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Analysis

MOOCWatch 24: Bootcamps in the Wake of Lambda School

Get you up to speed on the bootcamp industry, including high profile bootcamps like Lambda School, as well as some of the other bootcamps that slipped under the radar.

Bootcamps MOOCWatch Illustration

Lambda School thrust the bootcamp industry into the spotlight, first because of the positive coverage it received, and then because follow-up reporting that raised troubling questions about Lambda School’s education and financing. Bootcamps, which are typically defined as short term technology training programs, have existed since at least 2012. Bootcamps make up a very small portion of the education system in the United States; according to industry reported figures 15,429 students attended coding bootcamps during 2018. But bootcamps have at times played an outsized role in how policy makers view education. For example, the Income Share Agreements (ISAs) that bootcamps helped popularize have attracted interest from the Trump administration.

In this edition of MOOCWatch, Class Central will get you up to speed on the bootcamp industry, covering high profile bootcamps like Lambda School, as well as some of the other bootcamps that slipped under the radar.

Research, Reports and Data

Bootcamps and ISAs: Economics, Challenges, and Opportunities via Class Central
Class Central’s comprehensive report on bootcamps and ISAs, documenting the structural issues bootcamps encounter when scaling.

Alternative and independent: the universe of technology-related “bootcamps” via RTI
RTI’s comprehensive survey of the bootcamp industry, categorising different bootcamp programs and documenting their average length and cost.

How to Choose a Coding Bootcamp Using Outcomes Data via Class Central
A compilation of the graduation and placement rate data of major bootcamps. Some bootcamps have placement rates above 90%, but reliable data on the industry is hard to come by.

Lambda School

Lambda School was a venture capital funded bootcamp that received effusive praise from mainstream publications, but has since encountered a wave of negative publicity. Common complaints included alleged poor curriculum and a lack of transparency surrounding its Income Share Agreement, which Lambda School advertised as an alternative to student loans.

No Tuition, but You Pay a Percentage of Your Income (if You Find a Job) via The New York Times
An early look at Lambda School from The New York Times. An example of the prominent (and positive) coverage Lambda School received.

The hot Silicon Valley coding bootcamp Lambda School is paying a $75,000 fine for not registering properly with the state of California via Business Insider
The news that Lambda School was not properly registered in California (a problem several other bootcamps have encountered) set off a wave of negative criticism against the school.

Students say online coding bootcamp Lambda School is like a “cult” via Business Insider
One of the first critical articles about Lambda School, documenting concerns about the quality of Lambda School’s instructors and education.

Lambda School’s For-Profit Plan to Solve Student Debt via Wired
A mostly positive article about Lambda School that revealed Lambda School was selling its ISAs for a significant discount relative to tuition.

What If Your University Tuition Was Based on Your Future Salary? via Harvard Business Review
An article from Lambda School CEO Austen Allred, outlining his vision for the bootcamp.

The high cost of a free coding bootcamp via The Verge
The second major exposé of Lambda School, documenting student complaints about Lambda School’s UX curriculum, as well as complaints about Lambda School’s curriculum and culture.

Lambda School’s Misleading Promises via New York Magazine
The third major exposé of Lambda School, which was the first to raise allegations of fraud against Lambda School. Lambda School was accused of inflating its publicly facing outcomes data, and of misleading students about how its ISAs were financed.

Lambda School cuts staff and exec pay amid market uncertainty via TechCrunch
The latest substantive news article about Lambda School, detailing layoffs in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s likely that the layoffs would have happened regardless of the pandemic, given the difficulties Lambda School has experienced.

Holberton School

A Lambda School competitor that, like Lambda School, got into hot water with the California state agency tasked with regulating for-profit schools.

Priyanka Chopra’s Favorite Coding Bootcamp Accused of ‘Fraud’ via The Daily Beast
Holberton School, a Lambda School competitor, was accused of fraud and ordered by the BPPE (the California agency in charge of for-profit education) to shut down.

Students say that Holberton School is more like ‘Lord of the Flies’ via Business Insider
A followup article on Holberton School, detailing student complaints.

Income Share Agreements

Income Share Agreements are an alternative to student loans where students agree to repay a percentage of their future income. ISAs have gained currency as an alternative to student loans, and bipartisan legislation to increase their adoption has been proposed in the US senate and house. However, critics allege that ISAs use deceptive advertising to make them seem more affordable than they actually are.

Investing in a Coding-School Graduate Could Get You 13% a Year via Bloomberg
A breakdown of the terms of Lambda School’s ISA financing agreement with Edly.

You Can Securitize People Now via Bloomberg
A second breakdown of Lambda School’s ISA from financial commentator Matt Levine, focusing on whether Lambda School’s ISA “aligns incentives” between student and school.

Are ISAs Affordable? Analysis of Lambda School’s ISA Shows an Estimated Interest Rate of 87% via Class Central
A third breakdown of Lambda School’s ISA, which finds that the ISA is significantly less affordable than comparable student loans.

A Coding School Tuition Model Spreads to 4-Year Colleges via Wired
A look at the wider ISA ecosystem at both bootcamps and traditional colleges and universities.

What to know about income share agreements used by Lambda School, Purdue via Business Insider
Another article about ISAs, detailing proposed legislation that would make them more common, as well as criticism from advocates.

Groups to FTC: Company pushing student income-share agreements deceives customers via The Washington Post
Harsh criticism of Vemo, a startup that processes payments for Income Share Agreements, by consumer advocates who filed a complaint with the FTC against Vemo alleging deceptive advertising.

Fundraising and Acquisitions

Outside of Holberton School and Lambda School, coding bootcamps have continued to raise money and expand.

VCs bet millions on Microverse, a Lambda School for the developing world via TechCrunch
Microverse raised 3.2 million, but faces concerns about the cost of its programs, a sign of the scrutiny the bootcamp industry is now under.

Coding Bootcamp Galvanize Agrees to $165 Million Acquisition via The Information
Galvanize was acquired at a breakeven price (it had raised $167.5M).

Le Wagon raises $19M to build a glocal coding bootcamp via TechCrunch
Bootcamps continue to raise VC funding.

Greater Context

Before Lambda School created hype and, ultimately, led to criticism of the industry, coding bootcamps were widely described as niche offerings that encountered difficulty when attempting to scale.

As Coding Boot Camps Close, the Field Faces a Reality Check via New York Times
Back in 2017, industry commentators predicted that the bootcamp market would see consolidation due to increased competition relative to demand. Many bootcamps did shut down, but new competitors including Lambda School took their place.

The future of coding bootcamps, according to the president of one that is shutting down via Quartz
An interview with the president of Dev Bootcamp, a bootcamp that was acquired in 2014 and shut down in 2017. The interview discussed potential causes of the closure, which boiled down to too many bootcamps competing for too few students.

MOOCWatch is a digest of information related to MOOCs meant for professors and administrators, or others who are involved in education and want to stay up-to-date in the online education space. In addition to broad coverage, MOOCWatch also contains unique data, such as course popularity rankings, sourced from Class Central. Tell your colleagues about MOOCWatch and subscribe here.

Christof Rindlisbacher Profile Image

Christof Rindlisbacher

Christof Rindlisbacher is a researcher and freelance journalist, currently focused on edtech.

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