Portland coding school Alchemy Code Lab closes

By Meerah Powell (OPB)
Feb. 3, 2023 1:20 a.m. Updated: Feb. 3, 2023 8:30 p.m.

Alchemy is weighing options for current students, such as a potential teach-out plan, tuition refunds or referrals to other programs

Amid pandemic shake-ups and recent layoffs in the tech sector, a Portland-based software development training program is closing.

Alchemy Code Lab CEO Marty Nelson broke the news Tuesday in a message to students and staff.


“Despite some stabilization in 2022, in a very short period as we moved into 2023, the market changed dramatically, cutting our enrollment by more than half,” Nelson wrote. “With macroconditions of economic uncertainty and news of tech layoffs, people are telling us that they are hesitant to enroll in a boot camp program at this time.”

“This very rapid decline in enrollment has left the business with no ability to continue to operate.”

Alchemy publicly announced on its website Thursday afternoon that the program had closed.

FILE: A student writes computer code.

FILE: A student writes computer code.

Ted S. Warren / AP

Nelson told OPB that Alchemy Code Lab began offering trainings in 2016. Since then, it has graduated more than 500 people.

Before the pandemic, Alchemy operated in-person. Its programming in recent years has been online, with live instruction from teaching staff. Alchemy offers a 25-week training program with a tuition of $24,000 where students learn on a full-time, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday class schedule, according to its website.

Coding academy affected by tech industry downturn

According to data from the Oregon Employment Department, as of 2020, jobs for software developers in the state were projected to grow by nearly 30% in the next decade.

But the state has seen a recent decline. According to OED State Employment Economist Gail Krumenauer, job listings that require coding such as software developers, computer programmers and web developers have fallen by 22% since February 2022.

That is generally in line with job trends broadly across Oregon, Krumenauer said, with online help wanted ads falling at a similar rate over the past few years.

But, there has been troubling news in the tech sector nationally as well. Just this past month, large tech companies like Microsoft and Google have announced widespread layoffs.

Nelson told OPB the shift hit Alchemy quickly.

“We really worked really hard, the team did, and we conquered a lot of ups and downs as a business to make it where we were, and we were really looking forward to 2023,” Nelson said.


He said last month Alchemy saw a drop in online searches for the program, and it saw roughly half the number of applications it had anticipated.

“We began to get more direct feedback from people applying and being able to tell us, ‘I’m really unsure about the economy. I’m reading all this stuff about tech companies, and I’m a little hesitant,’” Nelson said. “The enrollment for February was down 75%. The combination of that and what we had already burned through as a business for the ups and downs of the pandemic just pulled the rug out from under us.”

The number of students per cohort at Alchemy had been dropping since 2019 when the program had about 26 students per cohort. In 2022, it was down to 17 students per cohort.

The cohort that started last month had only 10 students. Alchemy had only five students in the cohort slated to begin this month.

In 2020, according to data on its website, Alchemy reported 94% of its graduates were working in tech. A year later, in 2021, that figure was down to 75%.

Alchemy working with state to offer students options

When Alchemy held a Zoom to discuss the sudden closure, more than 200 students, staff and others in the school community logged on.

One Alchemy student spoke to OPB on the condition they not be named, to not jeopardize their reputation as they apply for jobs in the technology sector.

The student said the initial promise of job opportunities was why they enrolled in Alchemy’s boot camp.

“Massive companies like Microsoft, Gmail, Zoom weren’t having all these layoffs, and it was considered a highly stable, well-paying industry,” the student said.

They said they dropped everything they were doing to be part of Alchemy’s program.

“I put my whole life on hold just to go in,” they said. “My story is really not unique. A lot of people have been doing this, and it’s a gamble, but with the promises we had been told about the industry, it’s a little bit of a shock for some people.”

Alchemy is licensed through Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission, meaning that it does have some options ahead of it.

Nelson said during the Zoom session Wednesday morning that the program is also looking into the possibility of a teach-out. It’s a step other schools have taken to help currently-enrolled students take or complete courses they need to finish their programs. Nelson mentioned Alchemy may also look into referring students over to other training programs to pick up where they left off.

Endi Hartigan, HECC’s communications director, confirmed with OPB that the agency’s Office of Academic Planning and Authorization has been in contact with Alchemy.

Hartigan said, when a private trade school is closing, it’s required “to either first do a teach-out or refund students.” If the school is unable to do either of those things, students may apply for access to the Tuition Protection Fund — a state fund that those private career schools are required to pay into.

Nelson told students and staff that he hopes to get more clarity on all of those options in the next few days.

“I’m wanting to resolve these issues as soon as possible,” Nelson said. “I’m literally meeting every day this week to figure out what we have to offer students. The real goal would be to try to get an option where people can complete their training. That’s, I think, the best outcome — that they can finish what they started.”