Earning a Cyber Security Degree Online vs. On Campus

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In cyber security, online education can be especially rewarding.

In cyber security, online education can be at least as academically rewarding as on-campus alternatives.

As the world nears the 2020s, the answer to the question, “Is a master’s in cyber security worth it?” may be a resounding “Yes.”

The need for experienced cyber security professionals is increasing so fast that CybersecurityVentures.com predicts a shortage of qualified job candidates to the tune of 3.5 million by the year 2021. The website’s “Cybersecurity Jobs Report 2018-2021” also predicts that cybercrime will cost the world approximately $6 trillion annually by 2021, double the amount from 2015.

The growing threat presented by hackers, secure network breaches, identity theft and computer fraud means that organizations ranging from public corporations to healthcare facilities and nonprofit companies will need to hire additional cyber security personnel.

Aspiring professionals can earn their cyber security master’s degree online or in an on-campus program. Both educational paths lead to an accredited graduate degree but interested candidates should understand the differences between online and on-campus degrees before applying.


Earning a Cyber Security Master’s Online

Online enrollment in higher education is increasing each year. According to the CampusTechnology.com article, “On-Campus Enrollment Shrinks While Online Continues its Ascent,” almost 30% of all higher education enrollees in 2015 took at least one online class. Almost 15% of students took every class online (up 2% between 2012 and 2015).

In some fields, the on-campus experience is considered more immersive and able to offer more hands-on experience than online alternatives. The cyber security industry, however, takes place almost exclusively in an online, networked environment, so pursuing a degree in an online classroom is consistent with learning how to perform an online job successfully.

U.S. News & World Report’s “What to Expect in an Online Cybersecurity Degree Program” notes that offering online cyber security master’s programs is an intuitive move because professionals in this growing field will perform the majority of their work remotely.

In cyber security, online education can be at least as academically rewarding as on-campus alternatives.

As researcher John Nnaji writes in his 2018 paper, “Ethical Dimensions of the Increasing Usage of New Technologies in Virtual Education,” “The use of technology in distance education tends to foster four major objectives which include: intensification of the educational process; increasing the efficiency of education, i.e., the criteria of evaluating results; facilitating access to quality education; and provision of additional skills unavailable through traditional methods. The achievement of these objectives has invariably determined the modes of use of technology in online education.”

E-campuses and online education technologies easily foster one-to-one and one-to-many communication, both live and in forums. New approaches to e-learning also tend to cultivate students’ natural inclination to access information on the internet.

Additionally, students with full-time jobs and family responsibilities can benefit from the flexibility afforded by online education technology, not only for scheduling purposes, but also because they can customize their learning experience.


Earning a Cyber Security Master’s On Campus

Many students, especially those early in their educational careers, prefer to attend a brick-and-mortar campus.

“On-campus graduate students are often preparing for their careers whether for the first time or to change fields,” explains BestMastersPrograms.org in “Online Versus On-Campus Master’s Programs.” “They tend to be younger than their online peers, and a higher percentage are continuing directly from undergraduate study. … These students enjoy the structure, social environment and networking opportunities of a campus setting.”

Brick-and-mortar-based cyber security programs generally offer a state-of-the-art data sciences laboratory that may provide resources that online students are unable to access from their home computers or laptops. The lab can be useful for research projects and valuable hands-on training with the kind of equipment available to cyber security professionals.

For example, the University of North Dakota’s data sciences laboratory offers simulation training with its unmanned aircraft system environment, which allows students to experience a simulated cyber-attack, according to the UND Discovery article, “Combatting Cyberattack.” In the simulation, students play the roles of hackers and defenders, giving them hands-on experience in both aspects of the scenario.

The differences between online and on-campus degree programs, especially in computer-related fields, mostly boil down to students’ personal preferences and time restraints (e.g., when campus classes may conflict with work schedules). Some students may be more comfortable learning in a classroom or laboratory. Others prefer to learn cyber security principles in an online environment because of the online function of cyber security work.


University of North Dakota’s Master of Science in Cyber Security Program

Choosing the right online cyber security master’s program is a decision that should not be taken lightly. The best programs will offer courses that keep current with the today’s cyber security issues and concerns and offer concentrations that will be attractive to employers.

UND’s online cyber security master’s degree program is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and is ranked in U.S. News & World Report’s Top 25 Most Innovative Schools (2018), alongside such prestigious institutions as Stanford, Harvard and MIT.

UND prepares students for careers in cyber security with concentrations in Autonomous Systems Cyber Security, Cyber Security and Behavior, Data Security, and General Cyber Security.


For more information on UND’s MSCS online program, visit the program’s web page.



Cybersecurity Jobs Report – CybersecurityVentures.com

On-Campus Enrollment Shrinks– CampusTechnology.com

What to Expect in an Online Cybersecurity Degree Program – USNews.com

Ethical Dimensions of New Technology in Virtual Education – Books.google.com

Online Versus On-Campus Master’s Programs – BestMastersPrograms.org

Combatting Cyberattack – Issuu.com