A Free Accredited Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science – How Do We Get There?

2021 has been a big year for the freeCodeCamp community:

So you may be wondering: what’s next? How do we help even more people from here?

Our goal:

To provide a computer science bachelor’s degree

from an accredited US university

for free.

We want this degree program to be freely available to anyone anywhere on the planet – regardless of their socioeconomic background, or their ability to obtain a US visa.

What follows is my thinking on how we will achieve this. But first: why degrees are still so important, even in 2022.

Much of social mobility is still locked up in university degrees.

Want to work abroad? Many countries require a degree in order to get a work visa.

Want to enter the US military as an officer, rather than an enlisted service member? You’re going to need a 4-year degree.

And despite a movement among tech companies to do away with degree requirements, most high-paid job openings still require a degree.

US universities play a particularly important role in the global higher education system. We currently host more that a million international students from other countries.

Their parents have saved up – in some cases for decades – so they can provide their kids with the opportunity to study abroad in the US. These families understand the massive edge that a degree from an accredited US university can give their careers.

But what about everyone else? Most people worldwide live off less than $10 a day. What hope do they have of saving up to send their kids to US, when they may be struggling just to provide basic necessities for their families?

And what about the millions of busy adults here in the US who don’t have a degree? Many of them are raising kids or tending to family members with disabilities – all in between working shifts, commuting, and trying to get enough sleep.

If you remove monetary cost from the equation – if you make all coursework self-paced and give people as many years as they need to finish without penalty – you can make a university education more viable for these busy adults.

We will expand freeCodeCamp’s curriculum into a full blown computer science bachelor’s degree – with similar breadth, depth, and rigor of top US computer science degree programs.

The infrastructure and instructional design will be hard work. But it is a challenge our nonprofit can handle. We already have thousands of hours worth of coursework, which has helped 10,000s of people to get their first developer job.

The bigger challenge will be ensuring that our coursework meets the specifications of university accreditation organizations.

I have done a lot of research on this over the years, and have come to the conclusion that we would most likely need to:

A) Partner with an existing accredited US university, or

B) Set up physical campuses where we can offer some in-person courses in addition to a mostly online learning experience. And then apply for accreditation ourselves.

Either way, we are going to need help from higher education experts.

It will take years to attain full accreditation.

And we are going to need money. A lot of money.

Which brings us to the topic of our nonprofit’s finances.

Grass-roots donations alone are not enough to sustain our nonprofit.

Of the millions of people who use freeCodeCamp each month, we currently only have 7,539 monthly-recurring donors. We are extremely grateful for their support. And we’re trying to figure out ways to encourage more people to donate.

With an average donation of $5 per month, that adds up to $37,695. But our costs are more than double that.

Our nonprofit currently runs more than 70 servers. We have a staff of 30 teachers and developers. (Many of these people work part-time. Some of them are also professors at universities.)

We have been able to make up the difference by seeking out grants from dozens of partners. For example, we partnered with New Relic to develop this Open Telemetry course. And we partnered with Snyk to develop this DevSecOps course.

Thanks to support from these partners, we’ve been able to bring on more teachers, and to teach a wider range of developer tools. But this is just the beginning. If we want to offer accredited university degrees, we’ll need to think bigger. Much bigger.

If we want to build up an endowment and eventually gain accreditation, we’re going to need more resources.

Here are three new approaches we’re taking in 2022:

Approach #1: Seeking out large gifts from individual donors

Earlier this year, we received a large gift to fund development of freeCodeCamp’s Android app. We’ve used these funds to bring on Flutter developers. And already we’ve shipped major improvements to the app.

I am actively building relationships with prominent alumni in the freeCodeCamp community. Some of these people are now independently wealthy or hold significant equity in growing startups.

A single donor with enough resources can make it possible for us to support thousands of learners across the developer community. I’m working directly with these patrons to help them maximize the impact of their gifts.

Approach #2: Showing display ads to non-signed in visitors

We now show display ads to forum visitors who aren’t signed in.

We are experimenting with showing display ads alongside our publication tutorials as well. These will mainly be in the right-hand margin, and we will do our best to minimize their impact on page load times and data usage.

Last year I decided that we would not show political ads, or ads for alcohol or gambling. Even though this reduces the revenue we bring in for our nonprofit, I feel very strongly about this.

Approach #3: Grants from Web3 development-focused projects to create courses around their tools

There are thousands of job openings for Web3 developers. And large tech companies are investing heavily in these tools and ecosystems.

We can secure grants to teach developers how to use these blockchain tools, and how to write more secure smart contracts.

Note that most of the blockchains that have come online in the past 5 years are effectively carbon-neutral, and we will focus primarily on these. Whenever we do anything on a blockchain that involves carbon emissions, we will purchase carbon offsets. This is the right thing to do. And we can lead by example.

Let’s help thousands of busy adults finally get their Computer Science degree.

Over the past two years, I’ve done my best to understand the university accreditation process. But I am still very new to the process, and I need help. ☺️

If you have worked at any of the US Department of Education or CHEA-recognized accreditation organizations, or have recently gone through accreditation / re-accreditation at your institution, I would value any advice you may have. Please DM me on Twitter.

If you are an independently wealthy freeCodeCamp alum – or someone who wants to make a gift toward helping busy adults to get their degree – Please DM me on Twitter.

And if you are a working-class idealist like me who wants to make technology education more accessible to families here in the US and around the world, we would welcome your support.

I’ll continue working toward this goal of forging a reliable, sustainable path to free, accredited computer science bachelor’s degrees.

This will be a multi-year, multi-million dollar endeavor. But I am undaunted.

freeCodeCamp is only 7 years into our mission of creating free learning resources. This is my life’s work. And I am optimistic that others will continue this work long after I am gone.

Many people stand to benefit from a free, accredited computer science bachelor’s degree program. Together – with some hard work – we can make this a reality.

Thanks, and happy coding.

Posted by Contributor