By Brandon Paykamian
EC-Council University (ECCU), an extension of the International Council of Electronic Commerce Consultants that trains people for cybersecurity work, is launching an online master’s degree program in computer science to include certifications for ethical hacking and network defense — an industry first, according to a news release.
In addition to its use of industry-standard Certified Ethical Hacker and Certified Network Defender qualifications — both inventions of EC-Council — ECCU’s Dean and Chief Academic Officer Venus Fisher said the new program stands out from other computer science degree programs due to its emphasis on cybersecurity, as such online programs at the master’s level are few and far between across the U.S. higher-ed landscape. She said ECCU’s master’s program is also unique in that it focuses on building leadership skills for careers in IT management and security.
“What’s unique about our [CS master’s] program is that we incorporate a lot of cybersecurity into it and [offer] these cybersecurity certifications, and no other program does that. We’ve also incorporated not just your tech courses, but a lot of emphasis on leadership,” she said. “Usually with computer science, it’s a degree that you would get at the bachelor’s level. … When you add those cybersecurity and leadership elements, you’re able to not only program the software, but you’re now able to defend it and lead teams doing that.”
According to Fisher, the new program’s first cohort of students will begin courses in January. She said the program can be completed entirely online over an 18- to 24-month period and includes lessons on managing cyber threats posed by the advent of blockchain technology, advanced robotics and artificial intelligence, among other emerging technologies.
Fisher added that ECCU’s computer science and cybersecurity degree programming and courses compliment each other by teaching students in-demand skills that are interchangeable for jobs in IT management and cybersecurity roles.
“Having the computer science, cybersecurity and leadership components in the program not only fills that [skills] gap we have now in the cyber world, but it opens them up to other skill sets they can contribute to those organizations,” she said, adding that the “first-of-its-kind” program will train students to be a “triple threat” in cybersecurity, leadership skills and general computer science expertise.
ECCU’s new computer science master’s program comes as colleges and universities elsewhere are trying to establish and expand their own programs to upskill students for IT-related jobs, such as coding boot camps and other similar traditional IT degree programs. Fisher noted the timeliness of the new program, as organizations are struggling to fill vacant IT positions and cybersecurity roles to defend networks against an increase in ransomware attacks and phishing attempts that have become more sophisticated and costly in recent years.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2021, demand for IT security professionals is expected to grow 33 percent by 2030. Earlier this year, data from CyberSeek showed nearly 600,000 unfilled cybersecurity positions and predicted worse to come, further indicating a need for higher ed cybersecurity programs.
“Today’s cyber workforce is sorely under-resourced, with industry estimates suggesting as many as 50 percent of open jobs presently unfilled in the United States,” ECCU’s Vice President of Marketing and Admissions Mark Buck said in a public statement. “EC-Council University is attempting to help close this gap by providing graduating professionals credentialed and capable of defending against new digital threats. The graduates of EC-Council University’s new master’s degree program will be able to make a real and valuable difference at whatever organizations they serve.”
Fisher said the new master’s program aims to work in tandem with other ECCU IT-focused courses and efforts to train tomorrow’s IT leaders and cybersecurity experts, and she expects demand for these programs to remain high as industries become more tech-integrated to streamline daily operations.
“I think that in five to 10 years we’ll still probably have as great of a need if not greater than what we have now,” she said. “We’re just getting more and more heavily involved in tech, and we can’t get enough of it. We keep advancing it and pushing the envelope and pushing the needle. The more we do that — however great it is — the more we invite people to hack us.”