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Rochester CTC to Launch Cybersecurity Degree to Meet Demand

Rochester Community and Technical College's new two-year degree program will combine new courses with existing ones, both on-campus and online, and require the hiring of a new staff member.

(TNS) — Rochester Community and Technical College is getting into the business of educating a new generation of cybersecurity professionals.

Next fall, it will offer a new two-year degree in cybersecurity. Officials say the new program is a response to soaring demand for cybersecurity skills in a world where businesses and governments are seeking greater protection against cyber crime and criminals.

The demand for such skills has skyrocketed in the last several years, with nearly 600,000 cybersecurity job openings across the country and 6,500 in Minnesota.

Entry-level cybersecurity jobs pay anywhere between $60,000 and $100,000 a year for 22,000 entry-level positions across the country, according to CompTIA, a leading cybersecurity credentialing body.

"This is definitely a high-demand field," said Matt Spitzer, a principal information security engineer at Mayo Clinic and RCTC faculty member. "This is something that everybody is looking for. This program is also well-aligned with a lot of industry standards."

Officials said the new Cybersecurity Associate of Applied Science degree will allow graduates to enter the workforce right away upon graduation from RCTC or transfer to a four-year institution.

Cyber crime has become a growing preoccupation of businesses, schools and government. There is a malicious cyber attempt every 39 seconds, or 2,200 per day, according to a University of Maryland study. Phishing, malware, ransomware and distributed denial of service attacks will cost the world economy over $10 trillion by 2025.

Cyber crime became a high-profile local concern last year when Rochester Public Schools' operations were temporarily crippled by a large-scale cyber attack. The attack prompted RPS leaders to invest more resources into protecting its systems by purchasing software called Arctic Wolf.

The role of community colleges is to respond to industry and business needs. Officials expressed confidence that it would be able fill an inaugural class of 24 students in the fall. The pipeline is already built in one sense.

Many of those students will transition from a program called P-TECH, an RCTC partnership with Rochester Public Schools, IBM and Mayo Clinic that serves high school students. Mayo and IBM also played a role in the cybersecurity program's development.

Dan Froelich, chair of the RCTC math and computer science department, said he regularly gets queries from his computer science students asking about cybersecurity courses.

"I've had to say, 'Be patient. It's coming,'" Froelich said.

There's going to be high interest from current students, he said.

Officials said the new program will offer a mix of on-campus and online courses that will offer flexibility to students who work or of a nontraditional age.

The last time RCTC had a splashy roll-out for a new academic program was in 2019 when it introduced an aviation program to train new pilots.

Officials said the program will combine new courses with existing ones. A new cybersecurity faculty member will be hired. And the courses will overlap in a way that allows students to choose from a variety of different career lanes, including bioinformatics foundations, information technology and computer information systems.

Spitzer said there is not a large math component to the program, so those interested in the field should not see that as a barrier.

Michelle Pyfferoen, an RCTC vice president of academic affairs, said many campuses in the Minnesota State system that RCTC is a part of offer a cybersecurity option for students. But the need is so great that RCTC doesn't anticipate that there will be competition for students.

The field is only expected to grow in the coming years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the cybersecurity sector job market will have 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs by the end of 2025 and grow 33 percent through 2031. It anticipates an average cybersecurity expert's salary topping $102,000.

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