The astute Paul Fain recently reported that a coding bootcamp had partnered with accredited Lynn University ($33,450 tuition) to provision a “tech skills” program for course credits. The tuition would be $14,000, with housing costing an additional $8,300, and would be treated like a “study abroad” on-premise in the bootcamp facilities.
On the surface, this is a smart move for an on-premise bootcamp: Treat traditional accredited educational institutions as a distribution channel to acquire more students. Bootcamps with brick-and-mortar facilities are a real-estate gambit, and they often act like a restaurateur, turning tables through their facility to optimize revenue per square foot at each location. If they can get twice as many students through their facilities each year, it’s financially advantageous.
But partnering with accredited schools to deliver tech skills for credit is a dangerous back door to access federal student loans (Stafford/Perkins, Pell grants, GI bill, etc), and puts revenue per square foot in even greater direct tension with another important priority: career-changing student outcomes.
For most of the short history of coding bootcamps, most new students have committed large amounts of time and money with the explicit goal of starting a new career as a programmer. But if accreditation in bootcamps is not directly tied to demonstrable skills and significant career outcomes for students, then bootcamps can chase easy dollars to bump revenue per square foot without being directly accountable for student outcomes.
We’ve seen that story before:
- U.S. fines Corinthian Colleges $30 million over false job placement rates
- FTC Investigates U of Phoenix Parent Group
- FTC Tangles With For-Profits
I applaud the sentiments shared by Bob Shireman, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, in his piece “How Not to Destroy Quality at Coding Bootcamps.” Some coding bootcamps (my company, Bloc, among them) would prefer to see a rigorous standard in place before guaranteed loans and federal funds can be applied to bootcamp tuition.
It’s not hard. Here’s a starter idea: Set up a review board of unbiased experienced developers to review the project portfolios of bootcamp grads. Nothing says “I’m a job-ready developer!” like a portfolio of fully functional web applications that you’ve built and deployed on your own. Spot-check with code reviews to ensure bootcamp grads don’t game the portfolio requirements with simplistic, slapped-together apps. If a bootcamp grad can’t show-and-tell with a robust project portfolio, it’s tough to say they’ve acquired the job-ready skills they sought.
But let’s not backslide with an eroding quality standard that infects the entire bootcamp industry, which is filled with potential to address the very real technical skills gap and provide an exceptional return-on-investment for aspiring programmers around the world. The answer is accountability; as President Obama has often quoted Justice Brandeis: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” I hope Undersecretary Ted Mitchell at the Department of Education is listening.
Clint Schmidt is the Chief Operating Officer at Bloc, an online, mentor-led bootcamp for aspiring developers and designers to start new careers.
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