While this year was like any other year in the sense that 2U’s goal remained intact—deliver products that meet the diverse needs of our university partners and lifelong learners—the impact of the pandemic accelerated demand across all three of our primary products: boot camps, short courses, and degrees.
For the boot camp business in particular, we’ve seen the economic impact from the pandemic propel more people to seek out opportunities to reskill, upskill, and improve their long-term career prospects. And we’ve responded in real-time to their needs, consistently finding ways to adapt to a new reality and increase access to all learners.
The intensive boot camps that 2U powers are designed to give adult learners a pathway to quickly gain the digital skills in highest demand by local employers in their region. With more than 145 boot camp programs offered in partnership with more than 50 universities, these programs serve as career accelerators for tens of thousands of learners around the globe. And with 61% of job seekers hoping to change their careers because of COVID, these programs have never been more critical.
Unsurprisingly, “embrace change” are the two words that have defined the course of the boot camp business in 2020 and Greg Calverase’s experience as managing director. Read on for more on Greg, his thoughts on this past year, and what to expect in the year ahead.
Shortly after Trilogy was acquired by 2U, you transitioned from COO of Trilogy to managing director of boot camps at 2U. Now that you’ve been in the role for more than a year, how would you describe your position?
I am responsible for the overall success of the boot camp business and delivering on the learning outcomes and innovation needed by our university partners, students, and employers. Our boot camp business is made up of a portfolio of individual programs offered in partnership with universities globally. Currently, we power programs in Coding (Full Stack Flex), Data Analytics, Cybersecurity, FinTech, UX/UI, Digital Marketing, Tech Project Management, and our soon to be released Product Management.
2U is all about building win-win models, and the boot camp business is no exception. In your role, you have a responsibility to serve a wide community of stakeholders. Who are those stakeholders and what does that responsibility mean to you?
Our boot camp model is built on the idea of bringing universities and employers together to benefit learners. In that model, there are four key stakeholders to whom I have a responsibility.
We put students first. My job is to ensure we deliver on our promises to them by designing high-quality programs that allow them to upskill or change careers entirely. My team and I take that responsibility very seriously.
Next, we have a responsibility to be stewards of the university brands we represent. Our university partners care deeply about our commitment to their students as well as the performance of their individual programs. We monitor each and every cohort closely for this very reason.
We also have a responsibility to our employer partners. We seek to help them fill their talent gaps by giving them access to our graduates and, in exchange, we ask them for inputs into the quality of our programs and to engage with our students through networking and highly-relevant events.
Last, I see myself as having an obligation to my staff. I see part of my responsibility as ensuring that their roles are defined in ways that allow them to do what they do best or, as I like to say, to leverage their “superpowers.” That means eliminating work that is distracting to that and ensuring our teams have the tools and technology necessary to support students, university partners, and employer partners.
2020 has been a tumultuous year. Even so, 2U’s boot camp business has been resilient, adapting and innovating to meet the needs of our university partners and students. What were the biggest successes of the year for 2U’s boot camp business? What were the biggest challenges?
There are several things I’m proud of that happened in 2020: high student satisfaction scores; 72 new program launches (so far) across our partners and programs; a 24-month payment plan that increases access to 2U-powered programs; a $3M Scholarship Fund to increase diversity in tech; the launch of brand new programs like our high school coding boot camps; the ability of our teams to produce new high-quality programs faster than ever before; and, with COVID-19, the ability to migrate our ground-based programs online in just two weeks.
Beginning in the spring, we witnessed the enormous impact COVID-19 had on our economy. What impact did the pandemic have on 2U’s boot camp partnerships? How did you overcome any hurdles you were confronted with?
Prior to 2020, 88% of our boot camps were held in-person. So when COVID-19 spread, we were challenged to transition to being 100% online. Fortunately, our Live Online Platform was already established, and it made the migration rather seamless.
Two things have rolled out that were not directly manifested because of COVID-19 but from which our new operating model benefits greatly. First, we launched on-demand teaching assistant (TA) support to help students when they’re stuck, anytime and anywhere. The concept of a more on-demand model of support was born out of the recognition of the need to provide support to help students find answers to their questions while doing self-study and not require them to wait for their tutorial sessions or their office hours. This support became even more pivotal as students were required to transition from on-ground to online programs.
Second, we transitioned all of our Demo Days—events where students can showcase their projects to employers—to a virtual format. We’ve discovered that the online format gives students even more exposure to employers in attendance and improves the quality of the interactions.
We’re a learning organization and intend to continue learning from opportunities like these.
Reflect back on the progress you made and the pitfalls you encountered this year. If you were to choose one word to describe 2020 for boot camps, what would it be and why?
We encountered change in the spring when the pandemic forced us to transition all of our boot camps online. While challenging, this development afforded us the opportunity to market more broadly and extend the reach of the boot camps we power.
We also intentionally initiated change to increase access to our programs globally. We established blended programs as an even more flexible option for students. And we created new payment options to improve access to programs when many students would have otherwise struggled because of the impact the economy has had on their financial stability.
Change came in the form of growth from years of experience, too, as we built out a new process for researching and building boot camps that moves much of the fact-finding research earlier. This now allows us to ensure we are building programs that students want and ones where employers value the outcomes.
With 2021 right around the corner, what are your predictions for the overall boot camp industry in the new year? What changes are coming in the year ahead?
COVID-19 has been a wake-up call for many whose livelihoods were impacted by the virus. While we hope things return to normal in 2021, for many, securing their futures will mean transitioning to fields that allow for remote work and are highly relevant to the digital economy. Boot camps are a great option. They provide the necessary skills to shift and grow into a new field while giving students the flexibility to continue working as they’re progressing through the program.
Digital fluency will continue to be an important skill to have, and people will need to commit to upskilling to grow their understanding of new technological advancements. These skills will become increasingly crucial to employers, even for those not directly in tech-related industries.
All that being said, running boot camps is not easy, and leveraging economies of scale that can simultaneously benefit students and partners is important. Larger providers like 2U offer overlapping reach with large employers and can harness economies of scale to improve the nature and access of support, increasing the ability to be highly relevant in a world where personalization and flexibility become even more important.
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