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Joining Forces With The Disruptors: SNHU’s Partnership With Flatiron School

The EvoLLLution | Joining Forces With The Disruptors: SNHU’s Partnership With Flatiron School
By partnering with the Flatiron School bootcamp, Southern New Hampshire University is creating new pathways for its students to gain the critical skills needed by employers and putting them on the road to long-term career success.

Coding bootcamps are trending in the U.S. Last year, approximately 6,000 students graduated from a bootcamp, and another 16,000 are estimated to complete in 2015. Generally, students can pay anywhere from $10k to $20k and spend six to 15 weeks with small groups of peers learning web development skills. The major proof concept for these full-time, intensive, immersive learning experiences is that they are being validated by employers. Large companies such as Facebook, Adobe, Google and many others now recruit students from these new talent pipelines. Coding bootcamps pride themselves on their excellent outcomes and boast job attainment rates that range from 63 percent to 99 percent—better odds than the 57 percent placement rate of law-school graduates, according to the American Bar Association.

It’s no wonder that people are paying attention to these uniquely targeted, non-degree, non-credential and non-credit programs.

The Obama Administration has been particularly enthusiastic about bootcamps. In fact, the federal government seems to be fully aware of the burgeoning of alternative learning pathways that lead to middle- and high-skills jobs in demand today—programs that include Udacity’s nanodegrees, edX’s Xseries and Coursera’s Specializations among many others. These non-traditional programs have served as the impetus behind the Administration’s latest invitation to an experimental sites initiative (ESI) entitled Educational Quality through Innovative Partnerships (EQUIP). Underscoring the importance of connections to skills and work, EQUIP is intended to enable students to access federal financial aid and apply it toward non-traditional providers of education that have partnered with colleges and universities as well as a quality-assurance auditor.

This is a fascinating initiative in that its very formulation acknowledges the mistakes of the past. The Federal Register Notice for these ex-sites lists that applicants must “[i]dentify ways to protect students and taxpayers from risks in an innovative and emerging area of postsecondary education.” There is a clear aversion to risk, as the Department of Education cracks open federal funds to promising non-IHE providers (institutions of higher education) in order to expand access to students who cannot afford to access these programs without Pell grants or other forms of federal funding.

The insistence on standards underscores that the enthusiasm for non-IHEs is not unbridled. The Department clearly does not wish to reenact what happened in the 1990s when for-profit universities learned quickly how to game the Title IV system—most recently depicted by the downfall of Corinthian Colleges. To preempt the manipulation of federal financial aid in the opening of access to non-accredited institutions, the Department is outlining numerous standards and demanding transparency around outcomes, including gainful employment regulations, as well as other important reporting through assessments that take into account factors such as face validity, content validity, predictive validity, and concurrent validity.

EQUIP will be a challenging ESI, but it will also be an incredible opportunity. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that from 2012 to 2022, employment for software developers will grow 22 percent—much faster than the average for all occupations. We at Southern New Hampshire University are thrilled to send in our letter of interest with our partner, Flatiron School. We feel it is an important way to expand access to an incredible outcomes-oriented program to students who arguably need an even greater lift.

With the proliferation of the bootcamp phenomenon over the last two years, there is now a wide range of providers that offer variations on the same theme with different results. What drew us to Flatiron in particular was the founders’ intent not to have the bootcamp serve as some sort of finishing school only for elite college graduates. Avi Flombaum and Adam Enbar have made it part of their mission to help low-income and minority students access a high-quality bootcamp experience. Through its Brooklyn-based NYC Fellowship program, Flatiron has figured out ways to achieve comparable—if not better—outcomes for underserved students. For the cost of a $15,000 12- or 15-week program, Flatiron students are placed into jobs 99 percent of the time with median starting salaries of $74k. Students who may not even have a bachelor’s degree are landing jobs at places like the New York Times, Etsy, Goldman Sachs and Google.

In order to fend off skeptics who insist that it’s impossible to train developers in such a short amount of time, Flatiron hired a third-party auditor to assess its outcomes. It is the only bootcamp to have performed such an audit, and the report by Moody, Famiglietti & Andronico, LLP details the job placement rates, completion rates, salary range and distributions, demographic data, gender distribution, increase of salary after the fourth quarter, as well as important paid apprenticeship data.

As if this wasn’t impressive enough, Flatiron has also invested a large part of its funding into building a fully online version of its New York City and Brooklyn-based immersive experiences. If we are fortunate enough to get our ex-sites application approved by the Department of Education, our partnership will expand Flatiron’s recently launched platform, Learn-Verified, in order to create the first nationwide fully online coding bootcamp. This full-stack web developer experience is a 700- to 800-hour competency-based learning experience fully integrated with GitHub in order to replicate exactly a developer’s experience.

With or without EQUIP, we’ll augment our national online offering by developing a 3+1 program for our own SNHU students to gain literacy in what is not merely a fad but an increasingly necessary skillset for the workforce. Students will have the option to follow up a three-year traditional curriculum with six months of the web development curriculum as well as a paid internship during their final semester before graduation. This program enacts something I’ve written about in the past for The EvoLLLution: a way to become “alive to the possibilities,” as Sir Michael Barber puts it, by tying education to economic relevance.

Despite the fact that some liberal arts institutions might find the idea of collaborating with employers and non-IHEs unattractive or incongruous with their strategic missions, the research on disruption predicts that if institutions do not bridge the skills gap, alternative learning providers will. We call this asymmetric motivation, as disruptive entrants find their footholds by inhabiting a space deemed undesirable by the established leaders in an industry. In this particular case, as the gap between learning and the workforce continues to widen, disruptive innovations will target directly the growing population of students seeking more direct and obvious pathways to jobs.

As a university, we know that we cannot simply double-down on a static curriculum or make the case for the liberal arts without offering our students more than a trajectory; we must help build well defined pathways to employment and student success. We’re looking forward to learning with and from Flatiron, as we help fill the estimated million-persons skills gap to come in computer science in 2020. Coding bootcamps are just the tip of the iceberg. More and more innovative learning hubs will only proliferate over time, and we can’t wait to be a part of the transformation of higher education.

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