Arcadia University and 2U partnership will let other colleges give undergrads a semester of coding

For decades, Arcadia University has been a key player in international education, operating a network of study abroad programs in which students at several hundred colleges participate.

Study abroad is largely shut down because of COVID-19, so Arcadia won't be helping send peer colleges' undergraduates to other countries this fall. But it is developing a new program to send them somewhere -- "into the world of code," says Jeff Rutenbeck, Arcadia's provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.

Today the university is announcing the creation of two semester-long coding programs for other colleges and universities to offer to their students this fall. The Semester of Code programs, offered in conjunction with 2U and its Trilogy coding bootcamps, will let students earn between 12 and 16 credits from Arcadia that will be transferable to their home institution. Colleges that team up with Arcadia and 2U to offer the programs to their students will share the tuition revenue with the university and the company.

Arcadia and 2U believe that in normal times, these programs can give undergraduates a chance "to develop real, practical skills and digital fluency during college," says Andrew Hermalyn, president of global partnerships at 2U. Numerous colleges have either teamed up with coding programs (like Yale University's partnership with Flatiron School) or started their own coding initiatives (Dominican University of California's innovative arrangement with Make School) to build 21st-century technology skills into their curriculums.

But these are not normal times, of course, and Arcadia and 2U moved aggressively to get pilot versions of the programs ready this fall in hopes that they could offer a "slightly different approach" to those undergraduates and their families who are considering having the students stop out of college because they don't want to study virtually or don't feel safe returning to a physical campus.

"Why put your life completely on hold when you can do something that will still allow you to make progress toward your ultimate goal of graduating; and might not be available at your home institution?" says Arcadia's Rutenbeck.

Institutions that choose to offer the Arcadia programs could "hold on to students they might otherwise be in danger of losing," Rutenbeck says. "They can go back to those students and say, 'You might not be up for a nontraditional semester at our institution, but we have this new program that allows you to get credit here and do something concrete that will demonstrably improve your career prospects."

The programs, one in Full Stack Coding and one that includes a virtual internship for companies in various European cities, cost $12,500 for a semester. The programs will be taught by 2U and Trilogy instructors, but will bear Arcadia credit after being vetted by computer science faculty members at Arcadia and adapted for undergraduates. Most of the 25,000-odd people who have been through Trilogy's existing coding programs with colleges already had a bachelor's degree.

Arcadia is in discussion with some of the roughly 300 colleges that are already in its study abroad network about offering the coding programs this fall, Rutenbeck says.

More Context

Most of the activity in the coding bootcamp space to date has been at the graduate level. Virtually all of the major providers of skills training -- including General Assembly, Galvanize, Flatiron and Trilogy -- have focused on students who already have a degree and want supplemental training to help them get jobs.

Only recently, with partnerships like that between Dominican and Make School, have colleges begun looking for ways to build the technology skills of large swaths of their undergraduates who study in non-technology fields -- and to turning to outside providers to do so.

"There is a movement away from designing everything in-house (and the commensurate investment in time and money) and a growing interest in creative new approaches to partnerships, consortia and affiliations that can launch relatively quickly while leveraging the strengths of each entity," Mary Marcy, Dominican's president, said via email about the 2U-Arcadia partnership. "This is especially true in programs that have high market demand, or that link directly to specific careers."

2U officials believe they are ahead of the game in developing an offering aimed at undergraduates in this way.

"We think we’re first to market with something like this," 2U's Hermalyn said via email. "This closely competes with other forms of enrichment programs that supplement an undergraduate education, like study abroad."

Getting the program up and running fast -- Arcadia officials aimed to make it available in the next four to six weeks as students and families make their plans for fall -- required university administrators to use the institution's expedited process for reviewing experimental course pilots.

"I believe some institutions will take this up and co-create some aspect of it with us," he says. "The goal of this isn't to generate massive enrollment -- it's to add to the work of our partner network."

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