Colleges Key to White House Cyber Workforce Strategy

The new Biden administration National Cyber Workforce and Education Strategy aims to meet a growing workforce need, and both community colleges and four-year universities are critical to that initiative.
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Published on August 11, 2023
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  • The Biden administration released its National Cyber Workforce and Education Strategy on July 31.
  • That strategy relies on four-year colleges, as well as community colleges, to train students to meet a growing workforce need.
  • While cyber jobs are projected to see rapid growth over the next decade, many of those high-demand, high-paying jobs currently remain unfilled.
  • The White House strategy aims to create accessible, affordable pathways to those jobs for students.

The Biden administration's new strategy to address a growing need for cyber workers puts a heavy emphasis on accessible education — and looks to community colleges and four-year universities alike to help train students for those high-demand, higher-paying jobs.

The National Cyber Workforce and Education Strategy (NCWES) aims to address hundreds of thousands of vacant jobs in areas like information technology and cybersecurity across the nation.

A fact sheet about that new strategy notes that many jobs in fast-growing cyber fields are attainable with only short-term training or an associate degree.

Many communities currently underrepresented in the cyber workforce do not envision themselves in cyber jobs or are not aware of the tremendous opportunity to join this important and growing workforce, the fact sheet reads.

The NCWES focuses on empowering Americans to pursue these career paths in cyber. Many of these jobs are attainable with a certificate or community college degree, and available now in your local community and across the country.

Cyber jobs could see explosive growth over the next decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics: Employment of information security analysts, for example, is projected to grow by 35% between 2021 and 2031, far outpacing the projected average national job growth rate (5%) for all occupations.

To meet that demand, the Biden administration's new cyber workforce strategy outlines four main pillars:

  • Equipping every American with foundational cyber skills
  • Boosting cyber education with affordable, accessible pathways from K-12 education to community colleges, technical schools, and universities
  • Promoting skills-based hiring to create a robust and diverse national workforce
  • Bolstering the federal government's own cyber workforce via collaboration, career pathways, and training

Higher education institutions are set to play a key role in educating that cyber workforce, with the strategy tapping both four-year and two-year schools to help fill the growing workforce demands.

Four-Year Schools

The National Science Foundation plans to invest $24 million in CyberCorps: Scholarship for Service awards at seven universities over the next four years as part of the new strategy, according to the fact sheet.

That program provides scholarships for up to three years of cybersecurity undergraduate and graduate education and aims to help train cybersecurity professionals for positions at local, state, federal, and tribal governments. Recipients must agree to work for the government in a cybersecurity-related role for a period equal to the length of the scholarship, according to the program website.

Those awards will go to the University of Alabama at Birmingham; California State University, Sacramento; the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga; Tuskegee University; the State University of New York at Buffalo; Mississippi State University; and Idaho State University.

The National Security Agency will fund a pilot initiative to set up four new cyber clinics at colleges in Nevada, Minnesota, Louisiana, and Virginia, according to the fact sheet.

The new strategy also includes targeted support for historically Black colleges and universities in the form of the nonprofit National Cybersecurity Alliance continuing its “See Yourself in Cyber” program, which aims to expose underrepresented students to career paths in the cyber workforce and connect students with recruiters and professionals in the field.

Individual universities are also part of the national strategy: Dakota State University in South Dakota, is honing in on dual credit for high school students, allowing students to take up to 30 credits of university-level credits as part of the Governor's Cyber Academy program.

Those courses will be offered online to accommodate rural students' needs. American University is boosting access to cybersecurity training opportunities for all of its students, regardless of what they're studying.

Community Colleges

Community colleges are set to play a critical role in that new cyber workforce strategy. The institutions often serve as critical points of access to higher education in their communities, particularly among historically underserved students, including first-generation students, students of color, adult students, and students from low-income backgrounds.

The national nonprofit Girl Security plans to engage with more than 10 million students across 20,000 dual enrollment programs and more than 900 community colleges as part of the new White House cyber workforce strategy, Lauren Buitta, Girl Security's founder and CEO, said in a release.

That will include creating the first comprehensive national security curriculum designed for dual enrollment for high schools and community colleges, according to the White House fact sheet.

Advancing a more diverse security workforce, starting with girls, remains foundational to our model, Buitta said. However, we must also design a more intergenerational, sustainable, and productive paradigm for our collective security future, which will be shaped by some of the most complex developments of the world's history.

The White House fact sheet also highlighted a number of other commitments involving community colleges as part of the new strategy.

MassBay Community College in Massachusetts will increase the number of cybersecurity professors and increase its cybersecurity enrollment, and Microsoft plans to continue its commitment to recruit 250,000 people into the cybersecurity workforce by 2025.

That Microsoft effort has already supported more than 379 community colleges — nearly a third of all two-year public schools in the United States, according to the fact sheet.

Community colleges have sought to tackle the growing need for cyber workers even outside of the new White House strategy.

Austin Community College in Texas, for instance, wil launch a cybersecurity bachelor's degree program this fall featuring flexible learning options for students. The school received more than $1.4 million via a federal earmark for cybersecurity training and equipment earlier this year.