Statistics on the frequency of cyberattacks in the U.S. reveal staggering numbers, and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff is prepared to take a big step in preparing students for a career in fighting such crimes.
Pending approval from the Arkansas Division of Higher Education next month, UAPB is set to launch its bachelor of science program in cybersecurity for the fall 2023 semester. The university also plans to begin its Bachelor of Science program in engineering at the same time, after the University of Arkansas System board of trustees approved the addition last month.
The Division of Higher Education's coordinating board will meet July 28 and vote whether to approve both programs. The UA System board approved a curricular foundation of the instructional consortium for cybersecurity among seven campuses in May 2022, and the degree program at UAPB was given the green light in a consent agenda last month.
"This is a great thing for UAPB and a great time for us to be investing in this kind of a program, because everywhere you look, whether it's in-state or nationally, you see there are a lot of jobs and job opportunities and vacancies available for people in this cybersecurity area," UAPB Chancellor Laurence B. Alexander said. "There are good-paying jobs, what state officials like to call high-wage and high-demand jobs. They do pay well. They're needed across the board in various sectors of the market."
Alexander added that cybersecurity issues attack computers and computer systems on a periodic basis, but an article on Zippia.com offered stunning statistics into those problems.
Among them, cyberattacks happen once every 39 seconds, 95% of cyberattacks are caused by human error and 43% of cyberattacks target small businesses. A graphic on the article also revealed that data breaches in the U.S. grew from 662 million in 2010 to 1.632 billion in 2017, but dropped to 1.001 billion in 2020.
"We as a society need more folks to go into schools and major in cybersecurity so they can learn as much as they can and then apply that knowledge to help thwart any of these attacks on our computer systems," Alexander said.
UAPB joined forces with UA Little Rock and the Forge Institute to establish the Consortium for Cyber Innovation in December 2021, according to a news release from UA Little Rock. The purpose is to meet a growing need for skilled cybersecurity professionals, it was reported.
Alexander is hopeful that UAPB could begin with 30 students enrolled in both the engineering and cybersecurity programs, adding that he'd like to see it grow year to year. Then again, he acknowledged that the late start, as he called it, could make reaching that goal difficult.
"On the other hand, understand that we're coming into a university where students are also here," Alexander said. "Some are majoring in related fields and they got industrial technology and applied engineering when they were looking for engineering, and now UAPB has it, they may want to switch over from industrial tech. We've got computer science majors because we have both undergraduate and master's in computer science. Students who were interested in cybersecurity, they may want to transfer into that program."
Criminal justice students also learned some basics of cybersecurity in recent years, Alexander added.
UAPB has yet to establish a director for the program, but Alexander said interim Department of Mathematics and Computer Science chairperson Karl Walker has been called on to lead efforts in cybersecurity.
Students asked about adding engineering and cybersecurity at UAPB, Alexander said, and the school has delivered.
"They've seen it in other schools and other programs. We're just pleased we're able to offer it right here at UAPB," he said. "It really makes good and efficient use of our resources in our existing departments to be able to offer these important STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] areas. It also helps to grow our portfolio of programs in STEM area. We have a very robust STEM program at UAPB, with lots of students and lots of majors in that area. This provides even greater opportunity to major in those areas."