Is a Master’s in Cybersecurity Worth It?
Written by: University of Tulsa • Dec 8, 2023
Organizations and individuals lose nearly $1 trillion to cybercrime every year worldwide. In the United States alone, companies lose billions of dollars to cybercrime annually. And a single cyberattack can cost $200,000 or more. The economic impact of hacking and other cybercrime is staggering, and these figures illustrate how vulnerable our sensitive digital data is.
What statistics such as these fail to convey, however, is that cybercrime is preventable—provided there are enough qualified cybersecurity professionals to keep hackers at bay. Unfortunately, there aren’t. There is a persistent cybersecurity workforce gap that amounted to 3.1 million unfilled positions in 2020. According to the (ISC)² Cybersecurity Workforce Study, 65% of organizations surveyed reported a shortage of staff dedicated to cybersecurity. There are currently 800,000 cybersecurity professionals in the U.S., which sounds formidable until you consider that it will take at least 500,000 more to fill all the open cyber and information security positions across the country.
The cybersecurity talent shortage extends into the federal government. Jeanette Manfra, former Assistant Director for Cybersecurity for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), has called the gap “a national security risk” but even after a major hiring sprint by the DHS, there were still 1,700 open cyber jobs at the national level.
Consequently, this is a very good time to launch a career in cybersecurity. Employers are willing to pay a premium for cybersecurity, network security, and information assurance skills, and the demand for cybersecurity professionals keeps growing. The average master’s in cybersecurity salary is high, and jobs in cybersec and information security tend to be quite stable. What you need to understand is that ensuring that the digital assets of government agencies, businesses, and individuals stay safe requires specialized skills and knowledge.
Is a master’s in cybersecurity worth it? Absolutely—particularly when you don’t have to put your life on hold to get the credentials you need to join and excel in this fast-growing field. Is The University of Tulsa’s 100% Online M.S. in Cyber Security the right master’s in cybersecurity for you? That depends. Finding the right graduate degree program is a matter of learning as much as you can about the career benefits of a cybersecurity degree and determining whether your goals align with the focus of each program you’re considering.
What is a master’s in cybersecurity? ¶
Most Master of Science in Cyber Security programs are highly technical, STEM-focused, and geared toward professionals who already work in computer science, information technology, information systems, or network engineering and architecture. These graduate-level programs typically teach students how to identify and combat security threats, how to protect computer systems and networks against cyberattacks, and how to resolve data breaches and mitigate the impact of successful attacks. Every university approaches this subject differently, however. Some programs take a broad view.
At TU, the online cybersecurity master’s program is for professionals who want to become technical and managerial leaders in the world of cybersecurity without taking time out of the workforce. The master of cybersecurity curriculum covers a variety of advanced cybersecurity concepts, including:
- Best practices to secure information systems and networks, including detection of abnormal events, intrusion detection, incident handling, response, and recovery.
- Essential defensive cybersecurity techniques and technologies used by modern organizations to protect data and systems.
- Design and maintenance of safe, reliable, and scalable high-assurance information systems.
- Human factors that can compromise network and computer security, as well as the economic and ethical issues relevant to the cybersecurity field.
- Legal, policy, technical, and logical dimensions of information security, computer systems security, and network security.
- Principles of computer networks and network security design and operation, including incident response, design fundamentals, and security assessments.
- Standard penetration testing methodology and outcomes plus auditing and testing methodologies.
- Technical aspects of computer, network, and information system security, and techniques related to access control, authentication, secure communication, and auditing.
In short, The University of Tulsa’s cybersecurity master’s program teaches the theory, concepts, and techniques that form the foundation of modern information assurance and network defense. TU faculty update the curriculum regularly to ensure coursework and hands-on lab work is up-to-date, scalable, and in alignment with the needs of private and public sector employers. You’ll graduate ready to apply what you’ve learned in real-world settings to protect sensitive digital assets.
What can you do with a master of science in cybersecurity? ¶
According to the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers & Studies (NICCS), cybersecurity encompasses dozens of specialty areas and over 50 career roles. Many fall neatly into categories such as IT security, national intelligence, network security, risk analysis, software engineering, or systems engineering.
Entry-level cybersecurity jobs tend to attract professionals from networking, software development, and IT who have seen first-hand how vulnerable the systems they work with can be. With a bachelor’s degree and some technical experience, you can become a cybersecurity specialist, cybersecurity analyst, or IT auditor—all early-career cybersecurity roles appropriate for generalists.
Cybersecurity master’s degree holders, on the other hand, have the credentials and the skills to step into higher-paying, higher-profile management and technical positions in the field. After earning a master’s in cybersecurity, you might become a cybersecurity director, security architect, or ethical hacker. You can also specialize in niche areas of cybersecurity, such as cloud security, cryptography, security automation, digital forensics, or governance, risk, and compliance.
Keep in mind that the NICCS figure might underestimate the number of jobs for cybersecurity master’s holders. One Burning Glass Technologies report found that “cybersecurity is a task built into other IT jobs, such as network administrators. Overall, these ‘cyber-enabled’ jobs form the majority (56%) of all cybersecurity-related openings.” With a graduate cybersecurity degree, you can also advance along a career path that isn’t necessarily cybersec- or infosec-focused more quickly and potentially earn more money in your organization because you can deliver more value.
Is demand for cybersecurity experts the same everywhere? ¶
Global demand for cybersecurity expertise is booming, but job markets are stronger in some areas of the country and weaker in others. According to Cyberseek, a tech job-tracking database created by the U.S. Commerce Department, and CompTIA, there are more than 460,000 open jobs for cybersecurity professionals nationwide. Of those, many are based in states such as California, Virginia, Texas, Florida, New York, Maryland, and North Carolina. Drill down further and you’ll find that cybersecurity jobs tend to be clustered in traditional Big Tech cities like San Francisco, San Jose, Raleigh, Austin, and Seattle.
You don’t have to limit your post-cybersecurity master’s job search to the country’s technology hubs, however. While tech companies do employ the lion’s share of cyber professionals, government agencies concerned with national security, law enforcement agencies, financial firms, healthcare networks, and retail enterprises also hire plenty of cybersecurity and information security professionals. Banking and investment companies, in particular, have a vested interest in keeping their computer systems and customer data as safe as possible.
One of the major benefits of earning a cybersecurity master’s from The University of Tulsa is that you’ll be able to land higher-profile jobs in areas where salaries are highest, fields where the market for cybersecurity talent is more competitive, and companies known for being highly selective. Your M.S. in Cyber Security will make it easier to get a foot in the door at companies such as Amazon, CymSTAR, Google, GPSG, Hilti, Instagram, and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory—all of which employ TU M.S. in Cyber Security graduates.
How to calculate the ROI of a master’s in cybersecurity ¶
You need to look at the long-term financial value of this degree to answer the question ‘Is a master’s in cybersecurity worth it?’ The simplest 10-year return-on-investment calculation looks like this: (expected post-master’s annual salary x 10) – (pre-master’s annual salary x 10) – (the total cost of a graduate degree). That means the questions you need to answer to calculate the ROI of a cybersecurity master’s are:
How much does a master’s in cybersecurity cost? ¶
The average cost of a master’s in cybersecurity isn’t particularly illuminating because very few advanced degree candidates pay the full sticker price of tuition out of pocket. Total tuition for The University of Tulsa’s Online M.S. in Cyber Security is $40,470, which represents a substantial investment, but many students admitted to the online cybersecurity master’s program receive need-based financial aid and other forms of financial assistance, including merit grants and internal and external scholarships.
What is the typical master’s in cybersecurity salary? ¶
The average cybersecurity salary is close to $100,000, which is higher than the average for all IT jobs. Zip Recruiter reports that early-career professionals can expect to earn around $82,500, but a security architect with 10 or more years of experience can earn $130,000. TU alumni who specialize in cybersecurity typically earn around $95,000 after graduation, though they quickly earn more as they advance. A cybersecurity director can earn $177,000. Chief information security officers earn close to $225,000, and top-paying positions in cybersecurity come with salaries of $300,000 or more.
Calculating the return on your investment ¶
As long as you know the cost of a cybersecurity degree and the master’s in cybersecurity salary you expect to earn after graduation, you can fill in the above ROI equation. For instance, if you’re currently a cyber analyst earning $77,000 and you’re interested in pursuing a master’s degree to become a cybersecurity manager (average salary: $135,000), the ROI of a cybersecurity master’s from TU is more than $539,000.
Of course, the equation above doesn’t factor in future raises. The actual return-on-investment of your master’s in cybersecurity will likely be much higher. It also doesn’t account for the impact of university reputation on ROI. A cybersecurity graduate degree from The University of Tulsa, which has a long-standing reputation for excellence in cybersecurity, may give you a bigger career boost than one from another school.
TU’s on-campus and online programs have the backing of federal government agencies including the National Security Agency, the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA). The University of Tulsa has also been a designated Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense since 2000 when it was one of the first 14 institutions awarded this distinction. Since then, TU has held and continues to hold all three NCAE-C designations, and the university’s cybersecurity master’s program alumni go on to work in leading roles in the private sector, the public sector, and academia.
Is a master’s in cybersecurity worth it? ¶
If your goals involve growing in a cybersec, infosec, or national security career, a cybersecurity master’s will open many doors. There’s no longer a zero percent unemployment rate in this field, but there is still a significant shortage of qualified cybersecurity professionals. According to the (ISC)² Cybersecurity Workforce Study, the global cybersecurity workforce will need to grow by 89% to meet the changing needs of employers. Don’t assume, however, that a bachelor’s degree in computer science or information technology will be all it takes to launch a career in cybersecurity. The master’s in cybersecurity is quickly becoming the entry-level degree for cybersec and infosec professionals because combating next-generation cyber threats requires advanced cybersecurity skills.
Cyber threats are more difficult than ever to manage. Not only are there more of them but they’re also more complex. It’s challenging to predict what the cyberattacks of the future will look like based on what hacking groups, cybercriminals, and foreign government agencies have done in the past. Qualified cybersecurity professionals must have the technical skills to address the threats of the present as well as a thorough understanding of where digital technology is headed so they can respond to the threats yet to come.
Choose a flexible online program, and you can learn leading-edge information assurance and network defense skills and earn an in-demand graduate degree without sacrificing either income or professional growth. In just 20 months, The University of Tulsa’s cybersecurity master’s program will give you the skills and knowledge you’ll need to protect sensitive information for business entities and government agencies—and earn top dollar in a field where average salaries are close to double the national average—now and in the future.