This guide is all about the cybersecurity-related educational and career opportunities available in Arizona. The following information includes a look at specific cybersecurity degree options in the state, as well as how local and regional economic trends might impact career options.
For most people, Arizona brings to mind desert golf courses and retirement communities. But Arizona is one of the fastest-growing state economies in the US and has been for several years. Education, healthcare services, and construction are leading the way to employment and personal income gains. And this growth, which is well above the national average, is expected to continue for the next few years.
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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the largest employers in Arizona’s economy as of 2019 included, in order starting with the largest: trade, transportation and utilities; education and healthcare services; professional and business services; and government.
And while all industries are now under threat of cyber attacks, healthcare, business services and government are some of the most high-profile targets for hackers. It follows then, that these employers are also some of the most active consumers of cybersecurity services. And it explains why Arizona already employs over 20,000 cybersecurity professionals.
At present, Arizona is not one of the most active providers of educational programs for cybersecurity disciplines. However, the state’s government has made cybersecurity a priority going forward and is taking steps to ensure that Arizona is among the leading sources of cybersecurity talent.
There are, to be sure, a number of quality options for cybersecurity professionals seeking further education. But for Arizona to be a leader, the state’s colleges and universities will need to expand on the degree and certification programs they offer. Expect this to happen in the next few years.
Growing importance of cybersecurity in Arizona
In 2018, the governor of Arizona issued an executive order to create the Arizona Cybersecurity Team, or ACT. The team, which is comprised of experts from state, local and federal government, the private sector, and higher education, has a three-pronged focus.
First, ACT is charged with protecting Arizonans from cyber attacks. Second, the team will work to attract top cybersecurity professionals to Arizona. And third, ACT will prompt educators to offer degree and certification programs that create a renewable pool of top talent.
So while the state government may have gotten a little later start than some other states, it seems no less dedicated to making Arizona an attractive home to cybersecurity companies and professionals.
Cybersecurity education in Arizona
To date, Arizona colleges and universities have developed a reasonably strong set of degree options for cybersecurity students and professionals. Programs are available across all degrees, particularly for state residents able to attend on-campus formats. And those students residing in the state will be greeted by a rapidly growing job market that is lacking an adequate number of qualified applicants for open jobs. But given the current size of the state’s cybersecurity community and the goal of being an infosec leader, one might expect more options to be available.
The Arizona Cybersecurity Team has only been assembled for just over a year, so whatever impact it will have will not have taken root as yet. If successful, ACT should help prod Arizona education institutions to step up soon and increase the available cybersecurity degree and certification options.
Associate degree options
Cybersecurity was once considered a backroom occupation for 20-something hackers in hoodies. This is no longer the case. Today, the industry has evolved into a much more sophisticated profession.
Bachelor’s degrees are now required for most information security career paths. But, in part due to the shortage of qualified professionals, there are still plenty of entry-level job openings that require an associate’s degree. For those lacking the time or resources to complete a full four-year degree program, associate’s degree can be a good foot in the door. Once an entry-level job is landed and some experience accumulated, it’s a good idea to continue on and get a bachelor’s degree. Associate’s degree coursework can usually be applied to bachelor’s degree requirements to shorten the path to a second degree.
Campus-based associate’s degrees in Arizona
Arizona community colleges now provide four pathways to an associate’s degree in cybersecurity. Two of these options are offered by Puma Community College. All four degree programs are campus-based, and there are currently no online options for associate’s degrees offered by Arizona learning institutions. See the table below for a view of the four current degree paths.
Bachelor degree options
Bachelor’s degrees are now a minimum requirement for most cybersecurity career paths. A BS in cybersecurity is, of course, optimal, but other majors can be nearly as attractive to prospective employers. Computer science, information technology, or any of the standard STEM courses of study can also provide strong backgrounds for certain cybersecurity careers. If a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity is favored, there is a rapidly growing pool of options available, both in campus settings and online.
Campus-based bachelor’s degrees in Arizona
Arizona higher education institutions now offer five bachelor’s degree options in on-campus formats. Three of these programs are offered by the University of Advancing Technology, located in Tempe, Arizona. For a full view of the available campus-based options, see the table below.
Online bachelor’s degrees in Arizona
At present, there are two bachelor’s degree choices in cybersecurity available from Arizona colleges and universities. The University of Advancing Technology provides an online program toward a BS degree in network security. The University of Arizona offers a degree path for a BAS degree in cyber operations.
Cybersecurity professionals seeking to enhance their career paths and attain senior and management-level infosec positions would be well served to invest the time and resources to obtain a master’s degree in cybersecurity. Top information security posts such as chief information security officer typically require a master’s degree. And for those seeking a different career path, perhaps in academia, research, or cybersecurity consulting, a master’s degree is a must-have.
Campus-based master’s degrees in Arizona
As the below table indicates, there are now four master’s degree programs in cybersecurity offered in on-campus presentations by Arizona colleges and universities. Three of these options are provided by state institutions (two by Arizona State University and one by the University of Arizona), which is perhaps an indication that the state government initiative to make Arizona a cybersecurity leader is taking root.
Online master’s degrees in Arizona
Of the three online master’s degree programs in cybersecurity available from Arizona institutions, two are offered by the University of Arizona. See below for more information and links.
PhD degree options
For cybersecurity professionals, doctoral degrees are typically only required for research and academic career paths. Some advanced c-suite corporate positions will put a preference on PhD’s as well.
Campus-based Ph.D. degrees in Arizona
Currently, there are two cybersecurity PhD programs available in Arizona, and no online options. Arizona State University offers a PhD in Computer Science – Cybersecurity, and the University of Arizona has developed a PhD program in Management Information Science with an emphasis in Information Assurance.
Cybersecurity certification programs can be designed with several distinct goals. Some provide an introduction to information security and potentially a foot in the door to an entry-level job, or at least a step up on attaining a degree. Other certification programs are intended for those currently working in cybersecurity to further their education in a specific cybersecurity specialty, such as penetration testing. Still others are designed to be a substitute or a stepping-stone to a full advanced degree.
Campus-based cybersecurity certifications in Arizona
At present, there are three cybersecurity certification programs offered in campus settings in Arizona. See below for more information.
Online cybersecurity certifications in Arizona
Two online certification options are now available from Arizona institutions. The University of Arizona offers an Enterprise Security Certificate, and the University of Phoenix has a program leading to a undergraduate Advanced Cybersecurity Certificate.
Cybersecurity jobs in Arizona
Worldwide, the demand for cybersecurity professionals is outpacing supply, and the gap is growing. The US is experiencing the same phenomenon, and Arizona also is experiencing a shortage of infosec employees. Arizona is already a sizeable employer of cybersecurity professionals.
According to Cyberseek as of 2022, state was home to 24,264 people employed in some aspect of cybersecurity.
Not surprisingly, during the same time period, Phoenix accounted for 15,366 of the state’s cybersecurity job openings. The two next closest municipalities are Tucson with 1,690 job openings Sierra-Vista with 890 job openings.
According to Bureau of Labor Statistics research in 2021, security analysts were enjoying an average hourly wage of $52.23 and the average annual salary was $108,640. These are about in line with or slightly above national pay rate averages. Arizona’s standard of living is a little above the national average, primarily due to higher housing costs.
The list of cybersecurity job titles in Arizona is headlined by the following:
- Cybersecurity engineer
- Cybersecurity analyst
- Cybersecurity administrator/manager
- Software developer/engineer
- Cybersecurity consultant
- Penetration tester/Vulnerability analyst
- Systems engineer
- Network engineer/architect
- Incident analyst/responder
Cybersecurity in Arizona
Arizona is certainly not known for its economic might, but the state has been experiencing growth well above the national norm for several years now. And the state’s government has recently shone a spotlight on the cybersecurity industry. Through its Advanced Cybersecurity Team, it hopes to educate the resident population and organizations on keeping information secure. It also aims to attract the best and brightest cybersecurity professionals and companies to the state, and to spur its higher education institutions to offer top-flight cybersecurity degree options.
If the state’s initiative is successful, Arizona will become a leader in cybersecurity. Even now, there are ample jobs available for cybersecurity professionals, and the demand will certainly grow rapidly in coming years. And education options are beginning to look attractive, particularly from state institutions.