Federal Agencies Laud Cybersecurity Program
By David Ogul
The National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security have designated Cal State San Marcos as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education for its master’s program in cybersecurity, thus placing CSUSM among an elite group of colleges and universities addressing a critical shortage of cybersecurity professionals.
“We are tremendously honored as this shows that we are providing a high-quality and professionally relevant cybersecurity program for our students,” said Dr. Ali Ahmadinia, a CSUSM computer science professor.
“If you’re a student looking for a program, this designation can be a distinguishing factor in making your decision,” said Teresa Macklin, who serves as director of CSUSM’s cybersecurity program.
The National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense’s mission is focused on reducing vulnerabilities in the country’s information infrastructure by promoting higher education and research in cyber defense and producing professionals with cyber defense expertise.
The National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security examine everything about a program before bestowing an Academic Excellence designation, including the classes taught, the curriculum each class offers, course material and examples of student work.
“It wasn’t a gimme,” Macklin said. “They look at everything you teach. They care not only about the curriculum, but also about the university’s approach to and involvement in the regional cybersecurity ecosystem.”
Added Ahmadinia: “We have a very close relationship with the industry that includes an industry advisory committee, and many of our instructors are working in the field, all of which has contributed to the excellence of our curriculum and professional development opportunities.”
The review included several months of preparation and review.
“It’s a comprehensive process that requires an extraordinary amount of work,” said Macklin, who noted the process prompted a decent dose of introspection that will further improve the program.
Seventeen students are currently enrolled in the master’s degree program at CSUSM, which was launched in 2015. The university is now developing the curriculum for a bachelor’s degree program in the subject with an eye on enrolling its first baccalaureate cohort in the fall of 2021.
The need for cybersecurity professionals is borderline dire. A State of Cybersecurity 2019 report from the industry group ISACA concluded technically proficient cybersecurity professionals are in short supply and difficult to find. Retaining cybersecurity professionals is exceptionally difficult due to demand in job market. Employers responding to a survey noted that less than 25 percent of applicants have the sufficient qualifications to be considered for open cybersecurity positions. The number of jobs for information security analysts is expected to grow 32 percent during the 10-year period ending in 2028, and information security analysts are earning an average wage of more than $100,000 annually in San Diego County, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Globally, there is a shortage of nearly 3 million cybersecurity professionals.
“There is a huge demand globally, nationally and locally,” said Ahmadinia, who attributed much of the regional demand to the area’s strong military presence and San Diego-based defense companies such as Viasat, General Atomics and Naval Information Warfare Systems Command (NAVWAR).
CSUSM’s Professional Science Master’s degree is fully online and combines technical courses with MBA-level business classes and real-world experience.
Eric Breier, Public Affairs Specialist
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