Written by co-founder Ashu Desai.
Part 1: The Accreditation Process
Jeremy and I first began discussing the prospect of seeking accreditation three years ago --- shortly after we launched our two-year undergraduate computer science program. The discussion largely stemmed from feedback we heard from prospective students and parents --- especially those with backgrounds underrepresented in tech --- that a Bachelor's degree still held weight for them, their families, and their communities, even if employers no longer demanded it.
It was unclear at the time whether we'd be able to seek accreditation while preserving the exceptional relevance of our education for the modern economy and accessibility to students of all backgrounds. Specifically, we wanted to retain our progressive education pedagogy (project based, learn by making), our emphasis on delivering top tier career outcomes to our students, our teaching corps with industry --- rather than academic --- experience, and our innovative debt-free pay as you earn tuition model. We wanted to be uncompromising, maintain our radical model of rapidly iterative and innovative higher education and offer an accelerated degree path to our students.
The higher education climate has shifted substantially over the past three years, with university presidents increasingly concerned about the relevance and accessibility of their institutions. Accreditors --- due to pressure from both students and the federal government --- have begun evaluating how to emphasize measurement of student outcomes and how to enable faster innovation throughout higher ed. WASC --- the west coast regional accreditor, which accredits the elite west coast institutions --- introduced the incubation model, a faster path for upstart colleges to seek accreditation by serving an apprenticeship under an existing college. The incubation model provided opportunity for us to marry the strong benefits of accreditation --- a thoughtful framework to ensure quality education at scale --- with a nimbler institutional model --- no tenure, no PhD requirements for faculty, and the ability to rapidly experiment and iterate on courses.
Two years ago, we met Mary Marcy, President of Dominican University of California, a deeply thoughtful and forward thinking leader of a small liberal arts college in San Rafael, 15 miles north of San Francisco. Mary had just introduced a new initiative at her institution --- called the Dominican Experience --- pairing liberal arts with career focused education, emphasizing project based learning, and providing support for first-gen and underrepresented students of color. Her next initiative was to introduce computer science education to Dominican, to help students across all majors develop 21st century skills.
Mary and the Dominican team proved to be perfect partners to help us apply for accreditation under WASC's incubation model. Make School would support Dominican in the development of career-relevant computer science courses as part of a new computer science minor delievered on their campus. Dominican would provide us mentorship and resources to ensure our curriculum, policies and procedure, and student support meet the standards set by WASC and the federal government.
Two weeks ago we hosted representatives of WASC for a site visit --- the final step before WASC holds a committee meeting to approve the program in November. Jeremy did an inspiring job in leading the two year process of applying for accreditation, supported by the strong execution of our entire team. We've so far received immensely positive feedback from WASC on our proposal --- and permission to accept applications for the accredited program --- due to both our innovative model of higher education and the attention to detail and thoughtfulness with which we've been running our institution over the past four years.
We are now accepting applications for our Bachelor in Applied Computer Science degree and expect final approval to enroll students this November. We plan to transfer our existing students into the Bachelor-granting program in January.
We’ll soon offer the first Bachelor’s degree program in the country to enable students to graduate in as few as two years (including summers) and first to offer all students the ability to pay for their education as a percentage of earnings once they get a job. WASC’s willingness to support such a program is indicative of their forward looking mindset aiming to cautiously enable — rather than stifle — innovation.
Part 2: Our New Identity
Internally at the organization, seeking accreditation feels like a coming of age. Our institution's growth is mirroring our students' growth in gaining maturity and operating in an increasingly professional context. Our once radical views on what makes a great institution of higher ed have grown increasingly mainstream over the past few years. We're no longer the rebellious upstarts trying to shake up the system from the outside, we've been gifted an incredible opportunity to lead from within the system --- while staying true to our maverick identity --- as a formally recognized institution of higher learning.
By driving innovation compatible with federal institutional standards, we feel our blueprint will be observed and adopted far quicker throughout the broader industry and impact a larger subset of university students.
In addition to seeking accreditation, we’ve had a few recent changes that have bolstered the operational core of our organization and reflect our maturation. We’ve rounded out our leadership team with our new Dean, Anne Spalding, and Head of Operations, Erin Cooney. Anne spent the first 15 years of her career teaching university computer science before helping found and run Dev Bootcamp and build internal developer training at Uber. Erin comes from a strong finance background and helped run operations for Andela — a high profile coding school in Africa — as they scaled up to 1000 students. We’ve strengthened our team with thoughtful individuals carrying work experience across academia — including Stanford and Harvard — and the tech industry.
Our faculty and staff
We moved into a new building — the former home of the Commonwealth Club and the Press Club — at 555 Post Street in Union Square. The historic building will be our home for the forseeable future and allow us to support around 500 students. Finally, we’ve refreshed our logo to feel more modern, professional, trustworthy, and gender neutral — while maintaining our signature diamond and character — to catch up to the brand and design identity we’ve been building over the past years.
Our updated logo
Our team feels cautiously optimistic about the coming years. We’re thrilled to have 110 students — with strong diversity — currently studying in our college and nearly 80 alumni working at top employers across the tech industry — we’re grateful that you believe in our vision. We’re proud of our team’s commitment to consistently improve our education and student experience, ensuring high student satisfaction, and staying true to the vision we laid out four years ago. Accreditation is an inflection point we’ve earned through years of building an innovative institution laser focused on putting students first.
We’re cautious because the stakes are much higher for the next chapter. We’re no longer running a small experiment, we’re seeking to prove our unique model at scale — with far more eyes watching us. Over the next few years we’ll need to answer questions — through evidence and data — on scalability, efficacy of education, career longevity, and responsiveness to industry needs.
At times the opportunity ahead of us feels surreal, building a college from the ground up is not something any of us could have imagined for ourselves. We recognize we’re in a unique position to build a revolutionary new model of college — something that hasn’t been done in over a century — and support existing universities to innovate and drive change throughout higher ed. In order to realize this potential, we have years of persistence ahead.
The first Make School Summer Academy, run out of a house — and garage — in Palo Alto, complete with a burning man art installation for students to code inside :)
It's especially important through our institution's period of rapid growth that we remember our roots and remain true to our cultural core. We are teachers --- who believe education can be engaging and relevant --- we are makers --- who believe learning happens best by creating --- we are mavericks --- who are willing to challenge the status quo. Our culture should remain creative and fun, accepting of diverse backgrounds and quirky characters. Let's grow up while remaining kids at heart ☺️
Onwards and upwards,
Ashu and Jeremy