The Coding Bootcamp Scam

I came across this interesting discussion and scathing Reddit review of the Lambda coding bootcamp.

The above links affirm what I have long suspected, which is that coding bootcamps are a soft form of a scam. I am not alone: a Google search shows a similar conclusion, that coding bootcamps, although they initially held promise as a cheaper alternative to 4-year degrees and a possible solution to the student loan debt crisis, fell way short of such goals. They are not an outright scam but they are ethically dubious, because:

1. Bootcamps are possibly more expensive than even 4-year colleges when one factors in the lack of scholarships and other financing options. Although colleges may have a higher sticker price, students do not typically pay the entire price (only 12% of college students pay full tuition, and the average student at a private liberal arts college only pays half the listed tuition price), whereas there is no expectation of a discount when you join a bootcamp. Some bootcamps such as Lambda have a financing option in which they garnish some of your wages (so-called ‘income sharing’), which can be more expensive than paying off student loan debt.

2. Coding bootcamps vastly inflate their success rates and hiring rates. This is an open secret among the industry. In regard to purported successes, they also do not discriminate between high-quality and low-quality job prospects (being hired at McDonald’s may be considered a ‘success’ as far as some coding camp are concerned). They also do not take take into account how long graduates must search for a job. It is not uncommon for gradates to spend months or longer trying to land a technical job, or even years, if they ever do. So not only are you $10-30k in the hole in terms of tuition, but also you are wasting whatever time you are enrolled in the camp learning ‘skills’ that will barely make you employable, and then you are also wasting additional months or years looking for a coding job that could otherwise be spent working even if it is a low-paying job.

3. A certificate of completion/graduation from a bootcamp is often not considered a valid credential in the eyes of employers, making it effectively worthless. Even a degree in literature from a bottom-ranked college is better than a coding certificate in terms of employment prospects. A major problem is that graduates lack proficiency. In an attempt to make coding , which is an inherently difficult and intellectually demanding skill, accessible to as many potential paying customers as possible, the courses must be dumbed-down and graduation rates inflated.

The poor quality and outcomes of bootcamps– such as in terms of the inadequate curriculum, high costs, and poor employment prospects–is an example of how the public sector may be superior to the private one, and how privatized solutions fail relative to public ones. This does not mean that the privatized approach must always be inferior, but in this case it is. The libertarian idealization of private solutions to public problems (such as student loan debt) falls short, at least in so far as coding bootcamps are concerned. As bad as student loan debt may be, coding bootcamps are even worse (from the perspective of the consumer). Same for for-profit colleges, which are notoriously pricey and a waste of money in terms of the degree being worthless and not a valid credential in the eyes of employers.

Given how low interest rates are and all the generous financial aid, scholarship, forbearance, and deferment programs for college students and grads, there is no reason anyone should attend a bootcamp when college is cheaper and has vastly better job prospects. Yeah, college is more expensive, but what matters is what is actually paid, not what is owned, and the math works in favor of college. But what about student loan debt not being dischargeable through bankruptcy? But the interest rates on credit card debt are much higher than student loan debt and there are far fewer forgiveness and forbearance programs, and also 2005 changes to the bankruptcy law makes it much harder to discharge credit card debt. Credit card purchases can be repossessed, but a degree cannot. Defaulting on government loans may result in some phone calls and letters and possible garnishment of wages, which can be challenged in court, but the government’s options to collect the money are fairly limited. For defaulted student loans, wage garnishment is a final option that can be successfully contested in court and negotiated.