Bootcamps continue to grow in popularity. But nearly every bootcamp operates without accreditation. Does that matter for bootcamp students?
Accreditation signals academic quality for prospective students and employers. Accredited colleges and universities must meet high standards to earn and maintain their accreditation. Though bootcamp providers may choose to pursue accreditation, very few do. In the U.S., as of 2021, it appears only one coding bootcamp can boast current accreditation.
However, accreditation offer only one metric for evaluating educational programs. Students may also consider state licensure, independent reviews, and job placement data. While the number of accredited online coding bootcamps may remain small, prospective students still have many tools to evaluate bootcamps.
What are bootcamps?
Coding bootcamps provide short-term, accelerated training in coding and other tech skills. Unlike a degree, which takes at least two years, most bootcamps take less than six months.
Bootcamps quickly grew in popularity after the first bootcamps opened in the early 2010s. Today, bootcamps offer tech-focused training online or in person. They also provide immersive full-time and part-time options.
Students build skills through project-based assignments and other forms of experiential learning. Independent companies and colleges both offer bootcamps.
What is accreditation?
In higher education, accreditation marks quality institutions that meet high standards for educational excellence.
Independent accrediting agencies evaluate colleges and universities to grant accreditation. The rigorous process requires several years of reviewing curricular materials, student learning outcomes, and faculty qualifications. Accrediting agencies also assess the school's academic mission and financial solvency.
Schools that exceed the minimum standards earn accreditation. They must undergo regular reviews to maintain their status. Accredited schools qualify for federal financial aid. An accredited degree also meets the requirements for more professional licenses. As a result, degree-seeking students often benefit from choosing an accredited school.
Are coding bootcamps accredited?
Most coding bootcamps do not hold accreditation. Early bootcamps did not pursue accreditation, a process designed to evaluate colleges and universities.
Today, even bootcamps offered through accredited colleges generally do not hold accreditation. Instead, colleges classify bootcamps as short-term career training or continuing education programs.
Keep in mind that accreditation differs from state licensure for education providers. States license postsecondary institutions to operate in the state, including bootcamps. An unlicensed bootcamp can face fines or other disciplinary measures.
Benefits of non-accreditation
Flexible curriculum: Accredited schools must submit curricular material to accrediting agencies during their reviews. Avoiding the curriculum review process allows bootcamps to quickly adjust their teaching materials in response to new technologies and skills coming into demand.
Cost savings: One survey found regionally accredited four-year schools spent as much as $450,000 in direct and indirect costs to renew their accreditation. By opting out of accreditation, bootcamps save time and money -- savings they may pass on to students.
Downsides of non-accreditation
No external measure of quality: Accredited coding bootcamps meet external standards that assess the quality of their instructional material and teaching standards. Unaccredited programs do not need to undergo quality reviews by independent, third-party reviewers.
Ineligible for financial aid: Only accredited programs meet the requirements for federal financial aid. As a result, most bootcamp programs offer limited financial aid options, such as private loans.
No test of mission or financial stability: Accrediting agencies evaluate schools on their academic mission and financial stability. These tests ensure that institutions prioritize education and follow a sound financial model.
The Council on Integrity in Results Reporting
Accreditation remains an important criterion for evaluating educational programs. But prospective students can also use other measures to identify reliable programs.
The Council on Integrity in Results Reporting (CIRR) evaluates coding bootcamps. A nonprofit, CIRR surveys bootcamps and bootcamp students to track performance.
The CIRR collects metrics on student performance, including the number of students who graduated on time, the number of students employed in their field full-time within six months, and the salaries of students working in their field. CIRR also reports on students working in other fields or in part-time roles.
Bootcamps report data to CIRR annually, and a third-party organization reviews these outcome reports for accuracy and transparency. CIRR is not an accrediting body, but it provides prospective students with valuable information for choosing a bootcamp.
The future of bootcamps
The popularity of bootcamps continues to grow. So what might the future look like?
Some bootcamps may choose to pursue accreditation. In 2021, the Accrediting Commission for Continuing Education & Training granted national accreditation to bootcamp NYC Data Science Academy as a vocational institution. The bootcamp will need to renew its accreditation every three years.
Pursuing accreditation requires significant financial resources. A recent survey determined that regionally accredited four-year schools spent as much as $150,000 to renew accreditation plus up to $300,000 in indirect costs. Bootcamps may opt out of accreditation because of the cost and time demands.
Changes at the federal or state level may also impact bootcamps. In 2019, then-secretary of education Betsy DeVos recommended extending federal financial aid to unaccredited bootcamp programs.
State authorization may add additional requirements for bootcamps. For example, California only licenses bootcamps that meet standards for "integrity, financial stability, and educational quality."
Whether or not the regulatory environment changes, bootcamps are here to stay. Today, the big five tech companies employ an equal number of graduates from bootcamps and degree-granting programs.
Choosing a good bootcamp
Without accreditation, how can you choose a reputable bootcamp? Students must put in extra work to identify good bootcamps and avoid scams. Look for the following indicators of quality when choosing a bootcamp.
CIRR membership: Bootcamps that hold CIRR membership report data on their student outcomes, job placements, and average salaries. These outcome reports go through a third-party evaluation to confirm accuracy. The CIRR map includes online and in-person coding bootcamps.
Data on student outcomes: Reputable bootcamps provide data on student outcomes. That includes information on how many students found full-time jobs in their field within six months. Many also disclose average salaries for graduates. If a bootcamp won't provide data on student outcomes, it's a major red flag.
Like many non-degree-granting programs, most bootcamps do not hold accreditation. However, bootcamp providers may choose to pursue accreditation.
While universities hold accreditation, that accreditation does not extend to university bootcamp programs, which generally fall under continuing education or career training.
Currently, students have few options when it comes to accredited coding bootcamps. In the U.S., as of October 2021, only NYC Data Science Academy holds accreditation. In the future, more bootcamps may pursue accreditation.