WMU launches online cybersecurity undergraduate degree

Contact: Joy Brown
A woman studying at a computer.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Beginning fall 2020, WMU will offer a fully online Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity that will benefit graduates and organizations in multiple ways. Enrollment is now open for the four-year degree program designed to help meet the increasing workforce demand for digital security specialists in areas ranging from government defense to supply chain operations.

Demand for cybersecurity experts has been growing for years as online professional and personal activities have increased. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, information security analyst jobs are expected to grow by 32% through 2028. As of 2018, the median annual pay was $98,350. Available positions are only expected to increase as organizations recognize how vital cybersecurity specialists are to their operations.

“We developed this degree based on the demand from industry,” says Jason Johnson, lecturer in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Companies, nonprofits, governments, schools and more need individuals skilled in technical disciplines, such as network security and data protection, to avoid breaches that can jeopardize physical safety, security and finances.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which has increased the number of online users and exposed the safety vulnerability of software and videoconferencing platforms, is further fueling the need for specialists who know how to keep digital data and interactions secure.

Students in WMU’s program will have the added advantage of acquiring invaluable skills that extend beyond the screen. Rather than developing curricula solely from a computer science perspective, WMU’s interdisciplinary cybersecurity major also relies on the Haworth College of Business for a business viewpoint on cybersecurity. The academic collaboration, program organizers say, will offer essential learning for today’s cybersecurity professionals who work in both realms.

A man sitting at three computer monitors moving his mouse.

“Companies are hungry for graduates who have tactical skills but also the ability to strategize, collaborate and communicate. As we have seen with the recent COVID-19 pandemic, data security is more important than ever as organizations provide remote work environments and the required security for their operations. Recent events will serve to accelerate and expand the demand for qualified cybersecurity professionals,” says Dr. Alan Rea, professor of business information systems.

“Security lies in this unique area where you have to understand the business side and the technical side” rather than one or the other, says Johnson. “You can get away with being a manager of a division and have no idea how software is written, and you can be a software engineer who just codes all day, but with security, you absolutely have to understand how to translate between those two worlds.”

WMU’s cybersecurity students will also acquire practical experience as they earn their degrees. For instance, they will be required to complete a senior capstone project with a yearlong collaboration between student teams and organizations working to develop some aspect of their overall cybersecurity posture.

“This might be a software development project, network infrastructure hardening or an overall risk assessment of their technology, people and processes,” says Rea.

Overall, the program will offer the utmost in timing and location flexibility, thanks to an asynchronous learning platform. Students will be able to access presentations and other material to meet deadlines, but will be able to do so at their most convenient times. Meanwhile, online input and interactions between students and instructors will take place during each course. 

Talks are progressing with regional community colleges for articulation agreements that would allow students to easily transfer to WMU.

The program is designed to be taken anywhere in the world, and to be expansive enough to train for a wide variety of cybersecurity positions that keep important online information and transactions secure. 

“Hackers are evolving. It’s gotten away from the kid in his mom’s basement defacing websites. That was petty vandalism in a lot of cases,” says Johnson. “Now, it’s corporate espionage. It’s nation-states. Things are getting much more organized and the attackers are finding many more ways to profit by breaching security at all different levels.”

Program organizers, however, point out the need for cybersecurity experts is not just one of immediacy.

“Cybersecurity professionals will be in demand for the long term. Even after the pandemic subsides and organizations strategize to determine which virtual offerings worked well and which ones did not,” says Rea, “cybersecurity specialists are one of the best ways to mitigate or manage risk in a company or organization.”

For more WMU News, arts and events, visit WMU News online.