A Letter From The Founder
2022 was a big year for NSS - we achieved two major milestones in conjunction with celebrating our 10th anniversary: the graduation of our 2000th graduate and the graduation of the 100th cohort of NSS students. As part of our anniversary celebration, we released a podcast series, 10 Years | 2000 Journeys. In the podcasts, we took a walk down memory lane with some NSS graduates and members of our local tech community to discuss how Nashville’s tech community has changed over the past decade and about how NSS is having an impact on the lives of our graduates, on employers, and on our community. If you haven’t had a chance to listen yet, I encourage you to do so. There are so many great stories about our community and from our NSS graduates featured in the series.
Beyond our 10th Anniversary, we also had some important milestones. Major program milestones from 2022 include:
- Announced that NSS is now permanently “live online”. What started out in 2020 as an emergency accommodation to the COVID pandemic has proven to be a winning strategy for our students. After 2 years of relearning how to do everything we do, we’re able to deliver the quality of technical learning and level of successful career preparation and placement that our students deserve, and that we expect, in an online environment. We can also serve students that were previously shut out of NSS for distance reasons. That’s not to say that in-person learning doesn’t better meet some potential students’ needs. But overall we can better serve more of our community as an online first organization.
- Completed the last cohorts of the GoTech program. GoTech started in early 2020 as a partnership between the Nashville Technology Council (handling admissions and placement of students), NSS (delivering IT infrastructure management training), and two community colleges (Volunteer State and Nashville State providing academic support for students). The program was funded by the State of Tennessee Give grant and provided free tuition for all enrolled students. We had to reshape the program from full-time to part-time and in-person to online in 2020 but we have delivered training to 12 cohorts of students, the last of which graduated in November of this year. The grant has been expended so the program is ending. We’re looking for ways to continue to offer training for this career pathway but don’t have definite plans yet for 2023.
- Launched our collaboration with Amazon by enrolling the first two cohorts in our Software Engineering with Java/AWS Specialization program. We’ll see the first graduates from this program in the first quarter of 2023 and we expect to reach a steady state for enrollments in this program by the second half of 2023.
Outcomes and Impact for 2022
Overall our community impact and outcome numbers for 2022 either sustained or improved on 2021’s numbers and high levels of positive impact. Below you’ll see graphic representations of the key metrics that we track or you can keep reading for more color commentary on the results for 2022 and some foreshadowing for some of what we can see coming for 2023.
We always point to our graduate placement rate as the best single metric for measuring our impact. NSS is a vocational school and our students come to us because they want and need to either change careers or find a meaningful career for the first time. Placement rate measures how successfully we are delivering on our mission and impacting the lives of our students and our community. We can’t control all the factors that drive placement rates - witness the impact of COVID in 2020 and 2021 in lengthening average job search times. But by 2022 the drag on the tech hiring market from COVID was gone and we saw our graduate placement rate recover to pre-COVID levels in the 90% range.
The exact official placement rate won’t be published by our regulators until early 2023, but based on the raw data we submitted to them in October, we’re expecting to see a 90% to 91% rate for graduates from July 2021 to June 2022. In addition to the recovery of placement rates, there was more good news for graduates this year. The median starting compensation for graduates from July 2021 to June 2022 was $65,000, which is up from $60,000 a year ago. Our students clearly benefited from 2022's hot tech talent market and Nashville's rapid emergence in the last few years as an important tech hub.
A second key metric for assessing our impact is the number of students who get “opportunity.” First, a reminder regarding the meaning of opportunity when used in this context at NSS. It doesn’t only refer to how many students are selected for our Opportunity Tuition plan. Rather, “opportunity” refers to how many students benefit from NSS reducing or eliminating financial barriers to attendance at NSS either directly or indirectly through partnerships with other organizations.
Direct opportunity from NSS means either deferral of tuition until students become employed, or receipt of a partial scholarship from NSS - both are financial relief financed out of our cash flow or from scholarship funds we raise from the community. Indirect opportunity means students receiving tuition relief from programs like GoTech (free tuition paid through a state grant) or tuition paid by one of our partner employers via an apprenticeship program or upskilling partnership, etc. In 2022, 70% of our students benefited from some form of opportunity, which is roughly equivalent to last year’s 68%.
Another set of our impact metrics relates to our mission goal of opening doors to tech careers for individuals from groups that are traditionally underrepresented in tech careers such as software development. Overall, the percentage of minority students in 2022 was 56% (55.8%) vs. 58% in 2021. The percentage of women (and others not identifying as male) was up to 37.5% from 34.2% and the percentage of people of color was down slightly at 29.8% vs. 30.7%. The significant change in this area was the dramatic decrease in the number of veterans attending NSS this year due to the arbitrary decision to remove our right to accept the GI BillⓇ - veterans dropped from 9.6% of our students to 3.7%.
All of our impact metrics are detailed below. However, in closing this year’s letter I’d like to come out of the numbers and the aggregation of statistics to focus on individuals. When all is said and done, our impact at NSS comes one student at a time. Yes, we’ve successfully created an institution that every year helps several hundred members of our community launch new tech careers, but we can’t forget that each individual has their own story and are on their own personal journey. We remain deeply grateful and humbled by the trust these individuals place in us to help them along such an important part of their journey. We look forward to serving our community for our next 10 years and to the chance to be part of the next 2000 student journeys.
Our first web development cohort was launched in 2012 through collaboration with the community and local employers. 12 of the 14 students in that class were hired into tech jobs using their new skills. Since then, we’ve continued to collaborate with the community and local employers to launch new programs and keep our curriculum current. Ten years later, we've helped over 2000 graduates launch a career in tech. It’s kind of cool that here in little ol' Nashville we had one of the country’s innovators in an entirely new form of tech workforce development - not what was expected from Nashville back in 2012. An innovator not only in terms of the learning approach but also to leveraging nonprofit status as a social enterprise.
Our focus on Nashville and Middle Tennessee is baked into our mission. By training to meet the needs of local employers, nearly 84% of our graduates stay in Middle Tennessee after graduation and have been hired by 500+ local employers. And while we’ve focused our recruiting efforts on talent from Middle Tennessee, over the years we’ve increasingly had students come to NSS from all over the country - to the point that even with graduates that do leave town we are a net attractor of talent to the Nashville area.
The career opportunities that exist for someone that has learned tech skills are almost unlimited. We are in the business of creating opportunities for our students to launch themselves down those career paths. One part of creating opportunity is opening doors to adults with the aptitude and motivation to pursue a tech career, irrespective of their economic circumstances. We’re already helping over half of our students (nearly 60%) through Opportunity Tuition or other scholarships. When you add in the students that receive “opportunity” through our partnerships with employers or the Nashville Technology Council, the number grows to 70.6%!
We have made a lot of progress in pursuit of our goal to open a career pathway for individuals from groups that are historically under-represented in tech careers such as women, veterans, Black people, Hispanic people, etc. With more than half of our students from at least one under-represented group, NSS increases the diversity of our tech community literally with every graduating class.
This year we graduated our 2000th student! Our graduates come from a myriad of backgrounds. They were musicians, bakers, marketers, warehouse workers, postdocs, stay-at-home parents, baristas, artists...and on and on. It takes courage to step away from what you know to chase a dream of a more rewarding and satisfying career. Watching our students conquer a challenging learning experience and land their first tech job is a constant source of inspiration. It’s a real privilege for us to share that experience. And when we see them grow their careers and even come back to NSS to interview and hire new NSS grads - that’s just gravy.
The placement rate of our graduates is another success story. NSS works. Students that come to NSS committed to working hard to launch a new career have a very high probability of success. Less obviously, it speaks to the continued growth of the local tech economy. It speaks to the trust that employers have developed in our programs. And it speaks to the breadth of the support that NSS and our students get from the community in the form of mentors, volunteers for mock interviews and leadership panels, and in so many other ways. It speaks to how lucky we are to be serving Nashville and Nashvillians.