Code School Runner Galvanize Offers Data Science Degree in San Francisco

San Francisco is becoming a spawning ground for new institutions of higher learning that don’t feel bound by the traditional organizational structures of academia. The first freshman students of the baked-from-scratch college founded by the Minerva Project moved into their Nob Hill residence hall this fall, and now the city’s South of Market neighborhood is home to another newborn school, GalvanizeU.

The fledgling university, which plans to offer a master’s of engineering degree in big data for students starting in January, is an expansion of the educational mission of Galvanize, a hybrid company founded in Denver in 2012. Galvanize runs a training program for software developers called gSchool; a venture fund; and membership-based shared workspaces for tech startups.

Galvanize CEO and co-founder Jim Deters says the company has been quietly preparing to establish itself as a next-generation university that integrates theoretical study, programming skills, and work experience into accredited degree programs.

“We plan to be a major player in the education business,” Deters says.

Earlier this year, Galvanize expanded from Denver and added two new urban “campuses” in Boulder and San Francisco. The company’s 24-week, full-time gSchool class in software development began this week in its 72,000-square-foot center in San Francisco’s SOMA district. The building will also be home to GalvanizeU. The focus of the university’s first degree program, data analysis, is a hot field these days. A deluge of information is flowing from companies, governments, individuals, and their devices.

Galvanize will start accepting applications on Oct. 29 for 30 open spots in its new 12-month masters’ degree program in data science. The curriculum includes training in core computer skills, supervised internships, and experience working with faculty members who consult with companies on real-world data projects, Deters says.

Galvanize is trying to create an alternative to “ivory tower” institutions that separate the experiences of working and learning, Deters says. Students in the new for-profit GalvanizeU will be steeped in an entrepreneurial environment shaped by the business ecosystem Galvanize creates with its three-pronged business plan, he says.

By operating workplace hubs for startups, Galvanize earns revenue from membership fees and forms “a curated community of entrepreneurs,” Deters says. Startup founders in each campus can benefit from the computer skills classes offered at the same site, or they can mentor students in those classes whom they might later like to hire. Galvanize’s $10 million venture fund benefits from access to interesting startups that might present attractive seed funding opportunities, he says.

“The outputs from one part of the business become the inputs for another part,” Deters says. The ecosystem also draws in other investors, as well as companies looking for trained workers to recruit, he says.

The new data science degree is receiving accreditation through Galvanize’s partnership with the University of New Haven in Connecticut, which will officially appoint GalvanizeU’s faculty and award its degrees. Students eligible for financial aid will apply for it through the University of New Haven, once the Galvanize degree program is approved by the Department of Education. Tuition for the full 30-credit GalvanizeU program totals $48,000.

Galvanize hopes to offer the data science degree program in Colorado as well, with a target date of fall 2015, Deters says. San Francisco was chosen as the initial site because its accreditation came through first, he says. But the city’s SOMA neighborhood, rich in nearby technology companies such as Twitter, was also an attraction.

“We are at the epicenter of demand for this kind of skill set,” Deters says.

Meanwhile, Galvanize CSO Mike Tamir, who heads GalvanizeU, is still hiring faculty members for the data science program. To maintain accreditation, the school needs PhD’s, but Galvanize also wants experts who are still engaged with industry, Deters says. Faculty hiring could be a rate-limiting step in the expansion of the degree program, he says.

GalvanizeU is entering a field that is roiling with new business models, especially for degree programs in computer-related fields where the new schools can reasonably claim that their coursework could lead to desirable jobs. Udacity of Mountain View, CA, is creating “nanodegree’’ programs in skills like Web development through partnerships with Silicon Valley companies such as Google. The corporate partners will approve “industry credentials” for nanodegree graduates. Udacity is also working with AT&T and Georgia Tech to offer an accredited online master’s degree in computer science at a cost of $6,600.

It’s a fascinating time, when players ranging from for-profit edtech companies to universities themselves are deconstructing the university experience, repackaging the elements, and often shedding many of the traditional trimmings.

The Minerva Project has created a virtual college community where undergraduate students meet with their faculty online only, in seminars grounded in critical thinking skills. The new college’s Nob Hill residence hall is the only campus building—students can take their laptops to a park or cafe and attend class. The college was formed under an alliance with the Keck Graduate Institute, and its full name is The Minerva Schools at KGI.

Deters has meetings set up with Minerva CEO Ben Nelson to talk about the possibility of joint programs. “I think the Minerva Project is super exciting,” Deters says. He says he can also envision future collaborations with traditional universities such as UC Berkeley.

Right now, though, UC Berkeley’s School of Information is one of GalvanizeU’s direct competitors. Berkeley’s “I-School” welcomed the first students to its new Master of Information and Data Science degree program in January. The UC Berkeley program, conducted almost entirely online, costs about $60,000 for a 27-unit sequence that students can complete in 12 months or more.

Deters says GalvanizeU’s program is a better bargain. Unlike many edtech entrepreneurs, Deters does not see online courses as key to the future of university education. Rather than remote learning, he counts on the power of proximity. Gathering students, faculty, and employers together in urban campuses to work on real problems will deliver a “return on community,” he says.

“You must have shared experiences if you want to be an entrepreneur,” Deters says.

GalvanizeU could be the entry point to well-paid jobs in data science for university liberal arts graduates who haven’t yet gotten a toehold in the job market.

“There needs to be a new on-ramp to this world of abundance,” Deters says.

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