Left! Left! Left, Right, Left: One University’s Experience with Bootcamps

The EvoLLLution | Left, Left, Left, Right, Left: One University’s Experience with Bootcamps
Partnering with a bootcamp provider allows non-traditional divisions to create new access pathways for traditionally underserved communities to programming that leads to high-quality jobs and careers.

By my conservative estimate, since the establishment of the first coding bootcamp in 2012 the number of such schools, both for-profit and non-profit universities in the United States and Canada, has shot up to more than 120 and the number of graduates to more than 60,000 as of the end of 2017. The breakdown is roughly 90 for-profits vs. 30 universities and 50,000 vs. 10,000 graduates, with for-profits having a three-year lead in terms of market entry. According to Course Report, which tracks for-profit bootcamps, it is now a $260+ million industry in the U.S. alone.[1] The rapid growth of the sector is not surprising because, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2020 there will be 1.4 million more software development jobs than applicants who can fill them.

At George Washington University’s College of Professional Studies (GW CPS), we had been observing the bootcamp phenomenon and were, at one point, approached by a for-profit company interested in launching a co-branded program. But for academic and quality control reasons, we declined the partnership. Then in 2016 we were introduced to Trilogy Education Services, which had a completely different business model in that they only partnered with well-known universities and were willing to cede full academic oversight to their university partners. We signed an MoU with Trilogy that same year and started our first coding class in January of 2017.

During the 2017 calendar year, we launched eight bootcamps—four part-time (24 weeks each) and two full-time (12 weeks each) coding and two part-time data visualization programs—which collectively served more than 300 adult learners. This year we will add cybersecurity and online coding bootcamps to the mix and the projected number for enrollments in the 2018 calendar year is over 450.

After doing our own due diligence and talking to some of their university partners, the decision to partner with Trilogy was relatively easy. Trilogy had already developed and tested the curricula for these bootcamps so we didn’t have to spend time and money developing them. Coding languages that were in high demand in the DC area were identified and added to the curriculum as well. Additionally, Trilogy uses a weekly feedback system from students, which collects information on things like class pace, instructor clarity and perceived subject mastery that is then used for tweaking and improving the curriculum and teaching methods. Trilogy also has a team on staff dedicated to vetting instructors and teaching assistants. According to CEO Dan Sommer, they have such stringent requirements that less than three percent of applicants end up being hired. Another distinguishing feature of the partnership is the level of student support and career-planning services that Trilogy provides. Each university partner is assigned a full-time student success manager and a career advisor who are close to being a 24/7 help desk for students.

Like our colleagues at other universities, we at CPS take our academic oversight role very seriously and exercise it in a variety of ways. First and foremost, curricula for all bootcamps are reviewed and approved by GW professors from appropriate departments and schools. In a few instances we modified the curriculum as a result of our professors’ recommendations. Before approving any instructors who have already passed Trilogy’s screening, we run their qualifications by CPS or other GW professors to make sure they meet our academic standards. Moreover, our faculty make sporadic visits to bootcamp classes to assess their teaching and learning first-hand. We also work very closely with the dedicated student success manager and career advisor to provide additional support through CPS’s student and career services.

Not surprisingly, bootcamps have come under some criticisms that bear closer examination. Perhaps the most notable among these is that there is little evidence of students landing jobs in their fields within a reasonable period of time. But according to the Course Report cited above, which came out in July 2017, 73 percent of graduates of for-profit bootcamps surveyed reported being in a full-time job requiring the skills learned at the bootcamp with a median post-camp salary of $65,000—representing a significant boost in salaries. We don’t have comparable figures for the non-profit sector yet but it’s not unreasonable to assume that they track with, if not exceed, the for-profit outcomes.

Another criticism leveled against bootcamps offered by universities is that they do not disclose Trilogy’s role and they lead students into believing they are taking a course designed and taught by university professors. This couldn’t be further from the truth. As the administrator for GW’s bootcamps, I or one of my CPS colleagues always attend the first class of every bootcamp and one of the main talking points is our relationship with Trilogy and each partner’s role in designing and teaching the program. Statements about the partnership also appear on our website and marketing materials. Trilogy is also quite open about its relationship with universities and this is reflected in their marketing materials, admissions process and enrollment procedures.

Finally, it has been said that these bootcamps have few connections to the institutions that host them, such as no tuition discounts for current students, no links to the curriculum, no campus student services, and no federal financial aid. As far as GW is concerned, we do offer a five-percent tuition discount to our current students and alumni. Also, there are links to our regular courses. For example, some of the material such as JavaScript, Python and MySQL languages are taught in both our degree programs and bootcamps. Furthermore, we do coordinate on student and career services and provide additional support when needed. As for a lack of federal financial aid, it’s the same with all of our non-credit offerings. Bootcamps are by no means unique in that regard.

Based on about 18 months of experience in running these bootcamps in a large and diverse city I can share some anecdotal results. About half of the students are minorities, and 30 to 40 percent are women. First-generation immigrants also have a significant presence. The vast majority of enrollees have at least a bachelor’s degree and invariably there are several students with graduate degrees in each class as well. The interesting part is that about 15 percent have only a high school diploma but they come with at least a few years of relevant work experience. Roughly half the students are career changers who are either seeking a completely different path from their current jobs or are reentering the job market after an absence. The other half are those who need the skills in their present positions or are looking to advance their careers. The overall graduation rate has been about 90 percent.

If we at university continuing and professional education units consider it part of our mission to help professionals develop the skills that they need to thrive in a digital economy, then surely we should consider the bootcamp model that offers adult learners the opportunity to reskill through an intensive training program. As long as universities exercise their academic oversight role with vigor, partnerships with transparent providers such as Trilogy offer a relatively quick and low-risk way to launch bootcamps.

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Cited References

[1] Course Report. The Growth of Coding Bootcamps 2017. July 18, 2017. Accessible at https://www.coursereport.com/reports/2017-coding-bootcamp-market-size-research.

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