As college tuition keeps going up, some opinion makers have started questioning whether student loans are worth it. Enter App Academy, an intensive web development course where students don’t pay tuition until they land a job.
For job seekers who are skeptical of student loans, App Academy offers an alternative approach. By putting the onus on the school to ensure that their students are ready to work, they alleviate the fear of confronting a tough job market.
Writing for Wired.com, Marcus Wohlsen profiles this new “boot camp to turn programming novices into code jockeys.” App Academy was co-founded by Kush Patel, a hedge-fund analyst, and Ned Ruggeri, a former developer for Google. So far, they’ve graduated two cohorts, and their system is working. “Of the fifteen students to graduate from the first class, fourteen have found jobs,” co-founder Kush Patel says. “Typical annual salary, he says: more than $80,000.”
“’We don’t want to charge up front because we feel pretty strongly about tying the payment to the outcome,’ says Patel. ‘If they can’t find a job, we’ve screwed up somehow.’”
Wohlsen explains how App Academy is able to stay in business without charging tuition up front. “New recruits signing up for App Academy promise to pay 15 percent of what they earn during their first year on the job, payable over the first six months after they start working. For the school, the math isn’t too shabby if they succeed at placing their students. If 15 students get jobs at $80,000 salaries, that works out to a $180,000 commission.”
Could their model work for other colleges and universities? I suspect not. Though Patel and Ruggeri have hit on a bright idea, we shouldn’t get too excited. App Academy’s success may not translate across the education industry. For one thing, the average age of their students is 28 and most hold college degrees. That suggests that typical App Academy students are adult learners with established educational foundations. This may ease their transition into the specialized world of writing code.
Also, competition to get into the school is tough. Fewer than 10 percent of applicants are accepted. In other words, App Academy filters out the less motivated applicants and focuses only on the ones most likely to succeed. No doubt, their success in placing graduates in jobs has something to do with their highly selective admissions. Many schools and community colleges might not be able to turn away so many applicants.
Finally, App Academy’s free-until-job model points to a fundamental conflict in the world of higher education – the split between humanist learning versus job preparation. At its best, higher education is all about developing the whole person. It’s designed to shape a mind, not to launch a career. So this new model wouldn’t be a good fit for a four-year university.
App Academy is providing a much needed service. But its innovative model only works with vocational training for a specific job or trade. Therefore, it appears that App Academy is more of a job-placement solution for adult learners who’ve completed an undergrad degree and are ready to begin their vocation.