Coding Bootcamps Eye Universities to Extend Their Reach


Coding Bootcamps Eye Universities to Extend Their Reach

By Sydney Johnson     Apr 12, 2019

Coding Bootcamps Eye Universities to Extend Their Reach

The coding bootcamp market has seen major swings. Some of the largest programs have shut their doors in the past couple of years. Others have latched on to university brands and the students they attract.

The latest—and perhaps the biggest—move in the industry happened this week when 2U, a publicly traded online program management (OPM) company, acquired Trilogy Education Services for $750 million. Founded in 2015, Trilogy helps universities set up and run coding education programs through their extension schools, or other branches that provide education and career training to local communities through short-term programs.

But Trilogy is no longer the only player trying to help higher-ed institutions tackle computer science education. In February, coding bootcamp Fullstack Academy began partnering with Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to run an online coding bootcamp through the university’s continuing-education arm. About a month later, Zovio bought Fullstack with the aim of extending these partnerships to other universities.

Coding school Kenzie Academy offers something similar with Butler University. And last week, Thinkful announced it would be adding university extension schools to its business, starting with a partnership at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Officials at Lambda School say they plan to launch something similar.

“We will see more of this,” says Darrell Silver, CEO of Thinkful. “Schools are recognizing the same underlying trend, which is that people are looking for their third job and need training, but they don't need a new degree and the [university] wants to deliver that.”

Extension schools have long turned to third-party education providers, according to Marie Cini, president of Council for Adult & Experiential Learning.

“You need a group that can do things a little differently and experiment with some new ways of creating and delivering education,” she says. “You’re going to see these bootcamp partnerships with extension [schools] more so than say the traditional programs at the university because it’s easier. They have mechanisms for it. They understand how to do partnerships.”

Bootcamps have tried to partner with universities in the past. There was EQUIP, a pilot program started in 2015 by the U.S. Department of Education that aimed to give nontraditional providers access to federal financial aid by connecting them with accredited schools. But that program largely fell flat.

Last year, Make School, a two-year for-profit coding school, partnered with Dominican University, a private liberal arts college.

The partnerships that Trilogy and other bootcamps are forging with extension programs functions similarly to how 2U and other OPM companies work with universities. The coding education providers will design and teach a curriculum that university extension officials sign off on. And the bootcamp providers and university share the tuition revenue.

Trilogy, for example, mentions on the webpages for its programs that the course is offered with the company. Students are made aware that the program is delivered through a partnership with the company, and Trilogy claims that more than 90 percent of enrolled students finish.

But for the most part, these programs are advertised through the extension school with the university logo attached. And some remain skeptical that all students fully understand who is actually providing the content and curriculum.

“Bootcamps will try to ride the brand and the university,” says Austen Allred, CEO of the online coding bootcamp Lambda School. And he thinks “they hide their involvement so much that you don’t realize [the institution] is not teaching anything.”

Still, continuing-education experts say there’s a need to quickly bring in new curriculum to reach local students and adult learners looking for relevant job training. And that can be particularly tricky for tech fields, where schools may not always be up to speed on the latest coding languages and topics.

“Our extension instructors on university campuses are certainly not the coding experts and need that expertise,” says Julie Robinson, president of the National Association of Extension Program and Staff Development Professionals.

On the other hand, what universities offer is a connection to and understanding of the needs of the local community that a bootcamp may not have. “The coding folks aren’t integrated in the community and don't have that trust, especially among folks in more rural areas,” she adds.

There are challenges to offering coding bootcamp-like programs even with a university brand slapped on it. Robinson points out that Wi-Fi connectivity issues are a major barrier to adult learners accessing these programs, particularly in rural parts of the country.

Others question the quality. Allred claims that some students come to Lambda after having completed a university extension bootcamp, feeling they didn’t acquire all of the skills they needed to advance in their career. “I would be surprised if, over time, universities don’t become more careful with their brands,” he says.

“Let’s be honest, in the past, [extension programs] were often viewed as helping the revenue of the university,” says Cini, who earlier in her career worked in continuing education at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.

That’s not a bad thing, she thinks, as long as the program itself is vetted closely and carefully for high-quality.

“Make it a partnership, not just outsourcing,” says Cini. “That's how you really protect your brand.”

Correction: Bridgepoint Education recently rebranded to Zovio. The piece has been updated with the company's new name.

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