Two North Carolina universities are among a handful of schools participating in a federal program that teaches computer sleuthing techniques and ways to protect online information.

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte is one of only 11 colleges nationally where the Federal Cyber Corps Scholarship for Service program is available. UNC-Charlotte is the only university in the Carolinas to offer the courses, though students at N.C. A&T University in Greensboro can participate via television.

The coursework covers, among other things, how to scramble information to keep it secret. The program offers a free education, a monthly stipend of $1,000 and a summer internship. After completing coursework, the graduate works two years for a government agency. From there, the graduate can work for private companies, recovering lost computer data after disasters, sleuthing for criminal activity in personal computers or improving the security of computerized bank records.

Students must be US citizens, have a 3.0 grade-point average to get into the program and, in most cases, they must obtain national security clearance to take a government internship. The National Security Agency helped create the program, which is now funded through the National Science Foundation. To participate, a university must satisfy 10 criteria, such as establishing campus centers of information assurance and hiring highly qualified faculty.

Other Cyber Corps schools include Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Purdue University and Carnegie Mellon University. Even though the UNC-Charlotte program has gone virtually unadvertised, the school says it has had inquiries from Kansas, Texas and even Alaska.

UNC-Charlotte has 14 students in the program, which began last fall after Congress appropriated $11.5 million for the program. This year, lawmakers approved another $11.5 million, increasing UNC-Charlotte’s allotment from $150,000 to more than $2 million.