Thank you to WCET Steering Committee member Justin Louder for the next entry in our series on student Return on Investment (ROI) in higher education and the role of digital learning in the equation. Justin shows how a creative public/private partnership between Texas Tech University, a community college, and private entity addressed a shortage in coders in Lubbock.
-Russ Poulin, WCET
In a September 9, 2021 article in Forbes the author writes that, “(i)n the digital age, leaders looking to make killer ideas a reality turn to developers to get it done. Tech know-how is the new currency of industry.” Helping students earn this new currency is why five years ago Texas Tech University (TTU) set out to develop a coding academy whose chief goal was to help individuals move from lower paying hourly jobs into higher paying coding positions.
Texas Tech’s eLearning and Academic Partnerships division visited with business leaders in 2014/2015 to learn more about the local job market needs and how the universities online programs could help meet local demands. It was in those early conversations TTU learned that local businesses were having a hard time filling coding and programming jobs because many of the university graduates left Lubbock and moved to larger metropolitan areas upon graduation. To help the community meet their coding needs, TTU released a competitive RFP to solicit bids for a partnership to launch a coding academy that would lead to non-academic credit credentials and graduates to help local businesses fill open coding job.
The Lubbock Coding Academy was developed through an innovated partnership between Texas Tech University, South Plains College, and a for-profit coding academy from Austin, Texas known as the Austin Coding Academy. TTU was drawn to the Austin Coding Academy because the curriculum was developed, not just by people working with code every day, but with educators and curriculum experts which allowed the curriculum to be engaging and helped students quickly learn to code. In fact, after the first week of classes students can code and publish their own websites.
In Creating a “Coding Academy,” the Emphasis Was on Students
Simply developing a coding academy wasn’t what Texas Tech was after, we wanted to develop an educational and career pathway to help students not only join the coding workforce but be able to be promoted and work into management positions. Partnering with a local community college was important to creating an educational and career pathway. Students who complete the coursework in the Lubbock Coding Academy can transfer them to South Plains College to meet some of the requirements towards the Associate of Applied Sciences in Computer Information Systems.
Once students have their AAS from South Plains College they can then transfer to Texas Tech University’s Bachelor of Applied Arts & Sciences in Applied Leadership (BAAS) program. The BAAS takes vocational or technical coursework completed at a Community College and transfers that in as academic credit towards the bachelor’s degree. Students who have completed the 60-hour AAS degree at South Plains need to complete 60 additional hours at TTU to graduate.
The Lubbock Coding Academy is a for-profit business run by our partner organization, but it isn’t a significant revenue generator for the coding business, they are covering their costs and providing financial support back to both South Plains College and Texas Tech University for use of school resources and space.
The Public/Private Partnership Benefits Both Students and the Community
Students can qualify for short term private financial aid that allows them to focus on the program and not on the tuition costs. Once a student finishes the coding academy most are being hired into jobs that pay $40-60,000. This increase in salary for students is significant because many were working low-wage hourly jobs before completing the coding academy.
“Coding and programming have been valuable skills for some time, the pandemic accelerated digitalization projects for businesses, making the need to recruit tech talent far more pressing.” (Burazin, 2021). Because west Texas is not overflowing with coding talent, the coding academy is meeting the needs of local small businesses by providing access to local talent for coding jobs. The mission of the partnership is to help students get a leg up and move into a career and not simply a job.
Associate Vice Provost, Texas Tech University
Interim Superintendent, TTU K-12