A Brief Introduction to the Alternatives Shaking Up Higher Ed

September 16, 2015
Lauren Landry

Image via Luis Llerena | Unsplash

Image via Luis Llerena | Unsplash

Ask PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel his opinion on higher education, and he’ll say “there is no one-size-fits-all.” To prove it, he’s paying college students $100,000 to drop out of school to pursue their passion projects.

The Thiel Fellowship represents just one alternative today’s students are dealt when faced with the decision of whether to enroll in a college or university.

An estimated 16,056 students are expected in 2015 to opt for a coding bootcamp over a traditional undergraduate computer science degree, according to coding bootcamp directory Course Report. The number of bootcamp graduates has more than doubled, sparking an estimated 138 percent growth in the bootcamp market over the last year.

Students who attend coding bootcamps spend an average $11,063 in tuition for an 11-week program, graduating largely with Ruby, JavaScript or Python skills. Compare that to the annual $23,872 four-year college students are paying in tuition, fees and room and board, and coding bootcamps present a compelling case.

Other companies like General Assembly have raised $49.5 million over the last four years to offer courses in design, marketing and technology. In August 2015 alone, massive open online course company Coursera banked the same amount, simultaneously announcing the company is expecting a second closing this fall, which would bring Coursera’s total Series C financing to $60 million.

“Coursera…is meeting a major, global market need with its multi-course Specializations in key workforce sectors,” said Scott Sandell, managing general partner of Coursera investor New Enterprise Associatesin a statement. “We are excited to support the growth of this high-impact enterprise, which is transforming lives through access to the world’s best educational institutions.”

Coursera and General Assembly have stepped up to meet industry demand, offering courses in high-demand fields where 84 percent of the employers claim to value skills over pedigree anyway. 

As of last month, more than five million students were learning on edX, an online learning platform founded in 2012 by Harvard and MIT. Although course completion rates remain an area of contention, imagine what would happen when, upon completion, employers would value a HarvardX certificate the same way they value an Ivy League degree.

As the cost of college rises, so, too, will alternatives to a traditional four-year education — options that come with far less debt, as well as industry-aligned employment opportunities. Who’s already acknowledged that and started going down the non-traditional road, whether as a student or education provider? Through this course, I will work to find that out. 

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