Cybersecurity in community colleges. PHOTO: Cybercrime Magazine.

Community Colleges Enhance Cybersecurity Degrees

A new pathway to enter the cybersecurity industry

Steven T. Kroll

Northport, N.Y. – Mar. 28, 2019

Community colleges often get a bad rap, but they can be the gateway to a very lucrative career in cybersecurity.

The recent college admissions scandal involves criminal charges of bribery, conspiracy, and racketeering all so that parents could place their children in elite academic institutions that in themselves cost tens of thousands per year. Presumably, the idea behind this scheme is that attending and graduating from top colleges leads to better employment outcomes and higher lifetime earnings than those kids who go to lesser-known schools such as community colleges.

That’s the wrong view to take.

The average tuition of public community colleges is $3,660 as compared to $9,716 for attending in-state public schools, and $35,676 for private institutions; 6.2 million students enrolled in 978 public community colleges in fall 2016. Considering student loan debt now surpasses credit card debt, with a total of $1.5 trillion outstanding, the benefits of a community college education deserve a second look.

Cybersecurity Ventures predicts an estimated 3.5 million shortfall in cybersecurity employment. While this alarming statistic doesn’t bode well for cyber safety, it promises a lot of opportunity for the recent high school graduate planning a career path. And, to them, I say go into cyberspace via community college.

Most associate’s degrees in cybersecurity require the same curriculum as the first two years of a bachelor’s degree. Therefore, students get the same education at a fraction of the cost. Not only that, but these classes prepare students to take important certification exams such as CompTIA A+, ICND1, CCNA Security, and CompTIA Security+ that they can use in the field. 

A student has two options upon graduation — enter the workforce or go onto a bachelor’s degree. I recently spoke with Suffolk County Community College about its cybersecurity degree, and I learned that the students’ decisions split about 50/50 between the two choices. However, all students who entered industry found a job before finishing the degree.

What other field has that level of hiring rate?

A student who paid roughly $3,660 for an associate’s degree can earn an entry-level income of around $49,000, even with no prior experience. This income increases with more education and experience to a median salary of $95,500 per year.

What other field has that kind of return on investment?

A cybersecurity associate’s degree can yield the same results as, if not better than, a four-year education at an elite institution.

The recognition of the role of community colleges shaping the future cybersecurity workforce has led to some new initiatives. The Community College Cyber Summit (3CS) is an annual conference that brings together industry executives, government officials and agencies, teachers, and community college students to promote awareness about the field, develop networking opportunities, and expand the cybersecurity curriculum.

“The outcomes of 3CS leverage community college cybersecurity programs across the nation by introducing the latest technologies, best practices, curricula, products, and more,” according to the website.

To add to this, IBM is directly recruiting graduates from community colleges to fill the cybersecurity and technology employment shortage in their New Collar career opportunities. “In these well-paying roles, in-demand technology skills are valued more than credentials, and a traditional four-year college degree may not always be required,” according to the website.

3CS and IBM have begun to bring community colleges into the mainstream for cybersecurity education. We must build on their work in order to fill the employment gap and give community colleges the reputation they deserve — a gateway to a good career, especially in cybersecurity.

Steven T. Kroll is a public relations specialist and staff writer at Cybercrime Magazine.

 Disclaimer: This writer attended a community college, transferred to a state school, and earned a master’s degree at an Ivy League university.