Thursday, September 29, 2016

The New Face of for-profit Education

By Evan Robertson, Senior Project Associate

With mounting student debt and rising default rates, the U.S. Department of Education took significant steps to curtail what they viewed as one source of the problem: for-profit colleges. By restricting student loans to for-profit education institutions, many were forced to either close their doors or quickly curtail expansion plans. The case against for-profit colleges are many: for starters they tend to be far more expensive than their community college brethren and tend to be far less proactive in formulating new programs to align with business needs – when it comes to building a sustainable pipeline of talent, they are simply not at the table. The strong action against for-profit colleges would lead one to believe that the Department of Education has judged the for-profit education model as deeply flawed. It is curious, then, to come across this headline “Federal Student Loans Expand to Cover Some Coding Boot Camps.”

Coding boot camps have risen all across the country. Here in Atlanta there are many, ranging from General Assembly, a New York-based coding academy in Atlanta’s Ponce City Market to the Greenville based The Iron Yard. At many of these boot camps, tuition can be exorbitant. An immersive four-month course can easily run in excess of $10,000 dollars. Cheaper than tuition at a four-year university, more expensive than a two-year degree program at a community college. For those looking for a career change in a short amount of time coding academies can be an attractive option. Yet, they still suffer from the dubious placement rate practices that many for-profit colleges have used to inflate their numbers – most notably counting internship positions, excluding students kicked out of the program, and hiring students directly to work at their organization. 

Why might the Department of Education view coding academies positively while demonizing the practices of for-profit colleges? Coding boot camps have done well to align themselves with industry standards – many of their founders have deep roots to the very industry they are supporting. Moreover, the Department of Education is covering its bases – in order to qualify coding academies must partner with a traditional community college or university. Coding academies are new, reflecting the ever changing tech environment they serve. Only time will tell if coding academies are an effective means to addressing workforce sustainability in the nation’s technology sector or are plagued with the same ills as the very education model the Department of Education is trying to curtail.