An arrow approaches the word "disrupt" on a meter, signaling how higher-ed bootcamps could change higher education.

Could higher-ed bootcamps disrupt the industry?

Higher-ed bootcamps have the potential to dramatically change the landscape of education and training

Tech bootcamps have skyrocketed in popularity due to their focus on work-aligned skills–but now, this model for higher-ed bootcamps has the potential to expand beyond the programming industry and upend higher education.

But they’re more than doors to new careers or more skills: Higher-ed bootcamps could be another disruptor to traditional higher education, asserts Betting on Bootcamps: How short-course training programs could change the landscape of higher ed, a new report from the Christensen Institute.

Are bootcamps only viable in the computer science field? Could they help students and workers reskill and change careers with the same level of success in other fields? And, perhaps most importantly, are higher-ed bootcamps just another path to the workforce, or could they disrupt the traditional institutional model?

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Whether higher-ed bootcamps actually do disrupt higher ed or not depends on a number of moving factors, including potential expansion into lifelong learning and how federal funds come into play.

The report offers insight on data from 100 bootcamps to answer some of these most pressing questions, and it uses a six-question framework to analyze higher-ed bootcamps’ true potential for disruption.

The future of higher-ed bootcamps

Richard Price and Alana Dunagan, the report’s authors, outline five potential scenarios for the future of bootcamps:

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.

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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.

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

Laura Ascione