There was a time in America when one would pay cash or write a check for purchases, get up to change the TV channel, and flip through the White or Yellow Pages to look up a number.
Today, we value convenience and ease: Google, Siri and Alexa can pay our bills, change the channel, and even look up a number for any of our friends — or even those we don’t know.
But at what cost?
According to a February report from the U.S. Council of Economic Advisers, cybercrimes cost the U.S. economy between $57 billion and $109 billion in 2016.
There is a dark side to this convenience that is not only stealing money but also identities and shutting down power grids.
The threat is so real that cyber security is now a domain of warfare — and both the government and private industries are competing and clamoring for individuals who can fight to keep bank accounts protected, people’s identity their own, and power grids secure.
Yet, despite some of the identity-theft tools and the cool-looking commercials ensuring our data is secure, the army of experts and skilled professionals available to fight cyber-crime is still a paper tiger. In June 2018, US News and World Report stated that “globally, there’s an expected shortfall of 1.5 million cybersecurity professionals by .”
But with shortfalls, there are opportunities. Many universities, colleges, and private firms are answering the call to train up this new army of cyber-crime fighters where students can expect to pay from $23,000 to $61,000 in total tuition and graduate in four years.
Except at Western Governors University.
WGU, has a diverse student body living in all 50 states — and on U.S. military bases around the world, and has positioned itself with our military and veteran families to make obtaining a Cyber Security degree achievable in close to half the time and at half the cost. And if their record of 96 percent of their students being employed after graduation follows suit in this field, the chances of one graduating and landing that six-figure job in cyber security is pretty good.
For those military and Veteran families in Washington State, WGU Washington is an online, competency-based university designed to expand access to higher education for Washington residents. In 2011, the Washington State Legislature created WGU Washington in partnership with nationally recognized Western Governors University.
Under the leadership of Chancellor Tonya Drake, WGU Washington has expanded its College of Information Technology to include a number of bachelor’s and master’s degrees that train and arm individuals to fill the high demand jobs in cyber security, data management, cloud and systems administration and more.
Chancellor Drake’s commitment to military and veteran families is well-known throughout the Greater Puget Sound area and was reinforced after she had the opportunity to attend the U.S. Army War College. Many of her staff share her same commitment, including Jake Riddell, senior public relations director.
Both Riddell and Drake quickly realized that thousands of IT and cyber-security jobs were (and still are) available throughout the Greater Puget Sound area with companies such as JP Morgan, Starbucks, Amazon, Boeing and many more so they committed to attracting more military and veteran families, following the tradition of the previous Chancellor Rich Cummins.
One of their most recent veteran success stories is Eddy Cruz, senior practice manager information security for Kalles Group, a consulting and solutions firm that specializes in cybersecurity, business and information technology services.
Cruz spent eight years (six years active, 2 individual ready reserve) in the Army Signal Corps, and found himself stationed in Germany, then two tours in Iraq, finally landing at Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM) and Korea. After his time in the military, he worked as a Department of Defense contractor at JBLM, serving at the Battle Command Training Center, Intelligence Operations Center and G6 as the Information Assurance Manager.
Due to budget constraints, he changed to employment in the private sector in Seattle. While working in the industry, he was able to obtain a bachelor’s degree in Network Design and IT from WGU, which, in his words “has been a great way to combine real world experience with formal theory and knowledge.” Like most transitioned veterans, he jumped around a bit, holding a few cybersecurity roles, including as a chief information security officer for a software company where he developed their information security program. Having both real-world experience and expertise, he was sought out by his current employer, Kalles Group, where he currently serves as the cybersecurity practice director and assists a number of local clients with their cybersecurity needs.
When asked why he chose WGU over other schools, Cruz mentioned that having the flexibility to work school around his work schedule and not having to be present at a campus, was a major factor. With his wife being from Korea, they were able to take a trip to Korea and he was still able to conduct his education.
Another compelling factor was WGU’s competency-based approach to education. WGU emphasizes competency — a.k.a.: what you already know in a subject — over time in the subject. When you demonstrate understanding in the material, you can test out, thus having the ability to move as quickly (or as slowly) as you need through a subject. Cruz’s military and DoD contracting experience equipped him with a wealth of knowledge, experience and industry certificates so he was able to move quickly through his course work and complete his network design and IT degree in 2.5 years — and within his budget.
Speaking of budget, a given semester will run just over $3,000 and a full year is $6,380 on average. One can take as many courses in that time frame and essentially complete a bachelor’s degree in 2.5 years.
In addition to flexibility and having the option to move as quickly as one desires, WGU Washington is involving employers in the construct of the curriculum. WGU Washington focuses on four key areas that are critical to Washington state employers: business, health (nursing), IT and teaching. By involving employers, graduates of WGU are trained up to be an attractive option for partnering businesses of WGU. This is one of the reasons WGU Washington has achieved a 98 percent employer satisfaction rating — they produce the talent employers are looking for.
Is WGU the right fit for everyone? Probably not. Some will need the in-class structure and forced discipline that comes from the more traditional models. And while WGU doesn’t offer the traditional “college experience,” it does offer a low-cost, student-centered, distance learning model that is backed by dedicated program mentors and course instructors.
Bottom line: If you are seeking to add value in the civilian sector that will make a tremendous difference to both individuals and industries, one that will leverage the principles and discipline you learned in the military for good, pay you a high five, maybe even six figure salary, then consider WGU Washington.
When you do, you just might find yourself on the frontlines of protecting America’s Cybernation.
— By Mike Schindler
Edmonds resident Mike Schindler is the founder and chief executive officer of Operation Military Family Cares –– a 501(c)(3) veteran service organization and technology provider that combats veteran homelessness, while working to strengthen relationships and equip communities and families for success. He is also the Program Manager of Community Engagement & Innovation for the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University. He is responsible for fostering and maintaining a relationship with community agencies that provide services to veterans, service members, and military families in Washington State, particularly, with WAServes, an IVMF AmericaServe’s network.