Community Colleges are the Future of Diverse Cybersecurity Talent
In a world where malicious actors threaten our digital (and physical) infrastructure, community colleges are one of the most viable mechanisms to produce cyber talent at the scale required to close our cybersecurity and data skills gap. This is because they reach a far broader swathe of Americans, including those from diverse backgrounds, than 4-year institutions.
Combatting cyber threats starts with including and preparing more of America’s workforce. Cybersecurity is a high-paying, essential career that has the potential to bolster economic mobility for many Americans. Currently, though, the cybersecurity field is notoriously dominated by white males, with women only making up 14% of information security professionals and African Americans making up only 3% of information security analysts. Not only does this show how many more people could be trained to fill the nearly 500,000 unfilled cybersecurity jobs in the US, but to leave the field in its current state sends an implicit message to women and racial minorities that jobs in the industry are “not for me.”
Community colleges offer accessibility for all people of varying age, gender, race, and income. According to a report by the Association of American Community Colleges, more than half of community college students were over 21 in 2017, reaching distinctly different age groups than a typical four-year degree program. Women enroll in community college at higher rates than other degree-granting institutions. The nonwhite proportion of enrollment at community colleges was steadily increasing from 2001-2017, with almost double the Hispanic students enrolling within that time frame. Not to mention, it is no secret that community college is a more affordable higher education option, being more accessible for low and middle-income students that can’t afford heavy debt. Programs around the country like Tennessee Promise and Oregon Promise have become more popular, guaranteeing 2 years of free community college for local residents.
Cybersecurity, in particular, is a great match for people from these different backgrounds, requiring less training time and cost than a four-year degree, needing low or no coding skills for entry level jobs, and potentially upskilling older workers who find themselves stuck in jobs with little room for advancement. Microsoft and Google have both recently offered major community college investments to scale up cybersecurity and tech talent to reach different students. Now Tulsa is connecting the dots and starting its own initiative to bring its diverse population into the cyber workforce.
Tulsa Innovation Labs is excited to invest in a new Cyber Skills Center (CSC) at Tulsa Community College, that features a 24-week accelerated training program for aspiring cyber professionals as well as a tech apprenticeship component that will help graduates land their first job in the field following program completion.
Tulsa Community College makes higher education and skills training available to more than 23,000 students in the Tulsa area. With 46% racial/ethnic minority and 64% women enrollment in 2020-21, opening up opportunities at the college has a higher chance of bringing a more representative population into the cybersecurity workforce. TCC’s own scholarship program, Tulsa Achieves, allows Tulsa residents to attend for free, ensuring that every Tulsan has the chance to enter higher education. On top of this, the Cyber and Analytics Skills Center works closely with Black Tech Street, an organization that aims to revive the legacy of Black Wall Street through establishing a hub for Black tech talent.
The future is changing, from the skills we need, to the threats we face, to the work that we do. The Cyber Skills Center is one of many first steps we must take to ensure that America can securely walk into its new digital future and sets Tulsa up as the proving ground for the next stages in American cybersecurity.