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RTI International Offers First Independent Overview of Coding Bootcamps in Newly Published Study

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — RTI International, a nonprofit research institute, published a study on Thursday that provides the first overview of the coding bootcamp industry from an independent, non-industry-affiliated group. The study is also the first to classify coding bootcamp programs into five distinct groups based on characteristics such as length, intensity, goals and more. Contrary to popular perception, it found that only 50 percent of bootcamps are intensive, comprehensive, months-long career preparatory programs designed for people hoping to move into high-skill technology careers.

Another 38 percent are courses that provide basic introductions to material or are generally not intended for career-changers and resemble college courses in the amount of material they cover. Seven percent of bootcamp programs are offered by traditional accredited institutions but are ineligible for university credit. Fellowship programs make up 4 percent and postsecondary replacement programs account for less than 1 percent of bootcamps; both are designed for only select students with specific skills.

Additionally, the study raises questions about whether the 50 percent of bootcamps that are comprehensive career prep programs provide a detour around college and create fast track to a lucrative career with potential to change the landscape of tech professionals. Findings show that comprehensive programs may not be open to all potential students because of lengthy admissions processes, geographic barriers and steep tuition rates.

Among the findings that raise questions about access:

  • 59 percent of comprehensive programs require logic or coding tests as part of the admissions process, a process that is less transparent than the admissions processes of many colleges and universities.
  • 85 percent of comprehensive programs are offered in person only.
  • Half of comprehensive programs are in 10 metropolitan areas that account for just 29 percent of computer and mathematical jobs in the U.S., meaning many people who could benefit from technology-related workforce training do not have access to the comprehensive programs.
  • The median cost of a comprehensive program is $13,500, roughly equivalent to the in-state cost of three semesters of undergraduate study or two semesters of graduate study at a public university. Such costs may deter potential students with fewer financial resources.

Combined with industry data suggesting that 76 percent of bootcamp graduates already have a bachelor’s degree, the study’s findings may indicate that comprehensive career prep programs provide vocational training to more advantaged students and do not, for the most part, provide shortcuts to high-paying jobs for underserved students, as bootcamps are often portrayed as doing.

“Our study shows that bootcamps and the programs they offer vary widely in format and content. Between admissions requirements and cost of attendance, comprehensive career bootcamp programs may have significant barriers to entry,” said Caren Arbeit, PhD, a research education analyst in RTI’s Center for Postsecondary Education who co-authored the study. “We hope this study can inform future, more extensive research on these educational offerings, especially as educators and policymakers continue to grapple with the best way to prepare a 21st-century workforce.” 

To read more about the study, click here. To learn more about RTI’s Center for Postsecondary Education, visit www.rti.org/practice-area/postsecondary-education.