Why boot camps could work

They provide direct access to jobs currently hiring

According to Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, boot camps exist—and have gained popularity—because most colleges simply aren’t equipped (in faculty, in course offerings and in tuition plans) to offer the sort of niche skills training today’s selective economy requires of its potential employees, especially concerning IT.

“This is too applied, too hands-on, too small-bite to fit easily into a college curriculum,” he said to the NYT. “Think of it as a place where technology outruns education.”

And Carnevale isn’t wrong: After passing a selective screening process and [in many cases] agreeing to pay back the cost of the boot camp with new-job earnings, students get of-the-moment industry-critical training on specific software programs hand-picked by industries currently hiring that have partnered with the boot camps’ providers.

And nothing beats walking into a job interview with every credential required and no training needed.

It provides a legitimate way of paying off debt

It doesn’t hurt that the IT industry is so desperate for skilled and trained employees that starting salaries for those qualified is, on average, 44 percent higher than most other jobs available.

The tuition plan (similar for many boot camps), also sounds like a great investment for participants. For example, App Academy charges no tuition, instead taking 18 percent of a graduate’s first-year salaries. And even though the attrition rate is only 5 percent, those who do not complete the boot camp do not owe the academy.

Why boot camps could be the new Gold Rush

They’re only for a select few

Using a highly scientific deduction of pure speculation, it sounds as if you’re more likely to win a free trip to Bali because you filled out an online customer survey than get accepted into one of these boot camps.

To put App Academy’s less than five percent acceptance rate into perspective, what’s widely considered one of the best graduate writing programs in the country—Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop—has a 2.5 percent acceptance rate, requires manuscripts and multiple letters of recommendation for entry, and spits out Pulitzer Prize winners and Poets Laureate on an almost yearly basis.

In other words, being accepted into one of these boot camps should pretty much guarantee that you’re in the running to become the next Steve Jobs—so don’t bank on acceptance.

This selective model, combined with the common sense that most participants in these boot camps—who spend anywhere from 70 to 100 hours a week elbow-deep in unpaid programming training—probably aren’t parents or those without savings in the bank, certainly won’t overtake traditional (or even 2-year program) higher education models anytime soon.

The market won’t be like this forever

Just like the latter Forty-Niners discovered as they began sifting fool’s gold from tiny streams, supply and demand is only at one end of the pendulum for so long.

“At some point, the market will be saturated, but for now the demand for skilled programmers is enormous,” acknowledges the NYT.

A lack of job stability?

Learn Ruby or Javascript now, but what happens when next year you need to become an expert in even newer software in order to keep your job and not be replaced by the new boot camp grad? It’s one thing to teach specific skills, but call me old fashioned, I don’t think you can teach creative problem-solving in just two months.

The verdict

So, are boot camps and short-term online programs sustainable models, or are they simply get-salaried quick opportunities for a selective few?

The answer, it seems, is both.

Are they selective? Yes. Will they cater only to a select few? Yes. But do they serve a niche market that higher education currently isn’t serving? Yes.

The model of the boot camp doesn’t beat around the bush: It’s not a traditional college degree and it’s meant to provide you with specific skills for a specific job. If the participant is comfortable with that arrangement, I see nothing but golden opportunities for employment with partnering business.

And will the programming and coding bubble eventually burst? Yes, but that’s a long way off; and, as the model of skills training-to-job stands, as long as there’s an industry that needs workers, who’s to say boot camps won’t switch skills focus as industry evolves? Unlike California’s gold supply, there’s always going to be more “gold” in another sector.

The only questions that remain are: Where do I sign up, and who’s going to buy me a sundae when I don’t get accepted?

Add your opinion to the discussion.