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JRManifold1598 karma

Edit: updated for ease of reading and more depth! I’ve summarized your questions to capture the jist of what you’re asking.

  • How are you funded? Where does the money come from? If you aren’t taking tuition up-front, how are you funding day to day operations.

We are currently funded through a combination of venture capital - we’ve raised $30 million from investors to help build this - and borrowing money against the Income Share Agreements that students sign (which we call ISA debt).Our venture capital funds our growth and expansion. It is largely from education and impact focused investors (eg. one of our lead investors is primarily funded by the World Bank).

Our day to day operations are funded by ISA debt, it’s the key to our long term sustainability. In essence, we borrow money when students enroll in the program equal to a fraction of their eventual tuition payback. When students get jobs and start paying, we then pay back our lender. This is similar to a working capital loan (eg. a company borrows money to manufacture a product and pays it back once it sells the product).

The big contrast to traditional student debt is that we as an institution hold the debt rather than having individual students hold the debt. That means we’re aggregating risk that students carry into a shared pool. So if one student has a bad outcome we are on the hook, not the student. This effectively aligns our incentives with the students incentives and protects students from downside risk. This model is highly sustainable if our outcomes continue to be strong, so we’re laser focused on that as an institution.

  • Are you structured as a For-Profit institution?

The campus is a cooperation between two entities, Dominican University (non-profit) and Make School PBC. PBC stands for Public Benefit Corporation, which is a new class of for-profit company that exists to serve a public benefit - in our case creating upward mobility for students of all backgrounds. The academic program is housed on the non-profit side, so students are enrolled at a non-profit college, not a for-profit.

We’re big believers in the idea of Conscious Capitalism, which aims to redirect enterprises to create social impact as their primary goal. One of our investors Kapor Capital just released an impact report talking more about how companies who are creating sizable positive world impact are outperforming their peers. So we think the future economy will largely be driven by Public Benefit Corporations rather than self serving corporations.

  • You mention that you have some quantity of scholarships even for international applicants. How can you afford that?

We don’t offer scholarships to international students. We offer Income Share Agreements which enable students to pay tuition through a percentage of their earnings once they get a job. International students are eligible for OPT/CPT which gives them a few years of guaranteed work in the US before needing to apply for an H1-B.

  • If I understand, WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC) has issued you a temporary/contingent/experimental accreditation so that you can operate NOW as if you were a fully accredited institution, while you work through some kind of an incubation / probationary / period under the guidance and assistance of Dominican University. You can't issue your own diplomas yet, and graduates are awarded degrees from Dominican until you achieve full Accreditation status. Achieving full Accreditation is not, I assume, a sure-thing, is it? You have some hoops to jump through and competencies to display mastery of to WSCUC to receive their formal, blessing, right?

Pretty close. Make School PBC itself has not been accredited. The program itself - the Bachelors of Applied Computer Science offered by Make School at Dominican - is accredited, not provisionally, and with no max duration. We won’t ditch this structure until we’ve become independently accredited, so essentially students will continue to get degrees from Make School at Dominican until Make School itself is independently accredited. If that takes longer, it won’t affect our students’ ability to get a bachelors degree.

  • To offer a 4-year degree in 2-2.5 years, you must work the students hard with aggressive course loads or eliminate content from the curriculum and call it the same degree. Which approach do you take?

We haven’t cut content, students take a full 124 unit course load to earn the degree. We do work students harder than traditional institutions. They’re required to work ~50 hours a week and take classes or a credit granting internship over the summers. This puts students on track to graduate in 2-2.5 years.

This is a similar workload to what they would see in their first job, so we don’t feel it’s working them too hard. We actually feel traditional colleges don’t work students hard enough (with some exceptions, like MIT). Given that time spent in college has a huge impact on the cost and opportunity cost of the education, we feel it’s better to ask a heavier workload in order to provide a cheaper degree.Reducing cost of college and increasing ROI is critical to fix the student debt crisis, time to degree is a big lever here. There’s also a lot of recent research that having summers off and longer degree times makes it less likely for low income students to graduate (it’s more likely that family needs, etc get in the way), so we expect shorter more intense degrees to be a general trend. We’re already seeing this with the federal government offering a year round pell grant to low income students.

  • You promote that instructors have personal relationships with students. Is this sufficiently sustainable?

It is sustainable. Unlike traditional institutions, most of your tuition dollars go towards paying instructors since we feel that’s most critical to a quality education. And we’re working to reduce the burden on instructors by streamlining administrative tasks. We also don’t require instructors to do research, so that increases their focus on spending time with students. Teaching colleges used to do this back in the day, before institutions all tried to compete for prestige as research institutions.

  • You emphasize building real world projects and a portfolio, emphasizing “it’s not what you know, it’s what you can do”. This sounds like a trade school or a bootcamp - is it?

Part of what we teach overlaps with trade schools and bootcamps - real world software development. In addition to that, we go pretty in depth into computer science theory, have a full complement of general education courses, and have courses focused on soft skills and life skills.

I think one the challenges with the current rhetoric around higher education is the notion that you can either get a broad based education or get a vocational education. When in reality, people are T shaped. We need the general education to understand the world and act as upstanding citizens, while we need vocational skills to excel in a career. We think you can - and should - learn both in college.

  • I understand this is a degree in Applied Science, so there will be less depth in Computer Science theory. One interpretation of this is that you don’t teach how software works, you just teach how to pound out syntax. Is that the case? Are there enough jobs for the skills you are training?

There’s a bit less depth in CS theory, but we do teach how software, systems, and architecture work. We also have a heavy emphasis on project management, communication, and collaboration - which tend to be the skills that allow people to step into senior engineering or management roles. Our students often compete for jobs with grads from Stanford, UC Berkeley, and other top CS programs. They’ve also shown to have pretty strong early career trajectories - some have started managing teams within a couple years of entering the workforce.

  • It seems as if the revenue you make may not be enough to sustain your operations today. Are you adequately funded? Where is the money coming from? Will you exist 10 years from today?

See question 1 above. As long as we maintain strong outcomes for our students, our model will be sustainable. Arguably more sustainable than many universities today, given that 25% of private colleges are running a budget deficit.

  • Is it legal for students to be working on software for actual organizations? How are they being compensated? Is this a revenue stream for the institution?

Most student projects are open source or for non profit or impact oriented institutions. They aren’t getting paid - neither are we - but they do get academic credit. This is legal since they get credit, and some universities (like Stanford) have similar courses!

This post is too long so answering the remaining questions in a comment!

JRManifold1090 karma

For our most recent placements it's been between around $110k, if you take the average including data back since 2016 it's almost exactly $100k. Too early to call how the pandemic will affect those numbers. No red flags yet, students still getting offers and no mass unemployment among alums.

JRManifold917 karma

Kinda haha! Still haven't gotten to the part where the founders give themselves degrees ;)

JRManifold826 karma

Their questions are really good questions!

JRManifold735 karma

We don't publish it. We serve a lot of students with non-traditional academic backgrounds and we realized that as soon as we started talking about our acceptance rate those students would shy away from even applying even though they have a good shot at getting in.