Master's Accreditation Benefits Federal Cyber Pros

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Tuition assistance for information security program.

Federal information security employees now have one additional option for pursuing a master’s degree in information security that could be funded in part through their agency’s tuition assistance program.

The SANS Technology Institute announced Tuesday that it is now accredited by The Middle States Commission of Higher Education, meaning the degree program meets all standards in the commission’s peer review. The accreditation also means that SANS Technology Institute students can receive tuition reimbursement if their employers offer that benefit.

William Lockhart, executive director of the SANS Technology Institute, said Tuesday that federal agencies typically offer $250 per credit hour and up to $4,000 or $5,000 per year for federal cybersecurity employees pursuing a Master’s in information security. If available, the tuition assistance would cover roughly one-third of the $45,000 total cost over the three-year program, Lockhart said.

The institute was established in 2005 as an independent subsidiary of the SANS Institute to offer Master of Science degree programs in information security engineering and information security management.  The information security program offers a mix of online and in-person courses, with students spending more than half of the program online and the remaining time attending in-person courses once or twice per year, Lockhart said.

“What’s different about us is the quality review by a third party, where we put data together on how our students perform when they took courses in-person versus online,” he said. “The quality ratings for the students, satisfaction ratings and assessment of value when they finished the online course was comparably high to in-person classes.”

Lockhart stressed the need to develop cybersecurity workers into leaders and managers in much the same way leaders of fighter pilot squadrons have both the hands-on skills needed to fly the planes and the leadership and communications skills to report to management and advocate for scarce resources. That’s why it is critical that professionals seek an advanced degree only after gaining work experience in the field, he added.

“There’s a proliferation of people in these positions, and they’re important in terms of establishing defense against attacks for government agencies and corporations alike, and we need to develop the managers of those people,” he said. “Our master’s program is heavily weighted to the technical side in that it importantly seeks to develop managers and leaders specifically in information technology and information security.”

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