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Partner Spotlight

UC Irvine Dean Gary Matkin on Why University Boot Camps Are Key to Unlocking Economic Opportunity

Written by Molly Forman on Apr 7, 2021

Related content: Higher Education, Outcomes

For more than 30 years, public-private partnerships have been foundational to universities’ strategies to support and advance learning design innovation, student diversity, recruitment and retention, and pathways to employment—all in an effort to enhance the student experience. This is particularly true for land-grant institutions, which were created, in part, to expand access to higher education for all Americans. These institutions build relationships with private companies and associations to map academics to global and regional workforce demands and adapt their education models to fit the needs of lifelong learners—now and in the future.

According to recent HolonIQ research, the boot camp partnership is the fastest-growing academic public-private partnership segment. The University of California, Irvine Division of Continuing Education (UCI DCE) is a prime example of a school that has taken a modern approach to educational delivery through an immersive boot camp format.

UCI DCE is dedicated to serving its Orange County, California, service area with continuing education and training in areas of need in the local economy. In 2017, the school determined that there was demand for a variety of technical competencies at regional companies, mainly in IT, and that the most logical format to provide such training to budding professionals would be through boot camps. But the cost of designing boot camps and then keeping them up to date exceeded the return they could receive from the Orange County area alone. They needed a partner to help expand their reach.

“2U was the answer for us—a fully developed program, kept up to date, with qualified and well-trained instructors, and the ability to market the programs in our area,” said Dean of UCI DCE and Vice Provost, Division of Career Pathways Gary Matkin. “This program has fulfilled our mission very well as the number of graduates grows and as the success of those graduates in gaining employment or increasing their responsibilities has proven.”

To date, UCI DCE and 2U have partnered on a wide breadth of boot camps, including Coding, Data Analytics, Cybersecurity, Digital Marketing, and UX/UI. Together, we have upskilled more than 1,200 adult learners with the critical tech skills employers demand, filling roles at global companies like IBM, Johnson & Johnson, and State Farm, and regional businesses such as CalOptima, Lakeshore Learning, and Beyond Polish. Read on to learn more about how our boot camp partnership functions, why employers hire UCI DCE boot camp graduates, and why alternative credentials are the way of the future, according to Dr. Matkin.

UCI DCE boot camps are not taught by university faculty—they are led by industry professionals. Why is it important that industry professionals lead instruction for UCI DCE boot camps? What value do they offer?

UCI faculty rarely teach for any of our DCE programs. That’s by design. As a major AAU member research university, UCI hires faculty who are usually and appropriately involved in research and cutting-edge knowledge—not practical applications. At DCE, we aim to provide students with the more immediately applicable workforce skills than what is taught in UCI classrooms and labs by enlisting instructors chosen for their formal education (usually requiring a master’s degree), their professional experience, and their teaching abilities over their research or publication records. It is part of the land-grant culture of our institution that DCE is a public service instructional unit capable of being flexible enough to provide what is needed for the community.

UCI faculty rarely teach for any of our DCE programs. That’s by design. We enlist instructors chosen for their formal education, their professional experience, and their teaching abilities.
— Gary Matkin, Dean, UC Irvine Division of Continuing Education

How do you measure the success of our boot camp partnership?

We continue to see a better return, both financially and educationally, through our partnership with 2U, and we measure success by monitoring the return on our investment in the partnership, maintaining a close watch on the quality of the offerings, and through the outcomes of our students.

Take Margie Churchill, for example. After graduating from the University of Alabama in 2017, Margie planned to pursue a master’s program in psychology until she discovered her true passion: UX/UI. She enrolled in the UX/UI Boot Camp at UCI Continuing Education and went on to start a creative agency, which she leads as the digital director. She uses her UX/UI skills in ways she couldn’t have foreseen during her boot camp days, and often reflects on advice offered by her boot camp instructor. “It changed the things that I care about and helped me uncover the things I’m passionate about,” she said of her UCI DCE experience. “The boot camp definitely changed my life.” It’s these stories that prove how impactful our boot camps can be.

UCI DCE boot camps have built strong pipelines to local employers like Experian, AT&T, and Quest Diagnostics. Why do local employers favor talent from the boot camps? What impact have these pipelines had on the regional economy?

As the only major research university in Orange County, UCI is viewed as a rich source of talent, and so local employers naturally turn to UCI as the main resource for their workforce and for the training they need to upgrade their employees. The large number of boot camp graduates hired certainly underlines that university service, which has filled a very much-needed skills gap. Through our relationship with 2U, we have been able to foster even closer relationships with local employers.

Both UCI DCE and 2U believe in the importance of designing high-quality boot camp education that is accessible, relevant to economic needs, and builds a pipeline of talent in the region. How has working with 2U helped UCI increase and scale delivery of high-quality training experiences that stay industry-relevant and continually meet local workforce demands?

On its own, UCI DCE would not have been able to provide the boot camps that are offered through 2U. The students who have gone through our joint programs are primarily those who would not have been served otherwise.

You are credited with resurrecting the term “60-year curriculum” to describe the university response to lifelong learning and the need to create formal learning experiences for learners throughout their lifetime. This concept is very aligned with 2U’s Career Curriculum Continuum (CCC). In your opinion, what do universities need to consider when determining how best to serve students at different ages and stages of their lives?

I have been a strong advocate of alternative digital credentials (ADCs) and developed with 2U the badging system for several of the boot camps offered through our partnership. This innovation has led to anecdotal evidence that badges have increased student engagement. However, other universities have been slow in the uptake of what I call an institutional imperative. ADCs will transform continuing education and bring universities closer to employers and provide their students with a competitive advantage in the job marketplace. Transitions from school to work and from career to career are the most important life transitions, and ADCs will very much support those changes.

Given your more than 20 years of experience as dean of UCI DCE, what advice do you have for the many universities that are now looking to expand their digital strategy to offer alternative credentials?

The adoption of digital credentials, as described above, is a crucial step toward the further evolution of higher education toward life relevance. So, too, is the increased emphasis on career services in both the graduate and undergraduate curriculum. At UCI, Continuing Education and Career Services are now under one unified organizational structure (reporting to me). This is a unique but natural union, one that 2U recognized early by including employers in its educational plan.

To be truly learner-centered, universities need to recognize that most students and their parents hope that a university education will result in a satisfying career with good job prospects. Universities seem to be evolving (slowly) in this direction. I urge my peers to continue pushing their institutions to make deeper investments in the programs that not only help more learners unlock economic opportunities through higher education but also strengthen the bridge between academics and regional workforce demands.

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