Cybersecurity Training: Transformational for HBCUs and Students

by Teresa Hardee, EdD, Thought Leadership & Innovation Foundation


This article was printed in the Juneteenth 2019 edition of the Mid-South Tribune.

Advances in technology bring us almost limitless possibilities today, and changes in technological capacity have a corresponding impact on higher education. In many respects, these advances represent a major challenge to our longstanding concepts and expectations of higher education. As a result, the landscape for U.S. higher education is changing and undergoing a transformation. While this transformation affects every institution in the higher education system, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are disproportionately impacted. HBCUs primarily serve minority and low-income students and are historically under-resourced and under-funded. Some of the challenges facing HBCUs today include[1]:

  • Increased competition for applicant students – It is questioned by academia and the media alike as to whether these institutions should continue to exist since the minority students they target as applicants are now able to attend all institutions of higher education, unlike the 1800’s when the HBCUs were founded. While enrollment at HBCUs has been increasing, it is at a much slower rate than at colleges and universities overall. Enrollments have increased by 25% since 1980; however, by comparison, the rate of enrollment at all universities and colleges has nearly doubled during this time[2].

  • Declining financial support – In the past few decades, the financial health of many schools has declined. HBCUs struggle with unequal government funding which worsened following the financial recession at the end of the last decade.

  • Changing measures of institutional quality – Performance measures have transitioned from simple measures (such as the number of students, faculty, and programs) to more sophisticated outcome-based metrics (such as student and faculty retention, graduation rates, and post-graduation employment rates. Higher education is now focused is on producing career-ready graduates. HBCUs are currently reporting lower graduation rates and longer times to graduation than the national average.

Adapting to Changing Technology

Higher education needs to be nimble and flexible in order to assess, understand, and accommodate change. In a time when state leaders are taking a hard look at the increasingly scarce funding for higher education and at the future of financing HBCUs, leadership at HBCUs must adapt to change in order to position themselves for success. Institutions desiring to remain viable are now forced to embrace new thinking and provide relevant, timely, and market-based training and education programs which demonstrate their ability to adapt in an environment and culture undergoing constant, continuous change from technological advances.

A relevant example of the challenges faced is reflected in a scenario of addressing the outcome-based metrics now required to be reported by institutions of higher education. While these outcome-based metrics and measures provide a universally acceptable way of comparing colleges and universities, institutions must find innovative ways to increase the quality of student learning, raise the rate of student graduation, and lower the length of time to achieve graduation.

For the top 50 HBCUs, the four-year graduation rate averages approximately 19 percent and the six-year graduation rate averages approximately 38 percent[3]. These institutions must be aggressive in making changes to embrace technology and to find effective modes of learning for their students, despite the cost associated with implementing these changes. Maximizing technology to deliver new modes of learning for students and implementing new programs which are relevant to the current job market, need to be key areas of focus.

There are critical considerations that greatly affect what those outcome metrics will show. A paradigm shift is well underway, and the extent to which institutions are preparing to handle the shift will have a tremendous bearing on the viability of certain institutional models. In fact, this new paradigm is an existential threat to institutions which do not embrace new thinking regarding the risks to our educational delivery systems.

Emergence of Cybersecurity

In recent years, the emergence of the cybersecurity job market and the public awareness of the need for stringent measures to mitigate and address cybersecurity threats serve as a prime area of focus. It has all the ingredients representing a critical need that we have in our nation, and this need is acutely illustrated every day in the local, national and world news.

Given this need, how can HBCUs respond? While HBCUs are uniquely situated to address this need, they often lack the resources necessary to tackle the necessary changes that are indicated. Just like any business, colleges and universities face significant risk to their data and operations because of cybersecurity threats. Lack of a stringent cybersecurity process could be detrimental to the future of any college or university, especially HBCUs, where resources and funding are limited, and impacts could be more severe. Looking at traditional security measures, many HBCUs are struggling to improve their broad measures due to the multi-faceted requirements that make up those measures of enterprise risk at their organization.

This need impacts all institutions, but in this article, we expressly focus our attention on traditionally underrepresented communities because the impacts are felt much worse at these institutions. The data is quite compelling:

  • According to data from the United States Department of Labor which publishes the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 'Black or African-American' people make up only 3 percent of the information security analysts in the United States.

  • Cybersecurity had one million job openings in 2016, and the BLS states information security analyst’s jobs are expected to grow 18 percent through 2024.

  • Juniper Research recently predicted that “the rapid digitization of consumers’ lives and enterprise records will increase the cost of data breaches to $2.1 trillion globally by 2019”.[4]

  • Cybersecurity Ventures predict “there will be 3.5 million cybersecurity job openings by 2021.”[5]

As colleges and universities recognize the need to change and meet market demand, nowhere is this more acute than the need for more cybersecurity professionals. There is a great opportunity for HBCUs to partner with the security industry to fill this gap for the benefit of its students. HBCUs will face many challenges that they must address to position themselves to move forward, to serve the students of the future. The benefits of partnering with the cybersecurity community could be transformational and critical to their survival.

“It is essential that our students graduate from an institution of higher learning with less debt and greater marketability to ensure career aspirations are realized and economic empowerment is guaranteed.” Dr. James H. Ammons, Executive Vice President and Executive Vice Chancellor of Southern University A&M College – Baton Rouge.

[1] Lee, Jr., John Michael; Keys, Samaad West (2013). Repositioning HBCUs for the Future; Access, Success, Research & Innovation. Association of Public and Land-Grant University (APLU). Retrieved from http://www.aplu.org/library/repositioning-hbcus-for-the-future-access-success-research-and-innovation/file

[2] Postsecondary National Policy Institute (2 July 2017).A Primer on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) (Issue Primers). Retrieved from http://pnpi.org/historically-black-colleges-and-universities-hbcus/

[3] U.S. News and World Report “Historically Black Colleges and Universities”. Retrieved from https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/rankings/hbcu

[4] “Cybercrime Will Cost Businesses Over $2 Trillion by 2019”. Juniper Research. https://www.juniperresearch.com/press/press-releases/cybercrime-cost-businesses-over-2trillion (May 12, 2015)

[5] Morgan, Steve. “Cybersecurity Jobs Report 2018-2021). Cybersecurity Ventures. https://cybersecurityventures.com/jobs/ (May 31, 2017)