UO’s data analytics boot camp makes the WSJ, but not in a good way

Thanks to an alert alumnus for the link. As the story notes UO is not the only university involved in this deceptive scam:

… Christina Denkinger wanted something new after 14 years as an elementary-school teacher in Portland, Ore. After shopping around for a course in data analytics last fall, she requested information through a University of Oregon website portal for an online training program, called a boot camp, offered by the university’s continuing-education division.

She received a “uoregon.edu” email from someone identifying herself as admissions adviser for the boot camp. It had the university logo, and there was no mention in the email of 2U. Ms. Denkinger paid $11,995 to enroll last December.

“The only reason I signed up for this boot camp was because of the reputation of the university,” she said.

One month into the course, she was disappointed with the quality of instruction and began asking questions. That was when she realized that instructors and course materials were all provided by a unit of 2U, Trilogy Education Services.

When she went back and looked on the boot camp website, Ms. Denkinger saw “powered by Trilogy” at the bottom of the landing page.

“I thought it was technical services,” said Ms. Denkinger, who left the course early and has just received a refund. “I do, honestly, feel like I was misled.”

A spokeswoman for the University of Oregon said that it provides administrative oversight and that the partnership with 2U is noted in several places on the website and in its enrollment agreement. After The Wall Street Journal asked about disclosures in April, a line was added to the top of the boot camp landing page saying “in partnership with Trilogy Education Services, a 2U, Inc. brand.”

2U, which isn’t accredited as a university, kept 80% of the tuition from the University of Oregon program, according to its contract with the university, which the Journal reviewed. The university said its 20% share was about $600,000 in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2021.

I’m no econometrician but I figure it’s never too late to learn this data analytics stuff, so I signed up for further info. No mention of 2U in the response – it’s all UO.

Interestingly, our for-profit collaborators at 2U seem far more concerned about the health of their students, faculty, and staff than our administration is:

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12 Responses to UO’s data analytics boot camp makes the WSJ, but not in a good way

  1. honest Uncle Gangsta says:

    Wow, $600K for 20% for UO — so $3M total @ $12/K per student for the equivalent of about 2 quarters of single class time at UO. That equates to $72K tuition for UO! But only 20% even goes to UO? And there’s no telling how much of THAT actually goes to “Instruction.” Who knows what they are paying some poor schlub(s) to be the “professor.” And the numbers equate to 250 students — like one of those cash-cow intro courses that UO offers credulous freshmen to finance the upper level and grad programs. How do you spell R-I-P-O-F-F? Of course, continuing and adult ed has been doing this forever. Even Harvard got into the game. I know that higher ed’s detractors are calling for its downfall if it doesn’t start “serving” non-traditional students with stuff like this.

    I hope this school teacher got most or all of her money back.

    Really, gang-banging this stuff is too easy. UO, it’s no fun beating up a stiff like this! But thanks for garnering this great publicity in the WSJ. I’m sure I’ll get asked about it a reunion this fall.

  2. just different says:

    It’s criminal that ed-tech has turned into another gig-economy ripoff. There really is a lot of potential in designing quality courses of study for nontrad students, and it shouldn’t be necessary to turn into a sleazy for-profit to do it. What happened to educational mission?

  3. My (non-academic) brother pointed me to this article earlier today. Apparently UO and other universities want to add to the reasons so many people are losing faith in higher education. As if ever-increasing tuition, administrative bloat, and watered-down standards weren’t enough, we can now add sleazy, predatory pseudo-degree programs to the list.

    A serious question: Who at UO is responsible for allowing and perpetrating this fraud?

    • uomatters says:

      I don’t know who started it, but Frances White, the chair of the Academic Council, has the power to stop it. Her email is fwhite@uoregon.edu.

    • honest Uncle Bernie says:

      Dear Professor Raghu: Would be interested to hear how admin bloat and watered-down standards are being manifest in your personal experience and local environment.

  4. Sam Schwartz, PhD student in computer science says:

    I called the bootcamp program a few months ago because I was curious about the cost. As of December 2021, they’re charging students $12,995 for their Data Analytics program.

    This bootcamp program and its behind-the-scenes for-profit business structuring came up as a conversation topic at the weekly computer science graduate student happy hour sometime a year or two ago. My reaction was quite negative at first. But the grad student consensus was that, on the balance, this program is a net positive. I have (very slowly) come to agree.

    While I am not a fan of the for-profit nature, Oregon really does need faster pathways for students to graduate with tech skills. This program helps fill that gap, and is better than several other shady bootcamps operating in Oregon. It is my belief that UO’s internal governance is too unwieldy to allow a program like this to start up in a timely fashion. It was either going to be something like this bootcamp, or nothing at all for a long time. Something, even if imperfect, is better than nothing when Oregon is already among the bottom third of states in the nation when it comes to general tech education.

    What was not cool, however, (and I’ll caveat that this is hearsay) is that at least some faculty members in my department allegedly hadn’t even heard of the program until bootcamp graduates had found their way to traditional UO programs and wanted to know if their UO-branded bootcamp classes could serve as prerequisites in lieu of traditional CIS-prefixed equivalents. Admin should have done a better job at letting my department know about it.

    This bootcamp program also presents novel opportunities. I was going to pitch to the admins this fall to use this program as a possible testing ground for alternative tuition models. For example, shared income agreements (wherein a student pays nothing up front, but agrees to pay X% of their paycheck for N years after graduating — typically ~10-25% for 2-6 years) are a model that I wish traditional universities explored more. Purdue dabbled for a bit, but stopped when they got a new president. This venture presents an opportunity to do novel tuition experiments a small scale. Given that the current student debt crisis is not sustainable, it’s past time that universities started to explore different business models.

    What absolutely does need to happen, and could happen this year if there was enough political will, is to give non-represented entities representation in UO’s governance structures: i.e., Academic Senate. That includes all graduate students/employees (who have not a single seat at the table — compared with undergrads who have 5 or 6), and other teaching entities like the people instructing this bootcamp.

    • uomatters says:

      Thanks for this thoughtful and informed comment.

    • just different says:

      For 13 large per student, I have trouble believing that UO can’t both turn a profit and deliver better quality instruction by having graduate employees design and teach the courses instead of giving the money to 2U or whomever. If necessary, maybe an edtech company can be hired as consultants to help set this up.
      _
      Are the bootcamp instructors even affiliated with UO? Why would using home-grown courses and instructors be any harder to do than for any other continuing ed course?

  5. Christina Denkinger says:

    Hello! I’m Christina, the one interviewed in this article. I’m glad I got out and I managed to get my money refunded.
    To say I was disappointed with this boot camp is an understatement! And I’m really disappointed in UofO and all the other major universities doing this to unsuspecting people.
    Thanks for sharing this!

    • honest Uncle Gangsta says:

      Christina, thanks for exposing this in such a high profile place. I mean of course UOMatters, in addition to the WSJ, lol! It is important that the public know about the weird stuff going on at UO, and higher ed in general. Believe me, there is more and more. I’m sorry that UO betrayed your confidence, glad you got redress.

    • Slowly Boiled IT Duck says:

      Hi Christina,

      I can’t comment on the bootcamp itself, because I’ve not heard of it before this. Glad you got your money back!

      But, I will encourage you to continue in your studies if you’re interested. We’re living in the golden age of online instructional material, and there are a lot of free tutorials and courses available in the areas of data science, computer programming, etc. And lots of places where you can ask for help where people will just help you for the hell of it. (That’s how I plan to spend my retirement.)

      I don’t have specific recommendations, but just search and try things. If something’s not working, try something else.

      Perhaps someday you might feel the UO Data Science program (for example) would be worth the money. But you might also just end up with a job first and learn while getting paid. This does happen.

      Good luck!

  6. charlie says:

    WSI reports on UO? I seem to recollect they investigated something or other regrading the flagship’s academics. Hmmmm….

    https://www.kgw.com/article/sports/ncaa/ncaab/report-oregon-oregon-state-two-worst-academic-programs-in-pac-12/283-335026970

    Oh yeah, they’re the worst in the Pac12. I’m spotting a trend…