EQUIP-ping Students for a Fruitful Career by Partnering with a Bootcamp

The EvoLLLution | EQUIP-ping Students for a Fruitful Career by Partnering with a Bootcamp
By taking advantage of an innovative and forward-thinking government experiment, SUNY Empire State and Flatiron School have created low-cost access to critical workforce development programming that can transfer seamlessly into a traditional degree program.

The recent success of coding bootcamps has signaled a change in the winds in the postsecondary space. It’s becoming increasingly clear that non-degree postsecondary learning can provide students with pathways to jobs that can lead to successful careers in high-demand industries. Through the EQUIP program, the Department of Education has created opportunities for students to use federal financial aid to pay for any of eight experimental programs produced in partnership between higher education institutions and non-accredited education providers. In this interview, Nan Travers reflects on the partnership her school, SUNY Empire State College, established with the Flatiron School coding bootcamp.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): What are some of the advantages of partnering with Flatiron School on this program rather than running it entirely in-house?

Nan Travers (NT): The single greatest advantage to partnering with Flatiron School is the ability for SUNY Empire to award college credit to students for the college-level learning they have acquired through Flatiron School’s coding bootcamp and, for the first time, to award federal Title IV financial aid.

Prior to inclusion in the U.S. Department of Education’s EQUIP program, SUNY Empire would have been prohibited from granting federal financial aid because 50 percent of the curriculum will be provided by Flatiron School. It is a great honor to be included in such an innovative program and the department’s EQUIP program is a significant marker in the direction of higher education.

The reason partnering with Flatiron—and many other institutions and organizations—makes so much sense for us is that collaboration saves our non-traditional students the time, expense and aggravation of sitting through courses and curriculum they already know.

Partnerships for the benefit of non-traditional students are part of SUNY Empire State College’s DNA. Throughout our 45-year history, SUNY Empire has been assessing student learning acquired apart from a traditional academic setting and, where student learning is at a college level, awarding an appropriate or corresponding amount of college credit.

The significant advantage of this partnership is that Flatiron School has worked directly with industry to ensure their curriculum is cutting-edge and what employers need. They have done the work and have the talent in their faulty.

For us to bring that level of knowledge into our curriculum, and to hire additional faculty with that knowledge, would take a significant amount time and a great deal of expense. Partnering is an efficient way to deliver an affordable, high-quality education to students. The partnership also allows the curriculum to be flexible enough to meet changing industry needs. In terms of our partnership with Flatiron School, the college would have to recreate Flatiron School’s bootcamp coding training from scratch, a time-consuming, expensive and unnecessary process.

Instead of reinventing the wheel, we will begin our rigorous professional learning evaluation process, just as we have done with so many other partners, so that students will earn credit for what they know, regardless of where or how they gained that knowledge. Our certificate will provide students with in-demand job skills and put them on a clear path to degree completion and a career in a high-need field.

Through the department’s experiments, higher education, industry and quality assurance through ANSI, are all combined for the benefit of students and their future employers.

Evo: What made Flatiron School stand out as an ideal partner for the Accelerated Certificate Course in Web Development?

NT: Flatiron School has its finger on the pulse of the coding industry and their competency-based training reflects the demands of employers. They fill the specific skills gap for web developers and 98 percent of their students are hired after graduation.

SUNY Empire, in turn, provides the foundational liberal arts courses, knowledge and skills employers also demand of employees, which Flatiron School does not offer as part of their coding bootcamp.

There are other important synergies as well.

Like SUNY Empire, Flatiron School educates students online, face to face and through a blend of both modes of learning. Located and named after New York City’s famous Flatiron Building, Flatiron School is located in close proximity to SUNY Empire’s Lower-Manhattan location at 325 Hudson Street. SUNY Empire also has locations in Brooklyn and Staten Island.

The goal is to provide students with as much flexibility and as many learning options as possible so that they can succeed.

Evo: How will students benefit from this partnership?

NT: Expanding opportunity and increasing success for low-income and non-traditional students are the goals for SUNY Empire, Flatiron School, ANSI and the department’s EQUIP program.

The benefit for non-traditional and low-income students will be that they will have greater access to good jobs in the near term and, in the longer term, a big head start and a clear path to completing a college degree, which means more opportunities for promotion and career advancement.

Specifically speaking, in order to earn a SUNY Empire 24-credit certificate in web development, students would follow Flatiron’s competency-based curriculum and take three four-credit SUNY Empire courses in writing, mathematics and problem solving.

What’s more, College Writing and Math for the Inquiring Mind also meet the SUNY system’s General Education Requirements.

Upon completion, students will have a certificate that is completely transferable—and designed to seamlessly integrate—into a SUNY Empire associate or bachelor’s degree. Thanks to the special waiver provided by the department’s EQUIP program, all 24 credits will qualify for federal financial aid.

Students also will be fulfilling the need of employers for people with college-level math, writing and critical thinking skills, which are essential for promotion and career advancement.

All too often today, when students complete training and move on to college, their prior learning does not qualify for either financial aid or college credit. This means that students often have to start a degree at the beginning, even when they may already know some of the topics, which will very likely cost students time and money they do not have.

Evo: What will be the roles of each partner in developing and delivering this program?

NT: ANSI, the national leader in standardization and accreditation for nearly 100 years, will evaluate the program as the quality assurance entity of the partnership. In addition to completion rates and other relevant metrics, student employment post-certificate completion also will be evaluated by ANSI.

Flatiron School will provide the competency-based training, which leads to good jobs. SUNY Empire will provide students with the liberal arts foundational courses and a completely transferable, 24-credit certificate in web development, which is fully transferable to an associate’s and bachelor’s, so students can jump start their college degree.

Evo: How do you expect to see institution-organization partnerships like this grow in future?

NT: First, thanks to the approval from the department to participate in EQUIP, we now have to get the partnership up and running.

A team of SUNY Empire faculty will meet with Flatiron School faculty to start the process of finalizing the curriculum and evaluating the coding bootcamp training for college-level learning and credit.

Certainly we share the department’s optimism for the overall success of the program, which, in turn, we believe will lead to a greater number and variety of partnerships between colleges and universities and non-traditional education institutions for many, many more students, particularly non-traditional, low-income students.

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Key Takeaways

  • Through the EQUIP partnership, students can use federal financial aid to pay for workforce development training that will give them the skills to get a job in a high-demand field.
  • By partnering with a coding bootcamp, SUNY Empire State is able to expand access to critical skills development programming at a lower cost for students without having to reinvent the wheel in regards to curriculum development.
  • The program has been designed to allow students to transfer seamlessly into a degree program upon completion of the certificate program, if they wish.