College in the United States is expensive and, for many, comes with massive student debt. The price tag has led to the increase of coding bootcamps and alternative schooling options to help students gain employment, and a salary, without taking on millions of dollars in debt.
In Europe, the picture looks vastly different: A majority of universities are low-cost or free to attend. Students have to front the cost of living, textbooks and other externalities, but overall education in Europe comes with a lower price tag than the United States.
But accessibility doesn’t equate to effectiveness, according to Tobia De Angelis, the co-founder of Berlin-based Strive School.
De Angelis launched Strive School to address what he sees as an existing weakness in European universities: outdated STEM course material. The company, which is currently going through Y Combinator, connects students to a six-month coding program and then connects them to a job in exchange for a portion of their future salary, also known as income-sharing agreements (ISA).
“The market is demanding [from] universities something they’re not meant to deliver in the first place: more high quality, job-ready software engineers,” De Angelis told TechCrunch.
ISAs are often used by companies as a pitch to help students forgo the expensive price tag of a university or online degree. The idea is that students only need to pay for the education once it works, or once it leads to a job.
Strive School, with its focus on Europe, needs to convince students to pay for education they could otherwise get low-cost because of the job prospects.
It’s hard to do, but so far Strive School has placed five out of seven students in its inaugural class. The second class is being placed, and the third class is in session. The company is accepting applications for its fourth cohort, starting in late September.
The company uses Europe’s free education model to its advantage by going to STEM faculties around Europe to recruit talent and students. The first focus for Strive School programming is full-stack web engineering.
Beyond that, Strive School looks and feels like a digital bootcamp. Students, or “strivers,” learn to code with deadlines, in a team environment and within the scope of a project. Lessons are taught fully remote with a mix of synchronous and asynchronous communication.
Strive’s curriculum, according to De Angelis, is more focused on soft skills (like applying code to real-life situations) than hard skills. The teachers on the platform are engineers, scientists and coders.
Once a student completes the coursework, Strive School will help them get placed. Its ISA terms are that it charges 10% of salary for four years with a maximum total of €18,000.
The ISA space has grown considerably in recent years, bringing with it a whole bunch of regulatory and legal scrutiny. Another Y Combinator company, Lambda School, tackles the coding skills shortage through an ISA model and launched in 2017. Since, students have complained about the quality of education a company can bring when it demands venture-sized returns with an ISA model.
Lambda cut staff and executive pay in April, citing the coronavirus and a general dialing back of growth plans. Strive School’s De Angelis said that the coronavirus makes placing students into jobs harder due to layoffs, thus hurting the upstart’s main source of revenue, but he is hopeful of growth in sub-sectors within tech like e-commerce.
ISA struggles doesn’t mean companies are straying away just yet. Within the YC alumni network, Blair helps college students finance their education through income-sharing agreements. And VCs recently bet millions in Microverse, a Lambda School for the developing world.
De Angelis is confident that Europe is big and diverse enough to need a platform that is specialized in working for its student base.
De Angelis spent time working at two early-stage funds in Italy and Denmark, and his co-founder Diego Banovaz is a software engineer who worked at startups and taught postgraduate courses in Trieste, Italy.
The coronavirus has forced the world to rethink online education models and move past the status quo put in place by institutional universities. It has brought re-skilling networks into the mainstream and forced questions about inclusion to be dealt with head-on. But perhaps Jomayra Herrera, an investor with Cowboy VC, puts it best: “You can give someone access to something, but it’s not true access unless they have the tools and structure to really engage with it.”