Innovating to Deliver Programming through New Models: Bringing the Bootcamp to CampusDiane Johnson | Program Director for The Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational and Environmental Health, University of Utah
The speed with which industry is evolving is rapidly surpassing the speed with which traditional higher education functions. Companies need competent individuals now. While industry experts state that they still value many of the skills that come from earning a college degree, they report that their companies can’t wait two to six years to get the talent they need.
This reality caused us to re-evaluate how we are serving students through our program offerings. By design, NCU is a competency-based and more agile university than most. We operate our business with integrity and have deep expertise in building effectively rigorous educational programs. As we evaluated the educational landscape, we realized that to give employers and our students what they need, we had to think outside of the box. We had to suspend our traditional academic assumptions and examine gaps in educational needs with open minds and explore innovative options. Based on what we found, we knew we had to take a risk and be willing to be different. We had to be willing to venture outside of the current accreditation system to get the product to market.
Since NCU is headquartered in Salt Lake City, UT near an area known as Silicon Slopes, we determined that technology education was the place to start. Silicon Slopes is a booming technology hub creating massive numbers of jobs. Most of these jobs require specialized technological skills. Utah, an industrious and education-oriented state, is struggling to keep up with demand.
To help provide talent for these jobs, NCU’s foray into being “different” rose out of an unlikely partnership with a technology development shop located in the Silicon Slope area. Slate Development was experiencing a problematic shortage of skilled software developers. Graduates of universities and other bootcamps lacked sufficient up-to-date skills to be productive at Slate. To solve this problem, they created their own intensive targeted curriculum, educational model, and learning management system. This intensive and immersive bootcamp, now known as Bottega, began to attract other employers looking to source qualified software developers and other skilled talent in related areas. At the same time, the reputation of Bottega spread through the student market like wildfire. It attracted thousands of potential students looking to change careers or start careers in the tech industry. Exceptional post-bootcamp job placement added fuel to the fire.
This momentum led to a perfect storm of opportunity for both NCU and Bottega. NCU was looking for a way to better meet needs of employers. Bottega was looking for ways to keep up with demand. Through a series of fascinating coincidences, members of the NCU leadership team were introduced to members of the Bottega leadership team. It wasn’t long before both groups realized that if we each contributed what we were best at, together, we could offer a uniquely up-to-date product with proven value to employers. NCU Code Lab powered by Bottega was born.
Our partnership has a simple structure. It leverages the strengths of each to the benefit of both. Simply stated, NCU is best at delivering education to non-traditional students across the world and Bottega is best at keeping curriculum current with industry standards from around the world. We do the teaching and they provide the curriculum. We manage the logistics of establishing and running bootcamps and they make sure what students are learning is up-to-date. We are exceptional at scaling operations both domestically and abroad. They are exceptional at creating an immersive, intensive learning experience within their curriculum to ensure graduates are truly competent.
As Code Lab, as we affectionately call it, has evolved, we have discovered it is important to continually learn from and listen to each other. For example, Bottega has coached us on the importance of creating dynamic learning spaces that reflect industry tech company cultures. The tech company feel and culture are important as students become acclimated to the kind of conditions in which they will be working. The reminded us that students come to a bootcamp looking for a “non-academic” learning experience. NCU has coached Bottega on how to create credit worthy curriculum structures that recently achieved ACE credit recognition status. We have provided insights on how to more efficiently use student mentor and advisor time to build a cost-effective support model.
When I reflect on the decision to launch NCU Code Lab, I am energized by the momentum of getting a great program to market in time to make a difference. Trends demonstrating dramatic increase in employer recognition of short-term, non-accredited, credentials puts pressure on the traditional systems of schooling in this country and abroad. Widespread employer recognition of these non-traditional, non-accredited educational offerings, like NCU Code Lab, may possibly be the only market force significant enough to compel needed changes in the existing accreditation processes. Accreditation has its place. However, accreditor “business as usual” cannot continue if they want to remain relevant. As evolving demand for specialized skills increases, the education sector providing the needed training must respond in a timely manner. NCU Code Lab powered by Bottega is our first large-scale “rapid response.” In the same manner, we will soon launch NCU Skills Lab to offer specialized training in the areas of engineering, supply chain & logistics, health-care management, and hospitality management. It’s time to embrace being different to better serve students and industry.
Author Perspective: Administrator