Crime Fighters Wanted – CNCC Launches New Cybersecurity Program

It seems every week we hear about another company being hacked or some new internet scam. Attacks on the nation’s critical computer infrastructure are increasing in both number and severity. Cybercrimes such as identity theft, phishing, and ransomware attacks have affected or will affect nearly all businesses and individuals on some level.

“Every day, more of our lives move online. Whether it’s our appliances, our vehicles, or our election systems, we increasingly blur our digital and physical realities. This can bring dramatic increases in productivity and efficiency, but it also introduces dramatic new risks,” states a new report on the top 10 in demand cyber skills released May 2021 by Burning Glass.

Now more than ever, individuals, companies, and government agencies need help to protect networks and sensitive information. Colorado Northwestern Community College is now ready to join the fight against cybercriminals starting fall 2021 with the launch of the new Cybersecurity Program. The Cybersecurity Program will arm students with the skills needed to combat the growing threat of cybercrime while opening doors to a high-paying career field.

Careers in Cybersecurity Ranked Some of the Best in Tech

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For individuals with cybersecurity skills the future looks very bright. According to The US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ outlook for Information Security Analysts, cybersecurity jobs are among the fastest-growing career areas nationally. The BLS predicts cybersecurity jobs will grow 31 percent through 2029, over seven times faster than the national average job growth of 4 percent.

Internationally, The New York Times recently estimated a need for 3.5 million cybersecurity professionals making it one of the fastest growing global career paths.

The profession offers a high-paid option to traditional employment opportunities. My Colorado Journey has mapped cyber career paths in Colorado that start with entry level jobs earning about $18 per hour, to advanced jobs for people with Masters degrees earning hundreds of thousands per year.

With the new Cybersecurity program at CNCC, students will now be able to take advantage of this growing career field and its financial benefits. However, building the Cybersecurity program at CNCC would not have happened as quickly as it has without support from local business and government agencies.

Building for the Future

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Development of CNCC’s new Cybersecurity Program began in early 2020 when Colorado’s Department of Law, under the direction of Attorney General Phil Weiser, recognized the increasing need for cybersecurity experts and awarded CNCC a $500,000 grant to support the creation of a new cybersecurity program.

Colorado Northwestern went straight to work setting up a Business Industry Leadership Team (BILT) comprised of people involved in cybersecurity at local, regional and state levels. The team was established to help advise the college on the skills, knowledge and abilities most desired in the profession. Additionally, the team helped to determine the equipment and software needed for learning labs.

“The need for cybersecurity professionals continues to grow, offering opportunities to work locally and also remotely. It’s our role to advise the college so that the program aligns with industry needs to ensure students that graduate from the program are ready to enter the workforce,” said Tim Osborn, chair of the Cybersecurity BILT Advisory Board and Operations Manager for the Craig Station.   

For the program to be successful, it needed a strong leader. In November 2020 CNCC found that leader in Dr. Rodney Alexander. He quickly established the college as a CISCO Networking Academy while setting-up dedicated computer labs, and settling into life in Craig, Colorado.

“Dr. Alexander joins us from Hutchinson Community College in Kansas where he was teaching networking and cybersecurity after a long career with the Department of Defense that began when he served in the military,” said Ron Granger, CNCC President.

Earlier this month the program cleared its last major hurdle when The Higher Learning Commission approved accreditation for CNCC’s Cybersecurity program. It will join the list of academic programs available to students who choose Colorado Northwestern Community College in fall 2021.

“We’re on-track with our plans to hold the first classes in Craig in the fall of 2021 and we’re grateful for the hard work of Dr. Alexander, our BILT advisory board, Attorney General Weiser, and the community for their outstanding support,” said Keith Peterson, CNCC Vice President of Instruction.  

Coal Miners to Coders

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Northwest Colorado is currently preparing to transition away from coal mining. It will not however, be the first region to turn to the high tech sector in a transition from coal. The Appalachian region saw a similar transition about a decade ago with the growth of companies like Bitsource in Pikeville Kentucky.

Cybersecurity provides workers a high-demand, high-paying alternative to working in coal mining that would allow them to maintain their current lifestyle without necessarily having to relocate.

“We’re a region filled with practical inventors, accidental entrepreneurs, makers and doers that use their skills to get their work done. When we reimagine that work in another context, it’s not so hard to believe that some coal miners will have what it takes to be the coders and cybersecurity professionals of the future,” said Kathy Powell-Case, Dean of Career Technical Education for the Craig campus.

Moffat County residents can also take advantage of CNCC’s In-District Tuition Assistance. Through the CNCC’s local advisory board, many people that currently are employed by the mines could apply and qualify for a tuition waiver would cover nearly all the tuition cost for the program. Additionally, classes will be taught during the day and in the evenings increasing availability for mineworkers.

Designed With the Modern Student in Mind

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CNCC’s program will begin in the fall with four core classes -- Networking Fundamentals, Principals of Information Assurance, Network Security Fundamentals and Fire Walls/Network Security.

“Our Cybersecurity program will offer students the opportunity to receive one or more college certificates; their Associate of Applied Science and several industry recognized credentials for one of the most in-demand and highest paying tech sectors in the nation,” said Granger. 

Thanks to the help of the BILT, the program is tightly aligned with industry requirements. Students can earn a two-year Associate of Applied Science (AAS) Degree in Computer and Information Security while simultaneously earning a Network and Security certificate, Cybersecurity certificate, and for most classes, an industry-recognized certificate such as CompTIA Industry Network+, Security+ or Linux+ at a big discount.

“Industry recognized credentials will be earned for about half the price of other options,” Alexander said. “That alone can save students hundreds of dollars.”

Cybercrimes are requiring an increasing number of professionals to add essential cybersecurity skills to their existing qualifications, therefore students are anticipated to include traditional learners entering from high school to career changers and existing professionals such as attorneys, bankers, and those responsible for securing hospital and government records.

Those looking to change careers and/or who have prior experience can reduce cost and shorten their educational timeline by earning credit for prior learning and certificates they may have.

In the spring, the college expects its cyber range – a purpose built environment to test and defend computer systems from simulated attacks – to be ready to offer existing IT professionals and students the opportunity to hone their cybersecurity skills.

Outside the classroom, Dr. Alexander plans to help raise awareness and education around cybercrimes. Beginning this summer CNCC will also offer a summer cyber warriors boot camp to middle and high school aged kids. The camp is designed increase interest and excitement in cybersecurity and provide participants core cybersecurity and networking skills. This year’s camp is scheduled for June 16, 2021, and thanks to a generous member of the college foundation board, the first 20 kids to enroll will have their registration fee waived.

Additional work based learning and opportunities to participate in cyber competitions will be introduced as the program grows.

To learn more about Colorado Northwestern’s Cybersecurity program or to register for classes visit www.cncc.edu/degrees/craig/cybersecurity

Published May 24, 2021