Community colleges across the country have seen a sharp drop in enrollment during the pandemic. Public two-year colleges in northeast Ohio — that is, Cuyahoga Community College, Lorain County Community College, Stark State College, and Lakeland Community College — were also not exempt. of these declines. Each saw a decline in full-time enrollment in the fall 2020 and 2021 semesters.
But even amid these steep declines, some individual college programs have seen growth. All four institutions reported an increase in cybersecurity-related degree and certificate offerings.
Tech giant Cisco defines the term as a “practice of protecting systems, networks, and programs from digital attack,” adding that such attacks could include “accessing, altering, or destroying sensitive information, extorting money from users or interrupting normal business processes”.
“As more and more of our world goes digital and more of our transactions in our daily lives are done online, the ability to protect information is going to be in huge demand,” said Matthew Kull, director of information at the Cleveland Clinic.
This comes as jobs related to this high-profile field are expected to grow as fast or faster than average over this decade. Kull called the demand for cybersecurity professionals “astronomical,” adding that there were three open cybersecurity positions for every qualified candidate.
An April 2022 newsletter from the Greater Cleveland Partnership and its technology talent arm RITE lists cybersecurity as one of the top IT investments now and in the next five years. New roles in the region are also emerging in this area. The report found that approximately 75% of IT postings require some type of post-secondary degree or certification.
This is where local colleges can step in. Lakeland Community College launched its cybersecurity offering in 2019, thanks in part to a grant from a branch of the Cleveland Foundation.
Lakeland officials reached out to businesses of all sizes when setting up the program. They asked about companies’ cybersecurity needs, what faculty and staff should be teaching, what kinds of skills employers want to see in new graduates.
They spent a lot of time “cultivating” this information, according to Sue Baker, professor and director of Lakeland’s Information Technology and Computing Department. One of the challenges was figuring out what kind of program to create for a two-year public institution in such a broad and in-depth field.
“Would it be great if all their applicants had a bachelor’s degree or a graduate degree? Sure, but that’s not realistic,” Baker said.
Some community college graduates earn these higher degrees at four-year institutions. But amid a booming job market, some companies are changing their work requirements.
The Clinic is one of them. Experience can offset degree requirements for internal candidates seeking promotion. Some of the more entry-level or junior roles in IT-related fields for new hires have seen degree requirements removed. CIO Kull said the clinic is also working to develop its own educational programs to create a pipeline of people interested in cybersecurity.
And while KeyBank officials said a four-year degree is “preferred” for the bulk of positions within its technology, operations and services department, people with a two-year degree or other certifications are encouraged to apply. The company said it offers various types of training resources and programs so that employees “can continually develop and expand their knowledge, skills and abilities.”
The scope of entry-level jobs in the field can vary. Nick DiTirro, a professor of information technology and computer science at Lakeland Community College, said many graduates of his offerings start in helpdesk or helpdesk roles.
An example of this type of role is a computer network support specialist position. The state government recently announcement as having a median salary of $60,000 with nearly 750 open positions. DiTirro refers to these types of jobs as “landing positions” for graduates.
“They gain additional technical knowledge and skills in cybersecurity, and then from that point on they can branch out into other job titles that would specifically contain cybersecurity,” he said.
However, barriers to entry exist, particularly with regard to the construction of pipelines. Fields related to STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, math) have traditionally struggled to connect with women and non-white people. And just being in Cleveland could also be a hindrance. It was distinguished in 2019 as the least well-connected city in the country.
Efforts have been made to help change this. Cleveland State University hosted the latest installment of the annual Women in Cybersecurity (WiCyS) event earlier this year. Cuyahoga Community College is one of a recently announced cohort of two-year colleges nationwide partnering with Microsoft to help build the cyber skills of city residents.
“Creating a strong labor pool benefits both students and local businesses,” said Walter G. Bumphus, president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges, in a statement. press release on the initiative. “Community colleges are well positioned to help the tech industry train and hire a skilled and diverse workforce across the country.
At a more micro level, Lorain County Community College officials have a multi-pronged approach. They’re aimed at traditional-aged high schoolers because “they don’t have to learn what Facebook or TikTok is,” said Larry Atkinson, associate professor and coordinator of LCCC’s cybersecurity offerings program.
But there is also a greater emphasis on connecting with displaced workers and/or people looking to re-enter the workforce. With this comes a push to reach people looking to transition into a new field. Bringing in skills from other industries could be a big step forward in cybersecurity fields, Atkinson said.
“It’s not the number of companies or one company that hires a lot of our students,” he said. “Every business needs to hire a few of our students. Every business needs a cybersecurity specialist.”