Six NSF-funded Two-Year Colleges Designated National Centers of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education
The six institutions recognized each received NSF support for their work in preparing students for careers in cybersecurity.
Six two-year colleges were the first community colleges to be named National Centers of Academic Excellence (CAE) in Information Assurance last month by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The institutions' information assurance programs have all received support from the National Science Foundation.
Three of the six institutions--Anne Arundel Community College, Hagerstown Community College and Prince Georges Community College--are located in Maryland; two others--Oklahoma City Community College and Rose State College--are in Oklahoma; and the other--Moraine Valley Community College--is in Illinois.
The NSA established the National Centers program in 1998 in response to a Presidential Decision Directive focused on critical infrastructure protection. In 2003, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) joined NSA in sponsoring the program. The goal of the program is to reduce vulnerabilities in our national information infrastructure by promoting higher education in information assurance (IA), and producing a growing number of professionals with IA expertise in various disciplines.
The program was recently expanded to include two-year institutions. To be designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence, these institutions must demonstrate the ability to provide innovative, comprehensive and multidisciplinary education and training in the fields of information assurance and cybersecurity. The designation means that students who attend these six two-year schools may apply for the scholarship programs offered by the CAE program after successfully being admitted to a four-year CAE institution. According to Vera Zdravkovich, a former academic vice president at Prince Georges Community College who helped develop the IA program there, the new designation "is a new opportunity for community colleges in information assurance education. It recognizes quality, provides a form of standardization, builds a seamless pipeline to success for students, and prepares a stronger and better prepared security workforce."
Each of the six two-year schools has bolstered its information assurance and cybersecurity programs in part with support from the National Science Foundation's Advanced Technology Education (ATE) program, which focuses on the education of technicians for the high-technology fields that drive our nation's economy, and places a special emphasis on two-year colleges. The program involves partnerships between academic institutions and employers to promote improvement in the education of science and engineering technicians. Through the ATE program, institutions are able to bolster curriculum development and the professional development of college faculty and secondary school teachers, as well as develop career pathways to two-year colleges from secondary schools and from two-year colleges to four-year institutions.
In June, 2002, ATE sponsored a workshop on the role of community colleges in cybersecurity education to specify the unique contributions of community colleges to the preparation of cybersecurity professionals at all levels at a time when most of the work in cybersecurity required advanced degrees. The workshop addressed skill standards and certifications; specification of topics, courses, curricula and programs for cybersecurity programs at community colleges; preparation for cybersecurity positions; and advancing the role of community colleges in cybersecurity education. This led to the awarding of grants for several projects in cybersecurity around the country and three regional centers that are the first community colleges to be designated as Centers of Academic Excellence.
One of these projects, the Center for Systems Security and Information Assurance (CSSIA) at Moraine Valley Community College, advances cybersecurity education programs at the secondary and community college levels by providing professional development of faculty.
Through skills-based student competitions, CSSIA has developed a successful model for partnering with industry and academia to provide innovative teaching and learning opportunities. These competitions support the capacity building necessary to meet the critical national need for cybersecurity technicians.
With help from ATE, Prince Georges Community College has developed and implemented a cybersecurity curriculum, including courses in computer forensics, disaster recovery management, cyber law and secure programming that is being used at other two-year institutions around the state and region. For Zdravkovich, the link between ATE and the new designation is clear. "The funding for the ATE centers enabled the designation."
Cybersecurity and information assurance are fields that experts agree are crucial to our nation's security and economic prosperity and will be a source of job growth for individuals who have the skills that employers in these fields require. NSF is focused on helping the academic community meet these demands by supporting cybersecurity and information assurance education and research beginning at the K-12 level and continuing on at two-year, four-year and post-graduate institutions.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2016, its budget is $7.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 48,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $626 million in professional and service contracts yearly.
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