AMU Careers & Learning Cyber & AI Cybercrime Defense Original

Considering a Cybersecurity Degree? Look for the Right Academic Designation

This article is featured in the magazine, Preventing a Cyberattack: A Guide to Cyber Readiness. Download it now.

By Wes O’Donnell, Managing Editor, In Cyber Defense

Cybercrime is predicted to cost the world $6 trillion annually by 2021, according to CSO. To address this global epidemic, it’s expected that there will be 3.5 million available cybersecurity positions with beyond-competitive pay scales, making cybersecurity extremely attractive to younger, techsavvy individuals.

In order to qualify for these positions, many aspiring cybersecurity professionals must first acquire the skills necessary to fight cybercrime. What are important considerations when you’re researching cybersecurity degree programs at the college level?

One of the most acclaimed designations is the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense (CAE-CD), which is jointly sponsored by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The goal of this program is to reduce vulnerability in our national information infrastructure by promoting higher education and research in cyber defense and producing professionals with cyber-defense expertise.

In 2018, the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security designated American Public University System as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education (CAE-CDE). The APUS Center for Cyber Defense (CCD) provides guidance and research for interdisciplinary cyber curriculum at American Public University and American Military University. To learn more about this achievement and its significance, I spoke with CCD Executive Director Dr. Kenneth Williams.

How many schools participate in the program?

Nationwide, only about 200 universities are members of the CAE-CD program.

How does a university qualify for inclusion in the CAE-CD program?

Prospective schools must meet rigorous criteria set forth by the NSA and DHS. Schools must go through a pre-assessment process, followed by an assessment, comment period, and mentorship.

To qualify for the CAE-CD designation, schools must ensure their cybersecurity degree programs are closely aligned with specific cybersecurity-related knowledge units, validated by experts in the field. These knowledge units are spread across 12 different courses.

Do universities receive any type of financial award or assistance for being part of the program?

No. However, membership is a prerequisite for certain grants and scholarships that are only made available to schools in the program.

For instance, the Department of Defense (DoD) offers individual scholarships to students enrolled in schools that are admitted to the CAE-CD program. DoD also provides capacity-building grants for institutions to hire faculty members and build academic programs related to the field of cybersecurity.

What are the benefits for a student attending a school designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence?

Employers all over the world understand that students who attend a member university are required to complete a rigorous program to obtain their cybersecurity degree. We’re helping to strengthen the next-generation cybersecurity workforce by continually optimizing our curriculum based on learner outcomes. In many cases, graduates who successfully attend a university with the CAE-CD designation are often prepared to test for many cybersecurity certifications.

About the Author: Wes O’Donnell is the managing editor of In Cyber Defense, an online publication that features information, tips, resources, and breaking news about cyber-defense and cybersecurity. He is an a veteran of both the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force, serving eight years on active duty. He has a MBA focused on IT management and a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from American Military University. Wes is the director of the short film “Memorial Day” which earned Best Drama at the Oregon Cinema Arts Festival and Special Mention at the One Reeler Short Film Competition in Los Angeles. To contact the author, please email For more articles featuring insight from industry experts, subscribe to In Public Safety’s bi-monthly newsletter.

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