CEO Diane Hessan on Setting the Bar for Bootcamps

Higher education is changing. Undergraduate and graduate schools used to be the only options, but now more than ever people are seeking new avenues to take their careers to the next level. Coding bootcamps, online courses, massive open online courses (MOOCs), and one-off skills classes—these new offerings are experimental, both in content and how it’s delivered. Their teaching methods illustrate the way the workforce is shifting: in-demand skills change quickly, people are switching jobs more often, companies are growing faster, and what constitutes a “work day” is being redefined.

At Startup Institute, we’ve always kept close tabs on our alumni to calculate our program success rates. But, with this influx of new education models, we decided to evaluate our program with an unbiased third-party in order to provide transparency and objectivity in continuing to improve our program offerings. The results of our evaluation—conducted by edBridge Partners—were released to the public last week.

Graduate Survey Highlights:

  • 86% job placement after 90 days (92% after 100 days)
  • 51% report having had five or more interviews
  • 57% received two or more job offers
  • 27% were employed before the program even concluded
  • 88% say their new job is better or significantly better than jobs prior[bctt tweet="Results of @StartupInst's third-party survey of graduate's employment + satisfaction rates" via="no"]

After the release of the data, I sat down with CEO Diane Hessan to hear her thoughts on what this data means for Startup Institute, and what it means for adult education at large:


What did you hope to accomplish with this survey?

It’s no secret that Startup Institute has a good program. We have outstanding Net Promoter Scores, meaning outstanding student satisfaction. We have this engaged group of alumni who are passionate about what we do. And we get what we call ”love letters” all the time. A lot of them are on our website, and a lot of them are personal letters that we share internally.

We know people love the program. It’s a huge point of pride here. And guess what? It’s not enough. Because, loving the program experience is only the first part of what we’re really trying to accomplish. If people are going to spend eight weeks with us and pay us money, we want to help them to accomplish things that that transcend the experience.

In doing this audit, we wanted to understand all of the elements and outcomes of going through this experience.

How many interviews do people get? How many job offers do they get? How long does it take them to get a job? How much higher is their salary than it was before? Are they happier in their job than they were before they started the program? To what degree do they believe that we helped them in the process of doing all that? And then, obviously, what do our hiring partners think of the people they’ve brought on?

We realized that, these are such important measures that we should not do them ourselves. Because, at some point, you need an outside, objective party to ask the questions, and make sure that people are asking in the right way.[bctt tweet="As some point, you need an objective party to ask the questions + in the right way - @DianeHessan"]

There are a few firms in the overall for-profit education/ bootcamp program space that have done this kind of auditing. But, most people self-report. And, of course, everybody self-reports all of their best statistics.

We have been really committed to quality and integrity. So, the question became: how do we get an outsider to make sure that we’re reporting high-integrity metrics?

I have to say, it was a little bit of a scary process, because we were committed to publishing whatever came out of it. And it did occur to me that maybe the fact that we had always heard great stuff was only because we’d heard from the people who were happy. In the end, it was a good experience to be able to go through that and have somebody else who doesn’t have an agenda talking to our alumni about their experiences.

So, what were we hoping to accomplish? We were hoping to lay out a rich set of metrics that maybe other companies in the space could use. We were hoping to truly understand the experience of Startup Institute students and alumni. We were trying to make sure we could get guidance for how to get even better.[bctt tweet="We were hoping to lay out a rich set of metrics + get guidance for how to get better - @DianeHessan"]

Why did you choose edBridge Partners?

We hired edBridge Partners out of New York for two primary reasons. First off, we knew that they had experience in collecting this type of data. And, secondly, edBridge also has deep experience in the education space. They know all the universities, all the MOOCs, all the online platforms, all the bootcamp programs. So, we not only had a firm that could give us objective data, but that could also help us understand the nuances of it—how it compared to other things and what it might mean for us. It was the best of both worlds.

Did the results align with your expectations?

Yes. The results did align with my expectations. I’ve been with Startup Institute long enough, and I’ve met enough alumni, and I’ve seen enough that, yeah, I had the expectation that our results were going to be great, and they are.

I’m thrilled that the results are consistent with what I expected.

Was anything better than you had expected?

I was blown-away by how many interviews people had. I mean, 14% of our alumni had interviews with more than ten companies. I thought that was amazing, and I love the notion that maybe people would have a lot of options in front of them.

The most gratifying number—I don’t know that it was a surprise—was the fact that 88% of people had jobs that they loved more than their previous work. To me, that’s more important than salary because, if you love your job, your salary always catches up. And that’s particularly meaningful given the Gallup data that says nearly 68% of people out there are disengaged with their jobs.[bctt tweet="88% of our grads now have jobs they love more. That's the most gratifying metric. - @DianeHessan"]

Were there any disappointments?

I think the only disappointment to me is that we didn’t do the same kind of audit on how our partners feel about our graduates. We think we know. We have a lot of partners that hire our students again and again and again. We have a brand new video for which we interviewed our partners on how they feel about our students. But I would like to, at some point, do the same kind of audit on what it’s like to have Startup Institute people inside a company. We just haven’t gotten to that yet.

How do you think these results can inform the school’s future?

I think there are a lot of implications of the data. Let me give you one.

We have more digging to do, but I think more interviews leads to more job offers, leads to higher salary, etc. So, I think that we can spend even more time helping people to get interviews, partially because it will increase their chances, and partially because the more interviews you have the more you have a chance to figure out what kind of company you want to work for.

I think that this notion of more interviews leading to more job offers is great, because when people have a choice of career, it will increase the chances that they’ll end up doing something they love. So, I think those interim measures are really helpful for us to keep track of.

Looking at the big picture, we’re operating in this uncharted space. What does it mean to put metrics around what Startup Institute is doing?

I’ve got kind of a controversial view around education.

I think that the world of education is changing. It used to be that you were born, you went to school for 20-25 years, and then you spent the rest of your life applying what you had learned. If you’d gone to a good school, and got a good education, that school and that education would have prepared you to be successful for the rest of your life.

That model is obsolete. I think no matter how good the college is that you go to, chances are in the 21st century, by the time you’re five years out of college, your education is not good enough for you to be successful in your job. People who don’t continually learn, and sometimes go back to school, are going to lose their edge.[bctt tweet="I've got a controversial view on education. The old model is obsolete, says @DianeHessan"]

So, there’s a huge opportunity for us to do a much better job for people who are 25 and older, helping them be productive and be successful, and have the relevant set of skills and knowledge that they need to be able to work in and compete in a completely different environment than what we had even ten years ago.

The metrics here are different. It isn’t “did you complete the course requirements?” and “are you prepared to be an adult?” It’s “are we teaching you what you need?” and “are you prepared to find the resources and the connections to be able to move onto a new job or take your career to the next level?”

Companies like Startup Institute need to take responsibility for helping people get educated on a more continuous basis moving forward, and we need to measure whether we are successful at doing that. Because, as you get older, the consequences of having to stop everything and leave your job are much more significant than if you stop what you’re doing at 18 years old and take an extra year.

The other reason why this data matters is, we have to measure quality in education. And there have been really phenomenal education offerings over the past several years, but most of it is experimental. The jury really is out on MOOCs. The jury really is out on these coding bootcamps and online platforms and whether they’ll work, and I think there’s a tremendous amount of excitement there. Ultimately, we need to know whether this stuff is great. Not whether it’s online, not whether the curriculum has integrity, but does it result in the kind of outcomes that people need to be able to make it worthwhile to spend their precious time doing it.[bctt tweet="The jury is still out on #onlinelearning, #bootcamps, + #alternativeed - @DianeHessan"]

And that’s the value of the audit, at this experimental stage?

Well, for us, doing an audit is all about integrity. I mean, why would anybody believe our numbers if they know that they’re coming from us? We’re aspiring to have the “good housekeeping” seal of approval on what we do. I know that for me, I believe numbers more if an objective party does the measure, especially on something as important as “did you get a job that you love, as quickly as possible?”

What do you think this means for other adult education schools and bootcamp programs?

Look, every adult education experience has different objectives. In general, I don’t like to classify bootcamps because I think many of them are very different—they have different value propositions, they have different kinds of outcomes. If you go to, you can see what various people get from bootcamps can be very different, so I wouldn’t necessarily classify them all in one place. Not all bootcamps out there have the goal of getting people jobs. Some of them just have a goal of getting people capable of doing certain things, and that’s fine. Whatever the goal, people do need to backup their claims with data.

So, if you’re a bootcamp and you’re saying you’re helping people get jobs, I think you ought to get an outside audit done.

We’d like to be part of the group of companies that are doing this, and that are setting the bar for everybody else.

And, I also think that people who are applying to these programs should ask for this proof. People need to start having their metrics, and they need to prove that they have integrity with them.  [bctt tweet="We want @StartupInst to be one of the companies setting the bar for everyone else - @DianeHessan" via="no"]

There’s suggestion that bootcamps may be a fad, and once we close the talent gap there will no longer be a need. What do you think?

I think it’s the opposite. I think there will be all kinds of bootcamps. Why? I think that people are going to find that taking two years off to go to grad school is increasingly unaffordable. Not necessarily in terms of the tuition, but in terms of the time. So, whether it’s called a bootcamp or not, the notion of investing a very intense period of time in moving yourself to a new level is very efficient, and that’s attractive for people. I think it’s just the beginning.

Now, I do think there will be consolidation in the space because not every company will figure out how to do well, not every company will figure out how to scale, companies will find synergies with each other. So, there may be fewer bootcamps, but I think the numbers of people who are going to go through them is going to explode.[bctt tweet="I think the numbers of people going through #bootcamps is going to explode - @DianeHessan"]