New cybersecurity bachelor’s, master’s degrees designed to fill workforce need

The University of Maryland University College is reporting robust response to a first-of-its kind cybersecurity bachelor’s and master’s academic  degree program, set to commence this fall.

“The workforce shortages in this field are at a critical stage,” says Dr. Susan Aldridge, UMUC president. “We have a unique opportunity to provide an education in an area where there are jobs for graduates and where we can help advance the new field of cybersecurity.”

The coursework will be completely online, so anyone living anywhere in the U.S. can pursue a cybersecurity degree.  And studies are geared for older students already holding down jobs.

Graduates will be trained to defend against elite cyberattackers, both from a technical and a policy-setting standpoint.

UMUC’s new degree program represents another substantive step toward making the Internet safer. On the first day the program was announced last May, more than 200 applicants signed up. Aldridge anticipates 1,000 to 1,200 students by the time the degree programs commence this fall.

“Cybersecurity has become a national security issue and an economic issue for the United States,” says Dr. Greg von Lehmen, UMUC’s provost and c hief academic officer. “There is a great need for people who are trained in this area. It has become an extremely important workforce need.”

‘Cybersecurity’ officially coined

UMUC is the first educational institution to designate “cybersecurity” as a formal academic discipline. University course work related to securely storing and protecting digital assets is typically referred to as “information assurance” curricula.

The difference? “Information assurance” traditionally has referred to the study of protecting a single organization’s digital assets, a sort of inside-looking-out approach. However, the emerging discipline of “cybersecurity” is intended to encompass much more, says von Lehmen.

“Cybersecurity, as a term, captures the evolution we see going on in communications,” says von Lehmen. “We’re using cloud computing and mobile devices. So how do you secure information that’s moving beyond the perimeter of a given organization? How do you protect digital assets, find out who’s trying to get at it and determine the profile of the attacker?”

The formulation of UMUC’s curricula — and the decision to go with “cybersecurity” — has a direct tie to the milestone collaborative work done by the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Commission on Cybersecurity for the 44th President.

You may recall this is the group of military, tech security, law enforcement, regulatory and elected heavyweights that took on the task of producing a seminal set of cybersecurity recommendations for the next president (the group convened during the final months of President George W. Bush’s administration.)

Shoring up digital ramparts

Retired Lt. Gen. Harry D. Raduege was a co-chair of the CSIS cybersecurity commission — and a vocal critic of the Bush Administration’s narrow view of cybersecurity.  And it was Raduege whom the university got  to  chair a committee of outside experts that was instrumental in helping the develop  UMUC’s cybersecurity curricula.

Thus, UMUC’s degree program is  part and parcel of the phalanx of initiatives to shore up our nation’s digital ramparts that has flowed steadily from the 44th U.S. President. President Obama set the course in his historic 29 May 2009 speech designating cybersecurity as a national security issue.

The Department of Homeland Security subsequently received special authority to hire as many as 1,000 individuals for cybersecurity jobs, while the Air Force has assigned approximately 30,000 “digital troops” to the front lines, a number that represents a third of the troops in Afghanistan.

In December 2009, Obama appointed Howard Schmidt to the new White House post of cybersecurity coordinator. Without much news coverage, Schmidt, a former Microsoft security executive and a one-time cybersecurity adviser to President Bush, has steadily been laying the groundwork for new public/private partnerships and helping to spearhead a national campaign to recruit and train a new generation of cyberdefenders.

UMUC’s degree program adds to that effort. Because course work is to be delivered “completely online,” a hefty percentage of the inaugural group of students is expected to be working professionals looking to change careers, says von Lehmen.  A typical graduate student would take one 6-credit hour course per term and earn a masters of science in cybersecurity or a master of science in cybersecurity policy in two years.

The jobs are waiting. Indeed.com, a jobs web site, recently listed several thousand cybersecurity jobs.

By Byron Acohido

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