Tech boot camps have rapidly emerged as a solution for noncoders to quickly get into the marketplace. This new trend of short-term, intensive training has the potential to challenge how children prepare for STEM fields, as well as how much value employers put on college degrees.
About 16,000 people are expected to complete boot camps in 2015 — more than double the 6,700 enrollees in 2014, according to the 2015 Course Report Alumni Outcomes & Demographics Study by Course Report, which monitors the emerging industry. By comparison, 48,700 undergrads currently study computer science at accredited universities in the U.S.
Between the time and financial commitment, boot camps are a better fit than college for some but not all students. Boot camp training focuses deeply in a relatively narrow area, compared to the broader knowledge and development of critical thinking skills characteristic of a college education. The lack of accreditation may affect tuition reimbursement programs. And the intense boot camp schedule — think all day, every day for a few months total, instead of the three weekly hours for several years typical of a college program — means that it’s not possible to continue working full time.
General Assembly, which opened in New York in 2011 and has rapidly expanded across the U.S. and overseas, offers full-time boot camps that last eight to 12 weeks, which is a typical length, according to Course Report.
Show me the money
That intense commitment pays off for most students, most of whom are coding novices, and who typically already have a bachelor’s degree in another field. Two-thirds of boot camp graduates from various providers find full-time jobs as developers, with an average salary increase of 38 percent (or $18,000), according to the study.
Anne Spalding, director of Dev Bootcamp in San Francisco, says employer demand for talent is driving part of the boot camp boom. “There’s not anywhere near the supply, so companies need to start looking, and as they’re hearing [about] success, they’re becoming much more in tune to this [being] a good model.”
On the educational side, boot camps provide a pathway into a career that didn’t exist long ago both for beginners coming from other fields or into their first job. “They’re evaluating what’s out there,” says Spalding. “They’re looking at this job and really wanting to get into it, and finding that this pathway is the efficient and quick way to bring them into a new field.”
About 20 percent of class time is spent on what Dev calls “emotional engineering,” such as self-awareness, self-motivation, active learning, and communications to enhance true career preparedness.
Some 90 percent of those who finish Dev Bootcamp are employed within six months, at an average salary of $70,000, according to Spalding.
With both college tuition and student debt continually rising — some $1.3 trillion in student loans remain outstanding—it makes sense that many people are questioning the practical value of tertiary study. In 2015-16, the College Board estimates that annual tuition and fees will run about $9,400 for in-state public universities, and $32,400 for private ones.
For a one-time average cost of $11,000, boot camps can seem like a relative bargain — except that boot camp students are not eligible for federal student loans, because boot camp providers aren’t accredited.
Game changer for student funding
In October, the U.S. Department of Education announced its new Educational Quality through Innovative Partnerships (EQUIP) program under the Experimental Sites Initiative. Potential students interested in tech boot camps, as well as other popular modes of education and training, such as massive open online courses (MOOCs) and personalized online programs, may soon be eligible for federal student funding.
To become eligible for EQUIP, boot camps will partner with accredited colleges, and will require external assessment. Entangled Solutions is one company proposing a new service for the boot camps as a “Quality Assurance Entity (QAE) to independently review and monitor the quality of individual higher education programs.” In a white paper, Entangled Solutions says it will focus on outcomes, using metrics such as job placement rates and graduates’ “earnings boost.”
Career readiness is not just about being prepared for a desired job path, but ensuring that the job path exists in the first place. Some college students do little or no research into hiring patterns and are surprised to find out that while they’re theoretically qualified, few employers are looking for graduates with their skill sets.
Compared to the length and expense of a college degree, boot camps seem to offer a silver bullet. But is it possible that the practical, intense approach to education could also have an impact on college pedagogy?
Spalding left a job in academia in part because she wanted to see education take a leap forward in terms of both effectiveness and accessibility, and not just for tech, she says.
“It’s a great field to start those experiments in because of the huge demand on the other end, but it doesn’t have to be the only field, and as we really start to hone in, the success can also be acceptance that this is a valid pathway for learning,” says Spalding.
“I can see it expanding into a lot of other fields. That’s exciting both from the viewpoint of the expanding education, but also personally. I would love to go to a boot camp in architecture. It’s exciting. And universities are paying attention.”
Rebecca L. Weber is a journalist who covers education, the arts, the environment, and more for the New York Times, CNN, USA Today, and other publications. Visit her online at www.rebeccalweber.com or on Twitter @rebeccalweber.Learn More: Click to view related resources.