We Need to Expand Access to Education, Not Curtail it with Outdated BPPE Regulations


This post is by Tina Lee, founder and CEO of MotherCoders, a non-profit that helps moms on-ramp to technical careers in the new economy.

In many ways San Francisco is now a very different place than the one where I was born and raised in the 1970s. But that’s not surprising considering how much the world has changed -- vastly transformed by globalization and the advent of the internet. What is so troubling, however, is not that the world changes, but that public policy has been so slow to catch up. This was made all too clear when the Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education (BPPE), a unit of California’s Department of Consumer Affairs charged with licensing and regulating postsecondary education, moved to shut down education programs like Hack Reactor, App Academy and others.

While the marketplace has been driving technological change at a rapid and unprecedented rate, our civic institutions have been slow to adapt. Yet the health of our economy – not to mention our democracy – is dependent upon strategic policymaking that will ensure that everyone has equal opportunity to thrive in this new world. And one thing that’s always provided a promising pathway to social mobility in the U.S. is education – the kind that prepares Americans for participation in the economy through the acquisition of skills and knowledge that match market demands.

Right now the market desperately needs people with digital skills to fuel the growth of our innovation in economy, and people with software programming skills are in the greatest demand. In other words, there are plenty of job openings requiring software programming skills that offer growth potential and good wages, but not enough people to fill them.

In this environment, it’s no wonder people are flocking to coding bootcamps to retool their skill-set, especially since these programs take less time to complete than traditional academic and vocational programs, plus they offer mentorship and direct connections to local companies looking to hire. That’s why the recent move to shut down these programs is so troubling.

At a time when the digital divide is becoming dangerously synonymous with the opportunity divide, this seems emblematic of a larger disconnect between policy and reality. The fact is that demand for technology skills will only continue to grow as we shift further away from an industrial-based economy. According by research conducted by CODE2040 – a non-profit that’s working to increase the number Blacks and Latinos in tech -- there will 1.4 million new tech jobs by 2020, 70 percent of which will go unfilled unless we create more pathways to technology training.

As an educator actively working to bridge the digital divide in underserved communities, I know we should be focused on expanding access, not curtailing it. In fact, that’s the reason I founded MotherCoders – a non-profit organization that offers a tech orientation program designed to on-ramp moms to technical careers. By providing on-site childcare for mothers who want to learn basic computer programming, expand their understanding of the technology landscape, and network with peers and industry professionals, we’re doing our part to create a more dynamic, sustainable, and inclusive economy. And when our moms complete their tech orientation program, I want coding bootcamps to be an available resource for them for further skill development so that they can advance their careers.

While the role of regulation is critical in protecting consumers, and bootcamps on notice are working to comply, in this case the BPPE rules are due for an update. Many BPPE rules pertain to the operations of traditional, brick-and-mortar, post-secondary academic institutions, with language devoted to the governance of satellite campuses, on-site learning resources such as libraries and physical equipment, and administrative staff.

Satellite campuses? Anyone with a web enabled device can now become one;

Libraries? Almost all of the world’s knowledge has been digitized and made available online;

Physical equipment? All you need is access to a computer, an internet connection, and maybe a printer;

Administrative staff? Everything from HR to accounting to IT can be accessed as a service mediated by internet technology.

It’s very clear that these rules do not yet reflect how profoundly internet technologies have transformed the way our society works, and certainly not how coding bootcamps -- a new means of workforce development -- works.

To keep the U.S. competitive in the innovation game, it’s time to adapt our education policies so everyone has a chance to thrive in our new economy. My hope is that policymakers will work with citizens and industry alike to create the conditions necessary for building a diverse and inclusive twenty-first century workforce capable of competing in a fast-changing, technology-driven, globalized world.

Tina Lee is a mother of two young daughters and founder and CEO of MotherCoders, a non-profit that helps moms on-ramp to technical careers in the new economy. A lifelong San Franciscan who was raised in Chinatown by an immigrant grandmother, she holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political, Legal and Economic Analysis, with an emphasis in Economics, and an MBA from Mills College. She also holds an M.A. in Education from the Stanford University Graduate School of Education’s Learning, Design & Technology Program.