We sat down with Jason Hammon, Neumont’s manager of learning and instructional design to talk about the launch of Neumont’s new Online Associate of Science in Software Development degree. Jason’s background in education includes a degree from Brigham Young University, graduate school at Harvard, classes at Cambridge, and work for Google.
NU: Well let’s get right into it. We saw the press release, and it looks like the first day of classes begin on June 26. Tell us a little bit about this degree, and ultimately who it’s for?
JH: I like to think of it as a “Get into Tech” associate degree. It’s specifically for those who don’t have a college degree, but are not able to take the traditional route. Maybe they missed the college boat right after high school, but would still like to get into a tech career. The online environment caters to a nontraditional student—someone who may have kids, or a part-time job, or can’t commit to living in downtown Salt Lake for three years. We expect people to use this degree as a way to change careers, no matter their age or experience.
NU: And what specifically does it entail?
JH: It’s a two-year program that follows Neumont’s current quarter schedule; but as opposed to a lot of associate degrees that focus on your generals first then transfer into a bachelor’s degree, this degree is focused on getting your skills first. Here, you start out coding. And then, you can obtain measures of gainful employment as you move through the degree.
In fact, after just a few classes students would be in a position to get some industry certificates. So for an example, let’s say Joey is working at Sunglass Hut and finishes his first quarter, so he takes a certification exam. Now he can start working for the Geek Squad. By aligning our curriculum with certification, at the end of the degree you could be a software developer—a Junior Developer or QA Automation Engineer.
NU: So why is Neumont introducing this degree?
JH: We’re all aware that there is a huge gap as far as filling STEM positions—particularly in coding and computer science. This degree takes what Neumont does really well (computer science education), and gives more people access to it. Right now, Neumont can take on about 150 – 200 students each year, but we know that relocating to Salt Lake for a bachelor’s degrees, even an accelerated program, is not a fit for everyone. This program gives more people who are not able to move to Salt Lake City an opportunity to learn.
NU: Some students have been asking about the program’s accreditation. Can you speak to that?
JH: This program has the same accreditation as Neumont's bachelor's degree programs. However, usually what people are really asking is if Title IV funding is available. This program is not eligible for grants and loans under Title IV currently. However, there is financial aid available from the Office of Financial Aid. As I’ve mentioned, the associate degree follows the lead of Neumont’s proven record for computer science training. Our goal is to get people into the workforce to help fill the job demand. With regard to the question of funding, while the program is not eligible for grants and federal loans under Title IV, there is scholarship money available and the financial aid office can explain alternative funding options.
NU: And how specifically does the associate degree differ from Neumont’s bachelor’s degree?
JH: There’s a few ways it differs, some which we’ve already discussed. First, it’s an option for people who are outside what we’d deem a ‘traditional student’—maybe they are married with children, already have a full-time job, perhaps they have sick parents they need to take care of. It’s a student who is looking for, or needs a little bit more flexibility in their schedule than the traditional student who usually finds themselves at Neumont.
Another difference is the structure, more specifically the time commitment – being an associate degree, it’s obviously structured to be shorter with a fewer number of classes. The aim of this degree is to help the student learn everything they need to know to qualify for employment in the software industry quickly with a reasonable course load.
From a content standpoint, this degree offers different industry-related projects. Neumont's bachelor's programs have built-in team-based projects called Enterprise Projects where the students learn by completing meaningful projects for tech companies. Meanwhile, the associate degree offers team-based projects and individual internship opportunities for students to gain entry-level industry experience.
NU: Can you give me a specific example of the differences between the programs?
JH: Sure. It could be the difference between knowing how to build a processor versus knowing what a processor does and how it affects programs in the real world. A bachelor’s degree will get you more deeply into both sides, but we’re going to focus on the latter in this program.
It’s important to note this degree has large emphasis on testing – which seems to be a common first step into development. There’s big demand for software testers, but it’s not a group that organizations or institutions are putting much emphasis into training.
The degree also takes a more traditional approach to programming – with a particular emphasis on Java. I’ll also point out that there is a team-based component as well – so it shares some of the structure, as far as the project-based approach, that Neumont is known and celebrated for.
NU: How do the career trajectories and average starting salaries differ between Neumont’s two degree programs?
JH: While I’d love it if our associate degree graduates came out making the same as our bachelor’s degree grads, that’s not realistic for a two-year degree. Entry-level information technology specialists can generally expect to earn around $40,000 - $50,000. We need to remember it’s fundamentally a different group than our bachelor’s graduates who are averaging $63,000* a year when they graduate. The goal of this program is to help a student change careers and land an entry-level position in the tech field. The sky's the limit in this industry, and we want students to be able to have that opportunity.
NU: Why does this program have a different cost than the on-ground bachelor’s degrees?
JH: The online platform provides scalability. This scalability allows us to reduce the costs to the students while offering access to a Neumont experience. Keep in mind we are seeking to be competitive with other associate programs – and the associate program is already a shorter timeframe. Additionally, the overhead costs are another distinguishing factor between the two programs.
NU: Will the credits earned towards a bachelor’s degree transfer to the online associate degree? And if so, can a student transfer from Neumont’s bachelor’s programs to the online associate degree program?
JH: As I mentioned, the programs are built differently for their respective audiences. Currently, the associate degree credits don’t transfer into the bachelor’s degree programs. As far as transferring to the online program—while it’s technically possible to enroll, whether concurrently or moving to the program, there are still a lot of different classes a student would be required to take. It’s something that would need to be approached on a case-by-case basis with your advocate, taking into account long-term goals and keeping in mind the energy, resources and financial obligations that have already gone into the current program.
NU: Is the associate degree easier than the bachelor’s degree?
JH: (Laughs). Well, it’s shorter. From a course building perspective, some aspects are actually harder. One key difference is that students in this program need to be more autonomous – so it’s going to vary person to person. So it’s not that it’s easier, but again, it’s just different.
We’ve worked hard on the course design so it’s more structured, which is especially helpful because there is not going to be as much in-person teacher-to-student feedback or instructor availability that you’ll find with the bachelor’s.
And before we end, I’d also like to point out that our video quality is high, and that we still incorporate what you would expect from Neumont. We emphasize active and hands-on learning through projects.
NU: Well Jason, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate your insights and are excited to see more from your team as this new offering takes off.
Classes begin June 26. Learn more about the Online Associate of Science in Software Development at www.neumont.edu/online. You can apply for the program at admission.neumont.edu. Students who apply to start classes this June will have their application fee waived automatically.
*Salary statistic is calculated using data from 301 Neumont University graduates from 2012 through 2015 who were employed within their field within six months of graduation. Neumont verifies employment, date of employment offer, and first-year compensation by employers in writing. Neumont does not guarantee employment or first-year compensation for future graduates.