NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Observers who fear the trade school trend in higher ed and the devaluation of liberal arts degrees won’t like what they see in the rise of coding academies, or boot camps as they are better known. Unlike for-profit colleges that offer courses in hotel management and massage, coding academies provide instruction in digital information, a field widely believed to have a big upside.
The Course Report, a website that provides boot camp intelligence, says in its 2015 Bootcamp Market Size Study that there are now 67 full-time boot camps. The average program runs about 11 weeks with tuition at about $11,063. Course Reports states on its website that “Boot camps are expensive” and poses the ever-growing decision: “Coding boot camp vs. college.” Top boot camps are highly selective, and it is on the applicant to figure out his own skill level. More than 16,000 students are expected to finish programs this year when total boot camp revenue is estimated at $172 million. All seem to be running from the term for-profit college.
Digital technology has long been a magnet for free-booters, self-taught geeks and college drop-outs such Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg; the space seems made for alternative education. Existing coding academies such as General Assembly, The Iron Yard and the ones they inspire have taken note.
“We don’t require any specific qualifications to become a student at The Iron Yard,” said Lelia King, spokesperson for the Columbia, S.C.-based coding academy. “No prior coding experience is required, although we do have applicants try some code during the application process to ensure they enjoy and want to pursue programming as a career.” She added, “We also assign pre-work before a new course begins so students can be exposed to and become more comfortable with coding.”
King did not give specific acceptance figures. “Our acceptance rate varies by individual campus and course,” King said. We connect applicants with local campus directors that have their fingers on the pulse of the hiring needs of the city in which they’re located. Our campus directors and instructors meet one-on-one with applicants to determine whether a course from The Iron Yard will help them best reach their career goals.” There are 20 campuses in Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, London and elsewhere.
King said that the company's immersive 12-week course costs $12,000, which includes 12 weeks of instruction with a low student-teacher ratio and full career support from any Iron Yard location. New York City-based General Assembly has three types of programs. Its immersive, full-time offerings in product management, user-experience design and web development are 10 to 12 weeks long, and cost between $10,500 to $13,500.
Once they hit the job market, are Iron Yard students competing with MIT and Cal Tech grads, those from two-year colleges or DIY code monkeys?
“Our graduates compete against anyone pursing an entry-level software development job,” said King. “That includes people with university degrees, associates degrees and others that are self-taught.”
The focus, she said, was on “developing the practical skills most in demand in the current market.” King added, “We evaluate our curricula in conjunction with hiring partners to ensure our graduates are as valuable as possible when they enter the job market.”
King claimed Iron Yard graduates find work a few months after leaving their programs and have gone on to work for Coca Cola, AT&T and Microsoft along smaller firms or startups and those who freelance.
Course offerings are not standardized across all campuses but are tailored according to the region. She said, however, that “every student who graduates from our Mobile Engineering program is capable of building fully functional mobile applications and distributing it through an online app marketplace.”
Students at boot camps are not eligible for federal student aid, Pell Grants or similar Federal funding.“We do offer financing through an arrangement with Climb Credit that many students take advantage of, and we accept loans from other organizations like Upstart and Pave,” said King.
That may change, however. The Obama administration has discussed making federal aid and accreditation available for coding boot camps and online course providers.
In June, Deputy Secretary of Education Jamienne Studley told a meeting of accreditors that ED was considering a partnership with an experimental higher ed website and wanted to encourage dialogue on ensuring quality with approved boot camps and non-institutional online sites. Undersecretary of Education Ted Mitchell discussed the possibilities of federal support in a July blog. An ED spokesperson could not be reached for comment on the current status of any plans to make federal loans available to coding academy students.
In the meantime, The Iron Yard has received funding from the Apollo Group, parent of the University of Phoenix, the for-profit college chain, which has been under investigation by numerous state attorneys general and, most recently the Federal Trade Commission for alleged deceptive marketing practices. Was there any concern about the reputational risk Apollo might present?
”A variety of investors expressed interest in The Iron Yard, from traditional venture capital firms to angels and private equity groups,” said King. “When we were approached by Apollo we had concerns, but addressed them through a process of thorough vetting over a six-month period of due diligence.”
“We decided that Apollo was the best fit because no other investor could offer domain expertise in the education space, especially relative to international expansion," she added. "Our business model was developed and proven successful independently of the for-profit college space.”