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Study Compares Coding Bootcamps With Universities

Having recently ranked coding bootcamps by trainee job placement, the data research company Optimal found many of them and their trainees flourishing while institutes of higher education face declining enrollment.

Students in a classroom for a coding bootcamp.
Analysts from the data research company Optimal say the current rise of “tech bootcamp” training courses has coincided with the largest college enrollment decline in a decade, as students look to cost-effective alternatives to gain IT credentials outside of traditional four-year degree programs.

After his company unveiled a ranked list of the top coding programs last month, Optimal CEO and Founder Sung Rhee told Government Technology that training programs for tech-related careers aren’t going anywhere, as some colleges and universities struggle to prove a similar return on investment.

Optimal’s rankings relied on in-field employment data from Burning Glass Technologies, a job market data analytics company, and examined bootcamps with over 19,000 graduates in order to find which ones had the best success in terms of job placement. The top two camps were CodeSmith and Devmountain, which recorded in-field employment rates of 92 and 87 percent.

Rhee said bootcamps’ in-field employment rates often surpassed or remained even with prestigious computer science departments found at schools like Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the California Institute of Technology in a recent Optimal study examining higher-ed programs.

A news release about the study noted the University of Pennsylvania recorded an 84 percent job placement rate, 8 percent less than Codesmith, despite being ranked as the top computer science program for job placement.

“We’re seeing [coding bootcamps] validated in terms of preparing the workforce just as well as traditional four-year universities,” he said of the growth of coding bootcamps and their ability to prepare trainees to work with tech giants such as Google and Microsoft.

“They compare very favorably, or at least do as well when compared with elite universities in terms of job placement in those companies.”

Rhee said much of the accelerated programs found today began gaining popularity about five years ago. He said students now view them as a faster and more cost-effective alternative to traditional four-year university computer science degree programs.

“They’re still going strong, mostly because there is a proven benefit of bootcamps, where the return on investment is much clearer than many traditional four-year universities or colleges,” he continued. “They’re getting more accepted as a viable upskilling option than they’ve ever been.”

According to Rhee, bootcamps have continued to recruit new trainees while the higher-ed sector has struggled to reach enrollment goals. As new bootcamps sprout up across the country, he said colleges and universities have established their own accelerated programs to stay competitive.

Rhee said he expects such trends to continue as accelerated programs build upon course offerings that train students in full stack development and JavaScript software engineering, among other skills.

“As long as that value is there and they can keep delivering, I don’t see this going away any time soon,” he said. “We see them offering more [courses], going into insular areas and specializing in subjects like AI, machine learning and cybersecurity.”

“[Colleges and universities] are partnering with other bootcamps, or they’re rolling them out themselves. We’re definitely seeing a lot more interest from colleges for doing exactly that. It’s been really interesting to see that development,” he added.

Rhee said most bootcamp rankings thus far have been largely based on student reviews — an unreliable metric for determining a program’s effectiveness objectively.

He said the goal of Optimal’s list was to demonstrate programs best suited for obtaining employment in high-paying tech positions struggling to find qualified applicants amid an ongoing tech talent shortage.

“It’s important for people to realize that most bootcamps really do a solid job preparing the workforce,” he said. “[The rankings] are the first of its kind to utilize the employment data as a key rankings factor.”
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.