University of the People

Goodlifer: University of the People

Over the course of this past decade, we have grown to expect unlimited and free access to information, whenever and wherever we want it. Despite this, the cost of college tuition has risen more since 1990 than any other good or service, making it impossible for many to acquire a college diploma.Why should education be different?

Israeli businessman Shai Reshef does not think it should be, which is why, a year ago, he started University of the People (UoPeople), the world’s first tuition-free, online academic institution. Unlike some similar free learning ventures, UoPeople is supported by respected academics, humanitarians and other visionaries.

UoPeople is looking to make higher education affordable and accessibly to everyone around the world. The high-quality, low-cost educational model takes advantage of the worldwide presence of the Internet and decreasing technology costs to bring university level studies within reach of millions of people across the world. All prospective students need is a computer and access to the internet. To be able to offer free courses without sacrificing quality of education, UoPeople is embracing collaborative and opensource online learning while tapping into communities of volunteer tutors. Most importantly, there are no material costs, no campuses, buildings, or books.

Students from around the world will learn through the peer-to-peer teaching method with the support of Instructors. Within the online study communities, students will share resources, exchange ideas, hold class discussions, submit assignments, and take exams like at any university. Each class has a closed forum for questions and discussions, and participation in the forum is a must on a weekly basis. Students are also given weekly assignments that allow them to test their understanding of the material. The curriculum itself will be supported by respected scholars. A community of educators, comprised of active and retired professors, master level students and other professionals, will participate and oversee the assessment process.

The University does not charge fees for exams or enrollment at the moment, but expects to start doing so at some point. The fees would be nominal and arranged on a sliding scale where students in rich countries would pay $100 for an exam that those in poorer countries pay $10 to take. UoPeople is currently not accredited, but intends to apply for accreditation, which would enable students to earn recognized undergraduate degrees. The current fields of study offered are Computer Science (Associate and BSc) and Business Administration (Associate and BA). There are plans to offer other programs and to apply for accreditation in the future, but no diplomas will be handed out until the university obtains proper authorization.

UoPeople expects tens of thousands of students to enroll in the first five years, most coming recommended through word-of-mouth and social media. However, enrollment will be capped at 300 students in the first cycles. The University believes that the open-source and peer-to-peer educational model will make it possible to handle such rapid expansion. The Information Society Project (ISP) at Yale Law School recently announced that it is expanding its research program in digital education by entering into a research partnership with UoPeople, bringing the respect of a venerable institution to this new approach to academia.

UoPeople Founder and President Shai Reshef.

UoPeople Founder and President Shai Reshef.

Founder and President of University of the People, Shai Reshef, is the Chairman of the Board for Cramster.com and was named one of the most creative people in business for 2009 by Fast Company. The University if finance partly by Reshef’s personal fortune, attained by selling a for-profit education company to Kaplan in 2005. Reshef himself holds an MA from the University of Michigan in Chinese Politics.

Speaking with the New York Times about the potential of this new way of learning, Reshef said: “These become strong social communities. With these new social networks, where young people now like to spend their lives, we can bring college degrees to students all over the world, third-world students who would be unable to study otherwise. I haven’t found even one person who says it’s a bad idea.”

As online learning becomes more widespread and available, I hope that we will see more of these kinds of institutions, where students don’t have to put themselves in debt for life to earn that coveted diploma. Skillshares and other kinds of non-traditional informal learning gatherings are growing in popularity, as our generation thirsts for practical knowledge (something we have apparently neglected in schools). For traditional academia, MIT OpenCourseWare is another great resource, where you can sign up to take virtually the same classes as are offered at MIT, without paying a dime (or receiving any type of certificate, unfortunately). It’s a changing world, and in the end knowledge matters way more than tassels, funny hats and pieces of paper with fancy italics.

About author
A designer by trade, Johanna has always had a passion for storytelling. Born and raised in Sweden, she's lived and worked in Miami, Brooklyn and, currently, Ojai, CA. She started Goodlifer in 2008 to offer a positive outlook for the future and share great stories, discoveries, thoughts, tips and reflections around her idea of the Good Life. Johanna loves kale, wishes she had a greener thumb, and thinks everything is just a tad bit better with champagne (or green juice).
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  1. Interested, I listened to an interview on the radio this AM (1/10/10) with the founder about the University of the People. However, the .org web page does not open for me so this was one of the next items listed from my search of the item. So what is Goodlifer and what is your connection I’ve yet to search further. G.

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