Scholarship program hits snags

An 18-month-old information security scholarship program provides so few real-world incentives that it's almost counterproductive, some noted academics said recently.

The National Science Foundation's Scholarship for Service is "a wonderful idea, with the emphasis on the word 'idea,'" said Matt Bishop, a computer science professor at the University of California, Davis.

The program offers two-year scholarships to students who commit to serving in government security positions for two years as part of the Federal Cyber Service. It was modeled after the military's ROTC scholarship program, said Blaine Burnham, founding director of the Nebraska University Consortium on Information Assurance (NUCIA).

"But the federal government invested a lot of money to get ROTC going," Burnham said. In addition, universities nationwide lack information security specialists, so "where are you going to get the faculty" to teach it?

Bishop and Burnham spoke April 22 at Infotec 2002, an information technology conference in Omaha, Neb., sponsored by NUCIA and the Association of Information Technology Professionals.

UC Davis, which has one of the premier computer security faculties in the country, chose not to participate in the Scholarship for Service program because officials were not certain that enough students would sign up to justify investing precious funding, Bishop said.

Government salaries are so low compared to those earned by security professionals in industry that students prefer to take out tuition loans instead of accepting the scholarships, according to Bishop. "They just don't see [the program] as that great a deal," he said.

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