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California Regulator Seeks To Shut Down 'Learn To Code' Bootcamps 374

Posted by Soulskill
from the here-for-the-danegeld dept.
cultiv8 writes: "The Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education (BPPE), a unit in the California Department of Consumer Affairs charged with licensing and regulating postsecondary education in California, is arguing that 'learn to code' bootcamps fall under its jurisdiction and are subject to regulation. In mid-January, BPPE sent cease and desist letters to Hackbright Academy, Hack Reactor, App Academy, Zipfian Academy, and others. Unless they comply, these organizations face imminent closure and a hefty $50,000 fine. A BPPE spokesperson said these organizations have two weeks to start coming into compliance."
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California Regulator Seeks To Shut Down 'Learn To Code' Bootcamps

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  • California (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gd2shoe (747932) on Friday January 31, 2014 @11:15AM (#46119831) Journal
    Yep. This sounds like California.
  • by gnasher719 (869701) on Friday January 31, 2014 @11:16AM (#46119843)
    then surely there is good reason that this should be regulated.
  • by Cornwallis (1188489) on Friday January 31, 2014 @11:17AM (#46119849)

    “Our primary goal is not to collect a fine. It is to drive them to comply with the law,” said Russ Heimerich, a spokesperson for BPPE. Heimerich is confident that these companies would lose in court if they attempt to fight BPPE.

    Sounds like a real charmer...

  • by gd2shoe (747932) on Friday January 31, 2014 @11:17AM (#46119853) Journal
    Control is only a part of the equation. I bet they're after money. Control and money go hand-in-hand, especially in this state.
  • Compliance (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Akratist (1080775) on Friday January 31, 2014 @11:18AM (#46119867)
    I absolutely detest the word "compliance." For some reason, it seems out of character to be used in what is ostensibly a "free society."
  • by Improv (2467) <pgunn@dachte.org> on Friday January 31, 2014 @11:23AM (#46119923) Homepage Journal

    So, what does compliance involve? That's the first question we should be asking.

    If your local libertarian hot dog stand guy rages at you about maybe being shut down because the health department is on his back, instead of saying "fuck guvment", maybe you should figure out if it's something as simple as them having hygiene standards for how he cooks, and some small fee for a license. I mean, maybe there is something unreasonable or crazy, and there are some industries that corrupt government and do rent-seeking in order to limit competition, but these details matter.

  • by andyring (100627) on Friday January 31, 2014 @11:24AM (#46119943) Homepage

    Why? Is there a specific price point at which regulation should be automatic?

    On what do you base your premise that regulation is both necessary and positive?

  • by Dan Lyke (9648) <danlyke@flutterby.com> on Friday January 31, 2014 @11:24AM (#46119945) Homepage

    I think that it's probably about advertising: They're claiming 99% job placement, waving around the idea of six figure salaries, for $17k and 10 weeks. I'm not sure where you draw the line, but having tried to help counsel some lower income people who were looking at nursing schools, this is way the hell over the line.

  • Re:California (Score:5, Insightful)

    by idobi (820896) on Friday January 31, 2014 @11:25AM (#46119949) Homepage
    If you're charging someone $15000 for a 10 week course, and promising jobs at companies "like Facebook and Google," you probably need to fall under some sort of regulation and compliance.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 31, 2014 @11:26AM (#46119957)
    The summary makes it sound like these are people in makerspaces getting free skills. The article says that these places are charging tuition $15k - $19k for an intensive (~ few months) training course, presumably with a certificate of completion. The state and the public have a vested interest in ensuring people get their money's worth. The article also states that the bureau doesn't not demand immediate compliance in 2 weeks, but that they show progress towards attaining compliance. Look around you. Experience shows that the free market is not effective at eliminating scammers. Sometimes regulation and auditing is good.
  • So should every technical training course for firewalls, networking, VMWare, etc. be regulated similarly? Those are $5k+ a week.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 31, 2014 @11:31AM (#46120015)

    On what do you base your premise that regulation is both necessary and positive?

    Experience. History. Fraud.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 31, 2014 @11:35AM (#46120075)

    There's actually a pretty good reason there are accredation standards in education. People are paying a lot of money. It's hard for someone to know (without actually taking the course) if the course is valuable or worthless. There are plenty of shysters out there who couldn't care less if you learn - they're just out for your money, and provide as little education as they can get away with ('For Profit" online universities are, IMO, more scam than educators).

    Whether it's a government or a private body, setting clear expectations on curriculum standards and certifying compliance with them is a highly useful service to keep students from getting victimized. Which means "compliance" with someone else's idea of what a reasonable student needs is not only not anathema, it can be a Very Good Thing.

    Being free to dupe people into paying a lot of money for a worthless service isn't exactly in character with a "free society" in any but the most extreme laisse faire ideologies.

  • by Scutter (18425) on Friday January 31, 2014 @11:36AM (#46120087) Journal

    "Is there a specific price point at which regulation should be automatic?"

    Any financial transaction. This is fairly standard.

    Why? Should garage sales be regulated? Why does the government need to be involved in every facet of your life?

  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Friday January 31, 2014 @11:37AM (#46120097)

    Any financial transaction. This is fairly standard.

    If I beat you every day your whole life, it's "fairly standard" but does not make it right.

    There's lots of transactions that are not really regulated, especially cash ones...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 31, 2014 @11:38AM (#46120127)

    I know what kind of developers bootcamp programs produce in 12 to 16 weeks. About 25% of them are useful as developers. 50% are useful as QA. And 25% are useful for converting O2 to CO2.

  • Re:Compliance (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Smidge204 (605297) on Friday January 31, 2014 @11:39AM (#46120139) Journal

    I dunno, but compliance is not necessarily a bad thing.

    I want all of my electrical and electronic devices to comply with appropriate standards and regulations so they all work together and are safe to use.

    I want vehicles and buildings to comply with the myriad of safety regulations.

    I want my food and food preparation/handling facilities to comply with best practices.

    I don't know what the BPPE requires with respect to compliance (article does not say in what way these places are not in compliance), but maybe I want that too.
    =Smidge=

  • Re:California (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chris Mattern (191822) on Friday January 31, 2014 @11:42AM (#46120171)

    No, if you are promising jobs that you can't actually guarantee, you don't need regulation, you need to be prosecuted for fraud. That simple.

  • by ErichTheRed (39327) on Friday January 31, 2014 @11:46AM (#46120221)

    Back in the late 90s / early 2000s, training companies were making tons and tons of money funneling people with zero computer experience through MCSE certification bootcamps. Basically, they would do the entire set of certification exams in 2 weeks, and not all of them were 100% honest to students about their chances of passing or even getting a job once they were done. These bootcamps still exist, but from what I've experienced, they're only for people who actually know the material and just need to update their skills quickly. The earlier iterations of these were definitely certification mills though. I went to one around 2001 because I wanted to update my certs. The class was split -- some of us were there to just do a quick skills upgrade, and others had obviously been suckered in by a dishonest recruiter. To get these folks to pass, instructors would give them copied exam questions to study and pay for these students' extra chances to pass the exams. The school would then be able to tout their super-high pass rate for the exams. And these weren't cheap either -- some were $7K or $8K in 1990s dollars. Even when you factor the cost of a hotel stay, meals and an instructor, the profit margin is huge.

    Now it seems that the focus is less on system admin skills and more on "web coding" like these schools are offering classes in. Seems like a perfect hook -- young students who use their iPhone or Android mobile constantly get sold the dream that they too can be the next great app writer and make millions. And it really does seem doable -- with all the web frameworks out there, there's very little a "coder" has to know about what's actually going on under the hood to make something that works. Problem is that paper MCSEs didn't work out so well when they got on the job, so I doubt these classes will help mint genius developers either. My boot camp class back in the day had a former bus driver and someone who was fresh out of the army in an unrelated field.

    Libertarians will say it's OK for businesses to take advantage of people, but I think education is a little bit different. Selling someone thousands of dollars in classes and telling them they're equivalent to CS graduates just isn't honest, and these schools profit off peoples' naivete and sell them dreams. The state gets to regulate educational institutions, so it makes sense that they're taking a look at them. And what if it was something simple like needing to publish student outcomes or pass rates? The libertarian free market would be all excited then, because the bad ones might be weeded out if students could be bothered to do research on statistics available from regulation.

    It took ages to weed the paper MCSEs out of the workforce, and it's still not 100% complete. Every time I meet an "IT professional" who has no troubleshooting ability, I think back to these bootcamps.

  • Re:Why? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by khallow (566160) on Friday January 31, 2014 @11:47AM (#46120243)

    You are aware the constitution is not the only piece of legislation the regulates societal affairs, right?

    You are apparently unaware that both the US and California state constitutions are not pieces of legislation.

    Incidentally, the US Constitution does give the state of California the ability to regulate such "bootcamps" via the Ninth Amendment. The real issue is whether California's constitution does.

  • Re:California (Score:5, Insightful)

    by khallow (566160) on Friday January 31, 2014 @11:51AM (#46120301)

    If you're charging someone $15000 for a 10 week course, and promising jobs at companies "like Facebook and Google," you probably need to fall under some sort of regulation and compliance.

    I'm echoing what's already been said here. But regulation and compliance already exists. Fraud didn't become legal just because. If fraud and similar crimes are not being prosecuted, then it is an enforcement problem not a lack of regulation problem.

  • by meta-monkey (321000) on Friday January 31, 2014 @11:52AM (#46120303) Journal

    Yes, and the spirit of those laws is encapsulated in the regulation of postsecondary education. These bootcamps are trying to skirt the regulations designed to prevent fraud in the education market. They're being asked to comply with the anti-fraud regulations.

  • Quick Fix.. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by LVSlushdat (854194) on Friday January 31, 2014 @11:54AM (#46120321)

    Here's a quick fix.. Move OUT of that bat-shit insane state.. Then let those insane asylum inmates running that state try to shut you down.. These coding academies are pretty much web-based anyway, so all they have *in* California are the offices.. Those could quickly be moved out to say, Texas or Nevada, with little or no impact on the company.. I was born and raised in California, but the wife and I got out of there in the mid-90s, and moved to Nevada. Unfortunantly, we still have relatives there, so I have to make trips yearly to that nuthouse...

  • by Dishevel (1105119) on Friday January 31, 2014 @12:02PM (#46120405)

    I know what kind of developers bootcamp programs produce in 12 to 16 weeks. About 25% of them are useful as developers. 50% are useful as QA. And 25% are useful for converting O2 to CO2.

    Sooo. About the same ratio as a Masters in CS?

  • by ganjadude (952775) on Friday January 31, 2014 @12:05PM (#46120439) Homepage
    In california there are stories of little kids getting fined for running lemon aid stands in the summer. This is about normal for the over controlling sons of bitches who run cali

    Having said that I do agree that if they are making promises of 99% placement, they really should be forced to prove it otherwise its no different than snake oil
  • by Joe_Dragon (2206452) on Friday January 31, 2014 @12:07PM (#46120459)

    Time for an IT / Tech apprenticeship system that can be a good way to train people while at least keeping from being an outright cash cow with all kinds of marking BS about jobs that you will get and why you should pay 50K+ to go to classes hear.

  • by dbc (135354) on Friday January 31, 2014 @12:17PM (#46120569)

    None of the things you mention in your post are quantified. Is every single one of them up to the abritrary personal judgement of a beaurocrat? Is there an appeal mechanism spelled out?

  • Re:California (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Entropius (188861) on Friday January 31, 2014 @12:39PM (#46120771)

    This doesn't require any more regulation.

    Deceptive advertising is fraud. Don't "regulate" -- prosecute them for fraud if they're committing fraud. If they're not, then leave them the hell alone.

  • Re: California (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jythie (914043) on Friday January 31, 2014 @12:49PM (#46120873)
    *nods* litigation, while it has a wonderful DIY feel to it, puts the burden of enforcement on people with slim resources. Regulation on the other hand involves a funded group who's full time job involves ensuring entities are obeying the law.

    This is what drives me crazy about people ranting at how 'sue crazy' america is. Of course we see lot of lawsuits, a significant number of our laws are not enforced until someone starts a civil case. Many things that people assume the police and prosecutors would handle in fact can only be triggered by a private lawsuit, thus if one is wronged the state will not help (much less proactively investigate) on your behalf unless one is willing to invest the capital in bringing a civil case.
  • Re:California (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Friday January 31, 2014 @01:02PM (#46121011)

    Mod parent up. This is exactly right. All I can say here is thank god it is California.

    We already have laws against fraud. There is no good reason that anyone should need a priori permission from the state to teach something to another person. This kind of bureaucratic overreach is the reason we have 8.7% unemployment.

  • by Valdrax (32670) on Friday January 31, 2014 @01:15PM (#46121137)

    Libertarianism promotes freedom from the majority of government regulation but NOT anarchy. In a Libertarian state there would be strong and effective civil courts to protect the consumers against institutions that aren't "100% honest to students about their chances of passing or even getting a job once they were done."

    The main problem with a Libertarian ideal state is that it implicitly argues that all deterrence against fraud and other injuries to the public must be in the form of after-the-fact damage control via the courts (in which case the question of "How much justice can you afford?" frequently comes up) instead of by proactive government action.

    The purpose of regulation like this is to prevent people from being injured in the first place, because while they *might* be able to recover damages in court, and it *might* even break even financially, the opportunity costs are forever gone for those people. Worse, damage control is almost always more expensive than prevention, and some forms of damage simply can never be made up by the courts, as with birth defects caused by thalidomide or from Love Canal. It's better to prevent harm than to clean it up after.

    Courts simply do not work as a one size fits all means of deterring bad behavior.

  • Re: California (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 31, 2014 @01:17PM (#46121169)

    *nods* litigation, while it has a wonderful DIY feel to it, puts the burden of enforcement on people with slim resources. Regulation on the other hand involves a funded group who's full time job involves ensuring entities are obeying the law.

    Unfortunately, it also often leads to 'regulatory capture', the phenomenon in which the 'regulated' group actually ends up controlling the regulator in practice. (See the financial industry's recent mess as an example.) The trick to fixing this, however, isn't getting rid of the regulation. It's making sure that those who *enforce* the regulations are rewarded for doing so.

  • Re:California (Score:5, Insightful)

    by femtobyte (710429) on Friday January 31, 2014 @01:19PM (#46121201)

    Strangely, many deep-red states are also struggling with poverty and high unemployment. If "this kind of bureaucratic overreach" was a simple explanation for high unemployment rates, then the problem would solve itself as non-California states became prosperous utopias of full employment. Real-world evidence indicates this isn't the case --- there must be big structural factors besides California's regulations responsible for the nation-wide (not just California and "liberal" states) employment issues.

  • Re:California (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Obfuscant (592200) on Friday January 31, 2014 @01:26PM (#46121265)

    This doesn't require any more regulation.

    It isn't "more regulation", it's "applying the regulations that already exist."

    Deceptive advertising is fraud. Don't "regulate" --

    Prosecuting for fraud IS regulation. And when statements like this appear:

    At Hack Reactor, where tuition costs over $17,000, 99 percent of students are offered a job at companies like Adobe and Google. According to Phillips, the average salary for a computer scientist at these firms is over six figures.

    it isn't fraud (assuming the 99 percent claim is true.) It's YOUR fault if you misread "a job" as meaning "a computer scientist" job. It certainly IS your fault if you think that you can teach someone to be a computer scientist worth a six figure salary in just ten weeks.

    And I hate to say this (no I really don't) but any outfit that charges $17000 for a ten week course needs some kind of overview. Even if the first two or three companies doing this are legit, such ridiculous amounts of money are going to draw hucksters like iron filings to buckey cubes. Legit course providers should have no problem with the regulation because it will help keep the less legitimate players out.

  • Re:California (Score:5, Insightful)

    by anagama (611277) <obamaisaneocon@nothingchanged.org> on Friday January 31, 2014 @02:22PM (#46121811) Homepage

    Lawsuits and trials are about the most inefficient means of regulation imaginable. I say that as a lawyer. I know a lot of libertarians, have a libertarian bent myself, but I laugh every time I someone suggests that courts are the resolution for problems like this.

    Let's just pretend a person took their last $15k and spent it on a fraudulent school. How is that person going to get his money back? You really think the prosecutor is going to prosecute? That's a joke -- the entire court system would need to be 100s of times larger (which is of course paid for by taxes).

    OK, so a civil suit. Sure, you get a trial two to three years from the date of filing the case, because several times your scheduled trial date got bumped to make room for rapists' prosecutions and those take precedence. If you try to do it yourself, you'll almost certainly lose. There are outlier pro se litigants, but mostly, they lose.

    So you try to hire a lawyer to run the case -- good luck. The costs of discovery will probably cost more than $15k because tracking down all the students and interviewing them, developing hiring statistics, deposing the school officials, building a case -- it's all expensive. The effect is that you won't actually be able to get an attorney unless you pony up thousands, because the case will cost more than you can win -- an attorney isn't going to gamble his own money on a losing proposition. He might offer to do it on an hourly basis if you put $20k or so in their trust account, but at the end of the day, winning will cost you more than you'll win, the attorney will tell you that, and then tell you it doesn't make financial sense for you to hire him. You of course are broke, so this last horrid option isn't even an option.

    Finally, let's take the Lotto scenario, you win and get all your money back, and it doesn't cost you dime to get. You aren't getting back all the crap you went through for years -- like living in a homeless shelter and getting your eye poked out because you didn't have enough money for rent. Yeah, there's some tenuous connection to your eye, but if you think that you're getting back everything you lost while waiting for your case to resolve, you're an idiot.

    The ONLY way litigation could work as a regulation device, was if the court system was expanded radically -- 100s of times larger, maybe 1000s -- AND both sides provided state paid legal counsel and investigators etc to take costs and fees out of the equation. At that point, you might as well just have reasonable regulation -- it will be cheaper and definitely way more efficient. If you did have such a system where litigation was the main tool -- everyone would be in litigation all the time. It would be like that Farscape episode where 90% of a planet's population were lawyers. You think a little regulation is bad --- makes me laugh. Being in trial your entire life would suck beyond any known measure.

  • Re:California (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Xiver (13712) on Friday January 31, 2014 @03:01PM (#46122185)
    Maybe Red vs. Blue isn't the right argument here, as in most cases. Maybe the right argument is liberty vs. statism. Do you want to be free to chase your dreams or do you want the government to secure your prosperity?
  • Re:California (Score:4, Insightful)

    by femtobyte (710429) on Friday January 31, 2014 @03:35PM (#46122583)

    I think it's also a mistake to consider liberty as the opposite of statism. Just as reducing to a Red/Blue argument ignores how both parties frequently co-operate in bipartisan manners against freedom, so to assuming that liberty is the result of a minimal state ignores all the non-state systems of oppression. Establishing liberty requires critiquing, undermining, and dismantling all hierarchies of coercive power. The state is one --- but, so are, e.g., economic, racial, and gender hierarchies of oppression that can (and quite frequently do) arise in decentralized "free" systems where the strong are given free reign to oppress the weak. Dismantling state apparatus to make room for local feudalism is no step towards liberty. The assumption that the ideal "minimal state" is one that enforces Capitalist/market regulations (enforces contracts/property) is fundamentally flawed, because market systems are themselves unstable towards accumulation and collapse into tyranny. Rather, the need is to establish a minimal state that dismantles and devolves any accumulations of power to as many people as possible.

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