Two large schools have announced plans to shut down this year — a sign that years of heady growth led to a boot-camp glut, and that the field could be in the early stages of a shakeout.
In the past five years, dozens of schools have popped up offering an unusual promise: Even humanities graduates can learn how to code in a few months and join the high-paying digital economy. Students and their hopeful parents shelled out as much as $26,000 seeking to jump-start a career.
But the coding boot-camp field now faces a sobering moment, as two large schools have announced plans to shut down this year — despite backing by major for-profit education companies, Kaplan and the Apollo Education Group, the parent of the University of Phoenix.
The closings are a sign that years of heady growth led to a boot-camp glut, and that the field could be in the early stages of a shakeout.
“You can imagine this becoming a big industry, but not for 90 companies,” said Michael Horn, a principal consultant at Entangled Solutions, an education research and consulting firm.
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The demand from employers is shifting and the schools must adapt. Many boot camps have not evolved beyond courses in basic web development, but companies are now often looking for more advanced coding skills.
One of the casualties, Dev Bootcamp, was a pioneer. It started in San Francisco in 2012 and grew to six schools — including one in Seattle — with more than 3,000 graduates. Only three years ago, Kaplan, the biggest supplier of test-preparation courses, bought Dev Bootcamp and pledged bold expansion.
It is now closing at the end of the year.
Also closing is The Iron Yard, a boot camp that was founded in Greenville, South Carolina, in 2013 and swiftly spread to 15 campuses, from Las Vegas to Washington, D.C. Its main financial backer is the Apollo Education Group.
Since 2013, the number of boot-camp schools in the United States has tripled to more than 90, and the number of graduates will reach nearly 23,000 in 2017, a 10-fold jump from 2013, according to Course Report, which tracks the industry.
Tarlin Ray, who became president of Dev Bootcamp in April, said in an email that the school offered “a high-quality program” that helped thousands of people join the high-tech economy. “But we were simply unable to find a sustainable business model,” he wrote.
Iron Yard echoed that theme. In an email, Lelia King, a spokeswoman, said that while students benefited, the company was “ultimately unable to sustain our current business model.”
Boot-camp courses, aimed at adults, vary in length and cost. Some can take 26 weeks or more, and tuition can reach $26,000. The average course length is just over 14 weeks, and the average cost is $11,400, according to Course Report.
The successful schools, analysts say, will increasingly be ones that expand their programs to suit the changing needs of employers. Some have already added courses like data science, artificial intelligence, digital marketing and project management. Other steps include tailoring courses for corporations, which need to update the skills of their workers, or develop online courses.
Ryan Craig, a managing director at University Ventures, which invests in education startups, including Galvanize — a large boot camp in seven cities, including Seattle — predicted that the overall market would still grow. But students, he said, would become more concentrated in the schools with the best reputations and job-placement rates.
The promise of boot camps is that they are onramps to good jobs.
But rapid expansion into new cities can leave little time to forge ties with nearby companies, the hiring market for boot-camp graduates, said Liz Eggleston, co-founder of Course Report.
That message was underlined by Ray, of Dev Bootcamp. While he would not discuss specifics about what happened to his school, he wrote: “We do think that as the boot-camp industry continues on, it will be important to create stronger alignment with employers.”
Some boot camps cater directly to corporate customers. General Assembly, which operates 20 coding campuses, including one in Seattle, and has raised $119 million in venture financing, now works with more than 100 large companies on programs to equip their employees with digital skills.
“Employer-paid programs are now a big slice of the pie” for General Assembly, about half of its business, said Jake Schwartz, its chief executive.
At Galvanize, Jim Deters, the chairman, said he recently stepped aside as chief executive to concentrate on getting more business from corporations. This year, Galvanize will have 2,000 students who pay their own tuition, and about 1,500 people in its programs tailored to — and paid for by — companies like IBM, Allstate and McKesson. “The business re-skilling marketplace has become one of our biggest drivers of growth,” Deters said.
Kaplan is not closing Metis, a data science boot camp, which has corporate training programs.
Several boot camps are deploying “blended” models with both in-person and online teaching. Entirely online courses, in theory, could deliver rapid, profitable growth. But that is a different model from the immersive, face-to-face learning that has been the hallmark of the boot-camp experience.
“Online boot camp is an oxymoron,” said Craig, of University Ventures. “No one has figured out how to do that yet.”
The Flatiron School in New York may have discovered one path. Founded in 2012, Flatiron has a single campus in downtown Manhattan and its main offering is a 15-week immersive coding program with a $15,000 price tag.
In late 2015, the co-founders, Adam Enbar and Avi Flombaum, decided to try an online-only offering, Learn.co. The tuition is $1,500 a month. Students go at their own pace, and on average complete the course in seven months, putting in about 800 hours. Tuition charges stop after eight months — and there are instructors online 16 hours a day for help and advice.
Kailee Gray, 29, a math instructor in Fargo, North Dakota, seeking a career change, said she had communicated daily with instructors and participated in online study groups. On the night before a job interview, she recalled “getting panicked” and sent a message to an instructor. Soon, Rebekah Rombom, vice president for career services at Flatiron, was on the phone for a reassuring pep talk.
Gray landed the job — as have more than 95 percent of the 1,000 graduates of Flatiron’s online program, according to the company and an outside audit report.
It seems a particularly high rate for an online course, especially when compared to free online courses, which only a small proportion of students complete.
The school was the subject of a Harvard Business School case study, published this year, which found that the early success of the online-only course has “expanded strategic options for Flatiron.”
But just how much is uncertain. “It’s pretty clear that they can do it at the scale they have,” said Thomas Eisenmann, a professor and lead author of the study. “What’s not clear is whether it can go from a hundred or a few hundred to thousands and thousands.”