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UCM Responds to Need With New Master’s Degree, Minor in Cybersecurity

By Jeff Murphy, January 5, 2016

WARRENSBURG, MO – To meet a growing need for well-trained professionals who can help secure the nation’s cyberspace from intruders and attackers, the University of Central Missouri continues to create new educational programs in cybersecurity. The latest additions to the university’s growing number of educational opportunities to prepare Missouri’s 21st century technical workforce in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields of national interest were approved by the Board of Governors when it met on campus Dec. 11.

The board’s unanimous action makes possible a new minor in cybersecurity for a bachelor’s degree and, pending approval by the Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education (CBHE), a new Master of Science in Cybersecurity and Information Assurance degree. Board members approved the programs following a presentation by Xiaodong Yue, chair of the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, and Anshuman Singh, assistant professor in the department. The department plans to make both the new minor and master’s degree available for fall 2016.

These new educational opportunities complement related programs that were previously approved by the board, including a graduate certificate in cybersecurity available for fall 2016, and a Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity degree, which was approved by the CBHE, and became active in fall 2015. Yue told the board that the department wants to offer these new 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 added that Missouri ranks fifth in the U.S. for cybersecurity breaches, according to “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 believes 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 noted. “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.”


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