cybersecurity education

More than 150 Pikes Peak Community College students have signed up for courses that will prepare them for jobs as cybersecurity professionals. They’ll begin studying for PPCC’s new two-year cybersecurity degree in the fall.

“We have been doing cybersecurity training for certifications, and now we are offering the first associate degrees,” said Warren Epstein, PPCC executive director, marketing and communication.

The college recently earned a designation as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Two-Year Education from the National Security Administration. 

The designation is the highest industry certification for cybersecurity and adds a layer of legitimacy to PPCC’s program. 

“They look at a lot of factors,” Epstein said. “If you look at the institutions that have this ranking, there’s a good correlation between those institutions and the ability for students to get high-paying jobs.”

Because of the designation’s national visibility, PPCC students who graduate from these programs are recognized by employers as having the broad cyber skills needed in industries around the globe.

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The college has joined the ranks of approved Cyber Defense Education institutions including the U.S. Air Force Academy, University of Colorado Colorado Springs, Regis University, Colorado Technical University and Pueblo and Red Rocks Community colleges. 

As a result, Colorado has one of the highest concentrations of Cyber Defense Education-approved two- and four-year programs outside of the Washington, D.C. region.

“Part of the application process was not only to develop an academic program but also to embed cybersecurity practices across all departments of the college,” said Gretchen Bliss, PPCC’s Cybersecurity Director.

The college involved industry, engaged experts and provided hands-on opportunities for industry and potential students to learn more about the needs, Bliss said.

The new two-year degree will permit graduates to move directly into high-demand career fields that offer job security and growth opportunities.

Private, nonprofit, health care, education and government organizations are increasingly in need of cybersecurity professionals to protect against issues from data breaches and hacks to network failures. According to Cyberseek.org, some 10,000 jobs are currently available in cybersecurity in Colorado. 

“Clearly, there is a demand” for training, Epstein said.

As part of the cybersecurity program, students will gain knowledge of telecommunications and network strategy, cybersecurity threats, network security risks, procedures to mitigate computer and network security risks, management of access control, security governance and risk management, software development and security architecture, and the fundamentals of cryptography.

Courses offered network security fundamentals, computer architecture/assembly language programming, and network defense and countermeasures.

Cybersecurity is part of PPCC’s Computer Networking Department. In addition to an Associate of Applied Science in Cyber Security, students may earn an Associate of Applied Science in Computer Networking.

According to PPCC, the dual degrees will better prepare students to face future cyber threats and increase their value to employees.

PPCC is now teaching to the standards of the National Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security, practicing those standards within the college and working with local and regional Cyber Defense Education-designated schools to create a pathway to bachelor’s and master’s degrees in cybersecurity.

The designation also increases PPCC’s access to academic and workforce development grants in the cybersecurity arena that will allow the college to expand and refine its programs even more. This helps the national effort to create a common vocabulary and curriculum that will aid in expanding the global cybersecurity workforce.

The Pikes Peak region has been working toward becoming a center for cybersecurity businesses and is now a center of cybersecurity training as well. Having both designated cybersecurity industries and learning institutions creates a pathway for those wanting to enter this industry in a streamlined way.

The state has recognized PPCC’s cybersecurity efforts by providing $300,000 in funding for PPCC’s cybersecurity program.