What about NSA National Centers of Excellence?

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Dear Ed:




I’m planning to go back to graduate school to go after a master’s in computer science. I’ve recently read that the National Security Agency has designated numerous programs as National Centers of Excellence in Information Assurance. Does this make a degree from one of these schools more valuable? Does their appearance on the list mean I can assume they’ve got good degree programs in information security? Help!


Thanks for your advice.




Bob F.




Austin, Texas




Dear Bob:




Actually the name of the NSA program is Centers of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education (CAEIAE); you can read more about it on the NSA site. The latest designees in the program were named on May 5, 2004, as shown in this NSA press release, bringing to 59 the total number of academic institutions so named (which may be either undergraduate or graduate programs, BTW, so you’ll want to pick those schools with designated graduate programs if you’re going for a master’s degree).




As to your first question about the value of a degree from such a school, that depends on whether or not you plan to work for the government or a government contractor. Inside the circle where the NSA holds most sway (government agencies, the military and government contractors), it really will make a difference. Outside that circle, you’ll have to prepared to explain the value of the program and why it made a difference in what you learned in school.




As for your second question about assuming that such schools will have degree programs in information assurance or information security, the answer to that is “not always.” As I was researching the schools’ infosec/info assurance courses and degree plans, I was surprised to observe that only about half of them do in fact offer more than a course or two in this area. It seems that the designation relates to research work at the institutions so designated, which doesn’t always translate into course offerings. Thus, you’ll want to do your homework carefully and pick a program that not only earned the designation, but is also prepared to teach you in depth about the related subject matter. That said, you will still find plenty of offerings worthy of note within this list.




Good luck!



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