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What is Cyber Security?

According to the BLS, cyber security jobs are expected to grow at a much faster than average rate over the next several years. And in Wisconsin, like the rest of the world, organizations face numerous challenges when it comes to maintaining their cyber security.

From e-commerce companies to banks, defense companies, and government agencies - trained cyber security professionals in the state stand to enter a workforce where their specialized skills are high in demand, with many positions paying over six figures.

Here, we’ll look at the educational landscape and job prospects for aspiring cyber security professionals in the state of Wisconsin.

Here’s the thing: an advanced degree isn’t necessarily a requirement for those seeking work within this field. An associate degree might earn you enough clout to get your foot in the door with a low-level entry position. However, if you want access to the best jobs and promotions, you’ll need an advanced degree no matter where you look for work. In Wisconsin, there are several cyber security jobs available that only require a bachelor’s degree and offer a decent income. Software developers make about $80-85k, on average, while information security analysts make about $76k, on average.

That said, earning a master’s degree opens up an even wider range of opportunities, especially for those looking to work in a leadership role as opposed to being an individual contributor. Plus, cyber security professionals with a business background or with specialized expertise are harder to come by. According to the ISACA’s 2019 State of Cybersecurity Report, technically proficient cyber security professionals, particularly those with business acumen, continue to be in short supply.

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Online Cyber Security Education in Wisconsin

According to the BLS, most cyber security jobs, both in Wisconsin and the United States as a whole, require applicants to have a bachelor’s degree at minimum to enter the field. The agency also found that 93% of job listings called for candidates with a bachelor’s degree.

That’s not to say there aren’t exceptions to the rule, especially given the shortage of skilled applicants in the field. However, we recommend that aspiring cyber security pros pursue a bachelor’s degree rather than opting for a two-year program. Experienced IT professionals without a four-year degree may be able to find work, especially if they have relevant certifications. Still, those are usually the exception to the rule and we don’t recommend this path to students who are currently weighing their educational options.

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That said, here, we’ll go over a breakdown of what each degree type entails and how it can prepare you for work in a cyber security role.

Online Associate Degree in Cyber Security (AS)

While most cyber security jobs require a bachelor’s degree at minimum, there are certain entry-level positions that only require an >associate degree. However, if you choose to pursue this path, keep in mind that you may need to return to school to further your education if you wish to advance in your career, or you might pursue cyber security credentials to increase your knowledge and capabilities outside of the formal education path.

Specific courses will vary, but may include some of the following:

  • Intro to Computer Science
  • Database Fundamentals
  • Networking Concepts
  • Scripting Fundamentals
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Online Bachelor's Degree in Cyber Security (BS)

Because cyber security is a relatively new field, many university systems don’t offer a specific cyber security program to undergraduates, though it’s worth noting that they are becoming more popular thanks to the rising demand for competent cyber security professionals and the more common computer science or information technology programs are easy to use to transition into cyber security.

That said, aspiring cyber security professionals may opt to major in computer science or information technology and take electives that align with their career goals. While a CS or IT degree has a broader focus than a cyber security degree, they offer a solid foundation for students entering a four-year program right after high school.

Your choice of major really depends on what kind of career you’re most interested in. For example, a CS degree is best suited for students who want to build their own programs, where IT degrees focus on installing and maintaining computer systems. A cyber security program can prepare students for a wide range of career paths—including systems analyst, IT auditor, security consultant, and more. This field often involves analyzing systems and implementing measures for protecting networks and data.

While you can choose specializations or concentrations for your bachelor’s program, your basic courses may include some of the following:

  • Computer Hardware and Peripherals
  • Software Foundations for Cyber Security
  • Information System Threats, Attacks, and Defenses
  • Mathematics for Cyber Security
  • Computer Network Investigations
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Online Master's Degree in Cyber Security (MS)

A bachelor’s degree will put you on the path toward a career in cyber security and additional certifications can help you hone your expertise and land higher-paying, specialized positions. As such, earning a master’s degree in cyber security isn’t mandatory.

However, because there are so few cyber security professionals with advanced degrees, a master’s could help you set yourself apart from the competition and gain access to bigger paychecks and more specialized roles. If your sights are set on the C-suites or the lab, a master’s degree is recommended.

Most master’s programs require students to pick a specialty, which may include any of the following:

  • Master’s in Cyber Security
  • Master’s in Network Security
  • Master’s in Digital Forensics
  • Master’s in Cyber Security Leadership & Operations

Different specialties will pave the way for different career paths. So, you’ll want to make sure you choose a focus that aligns with your career goals, rather than jumping into a program because it’s likely to lead to higher pay. Are you looking to take on a leadership role? If so, a program focused on cyber security leadership and operations is likely a better bet than something like digital forensics or auditing.

Rankings for Online Cybersecurity Masters Colleges

Online Certifications in Cyber Security

Certifications are one of the best ways to obtain the skills required to work in a cyber security role, though they’re better suited for helping working professionals or those pursuing a career-change, rather than someone just beginning their educational journey.

There are several certification options available, depending on your career goals and experience. Where something like CompTIA+ aims to demonstrate basic security knowledge, CISSP is for experienced managers and executives tasked with leading cyber security initiatives.

Here are a few of the many options for boosting your skills with a certification:

  • Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH):
    CEH certification demonstrates competency in uncovering vulnerabilities in target systems using the same knowledge as a cyber-criminal. CEH training covers the five core areas of ethical hacking (reconnaissance, enumeration, gaining and maintaining access, and covering tracks) and is designed for security professionals, auditors, or anyone concerned with network security.
  • CompTIA+:
    CompTIA+ certification is a foundational credential, considered to be the industry standard in launching IT careers. CompTIA+ paves the way for several entry-level jobs, though certified pros can use this as a jumping off point for additional certifications or on-the-job training.
  • CISSP:
    CISSP is a certification designed for experienced practitioners working in leadership roles. This credential demonstrates the ability to design and implement enterprise-level security initiatives and manage cyber security programs long-term.
  • ISACA Certifications:
    ISACA is a professional organization that offers several certification options for cyber security professionals. The organization offers hands-on training through the Cybersecurity Nexus, a program that aims to help cyber security pros hit professional milestones that will lend more credibility to their resumes.

Why is Accreditation Important?

Accreditation means that a school is recognized for meeting a certain academic standard. The aim is to ensure that the institution provides an education that meets a certain level of quality.

For students, accreditation helps determine whether a school is of an acceptable level of quality. Many employers require applicants to have a degree from an accredited institution and accreditation is also a factor in determining eligibility for federal student financial aid.

Beyond seeking out an accredited academic program, prospective cyber security professionals may want to look into CAE-designated programs to demonstrate their knowledge to prospective employers. CAE programs are co-sponsored by the NSA and DHS and were established to meet the rising demand for knowledgeable, skilled cyber security professionals in the federal government. CAE-designated schools are formally recognized by the federal government for their top-tier cyber security programs and have met a rigorous set of requirements to receive this designation.

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CAE schools have curricula that lines up with the NICE cyber security framework, which prepares students to join the workforce, receive government grants and scholarship, and prepare for a role in a US agency like the NSA or DHS.

CAE Accredited Programs in Wisconsin

  • Madison College
    CAE-2Y / 2019-2024
  • Marquette University
    CAE-CD / 2018-2023
  • University of Wisconsin - Stout
    CAE-CD / 2017-2022
  • Waukesha County Technical College
    CAE-2Y / 2017-2022

Top College Programs in Wisconsin for Computer Science and Cybersecurity

  • Marquette University

    Marquette University is a private, Catholic university and home to the Marquette University Center for Cybersecurity Awareness and Cyber Defense. While the school does not offer an official cyber security major to undergraduate students, they do offer computer science, IT, and information science programs, as well as an option to earn an accelerated MBA with a concentration in computer science. The school has been designated an official Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Education for their MS in Computing with a specialization in Information Assurance and Cyber Defense.

    Programs Offered:

    Computer and Information Sciences - Bachelor’s & Master’s Degrees
    Information Science/Studies – Master’s Degree & Postgraduate Certificate
    Information Technology – Bachelor’s Degree

    Tuition Cost

    In-State: $41,870
    Average Net Price: $33,081
    College Retention Rate: 87% (Full-time Students); 100% (Part-time Students)

  • University of Wisconsin – Stout

    University of Wisconsin – Stout is one of just four Wisconsin institutions with the CAE designation. The school offers several computer science and IT programs to undergraduate and graduate students, as well as a CAE-designated Cybersecurity and Cyber Defense professional certificate.

    Programs Offered:

    Computer and Information Sciences – Bachelor’s & Master’s Degree
    Informatics – Bachelor’s Degree

    Tuition Cost

    In-State: $9,457
    Out-of-State: $17,424
    Average Net Price: $14,866
    College Retention Rate: 70% (Full-time Students); 23% (Part-time Students)

  • University of Wisconsin - Parkside

    UW Parkside offers associate, undergraduate, and graduate programs in IT and computer science, as well as several certificate programs that can be added onto a computer science degree.

    Programs Offered:

    Computer and Information Sciences and Support Services – Undergraduate Certificate
    Computer and Information Sciences – Bachelor’s Degree
    Information Technology – Master’s Degree

    Tuition Cost

    In-State: $7,389
    Out-of-State: $15,378
    Average Net Price: $10,409
    College Retention Rate: 71% (Full-time Students); 31% (Part-time Students)

  • Waukesha County Technical College

    WCTC is recognized as a center of academic excellence, and offers several 2-year programs, as well as several professional certification programs.

    Programs Offered:

    Computer and Information Systems Security/Information Assurance – Associate Degree
    Computer Programming, Specific Applications – 1-2 Year Certificate
    Computer Programming/Programmer - 1-Year Certificate & Associate Degree
    Data Modeling/Warehousing and Database Administration – Associate Degree
    Network and System Administration/Administrator – 1-2 Year Certificate

    Tuition Cost

    In-State: $4,405
    Out-of-State: $6,271
    Average Net Price: $6,271
    College Retention Rate: 72% (Full-time Students); 56% (Part-time Students)

  • Madison Area Technical College

    Madison Area Technical College offers several associate degrees focused on helping students prepare for a career in IT and cyber security, paving the way for an entry-level role. Additionally, the school offers several certification prep courses for IT pros looking to level up their skills.

    Programs Offered:

    Computer and Information Systems Security/Information Assurance – Associate Degree & Undergraduate Certificate
    Computer Programming, Vendor/Product Certification – Master’s Degree
    Computer Programming/Programmer, General – Associate Degree
    Computer/Information Technology Services Administration and Management – Associate Degree & Undergraduate Certificate
    Network and System Administration/Administrator – Associate Degree

    Tuition Cost

    In-State: $4,407
    Out-of-State: $6,512
    Average Net Price: $9,679

  • Milwaukee Area Technical College

    Milwaukee Area Technical College offers a range of programs including an accelerated associate degree for becoming an Information Systems Security Specialist, and several certification programs.

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    Programs Offered:

    Computer and Information Systems Security/Information Assurance – Associate Degree
    Computer Programming, Specific Applications - 1-year Certificate, 1-2 Year Certificate & Associate Degree
    Computer Programming/Programmer – Associate Degree
    Network and System Administration/Administrator – 1-2 Year Certificate

    Tuition Cost

    In-State: $4,589
    Out-of-State: $6,602
    Average Net Price: $7,183
    College Retention Rate: 54% (Full-time Students); 47% (Part-time Students)

Top College Scholarships in Wisconsin for Cyber Security

  • CyberCorps

    Amount: $22,500, undergraduate - $34,000, graduate
    Deadline: July 31
    CyberCorps is a US government-sponsored effort to improve and expand the talent pool of qualified candidates for government cyber security jobs. The program provides stipends up to $22,500 a year for undergraduate students and $34,000 for graduate students to cover expenses, tuition, and fees at NSA-certified schools. To apply, you must be enrolled in a cyber security program at a CAE program, qualify for a security clearance, and be a US citizen. Additionally, you’ll be required to complete an internship and work for the US government after graduation for a length of time equal to your participation in the scholarship program.

  • Wisconsin Fast Forward (WFF) Program

    Amount: Varies
    Deadline: Varies
    Wisconsin’s Fast Forward is a nationally-recognized talent development program designed to help Wisconsin businesses, non-profits, and educational centers train and retain skilled workers. As it stands, there are an estimated $1M in grants available—though they span several different industries, not just cyber security. For non-traditional students, such as working professionals seeking additional credentials or a career change, WFF may be a good resource for covering expenses.

  • Electronic Security Association Youth Scholarship

    Amount: $2,500-$7,500
    Deadline: April 10
    This scholarship is awarded to graduating high school seniors between the ages of 15-20 planning on enrolling in a safety or security-related program. Students must be the child of an active public safety employee, submit an essay, and live in a state with an ESA charter (WI does have one).

  • Bruce Family Applied Mathematics and Computer Science Scholarship, CSTEMM - UW Stout

    Amount: Varies
    This scholarship is awarded to a computer science student, including those focusing on cyber security, based on financial need. The benefit amount varies, and students must be an undergraduate junior or senior with a 2.5 or higher GPA to qualify.

  • IT Student Assistance Scholarship—Madison Area Technical College

    Amount: Varies
    Deadline: December 6
    The IT Student Assistance Scholarship is awarded to an IT major at Madison Area Technical College, with preference given to members of the Madison Information Technology Association and/or the Wolf Pack Techies group. Benefit amount varies based on need.

Conferences and Workshops

  • Cyphercon

    April 2-3
    Milwaukee, WI
    Cyphercon is an annual hacker conference that provides hackers with a channel for demonstrating experience and expertise, sharing information, and hearing from cyber security experts. Content focuses on topics like new technologies, privacy, personal rights, forensics, hacking, and more. The event also offers challenges and contests, informal discussions, and plenty of time to socialize with others in the community.

  • THAT Conference

    August 3-6
    Wisconsin Dells, WI
    THAT Conference is an annual event with 150+ sessions centered on mobile, IoT, web, cloud, and technology. The event goes a bit broader than some of the cyber security-focused event but offers a family-friendly summer camp experience (there’s a family schedule, a kids track, and a professional track—something for everyone), along with hands-on learning sessions, networking opportunities, and the chance to meet industry insiders.

  • Technology & Cybersecurity Conference (formerly known as Lockdown)

    Madison, WI
    This conference, known as Lockdown for the past 20 years, is updating the name due to some negative associations. While they have yet to decide on a new name, the annual event is returning this summer and will continue to gather cyber security and IT professionals together to network and collaborate.

  • Wisconsin Digital Government Summit 2020

    Madison, WI
    This event is run by an advisory board made up of public and private sector IT leaders and stakeholders and is designed to promote innovation in the public sector. The conference focuses on cyber security, as well as emerging digital government trends, data analytics, citizen experience, and more.

Careers for Cyber Security Graduates

In the state of Wisconsin, computer and mathematical occupations, on the whole, are growing at about 17.14%. While some jobs like application developers are growing rapidly, others are projected to see more modest growth over the next several years. It’s worth noting that, on average, Wisconsin cyber security salaries are slightly lower than the US average, even though the cost of living is 98/100 on the national index, meaning wages might not go as far as they would in other states. That said, there are plenty of companies offering higher wages, and obtaining a master’s degree or earning cyber security credentials can help increase your earning power.

  • System Analysts

    Systems analysts perform application testing, database management, and support for organizations or clients. This role typically requires a bachelor’s degree and analysts must be knowledgeable in multiple programming languages. Analysts create and maintain documentation, manage system access, analyze and route issues through proper channels, and solve IT-related problems.

    The national average wage for systems analysts in the US is about $63k. In Wisconsin, that amount appears to be a bit higher, clocking in at about $75k. As it stands, about 15,244 people work as computer systems analysts in the state, with that number expected to rise to 17,195 by 2026.

  • Information Security Analysts

    Information security analysts install software like firewalls, plan and implement security measures, and continuously monitor an organization’s computer networks for potential threats.

    According to the BLS, the mean annual wage for IS analysts is $102,470 across the US, though in the state of Wisconsin, it’s a bit lower, at $76,930, on average. That said, according to job search sites like ZipRecruiter and Glassdoor, the average salary is closer to $90k per year, with many positions paying much higher wages.

  • Database Administrators

    Database administrators are responsible for maintaining security and performance standards of company databases, protecting an organization’s data from unauthorized access, loss, or corruption, and training users to utilize systems properly.

    Database administrators make about $75,000 per year, on average, in the state of Wisconsin, slightly less than the US average, $90k per year. Just over 2,000 people work as database administrators in the state and that amount is expected to increase to 2,300 by 2026.

  • Network and Computer Systems Administrators

    Network and computer systems administrators are responsible for the day-to-day operations of an organization’s computer network. Their job is to organize, install, and maintain local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), network segments, intranets, and more. This job typically requires a bachelor’s degree, though there are some exceptions to the rule.

    Currently, about 7,160 people are working as network and computer systems administrators in the state of Wisconsin, and that number is expected to increase to about 7,595 by 2026. On average, this role pays $68,460 annually in the state.

  • Software Developers

    Software developers that build applications bring in $81,160 on average in the state of Wisconsin. There are about 12,000 people working in this role, and that number is on track to hit 15,000 by 2026. Software developers focused on building systems make slightly more, $84,190 on average, though there are fewer of them according to the Job Center of Wisconsin. An estimated 3,500 people develop systems software, and that number is expected to increase by about 400 by 2026.

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