'This is a big deal.' CEI's cybersecurity program validated by National Security Agency - East Idaho News

‘This is a big deal.’ CEI’s cybersecurity program validated by National Security Agency

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IDAHO FALLS — After years in the works, College of Eastern Idaho’s cybersecurity program has reached a milestone.

CEI was recently designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense. This announcement came after the college’s Information Assurance and Cybersecurity program was validated in August by the National Security Agency.

“Through that validation process, (the NSA) go through and look at what we say we’re training students in and they coordinate with the outcomes or the objectives they specifically want in these Center of Academic Excellence (CAE) Cyber Defense institutions,” Josh Duersch, CEI’s cybersecurity and technology chair explained.

CEI joins other CAE-designated institutions in Idaho including the University of Idaho, Idaho State University and North Idaho College.

“This is a big deal. Out of over about 6,500 colleges and universities in the U.S., we’re only one of 361 that has this designation so about 5.5% of all colleges and universities in the country have this,” Dr. Chuck Bohleke, CEI dean of career technical education, told EastIdahoNews.com. “We’re in a pretty elite group.”

Duersch said the CAE program is managed by the NSA cryptography school and is a collaborative program. Several federal partners are involved such as the FBI, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and the National Science Foundation.

“This gives us a little bit of extra impetus to collaborate because now they (CAE colleges and universities) know the quality of our program, what it is and that we meet the standard that is set by the NSA,” Bohleke said. “That does mean a great deal in terms of collaboration with other institutions, as well as giving people who hire our graduates an understanding of what our program is all about.”

Duersch added, “I think this designation is going to make our transfers have more clout with the universities. I think it’ll give us quite a bit more strength for the students and their transcripts when they’re going on to universities.”

A classroom at CEI
A cybersecurity program classroom at College of Eastern Idaho. | Courtesy College of Eastern Idaho

Bohleke said the designation is part of an initiative under Gov. Brad Little and the legislature to “ramp up” what Idaho is doing in cybersecurity. Bohleke and Duersch mentioned there is a shortage of cybersecurity professionals in the country.

“The Department of Commerce recently did a study and found that there’s about 465,000 unfilled jobs in cybersecurity in the U.S.,” Bohleke mentioned. “There are tremendous shortages, even the federal government is short people they need for homeland security, as well as other agencies and of course, businesses, are in much the same boat. … It is the hottest job right now in the country.”

From the industry trend statistics Duersch’s read, he said security analysts are expected to have about a 37% job growth over the next year and penetration testers are on track to grow by 43%.

“These aren’t $50,000 a year type jobs. These are $60,000 to maybe $120,000, depending on where they’re at and how good they are,” Duersch stated. “They are high-paying positions, but they are skilled positions. You can’t walk in the door and do it blind. You have to have training behind you.”

Yellowstone training center for CEI cyber security
The Yellowstone Training Center for CEI cybersecurity students. | Courtesy College of Eastern Idaho