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App State’s New Cybersecurity Bachelor’s Degree Program Begins This Fall

This fall, Appalachian State University will begin offering a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity — the only such program offered by a University of North Carolina System institution in Western North Carolina. The program, which will be available at the Boone and Hickory campuses, is also the first in the UNC System to be housed in a college of business.

The Bachelor of Science in cybersecurity program, to be offered through the Walker College of Business’ Department of Computer Information Systems, received approval from the UNC System Board of Governors this month.

Safeguarding digital assets and information is increasingly critical to public, private and nonprofit organizations. The new program will prepare graduates for in-demand roles in the information security sector by providing them with a strong business background, communication skills and comprehensive cybersecurity expertise.

“At App State, we are dedicated to equipping students with the skills to thrive in high-impact fields,” said Interim Chancellor Heather Norris. “This program addresses the urgent need for professionals trained to secure information and infrastructure against ever-evolving threats and vulnerabilities.”

The program expands on App State’s existing cybersecurity offerings, which include a concentration for computer information systems majors, established in 2021, and a cybersecurity minor available to all students, which began in 2022. Students, prospective students and employers have demonstrated strong interest in cybersecurity curricula at both the Boone and Hickory campuses.

Currently, no undergraduate degree programs in cybersecurity are available through UNC System institutions in Western North Carolina. The closest UNC System institution offering a B.S. in cybersecurity is UNC Pembroke, which is over three hours away from Boone and approximately three hours away from Hickory.

“As the first STEM-designated major for undergraduates in the Walker College of Business, the Bachelor of Science in cybersecurity underscores the college’s commitment to offer transformational, cross-disciplinary educational programs to prepare graduates for quickly evolving careers in business,” said Dr. Sandra Vannoy, dean of the Walker College of Business.

App State’s cybersecurity program will help address a shortage of qualified workers in the field:

  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists information security analysts as one of the five fastest-growing occupations, with a projected 32% growth rate between 2021 and 2031.
  • According to a February 2024 report from labor market analytics firm Lightcast, the previous six-month period indicated 22,184 total job postings in North Carolina related to cybersecurity, with 86% requiring a bachelor’s degree.
  • The firm reported median earnings of $56.61/hour for information security analyst jobs in North Carolina.

The program will be offered at both App State campuses, in Boone and in Hickory, with most classes held in person and some courses offered online. The program will consist of 120 required hours, including 44 general education credit hours and 34 hours in the major.

“We’re excited to offer a program that not only trains students to stay ahead of emerging threats but also inspires our graduates to be the change-makers in the digital world,” said Chris Taylor, cybersecurity program coordinator. “Students will gain a holistic understanding of how security integrates with business strategies to drive organizational success.”

Course subjects will include forensics, incident response and detection, cybersecurity strategy, policy and governance, audit and cybersecurity analytics, programming, networking, database management, ethical hacking, countermeasures, and other ethics and privacy issues. Core business courses include accounting, business law, computer information systems, economics, finance, management, marketing, supply chain and global issues, as well as courses in business communications, organizational behavior and strategic management.

App State also provides co-curricular opportunities for cybersecurity students.

Dr. Scott Hunsinger, chair of the Department of Computer Information Systems, noted that in fall 2023, App State students placed in the top 10% nationally in the Cyber Power Rankings — a measure of students’ ability to perform real-world cybersecurity tasks on the Cyber Skyline platform. App State students also participate alongside industry professionals in the college’s annual Cyber Summit, “the preeminent cybersecurity event in the tri-state area of North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia,” Hunsinger said.

To support the program, plans are underway for cybersecurity labs on both the Boone and Hickory campuses.

The Walker College of Business is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. The Department of Computer Information Systems plans to pursue the National Security Agency’s Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense designation, which is awarded to regionally accredited academic institutions offering cybersecurity degrees and/or certificates at the associate, bachelor’s and graduate levels.