KU wins $2.4 million grant to add degree programs aimed at serving national intelligence industry

photo by: Courtesy: University of Kansas

Mike Denning

Soon, it will be conceivable that the University of Kansas’ Edwards Campus in Johnson County is producing everything from future MBAs to future members of the CIA.

KU has received a new $2.4 million federal grant to boost the university’s efforts to become a leader in educating future members of the national intelligence industry, including with three new or revamped degree programs at the Edwards Campus.

The grant from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence will allow KU to begin offering biotechnology, information technology and cybersecurity degrees at the Edwards Campus that have a particular emphasis on working in the national intelligence field.

The degree programs are expected to help KU stand out, particularly among Midwestern universities, as a place for students who are pursuing a career in the intelligence industry. Mike Denning, KU’s director of the office of military graduate programs, said many universities have the three degree programs but it is rare for them to combine them with training related to the intelligence industry.

“That is something that is unique,” Denning said. “Cybersecurity, there may be quite a few schools that bring those together, but I think biotechnology will be a pretty unique combination.”

KU will continue to offer cybersecurity, biotechnology and information technology degrees that don’t have a national cybersecurity component. All the new programs will be located in the School of Professional Studies at the Edwards Campus in Overland Park.

KU is in a position to offer special training for people interested in national intelligence because of a previous federal grant the university received. Since 2017, KU has been part of the Intelligence Community Centers for Academic Excellence program, which is overseen by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

As the Journal-World reported in May, KU had about 120 students — from political science majors to foreign language students — enrolled in a program to earn a certificate or a minor in the study of national intelligence.

The new $2.4 million grant ensures that KU will be part of the federal program for at least another five years. In addition to getting more science, math and technology majors involved, the grant is expected to broaden the program’s geographic reach in Kansas. Previously, KU has partnered with Dodge City Community College and Seward County Community College to get their students in the program. Under the new terms of the grant, KU will continue working with those schools but also add Garden City Community College and Kansas City Community College.

The federal government likes partnerships with those schools because they have large minority populations, and they also help the federal government attract rural residents to the industry, which leaders said is another type of diversity they are seeking.

Denning said he thinks the new programs will be a recruitment tool for a variety of new students to come to KU. University leaders think the trio of degree programs will serve 125 students over the next three years. That is in addition to the approximately 120 students annually on the Lawrence campus who have been enrolled in national security minors or the certificate program.

Those numbers also may grow as students begin to understand the value those certificate programs can have in landing a job in the national intelligence industry. The certificate program teaches students several fundamental skills about how to operate in the federal government, secure data and other such topics. KU’s certificate program already is recognized by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

“That ODNI stamp is really important to the students,” Denning said. “It gives them an important leg up in applying to the intelligence community. We find those students often rise to the top of the list.”

But any benefits KU gets in terms of increased enrollment likely will be secondary to the big-picture benefits of the program, said Denning, who is a retired Marine Corps colonel.

“I think more importantly is what we are doing for national security,” Denning said. “These degrees are of vital interests to the intelligence community. They need people with these particular skill sets … KU absolutely is contributing to national security with this.”


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