Tuition-Free University of the People Expands Higher Ed Opportunity


University of the People is an online university available for individuals who financially struggle to attend regular fee-paying colleges. The tuition-free digital school says that about 25% of its enrolled US students are undocumented immigrants.

The tuition-free University earned its accreditation in 2014 and since then, student enrollment increased five-fold. In 2013, the UoP had only 72 students from the US. Today it numbers almost one thousand, with about 250 of these students being undocumented immigrants, the Associated Press reports via Business Insider.

Although a tuition-free digital university, students are expected to pay $100 for their end-of-course exams, which translates to approximately $4,000 for a four-year undergraduate degree. Candidates applying for University of the People online course have to pay a $50 application fee. The University does offer scholarships for students who can’t afford exam fees, which was the case with Syrian refugees and for students struck by the 2010 Haitian earthquake.

The Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) in its three-year long review of the college examined the school’s education level in terms of courses and instructors as well as its relevancy and feasibility for students with immigrant status, Southern California Public Radio reports.

Apart from its 2014 accreditation, the fact that the University is affiliated with high-profile schools including Berkeley, Yale, Oxford and the University of California system contributed to its popularity among students.

Reporting on the University’s surge in student enrollment, Amy Taxin of the Associated Press provided profiles of some undocumented students enrolled in one of the University’s courses. Taxin says that Nathaly Ordonez enrolled to study business at the University of the People because her parents’ visas expired and she was unable to afford a fee-paying college. Ordonez says the University gives her equal access to education.

The University of the People was founded by Shai Reshef. The Israeli-born Reshef had several successful education projects in Europe and the Middle East before founding the University of the People in 2009.

As CTV News reports, Reshef asserts that the reason his no-cost online education project appeals to immigrants is the fact that it is both a low-cost alternative and because it offers a flexible student schedule. Undocumented students are not eligible for financial aid for higher education, something that isn’t the case at the University of the People.

Reshef says that everyone has the right to education, and the University of the People is an affordable education path for people that are either not eligible for financial aid or for those yet to become legal citizens in a country.

According to SCPR, three in four UoP students completed their courses. The fact that many of these students come from difficult circumstances and education for them is perhaps the only way of securing a better future could explain the high completion rates the university boasts.

William Perez, a professor of education at the Claremont Graduate University, explains what makes digital learning options such as that offered by the University of the People so unique:

“The fact that very capable, high-achieving students are pursuing these options, because they’re limited otherwise, and with that credential they may go and accomplish great things, that will certainly continue to raise not only the profile but also the viability of these online options,” Perez said.