Rising inflation. Student debt crisis. A looming recession. It’s no wonder people are growing increasingly cognizant of where and how they spend their money. That's the case whether you're buying a pair of socks (a pretty low-stakes investment) or thinking about furthering your education (a significantly larger investment).
Today’s economic climate requires you to really think about the educational programs you pursue. You want to approach the question from the lens of knowledge gained, practical applicability, and overall return on investment (ROI).
So, are cybersecurity certification programs worth the investment of time and money? Do they deliver a strong ROI? In this article, we'll answer that question by discussing:
ROI is a common term used to identify the past and potential financial benefits of a transaction. ROI is typically defined as the ratio of net profit over the total cost of an investment ([Gain from Investment – Cost of Investment]/Cost of Investment = ROI). For instance, if you earned $70,000 from a $50,000 investment, your return on investment would be 0.4, or 40 percent. Some formulas are more complex—they factor in the time value of money, perhaps—but for the sake of simplicity and available data, we’ll use the above equation for our situations below.
Due to the relatively predictable costs of educational programs and the wide availability of salary data, calculating the ROI of a certification or degree can be a simple and effective way to choose among competing options. Keep in mind that some investments take a long time to deliver a return, so you'll want to consider both short-term and long-term returns on investment.
Check out these hypothetical examples of what calculating ROI may look like for a student.
Raj works as a computer systems administrator at a large hospital serving patients within his region and greater California. He currently earns $91,250 per year. Raj recently spoke with his manager about his career goals and expressed an interest in transitioning to a position within the security operations (SecOps) department. His manager encouraged him to pursue a specialized certification program, such as San Diego State University’s Cyber Security in Healthcare certificate. She also encouraged him to meet with the human resources department about possible tuition reimbursement.
Raj was pleased to find that the hospital would cover his full tuition of $4,500. Upon completion of the 14-week program, he transitioned to an information security analyst position, earning $113,270, an almost 25 percent pay increase. That's a return Raj will enjoy every year he holds the job (and at subsequent jobs, if he continues to use the skills he learned after he moves on).
The investment was equally beneficial for the hospital. For $4,500, they improved protections against potential data breaches that, according to IBM’s Cost of a Data Breach study, could cost millions of dollars.
Raj’s certification offered him a quick way to gain the skills he needed to apply to a new position with higher pay.
Ever since her parents enrolled her in a cybersecurity summer camp during her teenage years, Bellita has been intrigued by cybercrime and its implications for individuals as well as organizations. fter just a few summers, she knew that this was the career she wanted to pursue. Upon her high school graduation, Bellita enrolled in a four-year, in-state Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity program costing around $27,300 per year. The total cost of her degree amounted to $109,320.
Shortly after graduation, Bellita obtained a position as an entry-level information security analyst at a scientific research firm in New York. She accepted a salary of $102,200. Her immediate ROI was negative, but Bellita is thinking about the long-term.
Bellita’s bachelor’s degree afforded her a high-paying opportunity in a growing field. If she continues her career trajectory, earning potential pay increases and promotions, she’ll see incremental returns on her initial investment.
Logan earned his bachelor’s degree in computer science and has since worked as a computer network support specialist earning $64,340 per year at a software startup in Oklahoma. With a growing family to support–two children and another baby on the way–Logan decided to pursue his Online Master of Science in Cyber Security from The University of Tulsa with the hopes of securing a promotion. Total tuition for the program is $40,470.
Upon completion of the program, Logan’s employer promoted him to an information security analyst position, bumping his salary to $88,770.
Logan’s master’s degree provided a path to increase his salary by nearly 38 percent. He also now holds the credentials to pursue more attractive opportunities in this growing field, further impacting his long-term ROI. Over the course of his career, his education investment should provide a substantial return.
Cybersecurity certifications teach information technology knowledge, skills, and abilities relevant to maintaining and securing computer networks, websites, databases, and other repositories of sensitive information. They typically reflect current trends in cybersecurity and cover varying subjects. They run the gamut from governance to risk management to incident response to ethical hacking. Earning a certification showcases your skills in myriad disciplines and provides third-party proof of your knowledge to potential employers.
Popular cybersecurity certifications include:
Whether you’re interested in compliance, cloud security, or artificial intelligence, a cybersecurity certification program will help you narrow your interests to a single focus. Depending upon the specialization and type of certification you choose, your courses may cover technical skills, including:
Take a look at the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) Framework for an overview of the tasks, knowledge, and skills needed to perform varying cybersecurity tasks.
While the Covid-19 pandemic ushered in a newfound aversion to handshakes and an affinity for hand sanitizers, it also brought one key positive: a new era of increased online accessibility. Colleges and universities quickly pivoted to offer online and remote options to meet the needs of a population in lockdown.
Cybersecurity programs are no different. In fact, there’s a plethora of online cybersecurity certification programs. The National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies (NICCS) compiled an extensive list of well-known industry cybersecurity certifications. It offers a search feature with an interactive map that you can filter to find relevant providers. Sort by delivery mode, proficiency level, and location. Most programs offer several online delivery options.
Completion times vary by program and provider. Some certifications can take a few days, while others can extend to weeks, months, or years.
Generally speaking, certifications can be completed in less time than traditional bachelor’s or master’s degree programs. Bachelor’s degrees commonly require 120 to 125 credits and take four years to complete, while advanced degrees typically require 30 to 36 credits and can take two years to complete.
There’s no rule book or limit to how many certifications cybersecurity professionals can earn. Professionals choose to pursue certificates based upon many factors, including their career goals, their desire to fill gaps in their knowledge, and their commitment to meeting employer needs.
Because of the specific nature of cybersecurity certifications, professionals may choose to earn multiple credentials to diversify their skill sets or to address a variety of organizational vulnerabilities.
As threats continue to evolve, it’s important for cybersecurity experts to remain abreast of the latest changes within the industry.
Pricing varies by program type and institution. Program and exam costs typically range from several hundred dollars to several thousand. Some of the most in-demand cybersecurity certifications come from organizations like CompTIA, (ISC)2, ISACA, GIAC, and Cisco. These certification costs range from $249, like the Systems Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP), to $2,499 for the GIAC Security Essentials Certification (GSEC).
Additionally, several colleges and universities offer specialized cybersecurity certifications. They typically cost several thousand dollars. UCLA Extension offers a four-course Cybersecurity Certificate at an estimated tuition of $4,000. San Diego State University’s Cyber Tech Academy offers a suite of four 14-week certificates focused on pressing topics in the industry. The total tuition for each program is $4,500. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology offers a 24-week Professional Certificate in Cybersecurity with a $7,450 program fee.
The good news? You may not have to pay for your certification alone. Many universities frequently supplement financing in the form of scholarships and aid. Plenty of organizations offer tuition reimbursement programs for their employees. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs reimburses some certifications under the G.I. Bill.
Choose an online cybersecurity certification program suited to your interests and career goals. Each program imposes a unique set of admissions and eligibility requirements.
With regard to educational level, some certification programs require just a high school diploma. Other, more advanced certifications require prior college degrees and relevant work experience.
University websites typically include sections on admissions and enrollment requirements. Carefully review all requirements to ensure that your application is complete. Many institutions also offer assistance from enrollment advisors to ensure a positive and successful experience.
The answer will vary by student and is contingent upon many caveats, including tuition costs, choice of college, and type of certification.
According to a report released by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, community colleges and certification programs post the highest return on short-term investment, defined as a 10-year period. Those findings are driven by the fact that certification programs take less time to complete and tend to cost less than undergraduate and graduate programs.
It’s also important to factor in cybersecurity career opportunities and job availability. Cybersecurity Ventures projects 3.5 million cybersecurity jobs globally by 2025, a result of the increasing prevalence of cyber attacks worldwide. Securing reliable employment and year-over-year pay increases will impact your long-term return on investment.
Whether you’re looking to upskill, pivot into a new career, or prepare for an entry-level role, cybersecurity is a growing field welcoming professionals from all backgrounds.
Questions or feedback? Email firstname.lastname@example.org*