A job is a strange outcome measure: Udacity drops money-back guarantee on finding a job

April 13, 2018 at 7:00 am 3 comments

Udacity has dropped a money-back guarantee that they were offering to students in some of their Nanodegree programs. The guarantee (with stipulations and caveats) was that students would find a job after getting the nanodegree, or they would get their money back.

An article in Inside Higher Ed (quoted below and linked here) describes some of the tensions. Other for-profit coding schools offer similar or better guarantees, but others do not. Ryan Craig, quoted below, suggests that Udacity might not have been hitting its targets for job placements. Does that mean that Udacity was doing something wrong?

A job is such a strange outcome measure for any kind of educational program.  I know some techniques for evaluating someone’s knowledge of programming, and I know how to create educational opportunities that might lead to successful evaluation.  There are factors like student attitude and motivation and whether students engage in deliberate practice that are not entirely within my control.  Even then, I’d be willing to say, “I can design a program where the majority of students will achieve this level of proficiency in coding.”  But a job?  Where I can’t control how the students interview, or where they apply, or what the companies are looking for (if they’re looking at all)?

A job is not a well-defined outcome measure for an educational intervention. That may be what the students are seeking, but they are being unrealistic if they think that any school can guarantee them that.

Ryan Craig, managing director of investment company University Ventures, noted that none of the major employers associated with Udacity will publicly commit to hire or interview nanodegree candidates. Craig pointed to a 2017 report from VentureBeat, which stated that of around 10,000 students who had earned nanodegrees since 2014, around 1,000 had found jobs as a result. “A placement rate of around 10 percent should spell the demise of any last-mile training program,” said Craig.

Craig said the effectiveness of Udacity’s job guarantee was likely very limited for students. “Money-back guarantees don’t address the real guarantee that students are seeking: a job,” said Craig.

Daniel Friedman, co-founder of coding school Thinkful, wrote in January 2016 that Udacity’s guarantee was vaguer and weaker than the guarantees offered by his own company and others such as Bloc and Flatiron School. Such guarantees are common at coding schools, though Friedman noted that some schools have had to drop guarantees because they conflicted with state regulations.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jay Summet  |  April 13, 2018 at 12:04 pm

    I believe that “Job placement” is a valid metric (perhaps the most valuable metric?) of the success of a vocational program. Note that I did not say “Educational program”.

    When students are paying for a “nano-degree” (or a degree in Welding at the local technical college) the product they are purchasing is certification of an employer valued skill-set with the direct goal of obtaining a job in a specific field. (In the best case scenario, they will actually have learned the skills by the end of the program.)

    Success is not defined by how well the student can weld, or code, it is defined by if they are able to get (and retain) a job in the field of welding or coding. Vocational programs “educate” and hopefully students learn valuable skills as part of the program, but their success or failure is primarily based upon employment.

    Offering a money back guarantee on a “product” is good marketing, and if a program is able to continue to do so, it indicates that a good percentage of your customers are happy with the product.

    Now, some students take nano-degree programs purely out of interest and curiosity, with no specific employment goals. These are the only students for which a getting a job is not the best outcome metric for the program.

    However, without knowing the percentage of students who enter the program specifically seeking a job as the primary outcome (My estimate is well over 50%), I feel it is unfair to say that job placement is a bad metric.

    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  April 14, 2018 at 11:43 am

      Please note that I *did* say “educational program.” Also that I did not say “bad metric,” I said, “A job is not a well-defined outcome measure for an educational intervention” and “A job is such a strange outcome measure for any kind of educational program.”

  • 3. Mike Zamansky  |  April 14, 2018 at 8:57 am

    I agree with all of this but wonder if looking at jobs or next level education can be used as a coarse level assessment of overall school success – not individual and not subject based.

    If a high school for instance, takes in 70% of students at grade level and five years later 70% or more are either employed or enrolled in collage.

    Similarly a middle school could be measured looking at 9th / 10th grade status.

    With most of our students nationwide being in public schools, I’d think we could get pretty good sense of overall school performance pretty easily.


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