Betting on bootcamps:
How short-course training programs could change the landscape of higher ed

By: and

April 16, 2019
Download Paper

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Whirlwind growth in the technology sector has led to heightened demand for workers with specialized skills in coding and computer science. Projections for continued expansion of the sector feed a persistent fear that traditional educational offerings won’t generate enough graduates with the skills the economy demands.

Bootcamps focused on coding and computer science have emerged as an important pipeline for tech talent. These short, intense, workforce-aligned training programs are already graduating over 36,000 students each year.

Studying the bootcamp model through the lens of Disruption Theory highlights its disruptive potential relative to traditional higher education. Bootcamps are addressing nonconsumption and overserved demographics with a product that is arguably inferior to traditional degrees—but one that is also simpler and cheaper. Bootcamps are leveraging technology for skills-based signaling, expanding their online presence, and seeing little response from traditional institutions. The ingredients for disruption are all there.

But, whether bootcamps disrupt higher education depends on whether and how federal funds enter the market, and on bootcamps’ ability to expand into lifelong learning and beyond the technology sector. We identified five scenarios for how the future of bootcamps could play out.

  1. Bootcamps get stuck and fail to disrupt higher education. Potential reasons include diminishing employer buy-in, inability to expand into new fields, and regulatory pressure.
  2. Federal funds could open up access to bootcamps—or destroy the model entirely. The existing Title IV regime would likely allow low-quality programs to scale. However, an outcomes-based funding model could fuel innovation along a disruptive path, which would be a boon for bootcamps, students, and employers alike.
  3. Bootcamps expand into lifelong learning. The market for workplace learning is large, and employer-pay models offer an opportunity for profitable expansion. Doing so will require continued employer investment in corporate learning, and beating out stiff competition already in the space.
  4. Bootcamps expand into industries beyond tech. The search for increased profits will motivate bootcamps to move into fields like healthcare or finance. Doing so will require identifying favorable labor market dynamics and codifying field-specific competencies.
  5. Bootcamps achieve breadth and depth, and widespread disruption. If bootcamps expand out to new fields and into lifelong learning, further fueled by outcomes-based federal funding, they can reshape higher education.

Traditional institutions can integrate professional and technical skills into their programs, but this will not protect them from disruption. A more foolproof way to address this disruptive threat is to invest in the bootcamp business model through an autonomous unit.

Successfully pushing into new industries and training contexts will require bootcamps to innovate continuously. But if they take on that innovation challenge successfully, the bootcamp model could disrupt and permanently change the landscape of education and training.

Download Paper

As a research fellow on the Christensen Institute's higher education team, Richard helps investigate novel business models in postsecondary education, professional development, and lifelong learning.

Alana leads the Institute’s higher education research and works to find solutions for a more affordable system that better serves both students and employers. In this role, Alana analyzes disruptive forces changing the higher education landscape.