The newest resident of Bushwick’s old Pfizer building is a bootcamp that rivals General Assembly and the Flatiron School but is only available to unemployed or otherwise underserved people.
With 3,000 square feet, including two classrooms, the nonprofit Per Scholas held its grand opening Sept. 27, and will open its doors to about 140 Brooklyn students later this month.
Per Scholas was started more than 20 years ago in the South Bronx with the goal to equip unemployed people with the skills necessary to get jobs in tech and IT.
“We are founded on the belief that there’s talent in communities across the country that’s going overlooked,” Per Scholas Managing Director Kelly Richardson explained in an interview.
— Per Scholas (@PerScholas) October 3, 2016
Since its inception in the Bronx, Per Scholas has expanded to Columbus, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Dallas, the D.C. region, and now to Brooklyn. This year’s classes will graduate an expected 550 students, about 140 of them out of Brooklyn. Many of the Brooklyn classes will focus on cybersecurity, though there will also be web development classes. The courses run 14-18 weeks, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, like regular school. In addition, students have two to three additional hours of homework per day.
If it sounds rigorous, that’s the idea.
Although the goal of Per Scholas is to help lift people out of poverty and be an open and accessible resource, they also are tough with who they let in the program. It’s intense and it costs about $8,000 per student, and they have to feel confident that students will complete the program and go on to be solid employees. Last year the organization accepted about 500 out of 2,000 applicants. The application process itself is serious. Starting with an information session, there are aptitude tests, three more interviews and, for web dev courses, a Lightbox test.
As a result, Richardson explained, the graduation rate is a very high 83 percent. But the program is not for everyone. Applicants must have income less than 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. Many are unemployed and living off benefits and family help.
It’s a big operation. The national budget is about $11 million, which comes from government grants, private philanthropists and corporations. For the Brooklyn opening, Per Scholas partnered with Barclays, AT&T and others. Barclays has hired 12 Per Scholas graduates in the last four years to its operations and technology teams, and has committed to hiring 10 of the Brooklyn cybersecurity graduates for at least six-month paid internships.
“Ultimately our large-scale goal is to open doors to tech careers for individuals who are super talented but don’t otherwise have access to the education necessary for these careers,” Per Scholas’ Richardson said. “We hope to make a significant impact in the demographics of the companies in these industries.”