Acrobatiq published an original report recently looking at the growing trend of universities and colleges developing coding bootcamps on their own or in partnership with one of the growing list of independent providers of technical training for software programming.
What interested us about this subject was that these are vivid examples of higher education institutions developing innovative education models, something many more will need to do in the coming years to help more people stay skilled up in a changing economy.
What seems to be a new trend is that innovations in higher education are increasingly involving non-traditional providers as partners. Growth in this area may be limited by whether programs are eligible for title IV federal financial aid, but the U.S. Department of Education has a pilot program to fund some “experimental” educational models.
EQUIP (Educational Quality through Innovation Partnerships) is designed, as the press release announcing its launch in 2015 says, to “accelerate and evaluate innovation through partnerships between colleges and universities and non-traditional providers of education,” particularly to extend access to training and learning opportunities for low-income students.
A look at the EQUIP pilot programs
EQUIP approved eight programs for funding in 2016 that are underway now. They are all exempt from the normal cap under the Higher Education Act of using federal financial aid funding for students enrolled in programs where more than 50 percent of instruction is provided by an “ineligible entity” — i.e. a non-traditional provider or partner. The approved programs in the pilot include:
- A one-year certificate program in Management and Leadership Fundamentals that helps low-wage workers advance to management roles. Colorado State University is partnering with the Guild Education, a provider of leadership training.
- An associate degree in Science (Business Concentration) and an associate degree in Arts (Criminal Justice Concentration) designed to help adults with some college education to complete degrees. The Dallas Community College System is partnering with StraighterLine, a provider of online college courses.
- An accelerated Bachelor of Science in Advanced Manufacturing that links Northeastern University and experiential training provided by General Electric.
- A Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies from Thomas Edison State University that uses self-paced online courses from Study.com.
The remaining projects are partnerships between universities and coding bootcamps of the type we reported on at length in The Many Ways Universities Are Exploring the Coding Bootcamp Trend. They include:
- Marylhurst University partnering with Epicodus
- SUNY Empire State College partnering with The Flatiron School
- The University of Texas-Austin partnering with MakerSquare
- Wilmington University partnering with Zip Code Wilmington
The hope is that EQUIP will identify credible and effective examples of the kind of intensive and focused skills training that coding bootcamps are known for. The number of yearly bootcamp graduates has skyrocketed, rising from 2,100 in 2013 to almost 18,000 in 2016, according to Course Report. This is driven by a demand for software engineers and web developers that is growing even in businesses that may not be thought of as software companies. (The common illustration of this trend is that a new car has millions of lines of computer code.)
Thus far, bootcamps have grown without government oversight. There is no regulatory agency to certify their curricula or verify their outcome data. Some private organizations, such as Course Report and SkillsFund, attempt to help students make sense of their options. But there are no universal accreditation standards like those that apply to colleges and universities.
Quality assurance for education innovation
EQUIP projects, on the other hand, each have a quality assurance partner. They include Climb, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), HackerRank, Entangled Solutions, and the consulting firm Moody. Each is assigned to a university-bootcamp pairing and will be responsible for determining if the program meets accreditation standards, monitoring student outcomes, and overseeing program management.
Of the five, only ANSI is a traditional accreditation agency, and they have historically worked more with training programs than with institutes of higher education. Climb is a funder and evaluator of alternative ed programs. HackerRank is a company that tests and ranks programmers based on their coding skills. Entangled Solutions is a strategic consulting and implementation planning firm which is partnered with an accounting and consulting firm.
How will EQUIP affect education innovation?
As we noted earlier, even without EQUIP and the support of title IV funds, colleges and universities have started to forge partnerships with providers of high-demand technical training, particularly computer programming. These programs allow universities to offer timely, industry-specific training that’s becoming essential in a changing job market. These involve fully on-campus, fully online, and blended or hybrid formats, targeting a range of populations and use cases. The variations are almost as numerous as the partnerships themselves. The Level Bootcamp from Northeastern University, powered by Acrobatiq’s personalized learning platform, incorporates a hybrid education model where some of the learning happens online and some in-class. And, rather than a “coding” bootcamp, it uses the immersion format to meet the growing demand for data analytics skills training.
The coding bootcamp model may be a bellwether for innovation in higher education and develop through partnerships with non-traditional providers. Government support for new, innovative models for public-private partnerships will hopefully spur faster, more economical pathways to training for in-demand jobs.
Emma Gallimore is a freelance writer with a degree in journalism from the University of Maine. She reports on trends affecting the education, business, health, and technology sectors.