This guide outlines information about cybersecurity schools in Montana, as well as some of the economic retooling that is happening as the state begins to focus on cybersecurity.
Montana is a state in transition. Historically, the mainstays of Montana’s economy were based on the state’s abundance of natural resources and wide-open spaces. Meaning jobs and opportunities in agriculture, ranching, and mining dominated the top of the economic charts.
But today, the new staples of Montana’s economy are emerging. While economic sectors like agriculture, ranching, and mining are slowing down — new forms of economic growth are filling the gaps and beginning to grow in their own right.
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In the last ten years, the leading uptrends in Montana’s economy, according to the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, are in the financial and healthcare sectors.
Overall, the number of jobs in Montana has not increased dramatically year-over-year. But that does not tell the whole story. The job market is retooling and matching nationwide workforce trends of increased healthcare and information/knowledge worker demand.
But where does cybersecurity fit into all of this? The short answer is that while Montana does not have a massive technology sector when compared to other states — there still are opportunities for well-trained cybersecurity professionals, and given the other economic trends and indicators, roles in cybersecurity will continue to grow.
This guide is intended as a brief overview of cybersecurity in Montana including some of the educational and career opportunities available in the field.
Like many other states, Montana is developing cybersecurity resources at the state level.
Led by Montana’s State Information Technology Division, the goal of the state-funded initiative is to figure out the right way to train the cybersecurity workforce of the future. The organization operates as an advisory board and as a resource for Montana’s budding cybersecurity community.
One of the group’s recent initiatives was to create and lead a program called the Montana Girls Cybersecurity Project, which was intended to increase the overall diversity and perspectives of the local cybersecurity industry. (For more related information be sure to check out the Women’s Guide to Cybersecurity).
Additionally, Montana’s State Information Technology Division also advises other officials and organizations within the state about emerging cyber and digital threats and the best practices to try and deal with them.
While there are only a few cybersecurity degree and certification programs available in Montana when compared to other states, there still are a few local options.
And, given the trend toward online degree offerings and the general improvement of online learning options, geographical proximity to colleges and universities becomes less important.
One starting point for a career in cybersecurity is obtaining an associate’s degree.
An associate’s degree is good career preparation in that it gives students a basic understanding of fundamental cybersecurity concepts and helps them prepare for obtaining industry certifications in the future.
There is currently one campus-based associate’s degree in cybersecurity offered by Missoula College, which is a two-year college that is affiliated with the University of Montana. Students completing the curriculum earn an associate of applied science degree in network administration and security.
Courses in the program include coding, data analysis, server administration and operating systems, networking devices and IP routing, and cybersecurity fundamentals.
Another aspect of the Missoula College’s cybersecurity associate’s degree in cybersecurity is that it prepares students to take a number of industry certification exams including CISCO Networking I and CompTIA Security+.
Additionally, there is an internship requirement, which will help students obtain valuable knowledge and experience within the field.
An associate’s degree is a great way to start preparing for a career in cybersecurity and working toward the credit hours needed for a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity.
A bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity is considered a foundational component of a cybersecurity skillset.
The number of credit hours required to get a bachelor’s degree (usually 120 credit hours) means that students with the equivalent of a four-year degree are well-versed in computer coding, software development, and network/data infrastructure skills necessary to perform more advanced cybersecurity work.
Online cybersecurity bachelor’s degree in Montana
For now, the University of Montana is home to the state’s only standalone cybersecurity degree and it is offered online. The degree is actually a hybrid program that builds off of the associate’s degree in network administration and security offered at Missoula College.
Students that successfully complete the associate’s degree and related training can apply to continue in the bachelor’s program that is run in partnership with Missoula College, the University of Montana, and Excelsior College.
The two years of credit hours in addition to the associate’s degree credits cover general education requirements as well as supplemental cybersecurity courses. All of the hours necessary to earn a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity from the University of Montana can be completed online.
One unique part about the online cybersecurity bachelor’s degree is that it allows students to specialize in either general cybersecurity, healthcare cybersecurity, or cyber operations.
Like the associate’s degree offered by Missoula College, the cybersecurity bachelor program builds the fundamental skills necessary to prepare for a career including professional cybersecurity certification preparation and work experience in the form of internships.
In addition to the associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs available at the schools affiliated with the University of Montana, there are also two cybersecurity certification programs available.
Missoula College has two campus-based certification programs that are derived from a subset of courses that make up the associate’s degree programs outlined above. The goal of this certification program, according to the university is to give students a baseline cybersecurity background.
“The curriculum is based upon the Core Knowledge Units developed by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Students will gain skills in basic data analysis; programming; networking concepts; IT systems components; system administration; fundamental security design principles; cyber-threats and cyber-defense; cryptography; and policy, legal, ethics, and compliance.”
Students completing the program will earn a certification of technical skills in cybersecurity of a certificate of technical studies in cybersecurity (depending on what course are completed).
There is a shortage of cybersecurity workers nationwide and Montana is no different. While the state is not necessarily home to any of the large employers or large industries — such as military contracting, aerospace, or information technology companies — Montana, like everywhere else, does still have a need to have a well-trained cybersecurity workforce.
According to Cyberseek, Montana has about 1,043 cybersecurity job openings. For comparison, roughly 2,607 people are currently employed in cybersecurity-related roles in the state.
Other noteworthy Montana cybersecurity employment statistics include:
- The supply of cybersecurity workers in Montana is considered very low. The workforce supply/demand ratio (meaning the number of available cybersecurity workers for every open job) is 3.1. The national average, which by itself is a low indicator, is 2.0.
- Because of some of the factors explained earlier — mainly the lack of historic information technology employment and the fact that Montana only has a few cybersecurity training and degree programs — there are not many workers available in any geographical region. Montana scores a 0.6 on the location quotient, while the nationwide average is 1.0.
Some of the top job titles for cybersecurity positions in Montana include:
- Cybersecurity engineer
- Cybersecurity analyst
- Penetration tester (or ethical hacker)
- Cybersecurity manager/administrator
- Network engineer/architect
According to the 2021 Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the hourly average wage for a security analyst in Montana was $37.46, while the average annual salary for the same position was $77,910.
While not historically known for its technology scene, Montana is definitely a state that is transitioning its economy.
As the internet and digital technologies increasingly become part of everyday life for people everywhere, cybersecurity will continue to be in demand — and a skilled workforce, regardless of location, will be needed to fill those positions.
Through its training and education programs at Montana’s colleges and through state-level initiatives that are aimed at training the next generation to guard against cybersecurity threats, the state is providing unique opportunities for people with digital skills.