- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 12, 2015

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - National Security Agency employees will soon be able to count their cybersecurity training at the agency toward college credit at Dakota State University under a proposal the state Board of Regents approved at a Tuesday meeting.

The agreement will allow NSA employees to earn up to 50 academic credits toward a 120-credit undergraduate degree in Cyber Operations from Dakota State University for completing certain training at the agency. The deal is the first of its kind between the NSA and a higher education institution, according to a report to the board.

“We’re tickled pink. We’re absolutely thrilled that we’ve done this,” said Josh Pauli, a cybersecurity professor at Dakota State University who worked with the NSA examining the details of the agency’s training. “It’s a Hollywood story. Who would have thought this little school … would be doing this? But, hey, we’re doing it, and we’re thrilled.”

Board of Regents Executive Director and CEO Jack Warner said the agreement represents “the growing recognition of Dakota State excellence” in cybersecurity.

Pauli reviewed classified NSA training courses to see how they matched up with Dakota State’s Cyber Operations curriculum to help decide how much currency the training would provide toward a degree. He said some NSA employees go through more than 2,000 hours of training related to cybersecurity, computer programming and computer networking.

The university has had a formal relationship with the NSA for four years. The Cyber Operations program is one of 13 programs identified by the NSA as a highly technical higher education cybersecurity program. An NSA representative wasn’t immediately available for comment.

The Cyber Operations program is available online, and the report to the board predicts the agreement will attract 50 online enrollees this fall with the “potential for explosive growth.” The report said a bachelor’s degree is a requirement for employees once they leave the military but decide they want to retain their positions at the agency as civilians.

Waylon Krush, CEO of Lunarline Inc., an Arlington-based cybersecurity firm, said he got very little college credit when he went through the military.

“I got a degree. It wasn’t as hard as military training,” said Krush, who said he worked in cybersecurity at the Department of Defense. “I’m actually really happy to hear that they’re doing this In South Dakota because I think it’s going to open up … opportunities.”

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