college also pays for travel expenses, so some students can attend workshops and take part in competitions, Rogers says.

“Every time we have a proposal, they listen to us and are very supportive,” he says.

3. Teach Critical Thinking, Communication and Writing Skills Too

When UMUC met with its external advisory group, the university learned that employers want students who can think and write critically, and communicate and collaborate with their peers, in addition to having the necessary technical skills, Bhaskar says, so UMUC’s cybersecurity programs teach students those “soft skills” as well.

4. Seek Advice from Other Colleges

Colleges should reach out to others that have developed cybersecurity programs to learn tips, best practices and lessons learned, says Rogers, who’s given advice to other community colleges over the phone.

5. Recruit from Local High Schools

To attract students to their new cybersecurity program at JALC, Rogers and a colleague visit juniors and seniors at local high schools. They also focus on recruiting women and minorities, which have historically been underrepresented in the IT field, he says.