Op-Ed: Eliminate College Degree Requirements and Secure Our Nation in Cyberspace

July 02, 2024

This July 2 Federal News Network Op-Ed by Suzanne Wilson Heckenberg, INSA/INSF President, and David Mitchell, INSA Military Fellow, calls for the elimination of college degree requirements for cyber jobs with federal contractors.

It is hard to miss the cacophony of cyberattacks that are increasing in frequency and sophistication. Nation-state actors are using cyber to conduct economic espionage, to spread disinformation, and, as FBI Director Christopher Wray told Congress in January, to potentially “wreak havoc” on American critical infrastructure that our lives and security depend on every day. The need for a robust cyber defense force has never been more palpable, particularly within the Intelligence Community.

And yet, at the heart of this escalating threat lies a stark reality: a staggering shortage of cybersecurity professionals — both in the public and private sectors. There are more than 500,000 unfilled cybersecurity positions in the United States alone, according to Cyberseek, and that number is expected to increase. The private sector has already taken steps to address this, but the federal government continues to lag. Despite such a significant talent gap, the Office of Management and Budget has certain educational requirements that prevent skilled cybersecurity workers from getting hired into federal contract positions. With the battle for talent intensifying, the time for change has come.

Today’s threat landscape makes it clear that it’s time to reevaluate this antiquated barrier and embrace a more inclusive and agile approach to cybersecurity recruitment — one that prioritizes skills over diplomas and diversifies our cyber workforce to confront the myriad challenges facing our digital age. And with skyrocketing costs and crushing student debt, thousands of young Americans are opting for alternatives to higher education. It is imperative the federal cybersecurity workforce does not miss out on this cohort.

Fostering a skills-based cyber talent across the federal enterprise has been a key focal point for the new National Cyber Director Harry Coker.

“To secure our nation’s cyberspace, we need to make cyber jobs more available and attainable for groups that traditionally haven’t been recruited,” Coker told a community college in Baltimore earlier this year.

He also has pushed for a series of cyber hiring sprints that aim to bring more people from diverse backgrounds into federal cyber jobs.


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