Are coding bootcamps only for the rich?

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Prasid Pathak

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Prasid Pathak is the head of student advising at Bloc.

Paul Fain, in Inside Higher Ed, says one of the biggest criticisms levelled against bootcamps is they “don’t attract many low-income students.” The evidence certainly seems to support this.

According to bootcamp industry-watcher Course Report, 79 percent of bootcamp students have a Bachelor’s Degree or higher before enrolling. Additionally, Course Report found the average pre-bootcamp salary to be $46,600, putting bootcamp students squarely in the middle class.

Furthermore, the true cost of a coding bootcamp is actually much higher than the tuition itself if you factor in the months spent unemployed during and directly after the bootcamp. This bootcamp tuition calculator estimates someone making $46,000 annually would need nearly $34,000 in savings to attend the average coding bootcamp. Unfortunately, 62 percent of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings.

So instead of modern coding bootcamps, low-income students are far more likely to attend for-profit universities. The types of institutions known for predatory marketing tactics, alarming dropout rates (the University of Phoenix’s six-year completion rate is just 4 percent) and dubious outcomes.

President Obama has praised coding bootcamps as a “ticket into the middle class.” If we want to make coding bootcamps more accessible to the people who need them most, we need to make two big changes. First, we need to offer financial aid options that allow students to make ends meet. Second, we need to consider part-time programs that allow students to work simultaneously.

Expanding financial aid will help low-income students gain access

Many believe bootcamps aren’t able to help low-income students because the same type of federal financial aid isn’t available for coding bootcamps. To address this, last year the Department of Education launched the EQUIP initiative, a pilot to extend the federal student loan umbrella over a handful of coding bootcamps via partnerships with accredited institutions.

Ted Mitchell, Under Secretary of Education at the U.S. Department of Education, believes the EQUIP program “represents a critical first step in broadening access to high-quality programs.” Provided that credible oversight is present, financial aid for coding bootcamp students can avail students of any income level to the technical skills for which there is high demand in today’s economy.

Part-time is the new normal

Even with financial aid, low-income students are likely excluded from most coding bootcamps because they do not offer part-time options. We can see the importance that part-time options play in higher education by looking at the modern university student. Gone is the prototypical four-year, on-campus, full-time student experience.

Instead, as tuition costs have gone up, non-traditional college students who work full- or part-time have become the new normal. According to the nonprofit Complete College America, “75% of today’s students are juggling some combination of families, jobs, and school while commuting to class; according to the U.S. Department of Education, only 25% go full-time, attend residential colleges, and have most of their bills paid by their parents.”

Universities have adapted, and many community colleges and online universities offer part-time options today. The same cannot be said of coding bootcamps, where only a handful are offering the same types of career programs in an evening/weekend format. Unsurprisingly, this lack of part-time options disproportionately impacts low-income students and students from underrepresented groups. For example, data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that African-American students are 10 percent more likely to attend part-time (see page 9).

If bootcamps really are going to be a path toward 21st-century jobs, as President Obama and the EQUIP initiative hope, we must expand financial aid and create schedule formats that enable lower-income individuals and adult learners with varied family and financial responsibilities to have the same path to modern technical skills.

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