April 16, 2021


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The Last Mile of Education

The term “last mile” was originally used in the telecommunications field to refer to the final leg of networks that deliver services to end-users, specifically, the portion that physically reaches the end-users’ premises. The last mile is typically the bottleneck in these networks, because it is the largest and most expensive part of the network and most difficult to upgrade. Providers have developed new solutions for the last mile, including high-speed Wi-Fi and broadband over power lines. In recent years, the term “last mile” has been applied to new bootcamp, income sharing, deferred tuition, and staffing models of education that provide new solutions to deliver highly skilled graduates to companies.


Employers count on colleges and universities to prepare their graduates for the demands of the workplace. However, a report on the preparedness of recent college graduates in the US found that many were lacking hard skills, such as writing proficiency, public speaking, data analysis, and industry-specific software, and soft skills, such as creative thinking and problem solving, attention to detail, communication, ownership, and leadership, despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of students are primarily going to college to improve employment opportunities, make more money, and get a good job. Perhaps because employers are finding that graduates lack the required skills, more entry-level jobs require a college degree and experience.

To fill this skills gap, a growing number of so-called “last mile” training providers are offering the hard and soft skills employers want but colleges and universities don’t teach.


Coding bootcamps rose to prominence in 2011 promising to teach technical skills to unemployed, underemployed, and unhappily employed young people for jobs in the technology sector while offering high placement rates and salaries. Despite questions about the accuracy of placement rates, and the closing of several prominent boot camps, they remain one of the most active areas for education tech investment.


Coding camps can be expensive, ranging from $9000 to $21,000 with an average of $11,400 in the US. To make it more affordable for lower income students, some schools are offering deferred tuition or an income sharing agreement. For example, App Academy offers a number of deferred payment plans. Students can pay $17,000 upfront, pay $9000 before the course and then pay $14,000 over one year ($23,000 total), or pay a $5000 deposit and then pay $23,000 over one year ($28,000 total). At bootcamp C4Q, graduates pay 12% of their earnings for two years after they find a job paying $60,000 or more. Only students that have found tech jobs have to pay.


Another “last mile” solution is provided by staffing companies like Revature. It pays students minimum wage during a 40 hour-per-week, 12-week course, hires graduates at a salary of $50,000 to $65,000, and then sends them out as contract software engineers at banks, health insurers, and retailers. The arrangement allows students to earn a bit of money while studying full-time and avoid large upfront costs and student loans.


Also published on Medium.


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