Make School Looks to Add New York City Campus After $15M Series B Fundraise


Make School Looks to Add New York City Campus After $15M Series B Fundraise

By Sydney Johnson     Apr 9, 2019

Make School Looks to Add New York City Campus After $15M Series B Fundraise

Make School made headlines last fall when the coding bootcamp-turned college formed a unique partnership with a liberal arts college in northern California. Now, the San Francisco-based startup institution is eyeing the Big Apple for its first branch campus.

It will be a few years before Make School opens its doors in New York, but it’s already raised funds to begin the blueprints. Today, Make School, a private, for-profit institution, announced it has raised $15 million in a Series B funding round led by Venrock, with Learn Capital and Kapor Capital also participating. The latest investment brings Make School’s total amount raised to $30 million.

Money isn’t the coding school’s biggest issue with the latest raise. But completion might be.

According to Make School co-founder Ashutosh Desai, only three students, out of 202 enrolled since 2014, have completed both years of the school’s two-year program (about half of those students are currently in the program). For comparison, 5.5 percent of students who enroll in massive open online courses, which critics have point to as having “abysmal” completion rates, earn a certificate.

“It’s hard to pass up strong job offers without the incentive of a degree,” Desai said in an email.

For most of its history, Make School has operated a coding bootcamp since it launched. But the organization changed its strategy last year when it announced it would be offering a bachelor’s degree through Dominican University, a liberal arts college located about 20 miles north.

As part of the partnership, Make School instructors are teaching computer science courses for students at Dominican, and will help the university launch a new CS minor. In return, Make School students will take liberal arts courses through Dominican.

Desai is betting the switch to offer a degree will help boost the school’s completion numbers. “Based on conversations with students we expect a much higher ratio to complete now that they can earn a degree,” he wrote. “A handful of students who left early are also considering coming back once we put a credit transfer policy in place.”

And he also adds that job placement and starting salary is a higher priority for Make School than completion. The school claims its alumni earn a $95,000 starting salary on average.

The plan is that after three to five years of learning from each other, Dominican University and Make School will part ways, with Make School spinning off as its own accredited college and Dominican instituting a new computer science minor.

That arrangement is possible through an incubation policy offered by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the accrediting body that oversees institutions in Northern California including Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley.

With the latest fundraise, Make School leaders want to extend the model to New York City and boost the number of students it serves. First, the school is focusing on expanding to reach up to 1,000 students in San Francisco, according Desai. Then it will try to replicate its two-year computer science major, and other potential future degree programs, in New York. “From there, we will really try to be thoughtful of the needs of the economy in the region” in terms of course and degree offerings, he says.

The Make School founders want to grow their program to be about the size of mid-sized private U.S. college that serves somewhere between 6,000 to 10,000 students. Desai says the school wants to keep coaching and mentoring at the center of students’ experience, and will turn to different teaching methods and technology to support that effort.

One example would be relying more on a flipped classroom model where learning material is delivered digitally and students later work through lessons with their instructors face-to-face. But the bachelor’s program will remain in-person. “That is what customers really want; students coming out of high school want a residential experience,” says Desai. “It’s important also to get them ready and trained for careers where they will be primarily working in physical offices with their peers.”

Other online programs could be in Make School’s future, too. Desai says he could “imagine us offering continuing education courses to our alumni, maybe some sort of online Master’s program. But the core for the core undergraduate education that has to stay in person.”

Students at Make School have the option of paying for tuition up-front, which costs $70,000 in total, or choosing an income-share financing model where instead they pay back 20 percent of their salary after completing the program and land a job that pays at least $60,000 per year, for 60 months.

Desai says that 40 students who chose the income-share option “have paid off or are currently making payments on their ISA, dating back to 2014.” The company is currently not profitable.

Make School started in 2012 by offering summer programs in New York City for students in high school or college, who could come to the project-based program outside of their normal class schedule to learn to code. The school stopped offering those summer programs in 2018, when its focus pivoted to establishing itself as an accredited institution.

In addition to expanding geographically, Make School is also using the latest fundraise to work on new degree programs; one new subject of interest in computational biology. “We’re starting to see a lot more [tech jobs] in health and biotech or synthetic biology, and so as those needs become stronger we want to stay responsive.”

And the school’s offering won’t expand beyond science and tech fields any time soon. “Our name is Make School because we’re builders and makers and creators,” says Desai. “I think that’s where things that are adjacent to computing become quite interesting.”

It remains unclear exactly how the expansion will pan out. Make School could spin out as its own accredited institution by the time it is ready to launch a new campus and major, or it could apply for a second degree through its current accreditation partnership.

“I think accreditation was really a lynchpin for us,” Desai says. “It feels so much more tangible and real, and it’s a start of something that will be a lasting institution.”

Correction: This article previously said Make School has raised $28 million. The company has raised $30 million. The piece has been updated.

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