Community colleges tapped to address cybersecurity talent gap

Oct. 7—Waleed Farag knows all too well the growing need for computer systems security professionals.

As director of Indiana University of Pennsylvania's Institute for Cyber Security, he is hoping to address the steadily increasing demand for computer-based professionals by tapping the resources of six community colleges, including Westmoreland County Community College.

The goal over the course of six years is to increase the number of cybersecurity students by 10% to 20%.

"We strongly believe that improving cybersecurity and STEM programs at the community college level will positively contribute to the alleviation of the national talent gap in this important field," Farag said.

The program — titled "A Collaborative Pennsylvania-wide Community College Consortium for Enhancing STEM and Cybersecurity Education" — would boost STEM and cybersecurity certificate completion rates, transfer rates to four-year institutions and student interest in the science, technology and manufacturing workforce.

The project will be funded by an $11 million U.S. Department of Defense grant awarded to IUP. The university will receive $4.9 million within the first three years.

U.S. employers posted almost 715,000 related positions in the 12-month period through April, according to data from CyberSeek, an initiative between several cybersecurity organizations. Job demand increased 43% over that same period.

Almost 40% of new postings were listed in the first four months of 2022, suggesting demand is accelerating in the wake of world events, including the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

"We already have a significant shortage of cybersecurity professionals, and we need all hands on deck. ... Cyber is part of our life now," Farag told the Tribune-Review.

At WCCC, the number of students enrolling in the cybersecurity program has been increasing, according to Byron Kohut, dean of the School of Technology.

WCCC will work with IUP to align cybersecurity and STEM curriculum among participating schools, making it easier for students to transfer from a community college to a four-year institution. Funds also could be used by faculty for professional development, allowing professors to update their certifications.

"Westmoreland's goal is to develop a widely used, shared cybersecurity program so that our community college graduates will be able to transfer to IUP as well as other colleges and universities," Kohut said. "By increasing certificate completion and transfer rates for students in cybersecurity and STEM programs, we aim to cultivate a stronger interest in employment in the science, technology and manufacturing workforce areas."

Other community colleges participating in the program are Bucks, Butler, Montgomery, Northampton and Pennsylvania Highlands, which includes Blair and Cambria counties.

In all, programs managed by community colleges will include mentorship, certificate training, K-12 outreach, summer activities and realignment of courses. In addition to working with those schools, IUP officials will manage soft-skills tutoring, assessment and faculty professional development services.

The program also will focus on supporting veterans and students from underserved and underrepresented groups.

"Dr. Farag has a well-deserved reputation as a leader in cybersecurity education, and he has worked tirelessly to build an extraordinary program at IUP, focusing on student success and academic excellence in all that he does," IUP President Michael Driscoll said.

Members of IUP's organization will begin planning and development of the program this year. Implementation will begin in the 2023-24 school year.

Megan Tomasic is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan by email at or via Twitter .