Accrediting the Bootcamp: The Transformational Impact of Career College Status
Coding bootcamps have experienced astonishing growth since they hit the higher education scene in 2012. Capitalizing on the critical labor market need for skilled coders, a lack of coding training in the education ecosystem and the tendency for today’s students to be focused on workforce applicability, bootcamps entered the postsecondary space at exactly the right time to be successful. One major knock on these education providers, however, has been their relative lack of regulation and their expense. In the US, they are experimenting with unique partnerships between postsecondary institutions and coding bootcamps. In Canada, one coding bootcamp is putting those concerns to rest by seeking out—and achieving—accreditation as a career college. In this interview, Rachel Greenspan reflects on why Lighthouse Labs chose to pursue career college accreditation in the provinces in which it operates, and shares her thoughts on the impact she expects that status to have on Lighthouse’s competitive positioning.
The EvoLLLution (Evo): Why did Lighthouse Labs elect to pursue private career college status in Ontario?
Rachel Greenspan (RG): Lighthouse was actually already accredited as a private college in British Columbia when I started two years ago in Toronto. One of the first things I did here was apply to be a private career college partly because we had already worked well with the government in BC, and even though the process is hard and a little bit arduous, we reaped really great benefits, such as working with the government on coding in public schools and doing some other coding workshops and being able to have important conversations about the tech workforce that are much easier to have if you’re working with government rather than spending time resisting the system.
Evo: Does Lighthouse have private career college status in Alberta as well?
RG: We’re applying for private career college status in Alberta this year. We started in Calgary by running our satellite bootcamps there, which is often a test to see if the market can get the employer interest and the student interest to have a bootcamp there, but Calgary has done really well and it has been a great market so we’re working on the accreditation process there now too.
Evo: In Ontario, what were the most significant hurdles you had to overcome to gain this status?
RG: The biggest hurdle to gaining accreditation in Ontario was actually psychological, because there’s a stereotype that government processes are super rigid. In reality, while there was a lot of legwork—we had to submit the credentials of all of our instructors, we had to submit all of our curriculum, and the system they use online to collect this information is complicated—it has actually been really eye-opening. We found that they were fairly understanding to work with as we iterate our curriculum. We changed our curriculum faster than maybe a traditional college credit career college, but they’ve actually been relatively understanding of the difference between minor and major changes.
Evo: Has Ontario’s Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) had to change their own mindset about what it takes to be an accredited college in the process of working with you?
RG: No, in fact I think even if they would like to change their mindset I think the rules and regulations are pretty strict. It’s a very heavy lift for them to be able to change any of it. Whether it’s the requirement or the method of payment, the rules actually state that if there are more than 40 hours and it costs more than $1000 you’re offering a vocational course. It has to be accredited if it’s more than 40 hours, more than $1000 and you’re offering a course to people who have not previously been in that role. For example, if you’re making hairdressers better hairdressers, it’s professional development. If you’re offering coding courses to people who have not previously been software developers and you’re expecting a career outcome there’s just very little wiggle room in terms of the definition.
Evo: How will becoming a private career college impact Lighthouse Labs, from an operations and strategic standpoint?
RG: From a management standpoint at lighthouse in Toronto, what I’m really excited about is continuing the dialogue we’ve had in BC around teachers and coding education in a public school system and around some bigger institutional changes, potentially continuing those in Ontario. Working with the MTCU really gives us a great jumping-off point. For us a lot of it is about transparency. The great thing about coding bootcamps in general and being a private career college is the refund policy, the code of conduct and the expectations. They’re all on our website. We’ve always been a fan of transparency so that actually hasn’t changed a lot, but it’s important for us to showcase it. The other thing is our career services and our relationships with employers. It has been great so far in Toronto. We built a really cool, welcoming network here but continuing that conversation as a private career college is really interesting because it legitimizes our mission.
Evo: How do you expect the accreditation status to impact the competitive positioning of Lighthouse Labs for prospective students who might otherwise be looking at degree or certificate offerings from postsecondary institutions?
RG: Lighthouse has always been relatively complementary to more traditional postsecondary education. People often come to us with computer science or engineering degrees or even web development diplomas, and come to Lighthouse to gain coding skills so that they stay competitive and up-to-date in the workforce. Where the more traditional postsecondary degree would help students learn the theory behind something or learn basic coding skills, a coding bootcamp helps students learn to think like a developer so they can keep learning at an accelerated pace on the job.
I don’t think our accreditation status has changed a lot about how the students look at Lighthouse, but eventually it will because the college status makes us eligible for Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) financial aid. Definitely with the rigor we put into our curriculum and program planning I’m really happy to be able to say we’re a private career college especially in terms of outcomes. The students’ main goal when they come out of Lighthouse is usually to pursue employment and that very outcomes-based focus has not changed.
Evo: With this new accreditation status do you see yourselves shifting into the formal corporate training space—perhaps customized training offerings or offering some level of professional development tailored to coders already in the professional ranks?
RG: It’s definitely something we’ve looked at. We’ve done corporate training as a one-off arrangement a few times and more prominently we had employees here under Canada Job Grant who were sponsored to come to bootcamps to learn how to be developers. Canada Job Grant will cover a certain portion of the tuition if the person is being retained by their employer to go back to their job as a developer, so we definitely have that happen on a fairly regular basis. We actually have our first student right now who is going to go through web development bootcamp and will then go through IOS bootcamp so they’ll go through both of our programs and then go back to their employer so that’s pretty exciting.
Evo: Is there anything you’d like to add about how the transition to a private career college status is going to help lighthouse labs to deliver its unique approach to programming to more students—especially non-traditional students—across Ontario?
RG: I think we’re still pretty committed to our model, which is to provide a really high-quality intense education that can evolve really quickly and keep up with what we see in the workforce, and I don’t think being a private career college changes that. I’m hoping that it strengthens our conversations and our partnerships with the government and our ability to reach a larger audience and a wider community to make it clear that coding is for everybody. And because we know that in the future it’s going to become a staple for pretty much every sector, we’re pretty committed to keeping up our focus on community. We just finished the html500, which is a free day-long coding event we did teaching 500 people across Canada, and I really think the more we work with provincial government and the more we get the dialogue going about code, the better our community outreach and event partnerships will be. I think that’s the real impact at the end of the day.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Author Perspective: Administrator