Computer Science Professor Al Heitkamper said the main reason for cutting the AS degree option is there are too few four-year institutions the degree will transfer to. The change in no way reduces the need for cybersecurity experts.
Heitkamper said he started at OCCC in 1999 and became chair of the Computer Science Department the following year. In 2005, he became director of the cybersecurity program after returning from the University of Tulsa, where he obtained his second master’s degree.
Heitkamper said the need for cybersecurity professionals is rapidly increasing.
“The need for cybersecurity jobs has also increased,” said Heitkamper. “As new things come online, like smart watches and fitbits and all the things, those things have security risks involved with them as well.”
Heitkamper discussed how the internet and its risks are all around everyday.
“You’ve got social media, you’ve got gaming, you now have connected devices in your home,” Heitkamper said. “Your TV is connected to the internet. They can look at you through the cameras on some televisions, they can look at you through cameras on gaming systems, and through your computers. They call it the ‘Internet of Things’.”
According to Heitkamper, it is estimated the cybersecurity field will require over 1 million new professionals in the next four years.
At OCCC, the number of students entering the program has gradually increased.
In the 2013-2014 school year, 301 OCCC students had a declared cybersecurity major, and the following school year saw a rise to 336 cybersecurity students.
“Basically, a community college can provide you with three types of credentials,” Heitkamper said.
He said the first is an Associate in Science (AS), the option being cut at OCCC. This degree option is designed to provide students with general education courses, and a few major courses in order to transfer to a four-year university.
The second option is an Associate in Applied Science (AAS), which allows students to get two years of education then go to work in their field. It’s similar to a technical occupation degree.
The final option is a Certificate of Mastery, which provides students with a subset of courses to act as a credential to begin work but remain in school.
Only the University of Tulsa and OSU-IT in Okmulgee offer a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity. Heitkamper said it is unusual for OCCC students to transfer to either institution.
Out of 36 OCCC cybersecurity graduates in 2015, only one student graduated with an Associate in Science degree.
“It came to a point where it became confusing for students,” Heitkamper said. “They see it in the book, they say ‘Oh, AS degree goes to four-year college, I’m gonna take this.’ We decided to suspend it and take it out of the catalog, but it’s still an active program to students enrolled.”
OCCC will no longer enter students into the program starting summer 2016.
Despite the degree program ending, it’s unlikely the college will save money amidst the current budget crisis. Many of the classes that were available in the program will still be offered.
To learn more about the Certificate of Mastery or the AAS degree in cybersecurity, contact Heitkamper at firstname.lastname@example.org.