The school, founded in 2015, taught students coding skills to help them get jobs in the tech industry, selling its three-month course for $13,500. Since its founding, Origin has placed 100 of its 116 total students as full-time developers — an in-demand role that often garners high salaries. Origin is one of dozens of such schools in the state that opened up shop in response to a growing demand for software developers in tech hubs like Silicon Valley and New York.
But the company’s founder and CEO Jeff Winkler said California’s regulatory red tape was too much to contend with, forcing Origin to shutter on Nov. 16. The closure, first reported by Xconomy, follows public complaints from two former Origin students, who told ABC 10 News in June that the boot camp didn’t live up to their expectations. Those students later got refunds for their tuition, but it was just the start of Origin’s worries.
California requires code schools like Origin to get approval to operate by the Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education, or BPPE, the government agency that protects consumers from fraud and predatory tactics sometimes practiced by for-profit schools. Although founded in late 2015, Origin didn’t apply for state approval until May 2017. Winkler said it was a decision he made after attending a quarterly meeting of the BPPE’s advisory committee in February 2016, at which he was told regulations would be changing in 2017. Winkler said he was advised to hold off applying for certification until 2017, when new rules had been sorted out.
“At the meeting, they said it would be at least 12 months until they saw our application anyway, so it would be best to wait until 2017 to submit it,” Winkler said.
A spokesperson for BPPE said the agency is unaware of anyone providing this type of information at a workshop.
Origin applied for certification in May 2017, and a month later got an unannounced visit from a BPPE agent, who notified Winkler that Origin must be shut down until its application was approved. The agency fined Origin $100,000 for operating without approval, and the coding school had to stop teaching for 90 days while its application was pending. When Origin’s application was finally approved in July — more than a year after it was submitted — the agency reduced the fine to $25,000. But the BPPE also ordered the coding school to refund tuition to all students who requested a refund before the school’s approval date. This, Winkler said, was the tipping point for the business.
“It was like a wave hit,” Winkler said. “Students were coming out saying they wanted a refund. One guy waited until he graduated and then immediately asked for his money back and reported us to the BPPE.”
The closure of Origin leaves only two locally headquartered coding schools in San Diego: Learn Academy and a program offered through UC San Diego Extension. Learn was also fined $100,000 for operating without approval, but that was reduced to $25,000 last month after Learn’s approval came through.
One of the pioneers of coding boot camps — San Francisco-based Dev Bootcamp — also closed its San Diego location in 2017. The company said it was unable to find a financial model that would support the business.
Winkler said even though Origin eventually got approval to operate in California, the whole lengthy, confusing, and costly process put a bad taste in his mouth. If he starts a coding school again, it will be in a different state.
California takes a tough stance on for-profit education ventures that run astray of the law. Last year, California sued San Diego-based Ashford University and its parent company, Bridgepoint Education, alleging that they made false promises to entice students and engaged in unlawful practices to collect overdue debt. The suit, filed by state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, claimed that the online school and Bridgepoint, a for-profit college chain, used illegal business methods to deceive and defraud students.
Launched in 2010, the BPPE was tasked with protecting students from this kind of fraud and predatory practices.
Winkler said he’s glad that students have protection from the agency. He just wishes the agency’s approval process was more streamlined and less confusing. He also thought the agency hadn’t quite figured out how it should regulate coding schools.
“They’ll figure it out eventually,” Winkler said. “I was a guinea pig; a casualty of a new industry.”
A BPPE spokesperson said code schools have no separate requirements for certification, but did acknowledge that the application process for state approval is “lengthy and dependent on completed information from the schools.”