Universities Invest in Cybersecurity Pathways to Add to the Workforce

Higher education institutions build new facilities and corporate partnerships to close the current skills gap.

The need for more trained cybersecurity professionals is evident among both higher education and K–12 educators, spurring educators to start creating new opportunities to bolster the future workforce. 

Despite an increasing importance placed on cybersecurity skills in the workplace, top higher education programs have shown a lack of training initiatives over the past few years.

According to a 2016 McAfee cybersecurity skills report, only 7 percent of the top universities in countries surveyed offered a cybersecurity undergraduate degree, and just one-third offered a masters program.

With 3.5 million cybersecurity jobs expected to be unfilled in 2021, both primary and secondary education institutions are starting to invest in developing more pathways for students. 

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Higher Education Institutions Build Cyber Centers

To entice students into their cybersecurity programs, institutions are investing in new spaces equipped with cutting-edge education technology. 

One of the most common additions to these spaces are cyber ranges, designated areas where students can simulate cyberattacks to practice the skills they will need to protect their future employers’ networks from intruders. 

Over the past year, institutions in Virginia, Florida, Michigan, Arkansas, Georgia and Arizona have all invested in these threat simulation spaces, edscoop reports.

At Regent University’s cyber range, which opened in late 2017, students are put through a rigorous course that mimics real security operations center systems, network traffic and attack scenarios. Meanwhile, Augusta University and the state of Georgia broke ground earlier this year to expand its Cyber Center, which houses a state-of-the-art cyber range, StateTech reports.

“We see the vision of where the Cyber Center will go as something that will help us develop a curriculum and create a workforce that will grow the economy in this region and the state,” Augusta Technical College President Terry Elam said in a statement.

At the University of Michigan’s cyber range, students have access to experiential learning and lab-based learning, and also begin to understand the nuances of cybersecurity ethics.

“As the student continues to progress through curriculum, they begin to learn the tools of the trade toward becoming an ethical hacker, which allows them to understand the various attack vectors against an organization,” Jason Brown, chief information security officer of Merit Network, a nonprofit cybersecurity education network, tells Government Technology. “Not only has the Michigan Cyber Range been able to teach ethical hacking in a competitive setting, it allows those students and even professionals out in the workforce keep their knowledge fresh and up to date.”

Colleges Get Outside Help to Fund New Programs

Universities are not the only ones interested in increasing the cybersecurity workforce. Technology companies and government agencies are doing their part to help create new programs for incoming students through funding and curriculum partnerships.

Montgomery College of Maryland and the SANS Institute have teamed up to create the Maryland Cyber Fast Track program.

“We know Maryland and the entire nation are faced with a critical shortage of cyber professionals,” Alan Paller, director of research for the SANS Institute, said in a press release. “Cyber Fast Track is not the only answer to this shortage, but it has the potential to add many more very capable individuals to the talent pool."

The program kicked off with a cybergames event, with representatives from leading tech companies like IBM and Cisco there to hand out awards and support the newest generation of cybersecurity talent.

At Texas A&M, the university has joined eight other institutions in teaming up with Facebook to create a cybersecurity training curriculum, opening opportunities for top-performing students to work with the social media giant to learn the latest cybersecurity practices. 

Students will participate in a specialized curriculum, mentorship programs, project development and training through simulated cyberattacks.

“This is truly a first in a Texas program, and it’s the kind of innovative course and innovative thinking that A&M-San Antonio is committed to developing in collaboration with enormous industry leaders like Facebook,” university President Cynthia Teniente-Matson tells Government Technology.

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Sep 25 2018