Coding bootcamps and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are an interesting method for bypassing traditional four-year degrees, but their true value is in finding graduates a job in a new discipline. A new entity called the Council on Integrity in Results Reporting (CIRR) hopes to shed light on the true benefits of graduating from these alternative courses. For example: how much you’ll actually make.
With a “student-first” approach, CIRR hopes it can keep bootcamps and MOOCs honest about how many students finish, and what types of jobs they land upon graduating. Though schools self-report, data must be audited by a third-party firm on an annual basis. The report asks few leading questions about students, but the results are detailed:
- How many graduated on time?
- How many accepted a full-time job in the field for which they trained within six months?
- How many secured part-time jobs?
- Did the school itself hire any graduates?
- How many students jobs are in fields outside of what they studied for?
- What are the salaries of grads who started jobs in their field of study?
From the returned reports, CIRR can discover things such as what title most new graduates earned, and how long it took to complete the program (as well as how long it should take, based on how the program was designed). It even asks about the starting salary for graduates, as well as what other tax brackets they fall into. Though audited annually, bootcamps and schools will have to report twice a year.
Currently, only 15 bootcamps or schools have signed up for CIRR reporting, including Code Fellows, Dev Mountain and Hack Reactor. The list is impressive, but leaves a lot to be desired. Notables like Big Nerd Ranch, Treehouse and Udacity are not currently signed up.
CIRR was founded by Skills Fund, a financing institution for students who want to go through coding bootcamps or MOOC programs. As its landing page proudly notes, “We don’t finance students to attend crappy code schools,” so it’s easy to see how the CIRR platform is a bit self-serving for Skills Fund in addition to being useful for potential students. Only one CIRR school, FullStack Academy, is not also endorsed by Skills Fund.
Transparency builds trust with students. There’ll be two types of schools this year: those that publish outcomes and comply with common sense standards and those that fail.
[Government] regulation, which has been hinted at, is inevitable. We shouldn’t fear it but we should be prepared, and CIRR helps with that. Regulators help schools think long-term. Sure they’re slow but they help build trust with students and employers.
Trust is an important factor for alternative education platforms. ITT eroded a lot of trust in the system proper, and some schools simply shutter and leave students with nothing.
Alternatively, none of the aforementioned CIRR holdouts self-report on graduation numbers. Treehouse has had its TechDegree program in place for less than a year, and its curriculum is designed to be spread out over 12 months, so it can’t accurately provide a good view yet. Udacity has been graduating students from its Nanodegree program for years, and says over 3,000 have completed their degrees. It has over four million students enrolled in various programs.
A reason Udacity may never provide data to CIRR has to do with its practices related to Nanodegrees. It actively hires its own graduates to review student projects, and doesn’t currently provide strong guidance on how long a course should take.
Others are pivoting to different models. In an attempt to generate additional revenue, Treehouse and Big Nerd Ranch position themselves as entities that can help companies train existing employees with new skillsets. Coursera actually allows companies to create their own curriculum. Udacity says its platform is for “lifetime learning,” muddying the waters on reporting data further. It’s hard to make a case for reporting salary or hiring data when your company just wants you to learn a new skill, and “lifetime learning” conceptually never ends.
CIRR touches on these tactics, stating: “The easiest way for a school to increase the reported percentage of graduates securing jobs is to find reasons to exclude grads from the calculation (i.e., students seeking “self-enrichment” or “to found a start-up” or “non-job seeking”). Who falls into these categories is entirely at a school’s discretion, and state regulations vary, which often delays or dilutes reporting rules.”
But CIRR’s core argument still holds up. If a potential student is being asked to pay thousands of dollars and devote untold hours to a program, they should have assurances it will lead to a job on completion. “Lifetime learning” is a bit of romantic phrasing, but it rings hollow for most students looking for an education and a job. CIRR, though optional, is the first real data-collection method we’ve seen that truly holds MOOCs and bootcamps accountable for the product they’re selling. Students deserve to know what they’re buying.