Are Coding Bootcamps Effectively Reaching Underserved Communities?

Are Coding Bootcamps Effectively Reaching Underserved Communities?
portrait of Jessica Bryant
By Jessica Bryant

Published on August 25, 2021

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The tech industry has long had a diversity problem. Women and minority employees continue to account for small percentages of the industry at large, despite efforts to increase inclusivity.

When coding bootcamps emerged as a potentially more accessible and affordable way to enter the technology space, some thought these programs could help bridge industry-wide diversity gaps. But recent demographics data from Course Report show that such programs actually draw a small number of minority participants.

Though the number of minority participants in bootcamps continues to grow each year, accessibility and affordability concerns still plague the industry.

Beginner Programs Appeal to Underrepresented Students

Unlike traditional postsecondary programs, bootcamps do not always have education prerequisites or rigid admissions standards. While some do require students to have advanced degrees, professional coding experience, or general programming knowledge to get into the bootcamp, many others welcome complete beginners.

This is one of the many reasons that bootcamps have skyrocketed in popularity over the last few years. Between 2013 and 2020, the number of bootcamp graduates has increased by over 1,000%.

Bootcamps' beginner-friendly format may appeal to those unable to participate in traditional coding programs at four-year institutions. This includes underrepresented students, who are often less likely to enroll in traditional institutions than white students.

Students of Color Make Up Small Percentage of Graduates

Despite the potential of this alternative education pathway to reach underserved populations, only a small percentage of racial and ethnic minorities graduate from these programs. Latino/a and Black students are particularly underrepresented among bootcamp graduates.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau 2019 American Community Survey Demographics, Course Report

Even at traditional postsecondary institutions, students of color make up a smaller percentage of computer science graduates. During the 2018-19 academic year, students of color combined accounted for about a third of graduates with computer science degrees. Given that people of color made up approximately 39% of the U.S. population in 2019, the number of graduates may seem high.

But this is due to the disproportionately high percentage of Asian computer science graduates. While they accounted for just under 6% of the U.S. population, they made up 16% of computer science graduates in 2019. Indigenous, Black, and Latino/a students remain underrepresented in computer science programs relative to the population size of these groups.

Though many hoped the bootcamp model could better reach racial and ethnic minority communities, recently minority students have graduated from computer science bachelor's programs at a higher rate than from bootcamps.

Source: Course Report, National Center for Education Statistics

Bootcamps' Main Barriers to Entry

Bootcamps still have significant barriers to entry for students of color and low-income students. One barrier is a lack of awareness about these programs among underserved populations.

The bootcamp industry is still fairly new; the first program of its kind emerged around 2012. By 2015, tech industry experts, bootcamp founders, and instructors noted a serious lack of diversity throughout bootcamp programs.

Since then, the bootcamp industry has upped its efforts to attract diverse applicants and acknowledges the unique challenges diverse students may face during the program. However, industry professionals note that there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of outreach to underserved populations.

Another barrier prospective students face is coding bootcamp cost. Though bootcamps can be less expensive than the cost of a four-year degree, tuition is still quite high at an average of $13,580. Additionally, financial aid for coding bootcamps and bootcamp scholarships are often harder to obtain as bootcamps are typically not accredited and therefore do not qualify for federal aid.

To combat this, some programs offer diversity-focused scholarships and financial assistance. But of the many bootcamp options, only a handful offer this type of financial aid.

Until bootcamps can successfully address awareness and cost barriers, underserved communities and minority students will continue to participate at very low rates. Progress is being made, but only time will tell whether the bootcamp model can make a substantial impact on diversity gaps in tech at large.

Feature Image: Maskot / Maskot / Getty Images

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