​More Bootcamps Are Quietly Coming to a University Near You

In the last two years, a surge of nonprofit, four-year institutions have hopped on the bootcamp bandwagon. These programs, often on skills such as software development or data analytics, have arrived in a number of ways—from universities partnering with local for-profit bootcamps, or colleges creating their own intensive training programs completely in-house.

But while bootcamps are often associated with tech skills, it seems that traditional universities trying out the model are interested in more than just coding. An increasing number of traditional higher-ed institutions are now applying bootcamp trainings to other fields, such as healthcare, accounting and even civics and political science.

“There are a lot of potential paths we can take to replace university degrees with more stackable competencies,” says Ernest Costello, director of business, technology and engineering at UC Berkeley Extension, the university’s continuing education arm. “That kind of change will take a long time, but we are seeing that students want shorter [programs] of any kind whether it be tech or management.”

Costello helps oversee UC Berkeley’s own coding bootcamp, which launched in January. Like 25 other U.S. universities so far, UC Berkeley has partnered up with Trilogy Education, a continuing education program manager, to develop and run its coding bootcamp.

Though offered through a nonprofit university, UC Berkeley’s bootcamp and others offered by Trilogy aren’t far off from coding schools such as Flatiron School or even the soon-to-be-closed Dev Bootcamp. The part-time program lasts six months, costs about $10,000 and teaches tech skills including coding languages, UX/UI or data analytics. Also, like its for-profit counterparts, Trilogy programs also offer career services for students.

But unlike many for-profit programs, Costello says staff at UC Extension are now considering using the model in other fields.

“We think that the intensive model of getting a certificate might be appealing to some people, and we are looking at bootcamps in non-technical areas as well,” he says. Costello lists accounting, project management and other “areas of entrepreneurship” as early candidates for the next wave of bootcamp offerings.

Dan Sommer, CEO of Trilogy Education, says his company has taken note. “We are looking at a dozen different program areas now [beyond coding],” says Sommer. “I don’t want to tip my hat, but think healthcare and areas within broader project management.”

Sommer explains the interest comes from his company’s practice of developing programs for specific schools based on their local community’s economy needs. When Trilogy pitches to a university, they typically prepare a deck of the skills in demand from a survey of local companies and job opportunities. But it also might come from a rising number of university partners that are interested in expanding bootcamp models, too.

The University of California, Los Angeles, another one of Trilogy’s university partners, is also thinking about this. Bruce Huang, director of digital technology at UCLA Extension, says this department is considering other fields, and are already creating in-house a bootcamp on cyber security.

Continuing education is not the only place where bootcamps are popping up in nonprofit higher-ed. At Duke University, faculty are currently developing a mini-bootcamp called Civic Engagement in American Democracy that students take in preparation for an intro-level public policy course. (The bootcamp is not mandatory, and students can test out of it.)

“We are experimenting with bootcamps at the preparatory level to help students have the same basic skillset, so they start working at the same level on the first day of class,” explains Matthew Rascoff, the associate vice provost for digital education and innovation at Duke.

The civic engagement bootcamp will officially launch next spring, and will be offered entirely online. It will consist of about 17 videos, each less than 10 minutes long. Bruce Jentleson, a professor of public policy and political science at Duke, expects that students will take it over winter break or in the evenings before the course begins.

Jentleson explains that his department is attempting to do a bootcamp-style prerequisite, rather than a formal course, for two reasons. First: the bootcamp is designed to prepare students for an introductory course, which don’t typically have prerequisite courses. Second: he says the department would prefer to save students’ units so they can explore specializations at the end of their major.

It’s still early, and Jentleson admits that the bootcamp style could be a gamble. Students who came to the university for a traditional education might reject the format, he says, or it could leave students in no better position than they started. “If we find that people who take the course still don’t have the basics we want them to have, we may try to toughen it up or add to it,” he says. “We will be collecting data over the year to find out.”

Those experimenting with the humanities bootcamp aren’t convinced that for-profit coding schools will “disrupt” higher education within their own walls. More likely, says Rascoff, is that they will influence the way universities deliver education. “Several stand-alone [bootcamp] providers don’t appear to be sustainable on their own, but they seem to be getting traction within institutions.”

To Rascoff, there is another goal in mind. He and his colleagues are thinking about ways where bootcamps could be used to teach students basic and technical knowledge, and standard lectures would be reserved for more research-oriented learning.

“You want to get that core knowledge from an instructor who is tied into the research and working on the frontier of the field. That is very different than the basic skills sets of the field,” says Rascoff. To boil down, he says bootcamps would focus on the “what we do know,” and lectures with professors would introduce students to “what we don’t know” and how to change that through research.

But Jentleson underlines that there are limits to applying the bootcamp format to the departments and fields that he teaches. “Some fields, like chemistry or biology, might be easier [to create a bootcamp around] because they are more conducive to quizzes,” he says.

Sean Gallagher, the executive director of the Center for the Future of Higher Education & Talent Strategy at Northeastern University, says the university approach to bootcamp has a unique leg-up to its for-profit industry counterparts. But that doesn’t make them immune to the same fate.

“Universities are more conservative and stable [than for-profit schools], and that’s what comes from accreditation and outside quality assurance,” he says. “But just because it’s offered at a university doesn’t mean [the bootcamp model] will be successful… it remains to be seen.”

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