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One Year Alternatives to College: Educational institutions for the “digital age”

Students who want to avoid college debt, while developing highly prized job skills, are increasingly turning to a new sort of educational institution—one that bills itself as a “college alternative for the digital age.”

In a year or less, these schools train students in in-demand skills that lead to well-paying high-tech jobs. Students generally leave the program debt-free. They pay a low tuition either using money they earn during apprenticeships or from earnings after they obtain a job.

The Wall Street Journal explains the model in a recent article headlined “One Year of ‘College’ with No Degree, but No Debt and a Job at the End”:

As a high-school senior in Hampton, Va., Aidan Cary applied last year to prestigious universities like Dartmouth, Vanderbilt and the University of Virginia.

Then he clicked on the website for a one-year-old school called MissionU and quickly decided that’s where he wanted to go.

Mr. Cary, 19 years old, is enrolled in a one-year, data-science program. He studies between 40 and 50 hours a week, visits high-tech, Bay Area companies as part of his education, and will pay the San Francisco-based school a percentage of his income for three years after he graduates.

This new type of postsecondary education is proving a hit: The school says it has received more than 10,000 applications for 50 spots.

“I think people feel backed into a corner by the cost of college,” Mr. Cary said. “They’ve been waiting for something like this so when it finally came around they could instantly see the value proposition.”

MissionU enrolled its first class in September 2017. Its founder, Adam Braun, told the Journal that students meet once a week and take most of their classes online. Roughly half are traditional college-aged, and the others are older:

Students pay nothing up front. After they graduate and they’ve found a job paying at least $50,000 they pay 15% of their income for three years.

In his essay to MissionU, Mr. Cary, who said he scored in the top 5% of the country on his SAT…created a cost-benefit analysis comparing the price of four-years at a traditional college with a one-year degree from MissionU.

He figured he would come out ahead by about $250,000 if he went to Mission U.

According to the Journal,

The precursor to alternative colleges were coding boot camps which started to show up in 2011. They teach students software engineering skills and draw mostly college graduates or college dropouts.

In 2017 there were at least 95 schools in dozens of cities that produced 22,949 graduates, said Liz Eggleston, co-founder of Course Report, based in New York, which tracks the industry. They cost an average of $11,000, last 14 weeks and place graduates in jobs with average starting salaries of nearly $71,000 a year.

Examples include the Holberton School and the “42” program in California, and the Kenzie Academy in Indianapolis. “While they remain focused on digital skills, they also add a smattering of general education courses—in areas like problem solving and teamwork—and market themselves as college alternatives,” according to the Journal.

There’s also Praxis, a five-year-old digital school based in South Carolina:

Praxis teaches students an array of digital and soft skills—such as communications—for six months before finding them an apprenticeship with a startup company, mostly in technology. The program costs $11,000 and is designed to be covered by the wages earned during the apprenticeship.

Just 11% of Praxis students who apply are accepted and about 200 students have graduated, said Isaac Morehouse, the company’s founder. Nearly all found jobs afterward, he said.

ClickUp, a two-year-old project management software company in San Francisco with nearly 50 employees, has worked with five Praxis graduates. They have all been strong, productive apprentices at the company, said Chris Cunningham, ClickUp’s president of client success.

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