PAY IT FORWARD

This coding school is set up to fail if its students don’t get jobs

Obsession
Future of Work
Obsession
Future of Work

Hundreds of coding bootcamps have popped up in the last decade, and most of them are tremendously successful—at least, according to their websites.

These schools typically offer to prepare students for work as entry-level developers through courses that last mere months or even just weeks. While their marketing materials nearly always cite job-placement rates near 100% at starting salaries as high as $70-80,000, these numbers are largely unaudited, and the schools are not accredited, so it can be difficult to ascertain their credibility. Oftentimes, it’s not clear that an investment into a bootcamp certificate will result in a job that justifies the expense.

Coalition for Queens (C4Q), a non-profit coding school, also says it can equip students with marketable skills. But it also has come up with a way to put its money where its mouth is: the school has linked its funding model to the success of its students.

Since 2011, C4Q has provided free (or nearly free) 10-month-long courses for low-income and diverse students, supported by grants from organizations such as the Robin Hood Foundation, Google for Entrepreneurs, and Blackstone. This year, it introduced a new funding option aimed at making the program more sustainable: Students attend the school for free, but they agree to give 12% of their salaries back to the school for two years after they graduate.

It’s not a loan: If students don’t get jobs, they don’t pay anything. C4Q works with a network of companies to help place students and offers job search skills training.

Social impact investors who fund C4Q’s program hope to receive a financial return on their investment as its students graduate. The idea is similar to platforms on which individuals fund an education or project by asking for a portion of future incomes in return for investment, but at the organizational level.

C4Q calls the system an “18-85 jobs outcomes bond,” named because the organization says the nearly 200 students that have graduated so far entered the program making on average $18,000 per year and have since taken jobs that on-average pay $85,000 (this doesn’t include students who have not finished the course, which involves 40 hours of in-class time each week).

If the goal is to train people for job markets in which there’s high demand and good pay, coding makes sense. The US Department of Labor estimates that software developer jobs in the country will grow 17% by 2024, double the average outlook among all US occupations. And a shortage of developers in the US has already led to both high salaries for coders and a willingness among employers to look beyond traditional credentials.

Jukay Hsu, the founder and CEO of C4Q, says he sees the “pay-it-forward” program as a way to sustainably grow the educational program without relying entirely on grant money.

For C4Q’s latest class of 88 students, who graduated on June 12, social-impact investor Inherent Group and the Lily Auchincloss Foundation, a charitable foundation that focuses on quality of life in New York City, together invested $750,000. That’s not enough to run the entire C4Q program, but Hsu says the next goal is to raise more money and make the program more sustainable on its own.

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