How community colleges are ramping up cybersecurity programs

Graduates with associate degrees and certificates can fill a range of cybersecurity posts

Community colleges are increasingly stepping in to fill the shortfall of cybersecurity workers that can’t be made up solely by graduates of four-year institutions.

Many community colleges offer software development and network administration programs, with cybersecurity primed to become the third major computer discipline at the two-year level.

To support that effort, a set of curriculum guidelines for community college cybersecurity programs has just been released by the Association for Computing Machinery’s Committee for Computing Education in Community Colleges.

“Cybersecurity is still emerging as an academic discipline in community colleges,” says Cara Tang, chair of the Computer Information Systems department at Portland Community College in Oregon. “It’s important to have some kind of guidelines so schools that want to put together programs know what should be in it.”

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Graduates with associate degrees and certificates can fill a range of cybersecurity posts, including as technicians and analysts and in operations centers, says Tang, who chaired the task force that created the curriculum.

IT programs at many community colleges have been adding cybersecurity courses over the past few years. Portland Community College’s cybersecurity degree covers digital forensics, secure coding, and database and network security.

Students in the colleges’ IT programs also take these courses because anyone who works in computers nowadays needs some degree of cybersecurity skills, Tang says.

Pathway to a cybersecurity masters degree

The new guidelines were aligned with the Association for Computing Machinery’s cybersecurity standards for four-year schools.

This should provide for a smooth transition for cybersecurity students who want to pursue bachelor’s and master’s degrees, says Cindy S. Tucker, the vice-chair of the task force and a computer and information technologies professor at Bluegrass Community & Technical College in Kentucky.

“The pathway from two-year to four-year and beyond is going to be very seamless,” Tucker says. “The guidelines are mapped to each other and flow very well.”

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Students with two-year degrees can fill many entry-level positions, says Tucker, whose college is currently developing its cybersecurity program.

“This is going to be one of the most exciting new disciplines,” Tucher says. “It’s very lucrative, and students will not have any problem at all finding positions.”

Community colleges produce IT talent

As community colleges ramp up their programs, employers will increasingly look toward two-year schools to fill job vacancies, says Bill Newhouse, the deputy director of the  National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education and a member of the advisory committee that developed the guidelines.

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Many community colleges also have industry-supported  IT courses and programs that offer students, including those who are working professionals, certificates in a specific technology, such as Cisco or Palo Alto Networks.

The new curriculum should give employers and their human resources departments more confidence that two-year students—who can get their certifications quickly—have the skills to fill many positions.

“We have to convince employers to un-inflate their vacancy announcements,” Newhouse says. “We’re saying to industry that you don’t have to use people with five years of experience and a degree for every job. If you want cybersecurity talent, community colleges may have it.”

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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