The Iron Yard — a South Carolina-based software education firm that became one of the nation’s largest code schools — says it will shut its doors later this year, including a campus in Charleston.
The Greenville company says its summer session will be its last. When the 12-week program ends, it says, it will shutter its 15 campuses, including a Princess Street location.
The announcement Thursday brought an abrupt end to one of the most visible success stories in the state’s emerging technology sector. It also ended the run of a firm that had become one of the biggest names in code education, helping to launch a new model of training programmers in a matter of weeks, not years.
The Iron Yard offered little explanation for the shutdown. In a short blog post announcing the closure, the company said its board made the decision after "considering the current environment."
"The details around the business decision are confidential to the board," the company said in a statement to The Post and Courier.
The Iron Yard began teaching coding classes in Greenville in 2012, and it quickly found itself on the leading edge of an emerging form of technical education. It taught students how to write computer code in 12 week bursts, arguing that software programmers didn’t need a four-year degree to make it in the tech industry.
All told, the company says, more than 3,000 students will have completed its classes when it shuts down at the end of the summer.
The company won backing from in-state investors like VentureSouth, which invests in early-stage tech companies, and it eventually landed one of the highest-profile acquisition deals inked in South Carolina in the past few years.
Apollo Education Group — the parent company of the University of Phoenix — bought 62 percent of The Iron Yard in a deal that valued the school at more than $25 million, securities disclosures show. The deal also gave local investors a chance to cash out.
Earlier this year, Apollo was acquired itself. A group of private-equity investors led by the Chicago-based Vistria Group paid more than $1.1 billion in February to take the for-profit education group private. Arizona-based Apollo didn’t respond to a request for comment.
In a statement to The Post and Courier, The Iron Yard suggested that it was strained by the cost of operating a network of physical campuses while trying to promote a new model for education.
"We have faced the same challenges all institutions in higher learning face while forging a new model in a nascent market," the company said.
The Iron Yard caught fire early on by making a bold promise that helped it gain national attention: Its graduates would find a job, it said, or they’d get their money back. That was a selling point for a novel form of education that didn't come cheap. A three-month course currently costs $13,900.
The school later backed off that guarantee, but its model spread. It expanded first to Atlanta and Charleston and later reached cities from Florida to Nevada. As recently as last fall, the company ran 21 campuses, before shedding several locations earlier this year.
The code school model spread alongside it: Course Report, a firm that tracks the industry, says it’s now a $260 million market, with schools in 40 states.
When The Iron Yard was getting started, code schools had collectively enrolled about 2,200 students. This year, they’re expected to crack 22,000.
In Charleston, the concept has likewise expanded past The Iron Yard. JRS Coding School, founded by the local software development shop Jack Russell Software, now runs a boot camp in Mount Pleasant, and the Charleston Digital Corridor offers code classes for kids and adults through its CODEcamp program.
"Iron Yard served a need with developing junior technical talent for Charleston’s booming tech economy so it is disappointing to see them cease operations," Digital Corridor director Ernest Andrade said in an email. "Thankfully, our community has similar technical education offerings, and the void from Iron Yard’s shutdown will be filled by these programs."