A recent LinkedIn search turned up 125,000 cybersecurity open jobs – with nearly 5,000 of them in Delaware alone, including remote positions.
That shouldn’t be a surprise. Regular news reports about security breaches at high-profile retailers and businesses highlight the critical need for cybersecurity professionals in corporate America, as well as in government, law enforcement, military, intelligence and nonprofits.
Over the last decade, Wilmington University’s Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity (BSC) has been approved as a National Center for Academic Excellence (CAE) for Information Assurance and Cybersecurity by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency (NSA).
WilmU’s College of Technology offers cybersecurity degrees at the associate, bachelor’s and master’s level, a master of science in information systems technology with a concentration in information assurance and five five-course certificate programs: Digital Evidence Discovery, Digital Evidence Investigation, Cloud Practitioner, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA). In total, over 1,500 students are enrolled in the various programs, making it one of WilmU’s biggest program areas. Students can earn their AWS and SCADA certifications in six months and their master’s degrees in two years.
The master’s program now has more than 400 students and will be adding 200 more soon, says Dr. James Fraley, chair of WilmU’s MSIST-Information Assurance program. He’s spent more than three decades in IT defense with McAfee, Northrop Grumman, DuPont and the U.S. Army Signal Corps, among other organizations, and participates in a number of NSA working groups and with the National Institute for Cyber Education.
“We need to find the people to fill these jobs, and the CAE designation establishes us as the cream of the crop among the over 300 schools nationwide offering cybersecurity classes,” says Fraley. “Employers are worried about new attacks – on software and supply chains – and about securing data, desktops, intellectual property and the cloud, given how business has changed during the pandemic.”
WilmU is preparing students – many already in the workforce – for higher-paying jobs in the fast-growing cyber-security sector. Many of those students are being sent to WilmU by employers like Amazon, Walmart and Disney, who provide them with free tuition and the opportunity to improve their career opportunities.
“What makes our program unique is that we teach from a practitioner’s point of view,” Fraley said. “We can walk into the classroom and talk about what’s happening in the real world.”
About half of the students in the cybersecurity program are classified as “adult learners” looking for new career challenges and who want to network directly with experts in the field. While many of WilmU’s students take classes online, Fraley says he has more than 10 sections of classes with 20-plus local students in each who want the face-to-face experience. Those classes are full – with waiting lists – for day and evening sessions.
Wilmington University’s strength in this area is nimbleness.
“Virtually all universities have academic advisory committees that include members from outside organizations who provide input on what is needed in the marketplace,” says Dr. Mark Hufe, director of cybersecurity education at WilmU. “But that’s only helpful if the university can act on it. With input from our Center for Cyber Security Education Academic Advisory Committee and our adjunct instructor subject-matter experts who work in the field and have firsthand knowledge of industry trends, our agility enables us to put these new ideas into practice quickly.”
The WilmU’s new associate of science in cybersecurity was created in less than six months – a lightning pace for most academic institutions. The U.S. Navy reached out to WilmU in early 2021, the curriculum was created and vetted through the College of Technology, the Academic Council, the Curriculum Committee, the Faculty Senate and the State of Delaware in about three months, and the new program launched last September.
“To get a new degree program on the books in this short of a time frame is by anyone’s measure truly remarkable,” Hufe said, explaining that a similar process elsewhere could take 18 to 24 months. “As fast as technology changes, having the ability to respond to emerging needs quickly is essential.”
Fraley adds that the school refreshes its cybersecurity content on a regular basis because of the constant rate of change.
“The cloud is impacting all we’re doing,” Fraley said. “I teach an operating system security class that I’m rewriting. Since the pandemic, we’ve developed a virtual desktop infrastructure class and a ‘Desktop as a Service’ class because (businesses are concerned about) all the people who are working from home.”
WilmU’s undergraduate Certified Cloud Practitioner Certificate prepares students to sit for the AWS Cloud Practitioner (CCP) Exam. People who earn this certification set themselves up for jobs that come with six-figure salaries. The idea to offer the certificate came from one of WilmU’s Academic Advisory Committee members who works for a large Delaware bank.
The university also offers an Accelerated Graduate Certificate in Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) Cybersecurity. In this context, “accelerated” refers to how undergraduate students in the BSC program can take the SCADA graduate courses for credit in both the undergraduate degree and the graduate SCADA certificate – and get a jump start on completing the master of science in cybersecurity, SCADA concentration,” Hufe said.
Students who complete the SCADA certificate while in the BSC program are 15 credits closer to completing their master’s degree, reducing their cost and time to graduate, he said.
“I think our early adoption of the online modality in 2020 constitutes another innovation,” Hufe said. “When the pandemic hit, we were able to deal with it seamlessly because our courses were already set up to be taught online, even when taught face to face. We basically just had to flip a switch.”