Bootcamps No Longer Outside Scope for Higher Education InstitutionsNick Ducoff | Vice President for New Ventures, Northeastern University
Bootcamps and other non-institutional higher education providers have taken the postsecondary industry by storm in recent years. Their popularity among both students and employers has forced both institutions and the Department of Education to take notice and recalibrate to determine where these providers fit into the higher education ecosystem. While some institutions are forging partnerships with bootcamps and others deride their quality, Northeastern University elected to launch its own bootcamp called Level, which will provide data analytics education to working professionals. In this interview, Nick Ducoff sheds some light on why Northeastern launched Level and shares his thoughts on how he hopes to see it grow going forward.
The EvoLLLution (Evo): What are a few aspects of the bootcamp model that higher education institutions struggle to replicate?
Nick Ducoff (ND): Bootcamps’ responsiveness to employer market demands is difficult for higher education institutions to replicate, which is evidenced by the skills gap. We’re developing Level in tandem with industry and incorporating leading-edge tools such as R and Tableau.
Evo: Looking at the boot camps specifically, what are a few aspects of the more traditional higher education model—as offered by colleges and universities—that they are unable to deliver?
ND: Standalone bootcamps are building a two-sided market from scratch, whereas we in higher education have existing employer and student relationships in place. They have largely unproven outcomes, whereas we have 117 years of operating history and results. They tend to have inexperienced instructors, whereas we have best-in-breed pedagogy, curriculum and instruction.
Evo: How does the Level bootcamp help to maximize the advantages of the two models?
ND: In addition to all of the differences highlighted above, we’re building Level with Northeastern’s signature experiential education— students will apply what they learn every afternoon to real data sets, as well as work with employers on a mini-capstone spanning the last two weeks of the program.
Evo: How does Level help Northeastern to differentiate itself in the highly competitive higher education marketplace?
ND: Our president says Northeastern is a 100-year-old startup, and Level is further evidence of that. We are trying to make higher education more flexible and accessible.
Evo: Did you run into any objections or uncertainty from faculty members when looking for individuals to teach in this innovative format?
ND: Finding extremely qualified instructors is always a challenge, but we were very lucky to find Dr. Maria Wang, Ph.D., a Northeastern alum.
With any new venture, there’s always some uncertainty. Our academic enterprise and faculty have been very supportive across our new ventures, including LearnX, the Experiential Network, and now, Level.
Evo: How do you hope to see Level evolve over the long term?
ND: We’re still in our infancy, so we’re very focused on operational excellence. Over time, we plan to increase our programming across analytics disciplines and other subject matter areas, expand geographically across the Northeastern University Global Network and beyond, and ultimately we’d like to offer the program online in a hybrid format.
Evo: How do you expect the Level model to expand the demographic of students Northeastern is able to serve?
ND: Given Level’s accessible price point and two-month duration, it opens up the market. We hope the program is attractive to students looking for a pathway from education to employment, as well as students looking for a more accessible entry point to continuing higher education.
Evo: On a more macro level, what do you think the future might hold for these types of unique offerings?
ND: Markets are very efficient. When there are gaps—such as the skills gap—private industry will service the demand if higher education providers do not. Universities have three choices: lead change, respond to change, or do nothing. With Level, we’re leading change.
Evo: What are the advantages of launching a bootcamp style education provider from inside the institution rather than forging a partnership with an established bootcamp like General Assembly?
ND: One can only learn so much through observation. We believe you learn best through experience, and that’s why we’ve chosen to launch our own program. That doesn’t preclude us from partnering with General Assembly or other bootcamps in the future. In fact, running our own program makes us more knowledgeable if that’s the direction we go.
Author Perspective: Administrator