OC is one of four recipients of this year’s award, which is meant to “formally highlight academic institutions within North America that excel each year with lasting impacts on their student’s cybersecurity education and local communities,” according to EC-Council.
EC-Council offers a wide range of technology certifications, said Kevin Blackwell, one of the college’s Computer Information Systems professors. Two of their most prestigious certifications are the Certified Ethical Hacker certification and the Computer Hacking Forensic Investigator certification. Obtaining those credentials opens doors for employment and advancement in the areas of information assurance and information system security, Blackwell said.
OC’s Computer Information Systems department began offering Certified Ethical Hacker and Computer Hacking Forensic Investigator classes in 2016 and 2017, respectively. But it wasn’t enough to offer the curriculum, Blackwell said. The department decided they wanted to push students to actually get certified.
“For about 20 years, we’ve been preparing students for certification, but sometimes they don’t actually take the certification exams,” he said. “Then time goes by, they lose a lot of knowledge, and they end up not getting certified.”
So the department decided to do something with the Certified Ethical Hacker class that Blackwell described as “revolutionary”: They incorporated the certification process into the class. Now, the final exam for the Certified Ethical Hacker class is also the certification exam.
Taking the certification exam normally costs $800, but OC students taking the Certified Ethical Hacker class have an opportunity to purchase a voucher for $400. That 50 percent discount can make a huge difference for students, and many take advantage of it. Students can still pass the class without receiving the certification, but if they get certified, it gives them a leg up in the job market, Blackwell said.
“Every quarter, a number of students get certified,” he notes. “I think that means a lot to the EC-Council that there’s more people out there with this certification — and it’s being done in a cost-effective way.”
To receive the certification, students must receive instruction at an Authorized Test Center (which OC is) from a certified EC-Council instructor (which Blackwell is). Other than 11- or 12-week courses at community colleges like OC, the only other option for getting certified is typically a training center with a five-day, boot camp-style instruction model, Blackwell said.
“You’re getting 50 hours of instruction stuffed into five days, and you can imagine what your retention of the information might be like,” he said. “You’re trying to hold onto that and on the last day take a four-hour exam. But we stretch it out over 12 weeks, so I think my level of success, part of that is attributed to the fact that the students are able to learn the knowledge in a way that lends to their retention and understanding of the knowledge instead of a boot camp approach.”
OC’s efforts to certify students helps produce a pool of workers for the Department of Defense (DoD) to draw from, Blackwell added. DoD directives require people who work around sensitive information and classified equipment to have certain technology certifications. The Certified Ethical Hacker certification satisfies that requirement, Blackwell said. “We’re actually meeting that demand for the Department of Defense for this area, and they’re a huge local employer,” he said.
Blackwell said one of his best recruiting tools is Olympic College’s partnership with Western Washington University. Through the partnership, students who complete OC’s associate degree in cybersecurity can transfer to Western’s program at OC Poulsbo and earn a Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity without ever leaving Kitsap County.
“That relationship with Western probably helps me get more students here, because my students talk about going on to get their bachelor’s, and I think that helps with enrollment,” Blackwell said.
Blackwell describes cybersecurity as “high demand, high wage and high growth.” He’s backed up by the data: Demand for Information Security Analysts is expected to grow by 32 percent through 2028, “much faster than average,” according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Analysts make a median annual salary of more than $98,000, and a median hourly wage of $47.28 per hour.
High demand for cybersecurity workers is also helping enrollment in cybersecurity classes, Blackwell said. Since the certification classes started in 2016, enrollment has increased and the classes are consistently over-capacity; this fall, 31 students signed up for the Certified Ethical Hacker course, which has a 24-student cap.