UA Little Rock receives $1.96 million workforce development grant to support regional e-learning network

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock has been awarded a $1.96 million Workforce Development Grant to fund the development of the Cyber ​​Learning Network (CyberLearN) – a regional e-learning partnership with six more schools in the University of Arkansas system to fill Arkansas’ cybersecurity talent gap.

CyberLearN partners include UA Little Rock, UA Pine Bluff, UA – Pulaski Technical College, UA Cossatot, UA Hope-Texarkana, UACC Batesville, and UACC Morrilton. The Forge Institute, Arkansas Center for Data Sciences and SmartResume are also collaborating on the initiative.

Governor Asa Hutchinson awarded a total of $7.9 million in large-scale workforce development grants to UA Little Rock and eight other organizations during a March 15 press conference at the Jonesboro Chamber of Commerce. The grants were funded by the Arkansas Office of Skills Development, a division of the Arkansas Department of Commerce.

“We don’t have an unlimited source of funds in Arkansas for workforce training, so we want to invest it wisely,” Governor Hutchinson said. “And you do that by partnering with industry to guide our training, our funding, so it translates into jobs.”

CyberLearN leverages shared resources with the goal of expanding and diversifying cyber workforce training in Arkansas. The consortium will provide more equitable access to cybersecurity education for Arkansas learners, aligning the cybersecurity curriculum for freshmen and sophomores with ABET, a national credentialing board, and the National Institute of Standards and TechnologyStandards. CyberLearN partners will share instruction and create a common learning experience through standardized and flexible hybrid learning spaces that will utilize the cloud-based UA Little Rock cyber arena.

“UA Little Rock is proud to lead the creation of the Cyber ​​Learning Network, which will put Arkansas on the cybersecurity workforce training map,” said Dr. Erin Finzer, Associate Vice Chancellor. for academic affairs. “This new consortium of academic and nonprofit partners will serve as a model for providing collaborative education and training opportunities across the state. We thank Governor Hutchinson and the Office of Skills Development for this investment in Arkansas’ economic security and for providing our state with cyber talent for many years to come.

CyberLearN will drive economic development opportunities by providing strong talent pathways and creating opportunities to drive creative innovations. Arkansas currently has more than 3,000 unfilled cybersecurity positions listed on LinkedIn, and that number is expected to continue to grow. Now that Arkansas’ broadband initiatives have provided better Internet access across the state, cybersecurity professionals have more opportunities to work remotely, which can give rural communities a boost.

The Workforce Development Grant builds on the commitment and spirit of last year’s UA System announcement of a $900,000 CARES Act Recovery Assistance Grant $ from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) to spur statewide workforce recovery from the economic impact of COVID-19 growth through the creation of the UA System Workforce Response and Training Center. This grant included nine UA system institutions, led by the Arkansas Economic Development Institute (AEDI) at UA Little Rock, to collect and analyze statewide workforce data and use the results to deliver existing and strengthened education and training efforts across the seven of the two in the AU system. one-year colleges, as well as two colleges of technology at the University of Arkansas at Monticello (UAM).

“This is a shining example of the synergy that is possible by leveraging the resources of the UA system in a collaborative and innovative way to continue to support the growth of a world-class, highly skilled workforce in Arkansas,” said Chris Thomason, vice president of planning and development. for the UA system. “When we are able to pool resources and talent within the UA system close to the citizens of Arkansas and our communities, the momentum created can have a much greater impact on the economic growth of the Arkansas. ‘State and Within Arkansas Families.’

To support this economic and workforce development potential, UA Little Rock and its academic partners provide Stackable Certificates, which are a set of professional credentials that can be stacked into more advanced certificate and degree programs. or may be obtained by Arkansas workers wishing to upgrade or requalify. Stackable certificates are an innovative way for higher education institutions to serve working students by providing them with distinct skill sets and manageable motivations on their way to a two- or four-year degree.

“COVID has greatly changed the way we operate in higher education, and this program shows a positive adaptation to meet the needs of today’s learners,” said Dr. Philip Huff, assistant professor of cybersecurity at UA Little Rock. . “The workforce needed in cybersecurity is so great right now, and we can’t just tell the industry to wait four more years for us to provide you with a talent pool when they needed it yesterday. These cumulative certificates meet the immediate need and also open up new academic paths if a student chooses to continue their studies. »

The certificate programs, the first of which is pending approval for the fall 2022 semester, include two certificates of proficiency in cybersecurity fundamentals that “stack” into a technical certificate and an associate’s degree . By completing these foundational certificates, learners will be prepared to enroll in higher-level specialized certificates in areas such as data security, digital forensics, cybersecurity operations, and software security. These certificates are designed to provide students and workers with a path to lifelong learning with personalized pathways to acquire skills that meet the needs of learners and employers.

“Higher education should seize all viable opportunities to increase the efficiency of the delivery of educational services contributing to the formation of the workforce. CyberLearN is exactly that kind of opportunity,” said Dr. Albert Baker, chair of the computer science department at UA Little Rock. “It has been and continues to be energizing to collaborate on this opportunity to strengthen the effectiveness of Arkansas’ workforce development in the emerging and increasingly important cybersecurity sector.”

While the UA System campuses will provide the space and construction and renovation costs for the training operations centers, the grant will provide computing equipment and supplies, access to the UA Little Rock Cyber ​​cloud​​ Arena for all students, curriculum and instruction design, and tuition and fees for 100 new learners. Eight additional scholarships will go to two-year college instructors to earn UA Little Rock’s new Graduate Certificate in Cybersecurity Education in an effort to expand the state’s cybersecurity teaching staff.

Dr Steve Cole, Chancellor of UA Cossatot, said one of his biggest concerns was how to combat the cyberattacks that are happening all over the world. This new partnership with CyberLearN will provide education and training opportunities directly to UA Cossatot and other two-year colleges across the state. Having a skilled workforce that can respond to cyber threats will ensure a resilient economy in Arkansas.

“Cybercrime just doesn’t affect large businesses, it even affects the owner of a small business with one employee,” Cole said. “To fight cybercrime, we need to build a workforce of cybersecurity experts, and CyberLearN seeks to fill this huge skills gap. Community colleges like ours sometimes find it extremely difficult to launch new technology-rich programs due to the high costs involved and the lack of available education, but a collaborative effort like CyberLearN allows us to tap into the talent at UA Little Rock. and the Forge Institut to deliver cybersecurity programs in our rural area. I am confident that without this effort, it would be difficult to bring a world-class program like this to many rural parts of the state like ours.

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