The Most Valuable Dollar in Education Today

"College is expensive." "Student loan debt is out of control." "There are no jobs for college grads."

The return on investment of college is the worst it's ever been. (first sentence) The Great Recession, changing technology, and increased global competition are all potential causes for the decreasing value per dollar in many university level degree programs. The maximum return on investment on education today is top-tier software developer training programs based in major tech hubs.

Two of the top web development training programs based in San Francisco report 98% graduate placement rates and average starting salaries of $100,000+ (salary statistics reported by App Academy and Hack Reactor). Both of these programs are twelve weeks and cost less than $20,000. Within the first year, the graduate has paid back their tuition and netted out over $80,000. Compare this to a traditional college degree where alumni are paying back or defaulting on their loans decades after graduating.

Taking an ultra-conservative approach and assuming no salary increases over five year after completing a top developer bootcamp, the graduate has earned $500,000 and netted over $480,000 after considering for the cost of the program.

While programs in the $20,000 range are definitely not cheap, nor easy to get into or complete, there is no place in the education market today where a graduate can make such a dramatic change in their earning potential with such a small investment of time and money.

So why then would a prospective career changer question one of these programs?

  • The time/effort commitment is substantial. Twelve weeks is not a long time and while the resulting life transformations are incredible, these changes are not made without personal sacrifice.
  • These programs prepare graduates for a specific role, mainly front-end developer or full stack developer jobs at startups. There are a few of reasons for this including high demand for these skills, aggressive hiring timelines, and company focus on hard technical skills rather than experience. It's important to note that these programs are really the beginning of the learning process, so grads must find companies seeking ambitious technical problem solvers willing to overlook inevitable knowledge gaps.
  • These programs have great track records, but are still relatively new and are operating in an incredibly strong segment of the labor market. Long-term results and results across geographies and business cycles are likely to differ.

This is not to say that college isn't valuable and in fact many of the incoming students at developer bootcamps come in with college degrees. What we as students, educators, and professionals can learn from the state of education today and successes of these bootcamps though is that hyper-focused technical training in booming markets can provide more value (at least in the short-term) than the traditional university education model.