Big Advantages of Cybersecurity Associate Degrees- We’ve previously covered the benefits of college degrees for cybersecurity professions; but, in this piece, I’d want to focus on the special benefits that associate degrees from community colleges and junior colleges offer to people just starting out in the field.
In the United States, community colleges are a popular higher education choice. They are often publicly sponsored, open-access universities that offer career training and educational opportunities that are equivalent to the first two years of a traditional college degree. Community colleges also offer shorter job training choices and may give training services to the local corporate community, although their primary concentration is nearly always on the two-year or associate degree programmes they offer. There are over 1,000 community colleges in the United States, so chances are you’ll find one close by.
Cybersecurity Options at Community Colleges
When it comes to learning cybersecurity, community institutions that offer associate degree programmes are frequently the best bang for your buck, especially if you’re just getting started. Investigate what cybersecurity associate degree options are available from universities near you for a little investment of time. I can tell you from my years of working in a cybersecurity associate degree programme that there are many benefits to these programmes that you won’t find anywhere else, especially when it comes to understanding cybersecurity. Let’s take a closer look at a few of these advantages right now.
Benefit #1: Community Colleges are Ideal for Working Professionals
One of the best things about community colleges is that they are frequently highly accommodating to working professionals and older people. These kids are referred regarded as “non-traditional students” in the education business, and they understandably have different demands and schedule issues than typical students.
Non-traditional students are an academic word that refers to someone who may be entering the classroom with greater experience, whether from the workplace or from life in general. As a result of their experiences, these students often take a different approach to their education, decisions, and career route. They have diverse perspectives on the role of education, how it relates to their careers, and, in certain cases, the value and expense of education. Aside from their unique perspective, these students frequently have additional life responsibilities that other students do not.
One of the best things about community and junior colleges is that they are generally mindful of their student body’s requirements, particularly those of non-traditional students. They recognise that their students may have other responsibilities outside of school, such as maintaining a family, caring for a parent, or working full-time. During my time at a community college, I met students who were changing careers while supporting a family as the sole source of income, students with significant learning challenges or medical issues, students recently discharged from the military with no clear idea what they wanted to do next, students with unexpected pregnancies, students caring for ageing parents, and even homeless students. When you think about it, it’s incredible that these students were able to continue pursuing their cybersecurity job aspirations thanks to their community college experience.
Community colleges also recognise that their students have a shorter time to employment than students in other college programmes, so if you enrol in a community college cybersecurity programme, you may discover that your college offers additional services and benefits that will help you achieve your career goals more quickly.
Sector colleges, for example, are likely to offer a career development office, advisers dedicated exclusively to cybersecurity or non-traditional students, job fairs, employer meet-and-greets, cybersecurity-focused student organisations, and solid contacts to the corporate community. Most importantly, most community colleges will provide flexible learning choices, such as evening or online programmes, which are ideal for working professionals. Many larger colleges and for-profit training providers are just not equipped to provide that kind of scheduling flexibility, while some are making strenuous efforts to develop such choices.
Benefit #2: Community Colleges Provide High-Quality Learning Support
Someone who is inexperienced with community colleges assumes that because of their nature and size, or because they are not a residential college with dorms, they have inferior instruction, resources, or equipment. I’ve visited a number of community colleges over the years and have never found this to be the case. If you look into it, your local community or junior college may have far more industry-standard or cutting-edge equipment and technology available for you to use than you might think, and in some cases, far better than what is available to students at private four-year colleges, as I’ve seen.
Many people are surprised by this because they expect that larger universities with large endowments and resources also have the capacity to provide cutting-edge technology in the classroom. Alternatively, they presume that private schools and universities that charge a high tuition direct the majority of that money to the student experience. While this may be true in some instances, keep in mind that community colleges have a unique advantage: Community colleges, unlike private institutions that rely almost entirely on donations and tuition, are frequently tax-funded, at least in part, and thus have the funding stream, as well as the mission, to provide solid educational opportunities, which include the necessary equipment and technology to support a cybersecurity programme.
The point is this: Don’t assume that the community or junior colleges in your area lack the technology you’ll need to learn cybersecurity effectively, especially if you’re just getting started. Keep in mind that because such equipment is paid for in large part with tax dollars, students like you don’t have to shoulder the burden of funding the costs of running the institution and purchasing that equipment, thus the college can frequently keep tuition fees low for you. The best way to find out more is to request a tour of the college or even just a tour of the technology laboratories. Even if you are unfamiliar with the equipment on display, you will be able to get a good sense of the college’s emphasis on technology when it comes to designing labs and supporting the student experience.
Benefit #3: Community Colleges are Cost-Effective
Let’s elaborate on the cost debate a little more. Because of their financial structure and the tax benefits they receive, community colleges frequently give excellent value for money to students. I’ve seen numerous for-profit training businesses charge tens of thousands of dollars for a single cybersecurity training course, and they may even force students to pay the entire fee up front when they enrol. Many of these organisations’ boot camp programmes might cost thousands of dollars for only a week’s worth of training.
Don’t get me wrong: there are a lot of training programmes that are both pricey and worthwhile. And you’ll have to pay for training like this at some point in your cybersecurity career, especially as you advance to higher levels. While there are many expensive training programmes that are well worth the money, community and junior colleges have an advantage for those just getting started because they allow you to pay for courses only as you take them, and they frequently have scholarships, loans, and grants that you may not be able to find elsewhere.
This means that your initial financial commitment at a community or junior college may be only a few hundred dollars, rather than several thousand dollars or more elsewhere. This is fantastic news for anyone who wants to check out cybersecurity without making a significant financial investment up front. With this in mind, you can try out a class or two at a community college to see if you like cybersecurity and determine if you want to pursue a career in the sector. You might discover after a few classes that cybersecurity isn’t for you, but at least you didn’t spend thousands of dollars to find out.
Benefit #4: Community Colleges Hire Instructors from the Industry
There’s another advantage you might not have considered. Many of the classes taught in community college cybersecurity programmes are taught by part-time faculty members. Community colleges typically employ a small number of full-time faculty members to teach classes and offer student advising, but they also hire a substantial number of part-time faculty members. The best thing is that these part-timers are frequently hired from within the business. In other words, the college is hiring actual cybersecurity experts who are currently working in the industry.
In my experience, it’s quite easy to complete a programme of study at a four-year college or university that is taught exclusively by full-time, tenured professors who have not been in the workforce utilising those skills for many years. Indeed, others may have began their careers in education or research and hence have never worked directly in cybersecurity. You’d be learning from someone who was telling you what they’d heard rather than what they’d done in such a situation. That can make a significant difference.
Because community and junior colleges cannot always afford to hire long-term, tenured staff, they must rely on part-timers to fill in the gaps. That is where the advantage is. Understand that these instructors can bring years of full-time experience doing a profession that you will be doing in the future, as well as a wealth of experience to draw from in the classroom. When part-time or adjunct professors share the technologies that they are working on at their employment or memorable experiences from their professions that you can’t get from a book, it’s incredibly intriguing from a learning perspective. Indeed, it’s not unusual for a field instructor to disagree with a textbook because he or she has more experience than what can be written and documented in a textbook.
In my experience, a cybersecurity instructor from a major cell phone company has shared new technology that hasn’t yet been released to the public, an instructor has shared network topologies used at real organisations, and even pen-testing instructors have shared information about hacking tools they’ve used. Isn’t that fascinating?
There’s another advantage to taking classes from these part-time professors. These teachers can often operate as mentors and networking contacts for you, meaning they can provide you guidance, link you with hiring managers, and provide references. Students with field teachers should inquire as to whether or not interacting with them on LinkedIn is acceptable and appropriate. After a course, many teachers are fine with having a professional relationship with their pupils.
Benefit #5: Community Colleges Often Use the Cohort Model
I emphasised the opportunity to network with your professors, but community and junior colleges also provide an excellent opportunity to network with your peers. Before you start college, you may believe that you’ll be on your own and only meet a few other students on a sporadic basis. However, community institutions are increasingly establishing cohort-based cybersecurity programmes, in which students move through the programme as a group. And now that everyone has access to email, Facebook, and a cell phone for texting, I’ve seen that students are really effective at staying in touch, organising study groups, and sharing employment leads.
The cohort model works particularly effectively in a community college setting because, unlike a large university where students come from all over the country or even the world, community colleges pull students from their local neighbourhoods. What this means for you is that the students in your class are also from your neighbourhood. They, like you, are familiar with the area and its employers. And, rather than returning to their home country, they’ll most likely stay in the same area as you when they graduate. Consider the advantages of doing so. As you progress through your community college cybersecurity study and meet new people, the connections that those people build with employers might become your connections as well.
I’ve witnessed numerous instances when a student is recruited by a local cybersecurity or IT firm and then refers other students to the same firm when new job positions arise. It may come as a surprise, but it is not uncommon for a single employer to hire four or five students from the same class. In a situation like this, you’re capitalising on the success of the other students in your class. Because of the community college cohort approach and the fact that most students come from the same location, this is achievable. It’s a fantastic way to get your cybersecurity career off the ground.
Benefit #6: Credit for Prior Learning
This option is available at nearly all universities at all levels, but it is such a valuable benefit that I want to highlight it here, especially because it is sometimes missed by students. The chance to gain credit for earlier learning is what I’m referring to. Check to see if your work experience, a certification you’ve already obtained, or even your life experience qualifies you for credit toward your cybersecurity degree.
This means that universities recognise the education and information that a student has previously obtained from their work experience and give credit for it. This can also be applied to entrance tests in specific situations. This means that if you are given credit for abilities or expertise you already have, your programme will be shorter and less expensive, and you will be able to skip refresher classes and jump immediately into classes that will teach you new information. Don’t forget to investigate this possibility.
Benefit #7: The Perfect Timeline
When enrolled full-time, most associate degree programmes are expected to take two years to finish. Unless you take additional classes online, during the summer, or during the winter term, if you’re taking less than 12 credits per semester, it may take you longer. However, the two-year schedule is actually a positive thing. It’s long enough for serious study, but not so lengthy that you can’t see the end of the road or the destination. Consider this: You’re unlikely to learn what you need to know about cybersecurity in a few months, but you’re also unlikely to want to commit four years. Community college programmes are designed to help students find work in as little as two years.
When you’re first getting started in your cybersecurity job, it’s certainly worth your time to look into local community college programmes and compare them to other learning possibilities. Community college cybersecurity programmes are frequently the best value for money, giving hands-on experience and a degree with transferability opportunities later.