Cybersecurity is one of the fastest growing fields, particularly for those with a security clearance. However, what does a designation mean? What are Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity (CAE-C) and Cybersecurity Defense (CD) designations?

The National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) jointly sponsor the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense (CAE-CD) program. The goal of the program is to reduce vulnerability in our national information infrastructure by promoting higher education and research in cyber defense and producing professionals with cyber defense expertise for the Nation.

The CAE-CD program comprises the following designations: Four-Year Baccalaureate/Graduate Education (CAE-CDE), Two-Year Education (CAE2Y) and Research (CAE-R). All regionally accredited two-year, four-year and graduate level institutions in the United States are eligible to apply. Institutions must clearly demonstrate how the institution meets the requirements for each CAE designation application submitted. The application must include supporting documentation where required and appropriate.

Prospective schools receive their designation after meeting stringent CAE criteria. This includes the mapping of the schools’ curriculum to a core set of cyber-defense knowledge units. Schools may also elect to map their curricula to specialized Focus Areas. CAE-CD institutions receive formal recognition from the U.S. Government as well as opportunities for prestige and publicity for their role in securing our Nation’s information systems. Designation as a Center does not carry a commitment of funding from NSA or DHS.

Over 200 top colleges and universities across 46 states, the District of Columbia, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico are designated as CAEs in Cybersecurity.

CAE Requirements

CAE institutions achieve the designation when they:

  • Have a center for IA/CD education (Information Assurance/Cyber Defense)
  • Encourage IA/CD research
  • Utilize a multidisciplinary scientific approach
  • Meet a set a core set of knowledge units (KUs)
    • Cyber Defense
    • Cyber Threats
    • Data Analysis
    • Intro to Cryptography
    • IT Systems
    • Policy, Ethics, Law, and Compliance
    • Information Assurance Fundamentals


The CAE-CD program comprises the following designations. They remain valid once awarded for five academic years from date of issuance. They are:

  • CAE2Y – Issued to schools that have two-year cybersecurity programs where course completion results in either a certificate or associate degree. This includes community colleges, technical schools, and government training centers.
  • CAE-CDE – Issued to four-year schools offering cybersecurity programs resulting in a bachelor or advanced degree.
  • CAE-R – Issued to schools that have doctoral research programs in cybersecurity.
  • CAECO – Issued to four-year colleges and graduate-level universities offering courses in Cyber Operations.

Wait-There’s More

The NSA/CSS (Central Security Service) has another designation in conjunction with The National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations Program (CAE-Cyber Operations). It applies to schools granting four-year college degrees and graduate-level programs. CAE-Cyber Operations programs must be based within a computer science, electrical engineering or computer engineering department, or a degree program of equivalent technical depth, or a collaboration between two or

Applications must clearly demonstrate how their program meets each of the requirements and criteria to obtain designation. The designation of successful applicant programs is valid for a period of five academic years, after which they must successfully reapply to retain the designation. more of these departments.

Is a Designation Important?

Students interested in pursuing a degree in cybersecurity should not assume that all institutions provide the same quality of experience and education. Indeed, each college or university has competent faculty that teach in certain areas, and use different technology and instructional design for its program. It is best to research each program of interest to find one where you believe you will be comfortable learning. Then, you may want to consider the school’s accreditation.

However, by selecting a program with the NSA/CAE IA/CD designation ensures that you’re studying cyber security concepts and practices deemed important by two of the largest employers in the cyber security world. These are the National Security Agency and the Department of Defense. Employers will know that — according to your degree level — you have studied a wide range of currently pressing cyber security tools in your training.

Cyber attacks cost the average U.S. company more than $15.4 million per year. To combat this, the NSA and DHS want to produce more cybersecurity professionals. These professionals earn an average salary of $116,000—nearly three times the national average. As the demand for highly trained cybersecurity professionals grows, CAEs will continue to equip students with the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to protect and defend our nation’s infrastructures.

By attending a CAE institution, students have the opportunity to learn by doing and to contribute their efforts to the protection of our nation. Graduating from a CAE school might expand your employment prospects.