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Schooling for Employment: How Higher Ed Should React to the Growth of Coding Academies

Schooling for Employment: How Higher Ed Should React to the Growth of Coding Academies
The modern higher education institution can learn lessons from software development schools, which have introduced short-term programming that delivers work-relevant skills.

Software development schools (like The Flatiron School and App Academy) provide access to learning and employment through a thoughtfully articulated progression that’s simple and remarkably brilliant. In short, these schools have a highly efficient educational model that promises to go from campus-based learning to employment in 12 weeks.

The operational paradigm for software development schools appears to be defined through market-driven supply and demand forces, with the outcome for the student being the capacity to learn quickly and then realize a significant return on investment (ROI) by getting a good-paying job. In addition, there may be the offhand allure of incredible wealth if an app is created that has broad market appeal. We recall that within the past year, Facebook purchased Whatsapp for $19 billion and various technology companies have purchased a number of other software programs for significant sums of money.

School websites indicate the educational model unfolds into a transparent sequence, whereby a potential student connects with the school because s/he has a personal interest and proven ability in software development. This interest must include a working knowledge of one or more programing languages in order to facilitate ongoing interactions between the student and the school.

If the student is selected to attend, the learning experiences are specific, clearly defined and finite. Learning activities start before the campus-based learning commences. There are 80 to 100 hours of advanced study and practice that’s monitored and assessed. Once the 12-week semester starts, the curriculum progresses week to week, and these expectations appear intense, with requirements to be on campus in learning settings for a minimum of nine hours a day. Classes are taught with a variety of instructional learning activities directly related to software development and others that seem to provide breaks from the intensity. After classes end at 6 p.m., the learning is supported through facilities that remain open until the next day when class starts again at 9 a.m. In other words, the learning takes on a 24/7 culture for those 12 weeks.

At the end of the semester, software development schools cap off the program with job opportunities. Some jobs are with a business that may well have partnered with the school. If a student gains employment with a partnering company, tuition reductions may be available. Frankly, the architecture of this type of carefully defined value chain upsets the dominant logic of obtaining degrees in higher education.

We know people with college degrees historically obtain better jobs and more earnings than those without. Consequently, two and four-year degree-bearing colleges and universities simply offer large numbers of students the opportunity to attend, learn and then apply for work after the degree is obtained. This is the dominant logic.

The Disruption

Software development schools are disrupting the “typical” learning sequence by incubating existing abilities in a potential student and determining a goodness of fit between the learner and the content. Once the fit is determined, an accelerated set of languages and tools are learned with clear connections to jobs and salaries. Students solve existing problems and also address some of the software development needs partnering businesses bring to the curriculum.

The interplay between real-world accelerated learning and intense, well-defined expectations taught by instructors who work in the field, coupled with businesses that provide training opportunities and jobs at the end of the program, fits the school-to-employment progression and accelerates learning to work much faster than higher education’s traditional internships and cooperatives and even newly-emerging high school apprenticeships.

One interpretation for the existence of software development schools in the education marketplace is available through a phrase from Reverse Innovation, “…Level four thinking. Emerging market customers have vastly different needs. To capture the opportunity, we’ll have to design new products and services from scratch.”[1] Plainly, software development schools’ creators have cut a new path for prospecting students and promoting employment for newly trained software developers.

The Takeaway

Increasingly, higher education seeks innovations that have economic appeal. Given ongoing enrollment challenges in small private and public institutions, there are often questions about new programs to increase enrollments. Thus, should higher education develop software development schools as a complementary curriculum and delivery system to better serve students than the traditional computer science, computer information systems and information technology programs? Probably not. This is because the application process, the advanced learning expectations, the accelerated pace and the long days over a three to four-month curriculum fit the software development schools that advance those attributes. Rather, messages from national and state regulatory agencies regarding affordability and gainful employment, job opportunities in the ‘barista economy’ and declining enrollments necessitate innovation rather than imitation.

A step to innovate includes what Govindarajan and Trimble identified as ‘level four thinking,’ which means asking the following fundamental questions:

  • Who are my target customers?
  • What value do I want to deliver to them?
  • What is the value chain architecture I will use to deliver that value?[2]

Answering these three questions may initiate innovations causing higher education to weaken its grip on the conventional mindset regarding school-to-employment delivery systems.

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[1] Vijay Govindarajan, Chris Trimble & Indra K. Nooyi. “Reverse Innovation.” iBooks.

[2] Ibid