The Obama administration will spend $17 million on coding bootcamps and for-profit schools

ByJames Dennin

Despite being a part of the most educated generation ever, recent graduates are still having a really hard time finding good jobs. 

Underemployment is rampant: Nearly half of recent graduates with bachelor's degrees are technically underemployed, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, working in jobs that don't require a degree at all.

To address the issue, President Barack Obama is embracing a sector of the education industry his administration has consistently targeted: for-profit schools.

Over the course of Obama's presidency, his administration has often taken a confrontational approach to the for-profit education industry. The Department of Education has cut funding to for-profit schools, enforced stricter standards and made it easier for aggrieved students to sue their alma maters. 

Now, the Obama administration is changing tack. The Education Department announced on Tuesday that it would devote $17 million to launch its Educational Quality through Innovative Partnerships program, mostly to cover tuition fees for students who want to attend experimental programs at for-profit schools.

A lot of the money will go to teaching people how to code. Half of the new approved programs are coding bootcamps, while the rest are more traditional, low-cost online schools. 

Jeff Chiu/AP

Critics of for-profit education have argued it helped fuel the student loan crisis by encouraging people to take out large loans on dubious degrees and engaging in predatory debt recovery practices. Allowing other companies to begin taking advantage of federal aid could theoretically open the door to similar abuses.

However, a traditional four-year college isn't always the best option for many Americans. More than two-thirds of Americans don't have a bachelor's degree, and going back to school full-time isn't always practical, especially if you have a family to take care of.

There is a need for more options in acquiring marketable skills, and proponents of non-traditional education argue that letting people use student loans to learn to code will even help make the technology industry more diverse.

But these programs are still very expensive, averaging more than $11,000 for a three-month curriculum. Before taking out loans to cover those costs, there are a few things you should know. 

Coding bootcamps are not immune to scandal. 

In 2014, California took harsh action against coding bootcamps for failing to abide by certain state regulations, such as not providing course catalogues and exaggerating career placement rates. 

Some people in the education industry also argue that there are already too many coding bootcamps, and they are creating a glut of unqualified candidates. 

To counter those concerns, the Department of Education is treating EQUIP as something of an experiment, which will be carefully monitored.

All of the participating programs have partnered with accredited schools, and independent auditors will verify that the programs actually land their students in high-paying jobs.

Some of the programs are really short. 

Coding bootcamps have also been criticized by some developers as being too short to provide all the skills you'd need in an actual coding job. 

"They don't have the resumes to even pique my interest yet to be honest," Antonio Reyes — who hires developers — said of bootcamp graduates in an interview with Fusion.

Many of the EQUIP partnerships will counter this criticism as well. One of the programs, a joint-partnership between Flatiron School and the State University of New York Empire, lasts 9 months, three times the length of Flatiron's 12-week intensive program.

They're best for people who know a little bit about code already.

Before you take on debt to learn how to code for a living, make sure you actually like coding first by exploring the numerous cheap and even free programs you can find online. 

A lot of the people who go to coding bootcamps already have some experience in the field. Software engineering changes rapidly, and new technologies and coding languages are always rising and declining in relevance.

Even if you are familiar with coding, taking on student loans to be part of a government experiment is still a risky proposition. Flatiron CEO Adam Enbar said in an interview with Wired that students should be "very, very, very skeptical" of any for-profit education institution, including the new bootcamps. 

Compared to an accredited college or university, coding bootcamps are still relatively untested — General Assembly, "one of the oldest" coding bootcamps — was founded in 2011. 

Defenders will argue that's part of the allure: They're new, and have a better sense of how to provide practical training in the skills cutting-edge employers actually need.