Establishing a Foothold: Outcomes Reporting and Bootcamp GrowthRachel McGalliard | Vice President for Operations, The Software Guild
In 2012, while the higher education industry was knee deep in The Year of the MOOC, another entrant came onto the postsecondary scene and their impact has been—though slower growing—arguably more significant. Coding bootcamps emerged in 2012 and, over five years, have grown to 91 full-time providers serving nearly 20,000 students and experiencing an annual growth rate of 107 percent. Of course, given the direct tie between bootcamps and labor market-relevant skills, questions have arisen about the learning outcomes of students and the capacity for graduates to step into lucrative careers. In this interview, Rachel McGalliard discusses the Council on Integrity in Results Reporting (CIRR), the industry’s answer to these criticisms. She also shares her thoughts on how the CIRR might help the bootcamp industry continue along its growth trajectory and the wider impact this reporting culture could have on higher education more broadly.
The EvoLLLution (Evo): What were some of the key factors that led to the creation of the Council on Integrity in Results Reporting (CIRR)?
Rachel McGalliard (RM): Software Guild partnered early on with Skills Fund and part of that partnership meant an arduous process of looking at our program to make sure that we had a solid offering that was good for our students. Early on in the process, Skills Fund invited some of their partners to Austin and we discussed the varying levels of reporting that were required by the states where we had a physical presence. We discussed how there was no real consistency amongst the group of what is required in the bootcamp industry because we don’t fall under a regional accrediting body, because we’re not degree-granting institutions and we don’t have a national accrediting body. We decided we needed to start that dialogue about what the consistent message to students and prospective students should be, including what they should expect from a bootcamp around outcomes.
Evo: What were a few of the most significant roadblocks to forming the council?
RM: It’s not an easy conversation because we’re all holding ourselves to a higher standard. It was challenging to figure out how to best do this when, first, there’s a steep growth going on in this industry because of the demand for developers and, second, we want to report our outcomes without hurting one another in the process. One example is the question of transparency around how many computer science graduates we have that attend our programs. That doesn’t become either a positive or a negative, but it’s worth knowing which bootcamps tend to accept a lot of SC graduates and which ones tends to have cohorts with more varied backgrounds. It became about selecting metrics we were all comfortable with. That wasn’t an easy conversation and it took many iterations.
Evo: Where do you draw the line between information that’s important for a prospective student or an employer to have and information that could damage or put at a disadvantage one of the members of the council?
RM: I don’t think that any of us ever felt like anything we were discussing could be damaging to one of the members of the council. I think ultimately we’re very much aligned with Skills Fund’s mission to say that we’re not afraid of transparency because the reality is there are going to be ebbs and flows among these metrics and if we have to report twice a year with a verified auditor of some sort auditing our numbers, some days are going to look good and some days are not. The reality is sometimes the market reaches a saturation point in hiring, or maybe one of your largest employers isn’t hiring or maybe you just had a cohort that wasn’t the best that you’ve had. These are all those intangibles that are not always easy to pinpoint or control, but if we know that we have good curriculum that’s meeting the needs of our employers and future students and current students, we shouldn’t be afraid to put our numbers out there. It really came down to a conversation of what’s best for our students, what’s best for our employers and if we all have that at the top of our priority list, this is a pretty easy conversation to have.
Evo: How will the CIRR work?
RM: Course Report and Skills Fund are part of this council and so their missions are the same—to just provide truth in advertising, transparency to future students and current students about the programs they’re looking at. We are going to be held to reporting twice a year and it has to be verified by an auditor. That’s where that piece really comes in, to have that third-party independent auditor to look at your data because we’re all going to be different in our data. That’s the interesting piece because I can surely attest that our starting salaries in Louisville Kentucky, Akron Ohio and Minneapolis are going to be very different from the starting salaries of San Francisco, so it’s all in perspective. As far as how we hold ourselves to that, it’s just an agreement we’re making and there’s really no disadvantage to doing this. The advantage, to me, is that we’re setting the precedent and if other bootcamps don’t want to be a part of this council I think that says something. That they’re not comfortable with sharing their data, they’re not comfortable with an audit, they’re not comfortable with simple questions like how many students graduate within 100 percent of the published program length or how many students were hired by your school. I think that they’re very simple data questions that we should all be able to answer and to me there’s absolutely no disadvantage of being part of this council.
Evo: How will the CIRR support the competitiveness of bootcamps in the competitive postsecondary education environment?
RM: To me the advantages are countless. Let’s says a student contacts one of our team members and says I’m interested in attending this program. An automatic advantage is that we can direct them to our data; we don’t have to have selling points. You can see x percent of our students graduate within 100 percent of the time, x percent of our students get jobs in directly related fields, x percent of our jobs are part-time work or fall in this starting salary. To be able to provide that to employers who want to partner with us to train their current employees, with a university partner who wants to offer this through their continuing education department or to a student who wants to attend, to me this is the best seal of approval that we could have. Especially in a time when higher education is falling under scrutiny about return on investment. I’m not saying that this is in lieu of higher education, but if we’re claiming to have a direct impact on someone’s employment we better be willing to put our metrics in front of us and justify those statements.
Evo: Ultimately, what do you hope the CIRR will accomplish, both in the short and long term?
RM: There hasn’t been a real standard set. We don’t even have a general number in higher education of the odds of you getting a job in your field with x degree. I think what I hope happens is we start to normalize some of these numbers that are out there. I hope that of the 91-plus bootcamps that are out there now, a significant number really applies some pressure to bring consistency so that people who are really trying to better their lives, to make a difference for themselves, to get into tech because they’re on the periphery of it or it’s what they’ve always wanted to do, can feel confident in the investment that they’re making because this is a high-ticket investment. These bootcamps are not inexpensive but if you can go into it knowing they have 85- to 90-percent placement in directly related jobs, you can feel pretty strong about making that investment, knowing that if you put your attention to it and work hard, you can change the trajectory of where you’re going. What I hope is that it applies pressure to those who maybe aren’t doing those things.
Evo: Is there anything you’d like to add about how you hope to see the council grow and impact the position of boot camps in the postsecondary space?
RM: Honestly, even though it has been great to be one of the founding members, I hope our number grows. I hope it doubles within the coming months because that just shows me that as an industry, we’re out there to really make a difference in the tech deficit towards the employment growth that needs to happen. I just want the council to grow because then we have a way to regulate ourselves and hold ourselves to that standard.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. To see the first report of the CIRR, outlining the reported outcomes data of the council members for January-June 2016, please click here.
Author Perspective: Business