College students with a knack for tech should consider specializing in cyber security, a popular IT niche focused on defending digital data from unauthorized access. Cyber security specialists are highly trained professionals who make the World Wide Web safer by annihilating ghostware, spyware, viruses, ransomware, data attacks, and other threats. According to a Symantec Internet security report, there were over 1 million cyber attacks against people each day in 2015. Nearly three-fourths of legitimate websites have existing vulnerabilities. To minimize risks, public and private organizations are beefing up their cyber security teams. Forbes magazine projects that the cyber security market will skyrocket to $170 billion by 2020 since job postings are up 74 percent. Newbies can develop the in-demand skills by pursuing the following best online cyber security programs.
Featured Cyber-Security Degree Programs
To rank the top 10 schools, we used the National Center for Education Statistics’ College Navigator tool to sort through online universities with cyber security degrees. Cyber security programs had to be primarily online with few or no on-campus residency requirements. We looked for schools proven to utilize cutting-edge technology in the virtual classroom. Schools must hold current regional accreditation for credit transfer and financial aid. We also only selected online universities boasting the National Security Agency’s (NSA) Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense or Information Assurance designation. Average online tuition for in-state students was recorded to judge affordability. Other factors considered were curriculum flexibility, faculty strengths, student support, job placement, industry recognition, admission selectivity, and class size.
1. Pennsylvania State University
College of Information Sciences and Technology
Founded as the Farmers’ High School of Pennsylvania in 1855, Pennsylvania State University has over 150 years of teaching excellence as the state’s flagship public, multi-campus RU/VH research institution. Penn State is located on a sprawling 8,556-acre urban campus in “Happy Valley” around 86 miles northwest of Harrisburg. Endowed for $3.64 million, PSU enrolls more than 97,400 students system-wide, including 6,100 fully online students attending the World Campus. According to the USNWR, Penn State is America’s 47th best university and 14th top public school with the #1 best online bachelor’s degrees. Kiplinger’s Personal Finance named PSU the 56th best public value for in-state students. The Princeton Review also lauded PSU for the #2 “Best Alumni Network” nationally.
The College of Information Sciences and Technology offers a Bachelor of Science in Security and Risk Analysis (SRA) online through the World Campus. This 120-credit program introduces students to the technologies used to design secure networks that protect people’s information and assets. Two specialized tracks are available for Intelligence Analysis & Modeling (IAM) or Information & Cyber Security (ICS). Both options prepare cyber forensics gurus for deflecting catastrophic digital attacks. Beyond lectures, online PSU students engage in real-world defense projects and forensic investigations. The NSA Center of Academic Excellence boasts an IST-only career services system called Compass for internships. SRA graduates have an average starting salary of $62,704.
Graduate students at Penn State can pursue the Master of Professional Studies (MPS) in Information Sciences: Cybersecurity and Information Assurance online. Requiring 33 credits, this program focuses on building technological infrastructure that effectively exposes and thwarts vulnerabilities. Using a socio-technical approach, the master’s degree integrates real-world cyber attack simulations. Online PSU students must already hold a bachelor’s degree in a scientific discipline or significant IT experience for admission. Graduates can add an Enterprise Information and Security Technology Architecture or Information Systems Cybersecurity certificate. Coursework can be completed in just two years part-time, including the capstone research paper. There’s also an MPS in Homeland Security: Information Security and Forensics program online.
Online Tuition: $542 (bachelor’s) or $854 (master’s) per credit
2. University of Denver
Daniel Felix Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science
Affiliated with NAICU, the University of Denver is a private, non-sectarian teaching institution established by Governor John Evans in 1864 as Colorado Seminary. Today, DU remains the Rocky Mountains’ oldest independent college with enrollment over 11,700 students. Its physical campus sprawls across 125 urban acres in the University Neighborhood of Colorado’s “Mile High City” on the Front Range. The U.S. News ranked DU as the 86th best national university with America’s 20th best online bachelor’s and 25th top online graduate IT programs. The Princeton Review placed the University of Denver among the “Colleges That Pay You Back.” Forbes magazine also named DU the West’s 24th top college with a “B” financial grade.
The ABET-accredited Daniel Felix Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science uses Canvas to deliver its online cyber security programs. Graduate online learners can pursue the Master of Science in Information Security or Master of Science in Cybersecurity. The 48-credit programs integrate 12 courses into flexible 10-week terms for accelerated learning. Master’s students are trained to lead the strategic planning of cyber defenses for safeguarding a network’s confidential information. Based on ASIS International’s guidelines, the program includes practical experience with high-tech security systems. Most online classes are capped at 20 for individualized attention from DU’s experienced faculty. There’s also a six-course Online Information Security Certificate.
Undergraduates wishing to attend the University of Denver online could earn the Bachelor of Arts in Information Technology. Online bachelor’s courses like IT systems analysis, data structures, web fundamentals, database administration, and network security build technical skills for cyber security careers. The program ranges from 45 to 180 credits hours depending on each student’s previous education. Online, 10-week quarters start regularly for faster degree completion. B.A. students are required to complete an Integrative Project after organization-based study in their local communities. Career-relevant education comes from a lauded NSA Center of Academic Excellence. Denver was ranked the #1 online IT school by the Online Education Database.
Online Tuition: $562 (bachelor’s) or $628 (master’s) per credit
3. Dakota State University
College of Computing
Following the motto “Technically, We’re Better,” Dakota State University is a public, state-funded tech-centric higher learning institution holding HLC-NCA accreditation. Governed by the South Dakota Board of Regents, DSU is headquartered on a 20-acre rural campus in Madison near Lake Herman. On-campus, at the Sioux Falls University Center, and online, DSU enrolls more than 3,000 students per term. According to the U.S. News, Dakota State is the Midwest’s 92nd best college and 30th top public school with the 115th best online graduate degrees. The Online Education Database ranked DSU fourth in the United States. With a 16:1 student-faculty ratio, Dakota State University is deemed the 186th best research university by Forbes.
Designated an NSA Center of Excellence, the College of Computing is among the top 10 schools according to the National Cyber League. At the undergraduate level, online students can obtain a Bachelor of Science in Cyber Operations. Utilizing DSU’s state-of-the-art “hacking” lab, students gain hands-on experience addressing exploited software vulnerabilities. Cohorts of under 35 peers fine-tune their programming and networking skills for developing secure computer systems. Students can also join ACM Programming Contests to prove their cyber expertise. Dakota State University has a 100 percent job placement rate with agencies like Navy SPAWAR and Sandia National Laboratory. There’s also an Online Bachelor of Science in Network and Security Administration.
Further advancement is possible with DSU’s online Master of Science in Information Assurance and Computer Security. Applying a holistic, in-depth defense approach, the 30-credit program produces cyber security experts with the leadership skills for management. Students learn to take the reins in developing security strategies that successfully stop digital attacks. Online MSIA courses delve into data privacy, incident response, computer forensics, cryptography, intrusion detection, and security risk management. Full-time students can graduate in two years with affordable online tuition. Admission requires an accredited bachelor’s degree related to computer science and minimum 3.0 GPA. Graduates could continue into DSU’s unique Doctor of Science in Cyber Security.
Online Tuition: $333 (bachelor’s) or $442 (master’s) per credit
4. Champlain College
Continuing Professional Studies Division
Known for its “Upside Down Curriculum,” Champlain College is an accredited private, co-educational higher learning institution first opened in 1878 as Burlington Business School. With over 80 academic options, Champlain enrolls approximately 2,100 students from 47 states. Only 104 miles from Montreal, the college operates a 22-acre urban campus in the Hill District of Burlington, Vermont. Named a top up-and-coming school in 2014, Champlain is ranked the North’s 14th best college and ninth best school for veterans with the 150th best online bachelor’s degrees nationwide. Given the Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence, Champlain is also included in Princeton Review’s “Guide to 353 Green Colleges.”
Placed third in the Online Education Database, Champlain stands among the best cyber security schools for distance learning. Undergraduates can pursue a top-notch Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity fully online with convenient seven-week terms. In 2015, SC Magazine crowned it the “best cyber security higher education program.” The 120-credit curriculum delivers hands-on preparation for protecting organizations’ digital assets from malice. Virtual lab courses sharpen the technical problem-solving skills required in public or private cyber operations. Working adults can access online coursework 24/7 and transfer up to 90 credits. Embedded certificates in computer forensics, digital investigations, Linux administration, and computer networking are offered.
As an NSA Center for Academic Excellence, Champlain College also gives graduates the opportunity to obtain a Master of Science in Information Security Operations online. This 30-credit degree can be completed in under two years with seven-week online sessions. It’s ideal for working adults involved in running networks for mid- or large-sized enterprises. Students are equipped with the strategic skills to prevent and response to cyber crimes and malware attacks. Courses are taught by experienced IT security practitioners with a 14:1 student-faculty ratio. Topics addressed include security design, vulnerability analysis, incidence response, security scripting, and cyber warfare before the applied capstone. Admission requires at least two years of technological work experience.
Online Tuition: $641 (bachelor’s) or $795 (master’s) per credit
5. Utica College
Economic Crime and Cybersecurity Institute
Established as an extension of Syracuse University in 1946, Utica College is an independent, non-profit technical institution carrying a $27.7 million endowment. Regionally accredited by the NEASC, Utica serves more than 3,900 students in 57 academic programs. Along with its 128-acre urban campus in Upstate New York along the Mohawk River, Utica has a satellite center in St. Petersburg, Florida, and fully online division. The U.S. News crowned Utica College the 116th best regional university and 81st top school for veterans. According to GI Jobs magazine, Utica is among America’s best “Military Friendly” colleges. The NSA Center of Academic Excellence also has a cybersecurity lecturer on Forbes’ “30 Under 30 in Enterprise Technology.”
Cutting-edge IT protection education begins at the undergraduate level with Utica’s Online Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity program. This 57-credit degree completion program is available to students holding an accredited associate degree. Students jump into highly applicable coursework to master the cyber defense methods used to minimize digital threats, including identity theft. Online learners attend part-time over three years and attain hands-on practice with cyber infiltration techniques. There are five customized tracks: Network Forensics and Intrusion Investigation, Information Assurance, Cybercrime and Fraud Investigation, Cyber Operations, or Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Utica College partners with CompTIA for generous certification discounts. Students also join the U.S. Cyber Challenge.
At the graduate level, there’s a faculty-directed, yet flexible Master of Science in Cybersecurity program online. The lab-oriented curriculum blends high-tech cyber defense practices with strategic management skills for preparing tomorrow’s leaders against digital attacks. Within the 30-credit curriculum, there’s just one four-day on-campus residency required. This weekend seminar will take place in Utica’s Computer Forensics Research Center. Full-time students complete the master’s degree within 20 months for specializations in Cyber Operations, Cyber Intelligence, or Computer Forensics. The program qualifies current network administrators or software developers industry certification, including Certified Security Analyst (ECSA). Online Utica learners could also pursue the MPS in Cyber Policy and Risk Analysis.
Online Tuition: $450 (bachelor’s) or $895 (master’s) per credit
6. Bellevue University
College of Science and Technology
Designated an NSA Center of Academic Excellence through 2021, Bellevue University is a private, non-profit adult education institution holding HLC-NCA accreditation. Approximately 80 percent of Bellevue’s more than 10,300 students are at least 25 years old. Headquartered on a suburban campus in Bellevue within Nebraska’s Omaha-Council Bluffs Metro, Bellevue offers classes in accelerated, in-class, and online formats. According to the Online Education Database, Bellevue University ranks seventh nationally among online colleges. The U.S. News recognized Bellevue for America’s 72nd best online bachelor’s degrees. The “Military Friendly” school was also named among the best universities for community college transfers by Phi Theta Kappa.
As one of ELearning! magazine’s “Learning Leaders,” Bellevue offers several online programs through its College of Science and Technology. One top-notch example is the Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity. This 127-credit, inclusive curriculum builds upon general education to develop expertise in detecting, addressing, and preventing security threats. After the Kirkpatrick Signature Series, online learners delve into courses from securing access control to cyber investigations. Didactic instruction is interwoven with applied learning in state-of-the-art virtual laboratories. Course curriculum is accessible 24/7 from anywhere, including on mobile devices. Bellevue students benefit from small classes, real-world skills, supportive faculty, and affordable tuition. Around 90 percent of full-time online students earn financial aid.
Online graduates at Bellevue University could earn the Master of Science in Cybersecurity in two learning formats. The traditional online program takes 18 to 24 months for entry and mid-level analysts. However, there’s an accelerated 14-month option for experienced IT professionals with current security certification. Accelerated students must have at least 10 years in the industry. Either format completes a 36-credit curriculum dedicated to crafting innovative solutions that safeguard organizations’ digital assets with strong cyber defenses. Online students are trained to develop effective security policies and guidelines for management-level employment. Cohorts choose from advanced electives like cloud computing, information warfare, and business continuity. Total program cost is only $19,620.
Online Tuition: $410 (bachelor’s) or $545 (master’s) per credit
7. Davenport University
College of Technology
Opened by a Union Army veteran after the Civil War in 1866, Davenport University is a private, non-profit distance learning institution focused on career-oriented education. With an average class size of 16, Davenport enrolls more than 12,400 students across 50+ areas of study. Based on a 77-acre suburban campus in Caledonia Township near Grand Rapids, Davenport operates 11 Michigan campuses and an online division. According to the U.S. News, the NCA-accredited university holds America’s 180th best online bachelor’s degrees. Washington Monthly named Davenport the 529th best master’s-level university for civic engagement. Military Times placed Davenport University among the top 30 “Best for Vets” schools.
Davenport’s Global Campus offers several online programs from the College of Technology that could interest cyber security specialists. The B.S. in Cyber Defense is available online for DU students to develop safeguards that thwart data breaches. Students learn specialized skills for controlling unwanted intrusion and tracking cyber perpetrators. The NSA Center for Academic Excellence builds a strong foundation for three concentration tracks: Healthcare Information and Assurance, Information Assurance, or Mathematical Modeling. The 120-credit program also has a co-op semester option for paid learning in business settings. Courses translate into in-demand skills, including Python scripting, Cisco networking, and cryptography. Davenport offers an Online B.S. in Computer Information Systems too.
Those already holding a bachelor’s could advance their cyber security knowledge with the Online Master of Science in Information Assurance (MSIA) program. Consisting of 34 credits, the certified curriculum focuses on conducting operations that defend information networks for integrity and confidentiality. Online learners engage closely with world-class practitioners thanks to the low student-faculty ratio of 12:1. Courses explore 21st century skills in risk mitigation, network security, cyber forensics, cryptography, security planning, and mobile security. The online program concludes with a master’s thesis on computer security. Admission into Davenport’s graduate school will require an accredited bachelor’s and minimum “B” average. A Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Global Project Management can be added.
Online Tuition: $674 (bachelor’s) or $729 (master’s) per credit
8. Western Governors University
College of Information Technology
Applying a competency-based teaching style, Western Governors University is a private, non-profit online education institution recently founded in 1997 by 19 U.S. governors. Based in Utah’s Salt Lake City, WGU has state-affiliated schools across the West from Washington to Texas. Regionally accredited by the NWCCU, Western Governors University educates more than 70,000 students yearly with affordable flat-rate tuition. GetEducated.com ranked WGU a “Best Buy” for value-added online education. Several times, WGU has been honored with the USDLA’s 21st Century Award for Best Practices in Distance Learning. Deemed the “College For-Profits Should Fear” in Washington Monthly, WGU was ranked among the 50 most innovative businesses by Fast Company.
As a Microsoft IT Academy member, Western Governors University awards a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology – Security online. Offered in an adaptable format, the 124-unit program is structured for IT professionals with real-world experience who wish to advance into security management. Students are provided with seven industry certifications, such as the Cisco CCNA credential, for proving expertise in computer architecture protection. Most online learners transfer credits to graduate within two to three years. IT majors work with faculty mentors to personalize degree plans in subjects like scripting, network security, programming, and web development. Every B.S. graduate must pass a culminating capstone project.
Aligned with the Department of Defense’s guidelines, there’s also a Master of Science in Cybersecurity and Information Assurance online. WGU students benefit from attending an NSA Center of Academic Excellence to arm themselves with advanced skills to prevent cyber threats. Students learn emerging technologies for predicting and deterring hackers from stealing vital information. The team-based program requires 30 competency units, including a capstone project. Online coursework typically takes 20 hours per week in an interactive virtual classroom. At affordable tuition, students satisfy the qualifications for the EC-Council Computer Hacking Forensic Investigator or Ethical Hacking and Countermeasures designations. A 2015 survey found 92 percent of employers stated WGU grads exceed expectations.
Online Tuition: $2,890 per term
9. Wilmington University
College of Technology
Chartered in 1968 by Dr. Donald E. Ross with just 194 scholars, Wilmington University has grown to educate over 20,500 annually nationwide. With a $66 million endowment, WilmU is classified as a private, non-profit doctoral research institution rooted in liberal arts. From its home headquarters in New Castle, the MSCHE-accredited university has six Delaware, several New Jersey, and online divisions. Forbes magazine ranked Wilmington the nation’s 224th best research university with a “B” financial grade. According to the USNWR, WilmU confers the 202nd top online bachelor’s degrees. The Chronicle of Higher Education recognized Wilmington University as the fourth fastest-growing non-profit college in the United States.
Distinguished as an NSA Center of Academic Excellence, Wilmington’s College of Technology offers a Bachelor of Science in Computer and Network Security online. Undergraduates are transformed into skilled IT practitioners with the creative problem-solving skills to protect corporate and government assets. The interactive learning environment allows for practice defending against spyware, malware, hackers, viruses, and fraud. Students can complete the B.S. online or at Delaware campuses from New Castle to Dover. Specialization is available with add-on certificates in Digital Evidence Discovery, Crime Scene Investigation, and Health Information Technology. Graduates from the 120-credit program are qualified for Cisco Cybersecurity certification. Up to 15 credits can be completed via co-operative placements.
For graduates, Wilmington University has established a Master of Science in Information Systems Technologies online with an Information Assurance “career track.” The certified, high-tech program is structured for IT professionals seeking advanced knowledge on managing information networks with cyber security in mind. Courses are available in a flexible, collaborative online format via Blackboard or at the Wilson Graduate Center. Affordable tuition boosts ROI for completing this 33-credit curriculum. Online students in their final year can complete a semester-long field internship for building impressive resumes. All M.S. students must pass an integration capstone project on information assurance. WilmU’s online certificates include SCADA Cyber Security and Technology Project Management.
Online Tuition: $354 (bachelor’s) or $455 (master’s) per credit
10. University of Maryland University College
Information Technology & Computer Science Division
Ideally located near the DC Metro’s Cyber Corridor, the University of Maryland University College is based in the suburbs of Adelphi with 53 national locations and online learning. Each year, UMUC enrolls over 85,000 students with a 100 percent undergraduate acceptance rate. Belonging to the University System of Maryland, UMUC is a public, state-funded distance college conferring 120+ academic programs. In 2011, University College won the CCME Institution Award for “Military Friendly” education. Forbes magazine lauded UMUC among America’s 10 best colleges for adults returning to school. GetEducated.com ranked University of Maryland University College the 16th “Best Buy.” The National University Technology Network gave UMUC the Distance Education Innovation Award.
UMUC’s Cyber Padawans ranked #1 among the world’s best cyber security schools at DiploHack in 2015. The Information Technology & Computer Science Division offers a Bachelor’s Degree in Cybersecurity Management and Policy online. This 120-credit degree draws from business and technology to equip leaders for protecting cyber infrastructure. Online students participate in real-life forensic analysis of cyber attacks to formulate effective security policies. UMUC graduates are highly successful on the CompTIA Security+ certification exam. Students could declare a minor in Homeland Security, Information Systems Management, or Terrorism and Critical Infrastructure. For capstone, there’s a practical application project. Online students may also pursue the Bachelor’s in Computer Networks and Cybersecurity.
Graduate students attending this NSA Center of Academic Excellence online have several master’s options too. Busy IT professionals can follow a flexible format for the M.S. in Cybersecurity Management and Policy, M.S. in Cybersecurity Technology, or M.S. in Digital Forensics and Cyber Investigation. Even the Master of Science in Information Technology offers an Information Assurance specialization. Graduate programs at UMUC contain 36 credits, including hands-on learning in the Virtual Security Lab. Students combat simulated security breaches to foster the knowledge for effective tech strategies. Anyone lacking IT experience will catch up with non-credit preparation courses. Graduates generally become Certified Information Systems Security Professionals (CISSP) for advancement.
Online Tuition: $284 (bachelor’s) or $458 (master’s) per credit
Overall, studying cyber security can translate into gratifying careers bolstering IT systems with the safeguards to inhibit theft, disruption, or misdirection of private data. Graduates have endless career opportunities in today’s digital world, including security engineer, cryptographer, disaster recovery analyst, computer crime investigator, intrusion detection specialist, web penetration tester, and vulnerability assessor. Advanced degrees could even place individuals on the pathway to Chief Information Security Officer (CISO). The U.S. News ranked cyber security as America’s #5 best technology job with above-average upward mobility. CIO magazine reports that cyber security positions offer a median salary of $116,000. That’s nearly three times the nation’s median full-time wage! Choosing any of our aforementioned top 10 online cyber security degree programs can unlock a lucrative career fighting off malicious hackers.