Online school, Springboard, recently launched a new deferred tuition program for their Data Science Career Track, with the intention of expanding access to all students and aligning the school’s incentives with their students’. We spoke with Jonathan Heyne, General Manager of Data Science Programs, to get the rundown. With a job guarantee and a mission to help the best applicants land a dream job in data science, see how Springboard equips their graduates for success with more tuition payment flexibility and job search career services that start in Week One.
What’s your job as the General Manager of Springboard’s Data Science Programs? What inspired you to work at Springboard?
We always strive for excellence, and that’s ingrained in how we build our courses, the online platform, and how we work with Springboard students. It's my job to make sure we devote proper resources and attention to the highest priority projects that are most valuable to our company and our students. I help provide students with a powerful data science learning experience, which means supporting them in upskilling or changing careers.
I'm a huge believer in the power of education to transform lives and I devoted a significant part of my career to it. I've been a teacher in three different continents. I'm a lecturer now at UC Berkeley School of Business, and I started an educational company that was acquired back in 2013. Being in this space, it's very clear that the industry today is moving faster than ever and traditional education is not able to satisfy the market's need for skilled employees. But online education institutions like Springboard move just as fast as the job market, and can fill this skills gap. Moving fast and being effective means that courses need to be developed with a firm understanding of what the industry and students need. It was an easy decision for me to join the interesting and supportive community at Springboard.
Springboard is already online, which does a lot to make a data science school more accessible. Why did you decide to launch a deferred tuition program?
Being online obviously helps us reach a broader audience, but we've seen that each student’s financial situation is often a significant factor in making the decision to enroll or not. We truly believe that finances should not be a limiting factor for anyone who wants to follow their passion and realize their full potential. Collectively as a society, we can not afford to have smart and motivated people prevented from furthering their education because they can not pay for a course. Springboard believes that making our courses more accessible helps us attract more qualified students, which promotes more social good. We had an obligation to offer a deferred tuition program.
Tell me about the ideal student for the deferred tuition program. Are you looking for someone with experience or a certain background?
First, it is worth mentioning that even before we launched a deferred tuition program, we were the first data science program to offer a job guarantee. So we were, and still are, deeply invested in the success of our students. The Data Science Career Track is designed to attract the best candidates and actually support them through this rigorous six-month online experience that results in a career change into data science.
The ideal candidate isn't really any different than our current students – motivation, career goals, desire to succeed, willingness to work. The only change is that this program is now designed to help students who may not be in a position to make an upfront investment in education before seeing the benefits from the course. It purely means that we opened our doors to more students and lowered the financial barrier to entry. To complete the picture, Springboard also offers introductory courses to prepare students for the Data Science Career Track.
Springboard has been teaching data science skills since 2017 – has the data science curriculum changed at all since it first launched?
We update the courses often based on feedback from everyone involved – students, mentors, and industry professionals. Students who join Springboard today would actually be learning the third version of the course. We now cover practical software engineering skills and we beefed up the Data Science at Scale section to now include tools like Spark ML. And we added an entire unit on subjects like testing, debugging, and collaboration skills. We also introduced the option to customize your course experience. Based on their own fields of interest, background and skills, students can choose a specialization to focus on – advanced machine learning, natural language processing, and deep learning.
All of our courses are developed with industry input from our employer partners and mentor network. So every time we update a curriculum, we work with subject matter experts from the industry to identify best practices. If hiring practices have changed, we can keep the courses up-to-date.
And finally, one of the most exciting changes: our mentors are all active, practicing data scientists and we learn from our students that they really appreciate the level of advice they receive from these mentors. We recently rolled out unlimited mentor calls – in addition to their weekly one-on-one call, students can access mentors as often as they need. Students can get on the platform, schedule a call for that day, later that night, or for tomorrow morning, and get unstuck immediately.
Has the admissions process changed as well? What can applicants expect?
For the admissions process, Springboard sets up applicants for success – we never accept a student whom we don't believe we can really help. We look for people who are prepared for the course, not only technically, but also with passion for pursuing their goals. Students start with completing an application form, then they go on to complete the technical challenge covering the basics of programming and statistics. The admissions process has not changed because of the deferred tuition program, but we recently added a more personal element to the process with video interviews. Applicants are asked to complete a short video recording of themselves responding to a certain prompt that we send them as the behavioral interview element of the process.
Tell us the details/terms of the deferred tuition agreement.
The deferred tuition program means students are paying only after starting a new job. Here are the details:
Are there eligibility and location requirements to get deferred tuition? What if an online student is learning in a remote city?
The eligibility requirements are similar to the guidelines of our current job guarantee:
Deferred tuition makes job placement even more important – when does the job placement/preparation process start?
It's true that job placement is important for us as a business because we don't get paid if students are not placed in jobs. We have to balance our role as a school and as a business, but we always skew towards supporting our students more. Structurally, we want to align our incentives with our students’ – we are not getting paid if our students are not successful. That same motivation drove us to offer a job guarantee, and now also introduce deferred tuition.
Career services is an inseparable part of the curriculum at Springboard and it kicks in very early. In addition to mentor calls, the one-on-one calls with the career coaching team starts the first week of the course and continues for up to six months after graduating or until finding a job. And to date, about 70% of students who got jobs received their offer before graduating from the course. (There’s a lot more on our website about Springboard job placement outcomes.)
What does Springboard do to help students find data science jobs?
The entire experience of the Data Science Career Track is geared towards getting the student the job. If you're in the course, then we believe we can help you launch a career in data science. In the course curriculum, we start by covering all the technical content and then help students prepare for the job search itself. There’s a minimum of seven hours of one-on-one coaching covering everything from crafting a job search strategy, reviewing resumes, interview preparation, and salary negotiations even after you get the offer. And students also benefit from access to our employer network of hiring companies for exposure and job opportunities.
We also submit resumes to company recruiters and hiring managers. Next month we’re hosting an offline summit for students, alumni, mentors, and our hiring partners geared towards helping students find a job.
Which types of data science roles would Springboard grads be qualified for?
Depending on a student’s background, a graduate would be qualified for entry and mid-level data scientist and data analyst positions. The boundaries between these roles are not always clear in the industry as you’ll see some companies defining roles as “analyst” instead of “scientist” and vice versa. The most important thing I advise students on when looking at positions is to not only look at the job title, but also at the job duties and the skills that are required.
More specifically, we see students landing jobs as Data Scientists, Data Engineers, Machine Learning Engineers, and various types of business analytics roles in internet companies. Recently we've seen students land jobs at companies like Kaiser Permanente, McAfee, Dell, Boeing, Shell Energy, HP, Accenture, Ford Motors, and others.
What’s the average starting salary of a Springboard data science program graduate?
I want to be careful about giving a number for average salaries because we're an online course, so students are all over the U.S and salary benchmarks range. They change very significantly by the industry and city, so students should focus on the role and the geographical area they want to live in. However, I am very happy to share that the average salary increase that our students receive after Springboard is about $20,000, or more accurately – $19,919 dollars.
Tell me about the biggest lesson your team has learned throughout the time of operating Springboard. How are you bringing those lessons to this new deferred tuition offering?
Every day is a learning experience and at Springboard we learn from everything we can. Many new features and improvements that we’ve added are based on feedback.
Having seen thousands of students take our courses over the last couple of years, we've had students who barely passed the admission test or who had seriously challenging life circumstances but with inspiration, grit, and determination they aced the course. They were able to land a data science dream job. We've also seen the opposite, where students come in with all the tools needed to succeed,but they were not dedicated and motivated enough and they barely completed the course. So in the end, students who are focused, motivated, and serious about making a career change are most likely to succeed. It’s become obvious that as an educational institution, our goal is to simply remove any obstacles that might prevent these motivated, talented people from fulfilling their dreams. Deferred tuition is just one more step in that direction.
What is your advice for students embarking on a new data science program? Any tips for getting the most out of it, especially if they are trying to change their careers?
First, know that you want it. That's the most important one. Be prepared to work harder. It’s going to be worth it, but changing careers is never easy. It's not an easy undertaking and changing into a field that is as hot and in demand as data science is arguably even harder.
Acknowledge that it's going to be a marathon, not a sprint. There are going to be ups and downs, but be willing to put in the time and effort, and you will change the trajectory of your career. You will set yourself on an exciting and rewarding path forward. And Springboard is here to have your back and do our part.
Any other information you would like to share about Springboard’s deferred tuition model?
Whether you choose the deferred tuition payment option, pay upfront, or choose the monthly payment plan, this Data Science Career Track is the same course. Students still have the full support of their one-on-one mentor, the new unlimited mentor calls, personalized career coaching and the vibrant Springboard community.