The BPPE (Bureau of Private Postsecondary Education) recently sent seven cease and desist letters to learn-to-code academies, including Hackbright Academy, Hack Reactor, App Academy, and others. These letters have threatened the organizations with fines and closure if they don’t comply with BPPE policies and oversight.
This controversy between the BPPE and the emerging category of crash courses in technology raises an important issue for California’s tech community. Do we allow our government to drive our businesses, or should the opposite be true? Can we reach a consensus and drive forward coordinated action? Alternatively, is consensus necessary? Or (true to form) do we debate this issue to death and yet do nothing, leaving us as disempowered as we started?
First, the issue itself: Should the BPPE be able to regulate coding academies? While this could quickly degrade into a huge debate about “what’s the overall purpose of government?” this issue really isn’t that complex.
Regulation isn’t appropriate — there is no claim of accreditation: Governments aren’t responsible for ensuring the quality of products/services provided by a business. Even an education business, if not seeking accreditation, shouldn’t necessarily fall under any form of regulation. Regulation is (mostly unanimously) agreed to be applied to areas of national security, safety/health and subsidized businesses. Every good developer knows this type of over-reaching is called “scope creep!” In fact, last year the Canadian Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities looked at a similar issue and determined that these courses fell under “professional development” and were therefore exempt from regulation.
Regulation doesn’t equal quality: Some entrepreneurs have come forward and said they would support regulation because they have “interviewed students from these classes” and found them lacking proper skills. But explore an analogy familiar to all of us: public primary schools. No one would dare argue that the public school system is effectively meeting the needs of all students in our state. Data from the California Department of Education shows that less than 60% of California students are proficient in either Math or English-Language Arts; and not surprisingly graduation rates are almost always lower than 80%. While I understand that there are plenty of intricacies to these data, it underscores the fact that regulation does not achieve the actual objective: to deliver quality.
Regulation is expensive — in terms of money, time, and bureaucracy: Reference: Search for California government budget.
If these academies were claiming accreditation (a potentially fraudulent claim), or were making false claims/advertising, these would be clear opportunities for legal regulation. Outside of that, this entire debate is madness — regulation is expensive, ineffective and inappropriate.
As Christina Farr makes clear in her article, a cease and desist letter from a governmental regulating body is not a surprisingly existential risk to a business. What’s missing is that the California government has an equally serious risk of falling out of touch with its mission of value to its citizens and the economics/budget of delivering on this mission. What’s also missing is the responsibility of us as entrepreneurs in helping our state find its way: we are the creators of jobs and opportunity in California.
Our participation is essential. Participation is not caving to the natural government pressures, participation is not allowing debate to degrade into the comments section of a CNN article; participation is taking the time to reflect on the issue, reaching a thoughtful ecosystem perspective, and driving that conclusion.
Participation is holding our government accountable. Raise your voice with me — the hacking academies being targeted can not (they are, as it turns out, trying to address this day-to-day existential risk to their business!). We need to make a stand. Let’s make a stand not only because our peers need it, but because frankly the California Government needs this type of active pushback to find its own balance point. And not on this issue alone, but on the issues of the citizenship, budget, real estate, health care, taxation, and patent trolls.
There is value in a symbiotic relationship, but we must both invest. Death by a thousand paper-pushers should not be the reason we look back in 20 years and say, “Geeze, wasn’t Silicon Valley amazing before they let it slip …”
David Selinger is CEO of RichRelevance, a company that develops personalization technologies for the world’s largest retailers and brands.