Students from the Western Governors University College of Information Technology led the pack during a recent Cyber FastTrack competition designed to identify top cybersecurity talent from colleges and universities nationwide. During the competition, nearly a quarter of the finalists were WGU students, and 19 WGU students were awarded scholarships—the most of any institution.

"I am proud of our WGU students. Of the 24 perfect scores leading into the semifinals, nine were held by WGU students, the highest rate for any school," said Dr. Elke Leeds, Dean of WGU's College of IT. "WGU's cybersecurity curriculum is rigorous, and our students' outstanding performance in Cyber FastTrack shows just how well-prepared our graduates are to do the crucial work of protecting sensitive data. Programs such as these help WGU create professional avenues for our students to excel."

Cyber FastTrack was designed by world leaders in cybersecurity, hosted by the SANS Institute and endorsed by 26 state governors as a national initiative to help identify top talent and close the U.S. cybersecurity skills gap. The three-stage program allowed students to test their aptitude in an environment that simulates the types of cybersecurity problems necessary to secure our nation's most sensitive information.

The nation needs more highly skilled professionals to enter the cybersecurity industry. According to CyberSeek, a project supported by the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE), more than 313,000 cybersecurity-related job openings were posted online between September 2017 and August 2018. This talent gap represents workers who need to be trained to protect sensitive information, from individual bank accounts to Department of Defense communications.

Filling the widening talent gap will take a concerted and collaborative effort from education, business, and government organizations. WGU, a leading educator of current and aspiring cybersecurity professionals, is helping to fill that gap. More than 5,500 students are currently enrolled in its bachelor's or master's cybersecurity degree program and approximately 2,800 cybersecurity graduates are already in the workforce.

WGU's focus on tailoring higher education to the needs of 21st-century students through an online, competency-based model is key to supplying top-quality cyber workforce resources at scale—contributing to our national security and defense and increasing access to highly in-demand, lucrative career opportunities.