Integrating the Bootcamp Education Model at Duke University

Coding, business, other skills-based bootcamps are often portrayed in the headlines as a potential replacement to traditional higher education.

Prospective students see them as an entryway to high-paying jobs without having to invest four years of time and take on the burden of student loan debt. Consequently, some universities see these new, hard-skills focused educational models as a singular threat.

Duke University realized the potential of collaboration, however, and launched The Learning Innovation Team with a mission to bring together the tool, goals, and technologies for learning on campus with those for learning in the world at large.

Matthew Rascoff, Associate Vice Provost at Duke University, came on the Enrollment Growth University podcast to discuss why higher ed shouldn’t feel threatened by the bootcamp education model. Instead, universities should work to integrate these hands-on hard skills within existing degree programs.

Are bootcamps a legitimate threat to an undergraduate degree?

Bootcamps are largely complementary to four-year undergraduate education because earning a bachelor’s degree is not about getting a first job. It’s not even about accruing first order skills. Instead, a college education is a lifelong investment in foundational skills and knowledge to promote success throughout life.

Of course, in order to be on the road to that success you need to get a first job. And that’s where many bootcamps come in. They are tied into industry and employer needs.

What do bootcamps offer that traditional higher ed does not?

Bootcamps have figured out how to be responsive to the market’s current skills demands and how to design programs that offer quick turnaround for those skills. For example, in technology, the programming languages change often. Traditional higher ed’s model involves lots of committees and two years of planning to add a new degree or a new program. With that approach, it can’t keep up.

A non-traditional education approach like a bootcamp, however, can switch in or switch out courses quickly in response to industry needs and trends.

“That is an advantage,” Matthew said, “but it’s not the be-all and end-all of education. That’s why I think the two are complementary.”

What is the the three-literacy strategy higher ed needs?

The president of Northeastern University, Joseph Aoun, wrote a book called Robot-Proof. It’s a vision for how higher education should respond to the challenges of artificial intelligence. His view is that there are three competencies that should make up the future of post-secondary education – data competencies, technological competencies, and human competencies. Aoun calls the combination of all three of those humanics.

“The job of the educator,” Matthew said, “is to weave those three together into this really tightly coupled bundle that helps students make the connections between them, and builds (a) feedback loop between the theoretical and the applied that enhances both of them.”

Duke, specifically, is trying to incorporate these hard skills into its existing operations by partnering with Coursera. Millions of learners have taken Duke’s Coursera courses, extending the impact of Duke’s faculty and institution to learners around the world.

“What we realized though,” Matthew said, “was that there could be tremendous value and benefits in the kinds of courses that we have offered online to the wider community on campus as well.”

Consequently, the school created Coursera for Duke in which a Duke community member can take the university’s Coursera courses and earn credentials recognized in the labor market. The program complements a student’s on-campus experience.

What are the next steps advice for institutions who currently see bootcamps as a threat to their livelihood?

The competitive picture is probably different for different kinds of institutions. Bootcamps may be impacting vocational training centers, community colleges, and for-profit educational institutions more than traditional colleges and universities.

It’s not necessary to entirely upend what a traditional institution does to provide hard skills, but as Duke evidences, you don’t have to. A traditional college or university can offer a complementary approach.

“There’s something really powerful about empowering our students with the toolkits that they’re gonna need in order to get their first job, which will set them up for their second and third and fourth,” Matthew said.

New models can be a huge opportunity for experimentation in innovation. “I see the potential for building this kind of balanced system,” Matthew said, “which is focused on the timely and the timeless, the knowledge and the skills, the hands-on and the theoretical. And the value that we add comes through the integration of those.”

This post is based on a podcast interview with Matthew Rascoff from Duke University. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

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