University of Central Missouri to Offer Cybersecurity Degree

The university already offers a bachelor's degree in cybersecurity, but will now offer a master's degree due to the increased demand for people who have experience in cybersecurity.

by Jack "Miles" Ventimiglia, The Daily Star-Journal, Warrensburg, Mo. / January 6, 2016 0

(TNS) -- Providing cybersecurity – an issue of concern for people from the Pentagon to board rooms to home computer users – offers a job opportunity the University of Central Missouri is pursuing for students.

UCM plans to offer a master’s degree and minor in the field.

“It’s a tremendous program for us,” UCM spokesman Jeff Murphy said Tuesday. “We already offer a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity; we started offering that this fall.”

UCM is no different from other institutions that have dealt with people attacking university computers, Murphy said.

“There was a case a few years ago that the FBI investigated regarding an individual who attempted to steal university records,” he said. “We’ve had first-hand experience with individuals trying to hack into the university system.”

UCM has worked to strengthen firewalls to keep out unauthorized people, Murphy said.

“We have an IT area that is excellent in doing what is necessary to help prevent hacking,” he said. “You know the news is full of reports every day about hacking or individuals attempting to steal information and to get into the data bases of major corporations, and we think offering this degree will give our students a tremendous opportunity for jobs in those areas.”

The new degree reflects demand.

“(There is an) increase nationwide among business and government agencies that want to hire people who have experience in cybersecurity,” Murphy said. “What we’re doing is responding to both a statewide and national need.”

The Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education must grant approval before UCM can offer what will be called a Master of Science in Cybersecurity and Information Assurance.

“We expect that (degree) to be available beginning in the fall,” Murphy said.

The UCM Board of Governors approved asking the coordinating board to approve the degree after a presentation by Xiaodong Yue, chair of the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, and Anshuman Singh, assistant professor in the department.

Based on UCM information, Yue told the board the department wants to offer cybersecurity programs “based on student demand, market demand, and societal need.” He cited several statistics demonstrating project growth in the cybersecurity arena.

“The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that information security/cybersecurity analyst is the second-largest growing occupation in the U.S. over the next decade,” he said, “which represents a 37 percent increase in the number of jobs. Also, U.S. News & World Report ranks cybersecurity fifth on the list of top college majors which lead to jobs. The same report lists cybersecurity salaries as three times the national average.”

Demonstrating the statewide need for cybersecurity professionals, Yue said Missouri ranks fifth in the U.S. for cybersecurity breaches, citing The St. Louis Business Journal. The Missouri Department of Economic Development lists information security analyst as the third-fastest-growing occupation in Missouri with a projected growth rate of 28 percent over the next decade. Cybersecurity professionals often hold positions as security engineers, security architects, security administrators and cryptographers.

As incidents of hacking sensitive data at large companies continues to be a national issue, there is a need for cybersecurity education for students that goes beyond computer science and technology majors to include majors in business, accounting, nursing, criminal justice, and other disciplines, Yue said. He added many companies now require some working knowledge of cybersecurity among their personnel to prevent data theft.

A cybersecurity minor will provide an opportunity for students from different majors to get a working knowledge in this field and better serve regional and national need for cybersecurity-literate professionals. The minor also will help the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science to obtain a National Center of Academic Excellence designation from the National Security Agency. This designation is given to institutions offering opportunities for cybersecurity education to students across various disciplines.

Yue said the addition of the Master of Science in Cybersecurity and Information Assurance, along with the existing undergraduate degree in cybersecurity, will help UCM to become a go-to institution for major employers in the region who want to hire cybersecurity professionals.

“We have a fairly big advisory board for our computer science program, and a lot of our advisory board members say they have planned to expand their security teams,” he said. “Right now, they have a very difficult time finding employees in their own organization that have cybersecurity training.”

Yue said many cybersecurity jobs in the private sector and government require advanced skills in areas such as malware detection, cryptographic protocol design and other areas that can only be offered at the graduate level. UCM’s master’s degree program will help students understand technical strategies and security management analysis for an organization. The program may particularly appeal to individuals who have been working in a computer science area, but want to obtain training to become part of a cybersecurity team.

UCM President Charles Ambrose commended the efforts of Yue, Singh and other faculty members who are “offering incredible faculty leadership in this initiative.” With some desire among Kansas City area organizations to create a Midwest hub for preparing cybersecurity professionals through higher education, he said “there’s tremendous value in being an early adopter and putting these programs into the marketplace.”

©2016 The Daily Star-Journal (Warrensburg, Mo.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.