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Applying to the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations Program

NSA is pleased to announce the establishment of a National Centers of Academic Excellence (CAE) in Cyber Operations Program.  The CAE-Cyber Operations Program accepts applications from four-year colleges and graduate-level universities annually between 15 November and 15 January. 

The following outlines the steps to apply to become a Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations.

Application Process

  1. Complete and return the CAE-Cyber Operations application form and the Knowledge Unit (KU) Alignment Worksheet to no later than 11:59 PM January 15. In addition to the completed form, applicant institutions must identify the degree program(s) in which the Cyber Operations curriculum is based and include the title of the degree and sample course schedule. Separate applications are required for each program level (undergraduate or graduate). Each application is evaluated independently in the initial screen process.
    1. The CAE-Cyber Operations office will issue a confirmation of receipt for received applications. If such acknowledgement of receipt is not received within 5 business days, the institutions must follow-up with the CAE-Cyber Operations Program Office. The Program Office is not responsible for the delivery failure of an application.
    2. CAE-Cyber Operations applicant institutions must meet the defined program criteria AND have active courses that cover the mandatory knowledge units and at least 10 of the 18 optional knowledge units stated in the academic content requirements. This is accomplished by identifying courses believed to cover the KUs as described in the academic content requirements, and showing the alignment of courses to mandatory/optional KUs in the Knowledge Unit (KU) Alignment Worksheet. There may be multiple courses listed against one KU. A course description and syllabus containing a weekly schedule of topics must be included in the application package for all courses identified in the KU Alignment Worksheet as contributing to meeting the academic requirements of the CAE-Cyber Operations program. In addition, documentation must be provided to demonstrate the process by which prerequisite and transfer coursework is evaluated and enforced.
    3. Note: A single course should not be used in the curriculum mapping to satisfy too many KUs. It is unlikely the course provides the required breadth or depth of coverage to satisfy many KUs.

      Note: Knowledge unit topics should not be spread among a large number of courses, but generally should be covered in a focused approach (e.g., a single or few courses). Spreading the material across too many courses may not present the KU in a focused enough manner for the student to thoroughly understand it.

    4. As part of the application process, you are agreeing to participate in an in-person, on-site curricula review of courses satisfying the required and optional knowledge units as part of the application review and selection process.  You are also agreeing, if designated a CAE-Cyber Operations institution, to participate in NSA-sponsored Summer Seminars as part of the program.  
    5. All programs must identify a representative pathway to the degree including all courses mapped to the mandatory KUs and a representative sample of optional KUs to demonstrate that students can complete the coursework in a reasonable timeframe.
    6. Note: Students meeting the academic criteria for the institution's cyber operations program must complete coursework to meet all 10 of the mandatory KUs and at least 4 of the optional KUs offered by the institution.

      Note: Graduate programs are expected to cover the non-prerequisite KUs in significantly more depth than undergraduate programs. To demonstrate mastery appropriate to a graduate level, it is anticipated that KU topics will not be spread among a large number of courses, but rather will be investigated in significant depth in a single course that focuses on one or two specific content areas.

      Note: Graduate programs must clearly identify how prerequisites for entering graduate students are determined and enforced.

  2. A panel of NSA subject matter experts (SMEs) will be convened to review the applications and determine whether the applicant has sufficiently met the program criteria and demonstrated alignment to academic content requirements. From this panel review, applicants will be selected to move into the second phase of the application process, consisting of an on-site, in-depth curriculum review. All applicants will be notified of whether or not they have advanced into Phase 2 of the application process.
  3. Those applicant institutions that sufficiently meet the program criteria and demonstrate an alignment to the academic content requirements will be contacted to arrange an on-site visit by NSA SMEs for an in-person curricula review of the specific courses that contribute to meeting the mandatory and optional Cyber Operations knowledge units. During this visit, the NSA SMEs will meet with the faculty members who teach the courses identified in the alignment matrix to discuss the material covered in the courses based on the syllabi submitted, including labs and exercises, any documentation showing how courses are kept updated and policies regarding course updates, and documentation supporting national/regional accreditation (if applicable). The extent to which the Cyber Operations program is of an interdisciplinary nature will also be reviewed, along with faculty involvement in cyber operations-related research projects. Each institution will be notified individually to arrange a date and time for the review and will be provided guidance on how to schedule and prepare for the second phase review.
  4. Notification of award of CAE designation will be provided no later than 15 May, along with an invitation to attend the designation ceremony for presentation of the CAE-Cyber Operations certificate.
  5. For assistance or questions, please email the AskCAECyberOps alias.
  6. CAE-Cyber Ops Timeline

    Application Window Opens November 15
    Application Window Closes NLT 11:59pm EST, January 15
    Review of Applications January 15 — February 28
    Notification to Applicants March 1
    Curriculum Review Visits March-April
    Final Determinations May 15
    CISSE/Certificate Presentation June

Future Re-designations

Re-designations will be required every 5 years with the expectation that the designated programs will show improvement vis-à-vis the requirements and criteria against which they were rated, as well as meet any new requirements or criteria imposed in years prior to the re-designation.

Annual Reports

All CAE-Cyber Operations designated institutions agree to complete and submit an annual report that describes cyber operations academic activities, highlights and benefits of being a CAE in Cyber Operations, and any program changes (ex. faculty and curriculum changes).


Date Posted: Jan 10, 2012 | Last Modified: Nov 9, 2015 | Last Reviewed: Nov 9, 2015