Diversity & Inclusion
Cybersecurity / Education / Funding

With $6M grant from Microsoft, Last Mile Education Fund launches cybersecurity scholarship to invest in 10,000 students

The scholarship initiative is awarding emergency funding to low-income students in two-year programs. It aims to address a job shortage and grow a more diverse workforce.

Developing tech skills. Photo by Shahadat Rahman on Unsplash

Microsoft and the Last Mile Education Fund are launching a new scholarship fund that’s targeting the nationwide shortage of cybersecurity talent.

The Baltimore-based Last Mile Education Fund’s Microsoft Cybersecurity Scholarship Program is providing scholarships to low-income students at two-year institutions, such as community colleges or technical schools with a cybersecurity-related program.

The scholarship is funded by a $6 million grant from Microsoft. It will award emergency financial assistance up to $500, or subsidies to cover the cost of cybersecurity certification licensing exams up to $375. Scholarship awardees will also receive free LinkedIn premium accounts and access to local GitHub sponsored events and GitHub Education benefits like the the Student Developer Pack.

The goal is to provide scholarships to 10,000 low- income students. It grows the work of Last Mile Education Fund “tenfold,” CEO Ruthe Farmer said in a statement. Fiscally sponsored by the Federal Hill-based Digital Harbor Foundation, the fund launched earlier this year with a model to provide funding for students nearing a degree. Along with the support of cybersecurity in particular, the Microsoft-supported scholarship fund also brings a focus on supporting veterans.

“We’re being smart about the workforce and where the gaps are,” April Christina Curley, engagement and partnerships manager at Last Mile Education Fund, told Technical.ly. “Not only do we want to close the gap in supplying technical talent in the cybersecurity workforce, but we want to do that thoughtfully with a diversity mentality and an equity inclusion mentality.”

There are currently 464,000 open jobs in cybersecurity nationally, according to Cyber Seek, a tech job-tracking database from trade group CompTIA. The need to fill these roles isn’t just a matter of providing high paying jobs, though, with a median salary of $103,590 per year,  according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), they are. Further, with the rise of ransomware attacks and data leaks, these unfilled roles leave many companies, public and private institutions with vulnerable cyber infrastructure.

According to estimates by online job search platform  Zippia.com, of demographics and statistics for cybersecurity analysts in the United States based off their 30 million profiles and cross referencing with BLS, Census, and current job openings data for accuracy, 71.3% of the people in these roles are men, and 72.6% are white.

In a release announcing the initiative, Microsoft President and Vice Chair Brad Smith said the scholarship will help “to expand financial aid and additional learning services to help more students pursue cybersecurity degrees and certificates, especially if we want to reach the more diverse population that is not well represented in the cybersecurity field today.”

The new scholarship is part of an initiative by Microsoft to help fill 250,000 cybersecurity roles by 2025. That would fill half of the 500,000 roles in the shortage.

Under Last Mile’s model, the goal is not just to provide funding for school but to help prepare students for careers. The LinkedIn premium accounts and GitHub services may feel like small details, but they can make a big difference when it comes to landing a position.

“To remain competitive in this field you have to be able to advocate for yourself and promote yourself,” said Curley, “And that includes being on employer driven sites such as LinkedIn and demonstrating your work through sites like GitHub.”

Applications are open now.

Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.
Companies: Digital Harbor Foundation / Microsoft

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