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Educating the Next Generation of Cyber Warriors: National Centers of Academic Excellence Celebrate 20th Anniversary

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The landscape of cybersecurity education and training looked a lot different twenty years ago. There were no textbooks that covered the topic and academic institutions struggled to develop curriculum on what was then known as information assurance.

NSA, along with academia and industry partners, recognized the need for cybersecurity education and the growing demand for cyber professionals within the federal government and the nation as a whole. In May 1999, NSA launched the Centers of Academic Excellence (CAE) designation program with the goal of reducing vulnerability in our national information infrastructure by promoting higher education in cyber defense and developing professionals with cyber defense expertise. The program also aimed to raise the nation’s ability to actively defend our national assets through defensive best practices.

CAE-designated colleges and universities meet rigorous requirements for cybersecurity curriculum, caliber of faculty, and they are committed to cyber education outreach in their communities and developing the profession.  Seven universities were initially designated as CAE schools:

These first seven schools formed a bond and shared resources to begin building a community that has since grown to more than 270 institutions across the country. In 2004, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) joined NSA as a CAE program co-sponsor adding funding and expertise to enhance the program.

The program has not only grown in numbers over the years, but it has evolved to offer more options to college students looking to gain specialized cybersecurity education. In 2008, the CAE program added a cyber-defense research (CAE-R) school designation, and in 2010, a two-year education designation was added so that regionally accredited two-year community colleges, technical schools, state, or federally endorsed training centers could also earn a CAE designation.

During a recent trip to the annual Cybersecurity Centers of Academic Excellence Executive Leadership Forum in Florida, NSA’s Executive Director Harry Coker, Jr. delivered a keynote on the importance of cybersecurity education. “We’re experiencing a 12-year high in the cybersecurity expertise gap, and it’s not because we’re producing fewer cybersecurity professionals. Rather, it’s because the requirements for expertise in cybersecurity are growing exponentially,” said Mr. Coker. Diane M. Janosek, Commandant of NSA’s National Cryptologic School, was also in attendance and said that, “we not only have to keep up with today, but we also have to be prepared for the future and the CAEs help us achieve this goal.”

NSA and its academic, industry, agency partners are at the forefront of fostering the next generation of cyber warriors. As the CAE program continues to grow, the focus remains on promoting higher education and research in cyber defense to produce professionals that are prepared to solve tomorrow’s problems.

Happy Anniversary, CAE!

To learn more about NSA's academic partnerships and opportunities for students visit our Resources for Students & Educators page.