What to Do Next with Your Associate Degree in Cybersecurity

Criminals are evolving and crime is getting smarter. In its annual Internet Crime Report, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) presents statistics showing that internet-enabled theft, fraud, and exploitation were responsible for a staggering $2.7 billion in financial losses and accounted for an average of more than 900 complaints every day for the Center. Luckily, the tools to guard against cyber crime are experiencing an evolution of their own, and the front line of that defense is our cybersecurity workforce.

A career in cybersecurity combines technical, analytic, and investigatory skills with a strong drive to problem solve and innovate. It’s a profession that’s more in demand than ever as employers are increasingly concerned with keeping valuable data and networks secure. For many people, an associate degree is just the beginning. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects higher than average job market growth by 2026 so your associate degree puts you in the best position possible for pursuing important professional certifications, starting out in an entry level IT position, or continuing your education to earn your bachelor’s degree.

In June 2019, Burning Glass Technologies, an analytics software company that provides real-time data on job growth, skills in demand, and labor market trends, issued a report on the state of cybersecurity hiring titled “Recruiting Watchers for the Virtual Walls.”  One of the report’s key findings was the number of qualified workers is not keeping pace with the rapid growth of the industry. Despite the rise of cyber-related attacks nationwide, and the greater proliferation of cybersecurity degree programs available, the talent pool has remained at relatively stagnant levels.

So how can you best prepare yourself to bridge the talent gap? Earning professional cybersecurity certifications is a great start. According to the Burning Glass report, more than one-third of cybersecurity-specific job openings require certification compared to 23 percent of all general IT jobs. The COMPTIA Security + certification and Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification are recognized industry standards. And, if you already hold these or other IT certifications, you’re not only more marketable as an employee but you may be able to apply them toward college credit for a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

Entry-level positions in IT that require an associate degree tend to pay at levels on par with jobs in other disciplines that require a bachelor’s degree, so getting a job in your field means you’ll start to see an immediate return on your educational investment. Continuing your education will have an even greater effect on your earning potential as the majority of cybersecurity positions require a bachelor’s degree or higher. While the number of cybersecurity-specific roles are growing, cybersecurity is more often an integrated responsibility of a broader IT position like a network administrator. With your bachelor’s degree, however, you can qualify for a core cybersecurity position such as an information security analyst or a cybersecurity systems architect. According to the Burning Glass report, full-time cybersecurity specialists command on average, $9,000 per year more than a general IT position with some cybersecurity responsibilities. Public cloud security, automation, and knowledge of the Internet of Things are projected to be the fastest-growing cybersecurity skills in demand over the next five years.

If you’re ready to go back to school, make sure your program is aligned with the academic requirements for cybersecurity set by the National Security Agency (NSA) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Even better, make sure the college is a Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education (CAE IA-CD). Learn more about Excelsior College’s Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity program  or Master of Science in Cybersecurity program, and Excelsior’s 3+1 transfer program. See just how far your associate degree can take you!