While progress has been made in transforming the for-profit education industry into a regulated space, there are still many institutions operating under false pretenses: using incorrect statistics to boost graduates’ job success rates, promising full refunds if a student is unhappy with a program, and even doctoring teacher qualifications. Coding bootcamps are no exception—promising prospective students the chance of a lifetime, but often failing to deliver anything but rudimentary skills and massive deficits in graduates' bank accounts.
So what can customers and the authorities do to change for-profit education—specifically coding bootcamps—into an industry that prizes student satisfaction over financial gain?
Coding bootcamps are businesses
All businesses, including the majority of coding bootcamps, rely on customers to stay open. Just as Yelp ratings and other online feedback can influence a restaurant’s trajectory—perhaps even compelling it to make major updates—a stream of honest reviews from alumni on sites like CourseReport or SwitchUp can turn prospective students away from unscrupulous bootcamps. Likewise, the more positive reviews and writeups a school gets, the more likely it is to outlast the competition.
Though this tactic may not seem like the fastest way to shutter an unsatisfactory school or boost a legitimate one, if an institution is functioning within the confines of the legal system and there’s no valid argument for bringing in government authorities, then spreading the word—and influencing the school’s cash flow—may be the most effective way for consumers to regulate the industry themselves.
Government regulation is possible
In order for government regulation of the industry to function—and be accepted by the tech community—it must leave room for top-tier bootcamps to thrive, provide space for new, legitimate bootcamps to materialize, and crack down on weak programs and scams.
In California, the Bureau for Private Postgraduate Education, which was created in 2010 and will remain active until at least 2021—when it could be repealed—seeks to ensure that any in-state, privately funded school meets a minimum set of requirements. Whether it’s a coding bootcamp or a cosmetology training program, there are clear standards in place, and if the school doesn’t meet them, it can be fined or even shut down completely. The BPPE allows anyone—not just customers—to file complaints against a school if they believe the school isn’t providing a quality education, thereby working to ensure a fair, neutral reporting process.
While California is still the only state to have an official agency dedicated to monitoring for-profit education, some of its practices can be adopted in other states even without government involvement. Independent organizations can take similar actions by verifying and publishing schools’ data on enrollment, graduation and dropout rates, as well as investigating whether graduates actually land relevant jobs.
The national Council on Integrity in Results Reporting does exactly that. Although in this model schools perform self-evaluations rather than undergoing official assessments like those done by the BPPE, electing to join CIRR demonstrates a school’s commitment to providing a high quality education and to promoting the transparency that students need in order to make informed decisions about their careers. So far, 28 coding schools have joined the organization.
CIRR can’t force any school to join, but when students favor member institutions that commit to the council’s principles, it sends the message to other schools that increased transparency and accountability translates to increased enrollment rates and ultimately greater profits.
In the current legislative climate, it’s unlikely that the federal government will prioritize regulating for-profit education as it once did with programs like the Educational Quality Through Innovative Partnerships (EQUIP), an initiative started by the U.S Department of Education during the Obama presidency. EQUIP matched nontraditional higher education institutions with colleges and universities and designated a “quality assurance entity” to evaluate the program’s performance. By structuring the program in this way, low-income students could receive federal aid to cover tuition costs and be confident in the academic rigor of their curricula.
For now, consumers, companies, organizations, local government, and schools themselves are going to be the ones shouldering the responsibility. Even with government oversight and dedicated bureaus like the CIRR monitoring privately-funded learning institutions there may never be a completely foolproof system for regulating coding bootcamps. Clever maneuvering can let a business in any industry—no matter how well-regulated—avoid following the rules. The biggest thing we as consumers can do is to report on personal experiences and point others in the right direction. That way, good schools and thrive and the ones that don’t play by the rules get disciplined.