like A match made in heaven. Cal-Dominican University needs something new. The college hopes to provide students with a hands-on learning experience in a thriving and lucrative technology field in the Bay Area. Make School, a San Francisco-based gaming company turned for-profit educational institution, is already offering short-term tech bootcamps aimed at accomplishing the same goal.
Together, they envisioned a setup whereby Dominican students could take computer science classes and earn a minor, while Make School students could take several courses from Dominican faculty and earn a bachelor’s degree in applied computer science in just two years.
Formed in 2018, the partnership will be the first of its kind. While it is specifically approved by the Dominican accreditation agency, Make School’s program receives little oversight. No one was heeding the warning signs, financial or otherwise, at Make School.
When Make School suddenly closes in 2021, citing financial problems, Dominican leaders are in uncharted territory, having to figure out how to help 167 students continue their education. Most people leave the program without any justification for their time and effort.
Nicola Pitchford, then vice chancellor for academic affairs at Dominican University and now president, said the university did what it could to help students, but she acknowledged it had been “a very bumpy journey.”
“There is currently no regulatory framework that provides clear guidance and boundaries for agencies trying to do this,” Pitchford said. “We would be very grateful if we didn’t have to do so much pioneering.”
As documented in a report provided to The Hechinger Report by the Student Borrower Protection Center, Make School’s downfall should be a wake-up call for such partnerships, student advocates warn.
In these partnerships, the universities often just put their name on the programs, while the bootcamp companies recruit students, develop courses and deliver them. Such arrangements are quietly proliferating, with little, if any, quality control in place to protect students. At least 75 such partnerships exist between universities and three of the top bootcamp provider companies in the country: edX, ThriveDX and Fullstack Academy. The universities can make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on these deals without much work, according to a contract review obtained through a public records request.
When students enroll at a traditional college, they know that the institution has met certain standards set by federal and state governments and accrediting agencies. If their education does not meet these standards, or if their school lies to them or closes, they are entitled to certain protections, including debt cancellation in certain circumstances. But bootcamp programs that typically take two years or less to complete and offer no credit are not regulated.
“What you have is trusted, name-brand schools, from community colleges to state universities, knowing they own these valuable brands and then renting them out to for-profit companies,” said Ben Kaufman, Student’s director of research and surveys. Borrower Protection Center. “Students go into debt because they trust the school, and then go to courses that are often very superficial.”
After starting in 2012 and transitioning from gaming to education in 2014, Make School operated as an unlicensed educational institution for several years.
In 2018, it was subpoenaed by the California Bureau of Private Higher Education for operating without approval. Still, later that year it joined forces with Dominican University, a nonprofit college in San Rafael, California. A Dominican University spokesman said university officials were not aware at the time that Make School was an unapproved educational institution.