California threatens code boot camps with the boot

Regulators are cracking down on programming boot camps, saying some need to be licensed like other institutes of learning

Do programming boot camps, where people pay to learn coding skills in 10- to 12-week intervals, deserve to be regulated as closely as more conventional vocational schools? California's state government says yes, but the coding camps say no.

According to VentureBeat, educational regulators in California are hounding a number of coding boot camps on the grounds that they're operating as unlicensed postsecondary educational institutions. If those boot camps don't come into compliance, they risk a $50,000 fine and the threat of being shuttered.

But many of the boot camps in question don't feel they need to be regulated as strictly as, for instance, vocational schools that train people for occupations that require licensing (an example: beauticians).

California's BPPE (Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education) was founded in 2010 to oversee the operations of the more than 1,500 postsecondary schools in the state. Any school or nonprofit where the student pays less than $2,500 out of pocket (and uses no government student aid to pay for the course) is exempt from its oversight. But many boot camps charge tens of thousands of dollars for their multiweek courses.

The BPPE started cracking down on coding camps earlier in January, demanding they be licensed the same as other vocational schools. What's more, the BPPE wanted them to come into compliance within the next two weeks, but also claimed it's more interested in seeing the boot camps in question make a good-faith attempt to comply than it is in shuttering those institutions entirely.

Among the boot camps cited were App Academy, Dev Bootcamp, Hack Reactor, Hackbright Academy, and Zipfian Academy. General Assembly, a boot camp founded in 2011 in New York City but now with San Francisco and Los Angeles locations as well, has stated it is already in talks with the state to come into compliance.

Some coding camps have the flavor of a trade school and cite their graduates' offers for jobs with name-brand tech companies after completing their courses. With the rising number of folks spending their own money to get IT training of one kind or another, learn-to-code camps could start figuring in more prominently as a go-to source for such training.

But other boot camps seem organized more along the lines of social programs -- for example, Hackbright, which focuses on allowing women to learn coding skills. Consequently, some of them argue they're not subject to conventional education regulations, which they cite as time-consuming and expensive.

The "learn to code" movement has been criticized for taking a simplistic approach to a knotty, nuanced problem. For one, teaching people to code doesn't always produce good software engineers. But it may produce more of them overall, and code camps might provide a more agile alternative to the laborious process of getting a full-blown computer science degree.

Still, it's hard to completely shrug off the government's skepticism, no thanks to previous incidents involving other career-oriented schools in the state such as Career Colleges of America, which abruptly shut down in mid-semester when faced with financial hardships. The BPPE insists that the schools it oversees demonstrate transparency with their finances to avoid such issues. Even the most devoted advocate of tech education would have a hard time arguing with that position.

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