What Happens When Universities and Bootcamps Join Forces?

What Happens When Universities and Bootcamps Join Forces?


Three years ago University of New Haven Provost Dan May was weighing how to respond to a shifting job market for his students. His institution was already working with outside help to rethink the school’s engineering education. Recognizing significant new demand for data scientists, and after being introduced to the work of Galvanize, a Denver-based company that runs coding bootcamps in several cities, May decided to look more closely at the potential of a university-bootcamp partnership.

One year later UNH launched GalvanizeU, an accelerated, accredited one-year master’s degree in data science taught entirely in San Francisco. “It was a unique opportunity to work with an established group that had physical spaces in high-need areas. It gave us access to professional trainers and faculty that we could draw on quickly to grow our program,” May says.

Skills bootcamps may be relatively new, but they are growing fast. The number of bootcamp graduates was more than 16,000 in 2015, up from 6,740 in 2014—that’s compared to 48,700 total U.S. undergraduate computer science graduates in 2014. With partnerships like the one between the University of New Haven and Galvanize on the rise, some administrators are asking: In what ways might bootcamps be relevant to the future of higher-ed institutions, and how might those institutions tap into the successes for students realized by some early bootcamps?

Models to Watch

Partnerships between higher-ed institutions and bootcamps are, at this point, few and far between. But that is soon likely to change, thanks in part to the federal government’s EQUIP experiment that has loosened prior constraints around access to financial aid. Here, we highlight a few of the early movers that have developed notable partnership models.

University of New Haven-Galvanize

GalvanizeU, the product of the UNH-Galvanize partnership, launched in late 2014. The program offers students a 30-credit, $48,000-path to a master’s degree in data science awarded through the UNH. Students complete eight courses in-person at Galvanize in San Francisco, plus a three-credit capstone and a three-credit internship. Instructors have backgrounds spanning technology, business and academia, but all are appointed by UNH as official faculty.

“Our intent was to develop something at a distance and then bring it back to Connecticut,” May says. “It was a way to mine faculty expertise and the corporate and the startup contacts that are very rapidly developing in places like Seattle or San Francisco, and to later bring them back to the Eastern Seaboard.” May says he would like to see a bootcamp in his home campus or the surrounding region.

UNH chose to focus its bootcamp at the graduate level first because it wanted to build an entire program around the bootcamp model and could start more easily with a one-year master’s degree. But the university is considering programs at the undergraduate level, too, May says.

Lynn University-General Assembly

In late 2015 Lynn University partnered with General Assembly, the largest skills bootcamp provider, to develop a technology design program for undergraduates. The program promotes its ability to “complement the liberal arts education you receive at Lynn with industry-specific and just-in-time job skills” through a 16-week semester program that covers topics including product management, user experience design and web development. There’s also a shorter, 10-day offering, and both options are taught on General Assembly campuses.

Lynn’s 16-week program is in many ways designed like a semester abroad. The model allows undergraduates to earn up to a full semester’s worth of credit (15 credits) toward their degree while learning at General Assembly’s San Francisco campus. Students in the full-semester program spend 10 weeks learning foundational skills and the last six weeks at an internship. It’s not cheap—students pay $14,000 for the 16-week program, not including airfare or housing.

Concordia University, St. Paul-The Software Guild

Concordia University, St. Paul (CSP), has an agreement with The Software Guild that is in some ways similar to the Lynn-General Assembly model: students who complete the 12-week, $10,000 bootcamp can earn up to 12 credits toward core requirements of a bachelor’s degree in computer science, or elective credits for other concentrations.

The difference is that students taking advantage of this model typically aren’t yet enrolled in the university. They often decide after completing the bootcamp whether or not they want to enroll at CSP, and then apply to transfer credits. Students who are already enrolled at CSP have the option to apply for the bootcamp during their college career, though no student has done that yet, explains Shannon Flannery, an enrollment representative at Learning House, an eLearning services company that acquired The Software Guild in 2015. Learning House is now in talks with several other institutions to develop additional bootcamp collaborations.

Looking to the Future

Partnerships between higher-ed institutions and bootcamps are a relatively nascent endeavor. What might we see in the coming years? Entangled Ventures co-founder and CEO Paul Freedman says look for liberal arts institutions, in particular, to explore more collaborations. “Liberal arts schools are under tremendous pressure to offer better career readiness education, and they’ll likely want to partner with organizations that specialize in that kind of education.” Koru, an “immersive career training program,” is an example of a company serving students from many of those schools. Koru runs three-week programs that teach both hard and soft skills for the workplace to recent college graduates.

Some partnership models are more likely than others to gain traction. Partnerships between community colleges and skills bootcamps, for example, remain a tough sell due to the high cost of attendance of most bootcamps. Continuing education programs at four-year institutions, on the other hand, may find bootcamp partnerships to be attractive new sources of revenue.

Despite the success bootcamps have seen in some areas, such as sky-high job placement rates, a looming question remains: Can the biggest early successes—which have occurred largely among bootcamps with highly-selective, niche audiences looking for career changes—be maintained with broader, less-affluent and more-diverse student populations? Many higher-ed institutions have expertise in serving diverse populations, a strength to bring to the table when exploring potential partnerships with bootcamps.

Any potential partnership should ultimately serve students’ needs. Right now, Freedman says, "the most important thing for students is getting the education they need. Being able to do their liberal arts degree and the technical education of a bootcamp while at one institution, to save them from having to make this distinction between getting a degree and then learning marketable skills later at a bootcamp, would be a big win.”

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