ATLANTA – Add to the list of high-paying jobs that go unfilled those in the area of cyber security. And the state is scrambling to prepare people to fill them.

At the same time, the challenge brings an opportunity that could benefit majors in English, history and accounting as well as their parents and taxpayers.

Wednesday, a committee of administrators from eight colleges laid out the situation in the University System of Georgia for its Board of Regents.

Last year, there were more than 8,000 openings in Georgia for the emerging cybersecurity field, but just 46 graduates of the state’s public colleges trained to fill them. And the openings are growing fast, doubling in just four years, according to University System research.

That compares to the 32 percent increase in Georgia openings in the hot Information Technology field in general. The system only graduated 2,300 students for those jobs, by the way.

“There’s a significant gap there that needs to be addressed,” said Ken Harmon, provost at Kennesaw State University and vice chairman of the task force studying the issue. “…Just honestly, the USG is not producing enough graduates to meet the demand.”

Georgia is the center of the cyber-security industry, partly because it’s also the center of financial-transaction processing and health IT. The U.S. Army’s decision to establish its Cyber Command in Augusta only adds more critical mass.

The field is developing so fast that the state is struggling to keep up. It has a smattering of courses and research going on across the University System.

Georgia Regents University created a cyber institute which will collaborate with the Army. Armstrong State University has its own Center of Applied Cyber Education on its satellite campus near Fort Stewart, and of course, Georgia Tech has been knee deep in computers for decades.

To address the graduate shortage, the task force recommends that the regents develop a consortium tying together the activities on its various campuses. It would then develop courses together and offer them online, working with professors who also have either some expertise or are already teaching relevant courses.

“The system is not inclined to have everyone ramp up programs that duplicate each other. Rather, we want to leverage the strengths of the area institutions,” said Gretchen Caughman, GRU’s provost and chair of the task force.

Part of the challenge is that the jobs are so critical that salaries in Georgia earn a $15,000 premium above the already hefty pay in the rest of the information-technology field. That will make is difficult for universities to compete for qualified experts to serve as faculty, which is another argument for developing an online approach. It will probably rely heavily on working professionals to serve as adjunct or part-time faculty so they won’t have to give up their lucrative private-sector salaries to tech as has been done with physicians for years.

Here’s where an opportunity comes in for the University System.

Administrators have long known that distance learning stretches dollars, but they’ve also discovered something about it isn’t for everyone. Some students are less successful with courses via computer.

But who would be better suited than students who chose to major in cyber security?

The insights gained in teaching them may translate to courses for liberal-arts majors and core courses like English composition, Caughman acknowledges.

“I think it’s an opportunity to develop a new learning model,” she said.

That added opportunity wrapped in a challenge is the fact that this is a completely new discipline where most of the innovation and research is being done by private industry, not universities. That requires course development from scratch, but it also means the new curriculum can avoid some of the institutional inertia that bog down traditional programs.

After all, this is one area where speed is critical. Academia is already behind commercial enterprises and won’t have a chance to catch up unless it sheds bureaucratic practices.

That may mean a departure from specialized accreditation since administrators complain that the reams of paperwork and byzantine procedures demanded by accrediting agencies slows the pace of change. All of the state’s public colleges have general accreditation anyway, notes Caughman.

The goal is to get the University System to function “at the speed of business,” as Chancellor Hank Huckaby has said.

Besides the issue of speed is the issue of cost. The University System announced last week that 80 percent of undergraduates rely on financial aid. Since one of the biggest cost to universities or nearly every enterprise is personnel, the new, centralized approach to cyber-security instruction could open the door to ways to stretch personnel dollars for other college majors.

The University System has ample reason to pursue cyber security as a course of study. As Paul Bowers, the Georgia Power president who chairs the regents’ Economic Development Committee notes, every major corporation is focusing attention on protecting its internal information processing.

“There is a huge demand,” he said. “…This is a growing opportunity for students to get engaged in, and everybody is looking for these resources. This is a great path for us to be on from an economic-development standpoint.”

Beyond that, Georgia is the center of electronic transaction processing for the country, the center of the cyber-security industry and a major hub of the health IT industry.

In the quest to satisfy those industries, the University System may just wind up with innovations that help other industries, too.


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