Traditional Colleges Join Boot Camps to EQUIP Students with Coveted Job Skills

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Posted By Donna Fuscaldo on August 24, 2016 at 2:20 pm
Traditional Colleges Join Boot Camps to EQUIP Students with Coveted Job Skills

Coding boot camps aren’t yet a replacement for a college education, but they do play an increasingly important role in training the next generation of workers.  Traditional colleges and universities are jumping on the bandwagon, providing students with access to these often-intense, immersive-learning experiences. Some offer college credit, while others are layer the training on top of existing degrees.

A new initiative announced by the Department of Education last year but just beginning to be implemented makes their efforts easier. Dubbed EQUIP, the experimental plan enables employers and training schools to partner with universities and colleges to teach students the skills needed to get a job. Participants will get federal financial aid to cover training costs.

“Right now boot camps are two or three years old, and some people question if they are a replacement for college,” says Liz Eggleston, co-founder of Course Report, a website that reviews boot camp courses. “I don’t think it’s quite there right now. They are more a supplement to a college degree.”

With companies of all sizes complaining of a shortage of highly skilled workers and with demand for mobile apps skyrocketing, corporations are trying to find new ways to get the right talent. While traditional colleges and universities offer technical courses, they haven’t been doing a great job of churning out coders or graduates with the necessary skills to succeed.

EQUIP pilot launches with eight partnerships

Earlier this month, the Department of Education announced the selection of eight partnerships between institutions of higher education and alternative education providers as part of its EQUIP experiment. The collaborations will enable students, particularly those who fall into a low-income bracket, to get financial aid to cover the cost of the programs, which include coding boot camps, online courses and employer led training.

The aim is to see whether ways exist outside the current financial aid system to let Americans from all walks access innovative learning and training opportunities that lead to well-paying jobs. The experiment also is designed to measure student outcomes – a metric parents and students greatly desire. After all, many graduates have spent a fortune for a college degree only to be underemployed or unemployed, staring down a monthly student loan bill they are ill-equipped to pay.

Colleges and universities take different approaches

Colleges and universities and their partners in the program approach the experiment in different ways. Take Flatiron School, the coding school in New York City, and SUNY Empire State College, one of the eight traditional institutions selected by the Department of Education. “The driving force behind the department’s initiative is the immediate need of employers, in both the public and private sectors, for employees with skills in coding,” says Nan T. Travers, director of academic review for SUNY Empire. “At the same time, we know that employers also need employees with writing, critical thinking, communication and math skills – in other words, a strong liberal arts education – to help them grow and thrive in a competitive global marketplace.”

SUNY Empire and Flatiron developing a 24-credit SUNY Empire State College certificate, which will be transferable and “stackable” with associate and bachelor’s degrees. It will rely on Flatiron’s coding boot camp curriculum and SUNY Empire State College’s foundational courses in writing and math. “All too often today, when students complete training and move on to college, their prior learning doesn’t qualify for either financial aid or college credit. This means that students often have to start a degree at the beginning, even when they may already know some of the topics. This costs the student more time and more money,” Travers says. “The certificate will provide students with in-demand job skills and put them on a clear path to degree completion and a career in a high-need field.”

Lynn University isn’t part of the pilot, but it too has been bringing coding-boot-camp type courses to its students, partnering with General Assembly, the New York alternative education provider that also offers courses in data analytics, design and marketing. Harika Rao, assistant professor in the College of Business and Management, says Lynn feels strongly about “not only gaining academic knowledge but also achieving just-in-time job training to ensure a better life for them after college.”

Rao continues: “In partnering with programs like General Assembly, students gain skills that form the building blocks of emerging and sought-after careers in technology.” For example, the college has Tech Semester programs, five-day or 16-week programs hosted by General Assembly. Students who complete the 16-week program earn a minor in digital product design.

Classes meet all day Monday through Friday and are limited to 25 students. Topics include product management, user experience design and Web development.  “We recognize that the boot camps are in their infancy and evolve over a period to meet the changing demands of job market,” Rao says. “At Lynn, our aim is to be in tune with tomorrow by improving and sustaining the marketability of our students in the real world.”

Donna Fuscaldo
Donna Fuscaldo is a freelance journalist hailing out of Long Island, New York. She has also written for Bankrate.com, Glassdoor.com, SigFig.com, FoxBusiness.com, Business Insider, Dow Jones Newswires and the Wall Street Journal.

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