Kaplan and Dev Bootcamp: Code camps hit the big time

For-profit educational outfit Kaplan is buying code academy Dev Bootcamp to help it expand, but Kaplan's troubled history doesn't bode well

According to The Wall Street Journal, Dev Bootcamp, one of the new crop of for-profit code academies that teaches programming skills on a tight timeframe, is set for purchase by Kaplan Inc., one of the biggest for-profit education institutions in the United States, for an undisclosed amount.

The buyout is surrounded by implications both good and bad. On the plus side, it means the scrappy little code academies dotting the country are attracting an audience above and beyond the tech outfits they partner with and the aspiring coders that enroll with them.

But the bad news lies in the way Kaplan and other for-profit educational outfits have engaged in business practices most of the code camps wouldn't want to be tarred with.

There's little question Kaplan picked one of the better code camps to set its sights on, as well as a fairly profitable and lucrative one. Based in San Francisco, Dev Bootcamp offers classes there, as well as in Chicago and New York. The San Francisco sessions alone generate an estimated $4.1 million a year, according to research by Fast Company. The Journal reports that the school claims 85 percent of graduates are able to find work in the field within four months after leaving.

But for-profit schools have a worrisome reputation. The University of Phoenix, the largest for-profit school in the nation, has been criticized for its emphasis on profits, and as of 2007 had a 16 percent graduation rate -- among the lowest in the country of any educational institution. Heavier scrutiny of dodgy practices in for-profit schools has left them with a bad rep, particularly in IT training circles.

Kaplan, a part of Graham Holdings Company (formerly The Washington Post Company), has been rattled by scandal and subjected to withering examination. Back in 2010, the Florida attorney general launched investigations into Kaplan and other similar schools over deceptive practices involving, among other topics, financial aid and job placement. In 2011, Kaplan paid $1.6 million to settle a lawsuit filed four year earlier by one of its own former directors of education over one of its surgical technology programs. And before shuttering nine locations in 2012, Kaplan was in danger of losing accrediting for three of its campuses along with a substantial amount of federal student aid. The company has seen its fortunes oscillate wildly over the past several years, down to $144 million in income in 2012 from a six-year high of $602 million in 2010.

Code boot camps are far from untroubled themselves, with caveats abounding about postgraduate placement and open questions about how useful the resulting graduates are for employers. But there's little of the sort of scandal seen above -- either by dint of being so new, or by being small, tightly focused institutions rather than sprawling multicampus behemoths.

Kaplan's checkered history and financial issues raise questions about why Dev Bootcamp would accept an offer from the company. The only clue is a comment by Dev Bootcamp president John Stowe that the acquisition would allow further expansion of Dev Bootcamp throughout the United States and overseas.

The biggest issue, though, is whether Kaplan will fold Dev Bootcamp's courses into its existing curricula or simply operate Dev Bootcamp as a subsidiary. At the very least, Dev Bootcamp remains unchanged -- including the tuition, which is $12,200 for a nine-week course.

This story, "Kaplan and Dev Bootcamp: Code camps hit the big time," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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