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Are Boot Camps Really a Disruptor?

Boot camps provide a stripped-down version of education and skills training that is more affordable than traditional institutions, partly because they do not provide general education or residential experience. Bootcamps have a simple and straightforward value proposition: they are designed to help their graduates find good jobs, “the pair wrote. Up to now, bootcamps have focused primarily on high-tech fields such as software and website development. 

Just as there are opportunities to expand boot camps, there are ways they can go “off-track,” writes the authors. Some potential fates are beyond the control of the sector, such as the economy’s health. Higher unemployment rates could mean companies “returning to demanding degrees” from job applicants, reducing the value provided by the type of short-term credentials boot camps typically unaccredited. It is not inevitable that the bootcamp value proposition makes sense in all fields, especially those where wages are not high enough to offset the attendance cost.

Growth in boot camps could also be undone if Title IV money were to be unlocked by expanding poor quality programs. The sector relies on sources of funding such as funding for employers and revenue-sharing agreements. The company could also be shut down by regulators, which is unlikely to be noted by the authors, without explaining what can trigger such a result. They would branch out into fields beyond tech in the best case for boot camps, establish pathways for lifelong learning, and be widely accepted by employers, leading to declines in traditional degree programs. Access to federal student assistance under an outcome-based arrangement could “amplify” that outcome.

The industry is growing as it stands now. Course Report estimated that enrollment in boot camps would increase by 20% in 2018 to an estimated 20,316 students while generating tuition revenue of $219.9 million. Since 2013, the number of in-person boot camp graduates has grown to over 18,000 in 2018 by 748 percent. Online programs that Course Report started tracking in 2017 are also growing to graduate 1,846 students in 2018 compared to 677 students the previous year.

The industry, however, is small. As of June 2017, around 270 boot camps offered some 1,400 programs, with three-quarters of those programs either based in the U.S. and Canada or online, according to a report released by RTI International earlier this year. One provider offered 11 percent of the programs, the General Assembly.

However, traditional universities have not completely ignored the trend. Late last year, universities in Harvard and Yale said they were going to start offering coding boot camps for tech and liberal arts students. To do this, the Ivy League schools worked with specialists in boot camps — Yale with Flatiron School and Harvard with Trilogy Education Services. Others are developing their own programs, including Northeastern University.

The early growth between boot camps has been sobered over the past couple of years by closures of large providers. The field has been further changed by acquisitions. Online program manager 2U purchased Trilogy earlier this month for $750 million in cash and shares. And in March, Bridgepoint Education, a for-profit college operator that recently rebranded as Zovio, purchased Fullstack Academy for $17.5 million in cash plus Bridgepoint shares.

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