Federal Agency Partnership Helps Community Colleges Boost Cybersecurity Workforce

Northern Virginia Community College is working to close the skills gap by partnering with the National Security Agency

There are currently more than 5.5 million unfilled jobs in the United States in part due to a substantial skills gap, or discrepancy between the skills required for the available jobs and the skills job-seekers have. Cybersecurity job openings are forecasted to grow by over 50% in the next two years, and growth in the field is not expected to slow. Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), in collaboration with the National Security Agency (NSA), is trying to fill some of these openings and help other community colleges do the same.

NOVA, and other institutions across the country, are accomplishing this by developing programs in cybersecurity that meet guidelines developed by the NSA and the Department of Homeland Security that meet the standards for designation as Centers of Academic Excellence. The NSA states that the goal of the program is to, “…reduce vulnerability in our national information infrastructure by promoting higher education and research in cyber defense and producing professionals with cyber defense expertise for the Nation.”

NOVA is designated as a Center of Academic Excellence for Two Year Colleges (CAE2Y), and also is one of several NSA National and Regional Resource Centers across the country that assist colleges in gaining NSA Center of Academic Excellence designation – both community colleges and senior institutions. NOVA’s focus as a National Resource Center is to specialize in providing Faculty Peer Reviews of applications for CAE-Cyber Defense (CAE-CD) and CAE2Y designation colleges and universities across the country. This entails traveling to regions throughout the country, training four-year and two-year faculty to review application submissions to NSA for designation.

While NSA’s CAE-CD program dates back almost 20 years, the CAE2Y component was established in 2010 to allow two-year and technical institutions the opportunity to receive the Center of Academic Excellence Designation. With assistance from the National and Regional Resource Centers, including comprehensive mentoring and support for faculty professional development, the vast majority of applications for CAE designation are successful.

To receive CAE2Y designation, all schools must establish a process that will:

·        Provide programs that commit to excellence in the field of Cyber Defense (CD) education at community and technical college and government training institutions.

·        Provide innovative, comprehensive, and multidisciplinary education and training in the CD field.

·        Strengthen the cybersecurity workforce by providing CD education and training through degree and certification programs at community and technical colleges and government training centers.

·        Build an effective education pipeline model with K–12 schools to encourage students at an early age to enter CD fields of study.

·        Provide the Nation with a pipeline of qualified students poised to become the future skilled technical workforce.

·        Continuously improve the quality of CD programs, curriculum, faculty, students and other institutions.

Speaking on the unique role Community colleges have in preparing students for jobs in cyber security, NOVA Cybersecurity Program Head Dr. Margaret Leary said, “We provide occupation-oriented degrees. Students finish their programs at two-year institutions with hands-on experience, prepared for a career. Many of the available jobs we see now are technician-oriented and cannot be filled by students with a four-year computer science degree without significant training.” This makes two-year degree holders especially attractive when quick hiring needs to be done. When a company is awarded a federal contract, for example, they typically have only a couple of weeks to hire staff. The need for qualified graduates with hands-on experience and hard skills with specific technologies is immediate.

Although a two-year degree is right for a number of students, some will transfer to other institutions in pursuit of a four-year degree. While NOVA’s degree is an Applied Associate in Cybersecurity, NOVA has developed pathways to senior institutions in Virginia and Maryland, including George Mason University and Old Dominion University. Pathways also exist for graduates to receive full scholarships at Marymount and George Washington University. The CyberCorps: Scholarship for Service, a federally-funded program designed to facilitate degree attainment in the field of cybersecurity, provides a stipend of $22,500 to undergraduates on top of full-time tuition and fees. Both Marymount and the George Washington University participate.

By providing high-quality programs through designation as a Center of Academic Excellence, assisting other institutions in attaining the same designation, and providing pathways for further degree attainment, NOVA is actively closing the skills gap and providing its students with a bright future.

For more information, please contact Dr. Margaret Leary at

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