In today’s digital age, the threat of cyberattacks looms large over organizations, both in the private and public sectors. From major corporations like MGM Resorts to government agencies, the specter of cyber threats continues to grow.
A recent Accenture survey revealed that 74% of CEOs are deeply concerned about their ability to protect their organizations from the impact of a cyberattack. Moreover, the public sector has seen a significant increase in cyberattacks, with a 40% rise recorded between March and May of this year, per Blackberry’s Global Threat Intelligence Report.
The urgent need for cybersecurity professionals is evident, with more than 660,000 job openings and only 69 trained workers available for every 100 positions.
To bridge this talent gap, colleges and universities have emerged as crucial players in nurturing cybersecurity expertise. This article explores how California State University San Bernardino (CSUSB), located far from the tech hubs of Silicon Valley and the Beltway, has turned its cybersecurity program into a national leader.
A Nationally-Recognized Program in an Unexpected Location
CSUSB, a public university situated in the city of San Bernardino, might not be the first place that comes to mind when thinking about cybersecurity education.
However, within its Department of Information and Decision Sciences (IDS) at the Jack H. Brown College of Business and Public Administration, CSUSB houses a nationally recognized cybersecurity program. This program offers six undergraduate degrees, seven master’s degrees with cyber components, and various certificate programs to equip students to anticipate and defend against cyberattacks.
Since the early 2000s, CSUSB’s cybersecurity program has held the distinction of being a Center of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity for Cyber Defense (CAE-CD), recognized by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
The program’s commitment extends to establishing cybersecurity curriculum standards, fostering competency development among students and faculty, promoting community outreach and leadership in professional development, integrating cybersecurity across academic disciplines, and actively addressing challenges in cybersecurity education.
Reaching Beyond Assumptions
While many prestigious cybersecurity training hubs are often associated with tech hotspots, CSUSB is breaking that stereotype. The university believes in casting a wider net to tap into talent. As Tony Coulson, Ph.D., a professor in the program and the executive director of the Cybersecurity Center (CSC) at CSUSB, puts it, “We can’t be selective and think that everything is going to come from the Bay Area or the Beltway. We need to show that there is talent, and you just have to know how to reach the talent.”
One example of their innovative approach is offering a certificate in cybersecurity and criminal justice, recognizing that many crimes nowadays have a cyber component. CSUSB is committed to identifying talent where it exists, even if it means venturing beyond traditional cybersecurity fields.
Listening to Employers and Forging Partnerships
A cornerstone of CSUSB’s approach is active collaboration with employers to understand their needs. This includes working closely with government agencies like the NSA, DHS, and the National Science Foundation, as well as private sector giants such as Google, IBM, Northrop Grumman, and Bank of America. These partnerships help shape the curriculum, ensuring that graduates are well-equipped to meet the evolving demands of the cybersecurity landscape.
Employers have not only provided invaluable insights but have also been instrumental in hiring CSUSB’s cybersecurity graduates, further reinforcing the program’s success.
Providing Access and Affordability
CSUSB places a strong emphasis on building a diverse workforce and promoting social mobility. The university has a large minority student population, reflecting the local community it serves. To attract students from underserved populations, CSUSB has implemented entry points at various education levels, starting from middle school and extending to community colleges. They aim to provide career opportunities in a field with significant growth potential and lucrative salaries.
Looking towards the Future
Innovative programs like the CSC provide unique learning environments for cybersecurity students, accelerating their growth inside and outside the classroom. CSUSB also focuses on creating more apprenticeship programs in partnership with employers to ensure students gain practical experience aligned with industry needs.
As Tony Coulson aptly puts it, “We listen to the students. We listen to the employers. We listen to people of authority and experts. And we ask where it is going.” The university is committed to staying ahead of the curve and preparing students for the future cybersecurity landscape.
Free Tuition and a Secure Future
CSUSB’s university-employer partnerships offer students incentives, such as the Scholarships for Service program, which provides two years of tuition assistance in exchange for two years of work at a government agency after graduation. This unique opportunity provides students with financial support and the promise of a job upon graduation, ensuring a smooth transition into the cybersecurity workforce.
Anette Vladescu, a CSUSB alum, underscores the value of this arrangement, as it granted her the security of a job after completing her degree. She now works as a cybersecurity engineer at a government agency, emphasizing the importance of her role in ensuring systems are designed with cybersecurity in mind.
Conclusion: A Model for Cybersecurity Education
California State University San Bernardino’s remarkable success in developing a nationally recognized cybersecurity program is a testament to the power of innovative thinking, strong industry partnerships, and a commitment to diversity and social mobility. CSUSB’s approach stands as a model for universities nationwide looking to address the growing demand for cybersecurity professionals and create a robust, diverse workforce ready to face the challenges of an increasingly digital world.