Here's what you should know about those 99% job placement rates at 'coding bootcamps' -- some of which boast $100,000 exit salaries

Last Wednesday, the US Department of Education announced a pilot programthat would bring federal student loans to some “coding bootcamps,” programs that promise a crash course in computer programming and, usually, a lucrative job at the end of it.

President Obama called coding bootcamps a ticket to the middle class, but many low-income students have so far been left by the wayside, unable to pay the $US10,000 to $US15,000 these programs normally cost.

This is set to change as federal loans are added to the private student loans already available at some bootcamps. To qualify for these loans, programs would have to be connected to an accredited university partner.

Success stories from these bootcamps read like fairy tales.

In a few short months, one bootcamper named Jordan Collier went from working at Chick-fil-A to snagging a computer programming job that paid him $US90,000 a year. And the top coding schools boast 99% job placement rates with average salaries of around $US100,000.

But before you plunk down the cash to attend one of these programs, there are a few things you should know about the way bootcamps report these stellar rates. Namely, that there is no universal standard.

Business Insider spoke to Drew Sing, who works for the coding bootcamp Bloc. He pointed to three differing standard among top schools:

  • Hack Reactor says 99% of their graduates “receive at least one full-time job offer within 3 months of graduating.”
  • General Assembly claims a “99% placement rate in [your] field of study.”
  • App Academy maintains “98% of our graduates have offers or are working in tech jobs. In 2014, SF graduates received an average salary of $US105,000; in 2014, NY graduates received an average salary of $US89,000.”

Now, there is no denying that these are impressive numbers, but what exactly do they mean? “Full-time job,” “placement rate in field of study,” and “tech jobs,” are not precisely the same thing. And it’s hard to compare them to each other.

“Unlike many other marketing claims, no government agency regulates coding bootcamp placement rates,” Sing explains, though this could change as the government deepens its involvement in the programs.

And as it stands, this lack of clarity makes this kind of metric “easy to game,” Sing contends. Basically, his opinion is that any bootcamp that wants to spin data can achieve over 90% placement.

Here are a couple of ways bootcamps can increase their placement rates, according to Sing:

  • Don’t include students who dropped out or were kicked out.
  • Include students who started their own company.

“Most bootcamps don’t show how they calculated their placement figure,” Sing continues. “So it’s impossible to determine what these numbers mean.”

One notable exception he points out is The Flatiron School, which engaged an independent accounting firm to audit its 7-page jobs report. There have also been efforts to police these bootcamps more closely, such as in California, where regulators have tried to impose licensing on them.

By the end of 2015, Course Report predicts that over 16,000 students will graduate from coding bootcamps in the US — and there are more programs opening every day. Critics fear that the influx of cash from the federal government will attract the same types of people who have taken advantage of the for-profit college industry.

And if you do decide to attend one of these programs, foremost on your mind should be checking the Cinderella claims being made in their literature.

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