Which Factors Define the Best Cybersecurity Schools?

by NU Online on 5/21/20 2:26 PM

In response to job market trends, more schools are adding cybersecurity degrees, based on a 2018 report from EdTech. Although a relatively small percentage of institutions offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees in cybersecurity, professionals looking to make a career change and graduating high schoolers have a far broader assortment of choices than they did even ten years ago. These days, individuals seeking to break into cybersecurity can earn their degree at a two-year school, four-year university, on campus, or online through both part- and full-time program tracks.

cyber room

As with all majors, not all cybersecurity schools are created equal. Before you invest your time and money into a particular program, know which factors set the best cybersecurity schools apart from the rest.


Receiving a National Centers of Academic Excellence (CAE) Designation

Both the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sponsor and shape the curriculum for National CAE programs, which include the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense (CAE-CD) and National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations (CAE-CO). These designations reflect the curriculum’s scope and rigor, and based upon these indicators, employers tend to seek out cybersecurity graduates from National CAE programs.

The National Security Agency (NSA) introduced the Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education (CAE-IAE) program in 1999 in response to a dearth of intelligence community professionals, establishing demanding curriculum and program requirements. The DHS became a co-sponsor in 2004, and over the next 15 years, the two organizations added a designation for research-based programs (CAE-R) and updated CAE-IAE to CAE in Cyber Defense Education (CAE-CDE) to reflect the shift toward cybersecurity efforts.

Today, the over 300 institutions awarded these designations strive to produce cybersecurity professionals who can not only identify and mitigate vulnerabilities but who can further protect the country’s national information infrastructure against such attacks.

CAE-CO programs are built on similar principles but differ in some respects. Mainly, CAE-CO programs focus more on technical, interdisciplinary subjects emphasizing computer science, computer engineering, and electrical engineering and are structured around supporting the President’s National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE). While the two designations complement each other in the workforce, CAE-CO programs provide greater technical exposure and, due to their structure, are sought after by military, intelligence, and law enforcement organizations.

Norwich University’s cybersecurity programs have received a CAE-CD 2017-2022 designation and have maintained this status since 2001. Additionally, the Defense of Cyber Crime Center of the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Operations has named Norwich a Center of Digital Forensics Academic Excellence since 2012.


How Does a Cybersecurity School Receive a CAE-CD Designation?

All regionally accredited two-year, four-year, and graduate-level schools in the US are eligible to participate and receive recognition, provided they meet strict guidelines set by the NSA and DHS. As one qualifying factor, cybersecurity programs need to encompass specific expert-verified knowledge units (KUs).

For CAE-CDE designated programs like Norwich, KUs need to cover the following subjects:

  • Data analysis
  • Introductory to advanced programming
  • Cyber defense
  • Cyber threats
  • Basic security design principles
  • Information architecture (IA) fundamentals
  • Cryptography
  • Information technology (IT) systems
  • Networking
  • Policy, legal, ethics, and compliance
  • Systems administration
  • Databases
  • Network defense
  • Networking technology and protocols
  • Operating systems
  • Probability and statistics

CAE designations last five years. At this point, a school needs to apply to renew its status.


Emphasis on Hands-on Learning

Hands-on learning is often in line with the CAE’s emphasis on research and laboratory experience and covers a broad scope of opportunities available. This approach first emerges in the classroom, through virtual labs and multidisciplinary projects requiring students to demonstrate the practical application of the course’s topics. Through Norwich Online Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity, hands-on vulnerability testing and cyber investigation are incorporated into the coursework.

Capstone projects, frequently involving research and a multidisciplinary component, indicate how well a cybersecurity student applies their learning in the real world. As another component for finishing a cybersecurity degree, a reputable, career-oriented school may require an internship or a certain number of on-the-job hours in a relevant position.

Schools may further have their own cybersecurity research programs, which assist with conducting studies on existing technologies and developing strategies to identify and eliminate particular vulnerabilities. Such programs may be entirely independent or may be set up as a partnership with an outside organization.

Norwich maintains two research programs involving cybersecurity topics. The NU Center for Cybersecurity and Forensics Education and Research (CyFER), formerly the NU Center for Advanced Computing and Digital Forensics, strives to develop and examine emerging and future computing technologies and deploys specialist learning environments. The Norwich University Applied Research Institutes (NUARI), launched in 2002, partners with the federal government, US Military, business associations, and other organizations to research and identify solutions for national and global concerns. Of NUARI’s divisions, the Cyber Conflict Research Institute has worked to develop strategies for strengthening the U.S. against international cyberattacks, taking into account how future threats could get around traditional national security strategies and the changes the military and National Guard need to make to anticipate these cyber breaches.


Covers the Latest Threats and Technologies

Companies large and small want cybersecurity employees who can not only identify the latest threats, but can also appropriately respond to those threats and understand the latest preventative solutions, software, and hardware. The best cybersecurity schools, whether on campus or online, blend traditional IT and computer science while exposing students to programs and techniques potential employers will expect you to know and competently use. In response, students graduate ready to apply these skills on the job without any period of catch up or additional, unfamiliar training required.

To determine if a cybersecurity program is aligned with current job market demands, prospective students and established professionals seeking career advancement are encouraged to review job postings for the hard and soft skills required and compare them with the coursework offered at a particular school. In some instances, if you find the information available isn’t as thorough as you would like it to be, consider reaching out to a department head or instructors with your questions about the curriculum.


Prepares Students for Standard Cybersecurity Certifications

According to a 2016 study from Burning Glass Technologies, one-third of all cybersecurity job postings require candidates to obtain one or more industry certifications. Results like this indicate that having a bachelor’s degree in the field isn’t enough; instead, candidates need to have earned a bachelor’s or master’s degree and passed multiple certification exams.

In this vein, the best cybersecurity schools equip students to acquire the following certifications:

  • CompTIA encompasses multiple certifications, with DOD-approved CompTIA Security+ being the most widely requested one. In general, CompTIA is the industry’s baseline certification, indicating students have a satisfactory but solid understanding of conceptual and hands-on applications related to vulnerability identification and response; risk management; and intrusion detection.
  • Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC) certification, administered by ISACA, is a more advanced credential focusing on IT risk identification, response, mitigation, control, and reporting.
  • Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) certification, another ISACA certification, is a credential frequently requested for management-level cybersecurity jobs and goes beyond risk management strategies to security program development and management.
  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification, administered by (ISC)², is also requested for advanced cybersecurity positions, as it covers a broad array of topics, including how to design, implement, and oversee a network security strategy.


The Program is Accredited

Having accreditation may seem like a no-brainer, but prospective students are recommended to research if their ideal school is accredited and by which organization. Accreditation status affects three significant factors regarding your education: whether you’ll be able to receive financial aid from federal programs, the quality of the education you’ll receive, and if you’ll be able to transfer credits in the future.

The best cybersecurity programs, along these lines, are regionally accredited from one of six organizations supported by the Council for Higher Education Association and the U.S. Department of Education. Norwich University has received regional accreditation through the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE).


The Format Aligns with Your Career Goals

Rankings only represent one side of the full picture; how a cybersecurity program fits into your career goals composes the other. Not everyone has the same objectives, nor do they have the same time commitments. On this note, prospective students are asked to think about if they’ll be able to attend classes in person; how they hope their degree will improve their career; and if they’d like to work on the technical or soft skills side of cybersecurity. With these factors ironed out, you should be able to determine:

  • if a full-time, part-time, or accelerated course load better fits into your schedule;
  • which degree concentrations get you closer to your goals;
  • if you’ll benefit from a bachelor’s or master’s degree in cybersecurity or if you’d be better served by a computer science degree with a cybersecurity concentration;
  • if you’ll need career placement or career services to enter the field, or if the degree is for advancing in your current role; and
  • if you’ll benefit from an on-campus or online program format.

Norwich’s cybersecurity programs factor in multiple career paths—from the high school student aspiring to a cybersecurity career to the IT or computer science professional seeking to adapt to industry and marketplace trends to the working adult wanting a career change. Illustrating this, we offer both on-campus and online bachelor’s degrees in cybersecurity and master’s degrees in the field. To find out more about our programs, fill out a request for information form today.

Norwich University Online
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This post was written by NU Online

Norwich University Online offers several master’s degrees and bachelor’s degree completion programs as well as certificate and enrichment programs. Designed to accommodate students’ varied work schedules and lifestyles, our programs are delivered through a virtual and highly interactive learning platform that connects Norwich’s exceptional faculty and curricula to students across the country and around the world.

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