Does A University Of The People Scam Exist?

Is there really such thing as a free education online?  That’s what the University of the People claims.  This school, which is headquarted in Pasadena, California, advertises itself as a tuition-free online school.  It almost seems too good to be true.  Tuition-free?  Really?  Not so fast.  Even though the University of the People bills itself as a tuition-free school, any courses you take through them will not be completely free.  There are definitely some fees attached.  Does this mean there’s a University of the People scam?  To answer that question it’s necessary to take a look at the school’s structure, it’s mission, and its accreditation.

The University of the People was founded in 2009 by entrepreneur Shai Reshef and is structured as a non-profit entity.  The purpose of the school was to create a new type of university that was completely web-based.  The school’s courses could be taken by anyone in the world, regardless of class, status, or personal wealth.  People from all around the world would be able to earn an entire college degree without having to pay any tuition.  In addition, there are no books or materials to buy either.  The courses are offered online on simple, open source software.  There are no audio or video lectures to watch either since many developing countries don’t have internet connections that are fast enough to handle such media.  All of the school’s online courses are asynchronous, to account for the various time zones the students are in.

The University of the People’s administration are graduates of very prestigious universities.  The various schools the administration earned their doctorates from include such prestigious institutions as New York University, Columbia University, Emory College, The University of Pennsylvania, Rutgers University, and others.  Without a doubt, the school’s administration has a solid pedigree.

But what about that whole free education online thing?  Are the courses totally free?  As it turns out, not really.  First of all, there is a one-time application fee of $10 to $50, depending on where you live.  If you live in a relatively poor country, the fee is only $10.  If you live in a wealthy country, the fee will be $50.  And if you live in a country in the middle of the range, your fee will be adjusted accordingly.  The idea is to charge students on a sliding scale based on the overall wealth of the country they are from.

In the near future the University of the People will implement another fee for end-of-course exams.  The fee will be charged for each course and will be on a sliding scale from $10 to $100, depending on where in the world you live.

Before any students enroll they should be fully aware of the University of the People accreditation.  Currently, the school does not hold any form of accreditation at all.  The administration does have plans to change this though.  However, when they intend to change the status of the University of the People accreditation is anyone’s guess.  Lack of accreditation is a serious problem for many students since it’s not possible in many parts of the world to use an unaccredited degree to obtain some job positions.

So, what’s the verdict?  Is there a University of the People scam?  Technically, the school is not a scam.  It is a noble effort to bring a great education to those around the world who are traditionally under-served.  However, until the school acquires some form of accreditation, potential students should consider carefully whether the school will be of benefit to them.

  1. SCAM. Tuition free but 100.00 exam fee per course equals approximately $8,000.00 for an unaccredited “tuition free” associates degree. Ashworth college offers an associates for half that and they ARE accredited. UOP IS a SCAM!

    • Don’t be a jerk Ken!!! The college is definitely NOT a scam!! College will never be 100% free. That’s just wishful thinking. It’s normal for any college and university to charge for processing fees and exams. That’s just the way it is. The way I see it, I think University of the People is a wonderful opportunity for those earning low income. I do hope it earns an accreditation in the near future. And a BIG factor to consider that this university ISN’T a scam is the fact it has a veeeery prestigious staff. Therfore it’s impossible for a place like this to scam people. You need to do more reading before jumping to conclusions Ken. Have a good one.

      • Ken is not a jerk he has a good point. Uop is pathetic. Please show accredition. Its too much money they charge if u total for all the courses.

        • Ken may not be a jerk, but he sure can’t multiply, the tuition is more like $4000 for the degree. I also find the school cool because the degrees they offer in computer science and business administration are both fields that you really don’t need a degree in, however if you have the know how, you can get a job and make decent pay. So I think that in this economy the school may indeed be something good to look into for someone seeking a new skill.

        • Ken does not have a good point unless you are agree with his poor math skill. HP and Microsoft offer scholarships for its students. Cannot say the same with other online schools.
          In addition, first year student with exceptional performance will be eligible to apply at the New York University.
          Any potential student should go to the school website, explore for yourself. Don’t let a handful of uninformed comments stopping you from seeking education.
          PS Ashworth programs cost double of UoP .. not the other way around

    • $50 Application Fee
      $100 Exam Fee x 20 courses (for Associate’s Degree) = $2000
      $100 Exam Fee x 40 courses (for Bachelor’s Degree) = $4000

      So, total cost should be closer to $2050 for an Associate’s Degree or $4050 for a Bachelor’s Degree.

    • Hey Ken. 3 years since your post now, and UoPeople is now accredited through DEAC. Of course some people give them flak for it not being regional, but students have been able to transfer credits to schools such as York and Yale to peruse their master’s after UoPeople. It also only works out to $4000 for a bachelors program by the way. There are also plenty of scholarships provided by the school for students who can’t afford the small fee. Bottom line, if you can’t afford the cost of UoPeople, then it’s free. No Scam.

      Here’s the schools listing on the US department of Education Database:

  2. I am looking into Online School for quite some time. At the end, UofP appear to be the best.
    Their curriculum is tough! They will dismiss students who do not meet the require
    grade. They only charge for the application fee and test fee. That is it! No
    other charge…not for book, not for extra material, nothing! The bottom line,
    you pay $100 per 3 credit class. With 120 credits per 4-year degree, that make
    your total cost $4000+$50. I challenge you to find other school that cost less.
    The next cheaper one I found was $80 per credit (or $240 per 3-credit class). I attend public junior college. It cost me $150 per 3-credit class. They require you to “interact” with other students and
    stay active in the virtual classroom. I am intrigue about that. I love to be a part of the international student. The school is applying for accreditation. The wheel is in the motion. If I applied now, by
    the time I’m done… school maybe accredited then. For as long as you do not need Master degree from other college. UofP is perfect. The bad part is… if you have partial credits from other school, you won’t get credit here… it is like..starting over. … the most difficult part.. most of the final test require proctor exam. They’re serious about verifying the students who are taking the test and not someone else. This school is real.

    • four classes per semester is considered full time, that’s $400 per semester that’s $800 per school year plus the one time fee of $50 at the most.

  3. This university is now accredited by the DETC (Distance Education and Training Council). In February 2014, The University of the People received national accreditation through the Distance Education and Training Council.The DETC provides accreditation for three branches of the United States military. The Marine Corps Institute and the Army Institute for Professional Development (ATIC-SDL) are listed as degree-granting institutions with the DETC. (taken, wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 02/27/2014) Anyway, there – click around wikipedia and you’ll find relevant links to actual reports.

    here’s a NY times article – the first grads are only 7 students. seems legit enough.

    also, every new school has to go through an accreditation process. one cannot actually create an already-accredited-school from scratch.

  4. The real bottom line here is that DETC is not authorized to accredit degree-granting universities; at least, the accreditation has no value! It’s all about money and connections. UofP should not have a .edu extension! They are NOT a college or university. MONEY / CONNECTIONS.

    • Hey Mark, just want you to know that the accreditation is now through DEAC. UoPeople had to start somewhere. DEAC is not regional but the difference between other nationally accredited body’s would be that students have been approved for credit transfers from UoPeople to regionally accredited schools such as NYU and Yale, both partners of the school.

    • That’s… Actually quite cheap. Most colleges will charge quite a bit more in tuition and books, plus lab fees, etc. True, $4000 is not free, but maybe this will put pressure on the “regular” colleges to bring their prices down a bit.
      20 years ago I was more than this out of pocket even with the Navy picking up 75% of my tuition.

      • The Navy picking up the cost? You mean the taxpayers were footing your edu bill. Nothing wrong with that as that’s usual for the welfare/warfare state.

  5. Hi can anyone guide me should i trust this university..i asked most of the student who applied and paid the application fee but they didnt get any response back.please i am very confused reply me

    • Hi tooba,

      I’m a student in my second term now at UoPeople. I can assure you that the school is not a scam. It may be the case that it is not the best option for you if you are able to afford a traditional university, however if the case is that you cannot attend school in the traditional manner, UoPeople may be right for you. I post about my studies at the school on my blog if you’re interested in finding out details:

    • Hello Tooba,
      I did put my application in and now attending school (BA program). Everything listed on the school website is true and accurate.
      I find it fascinating that a few people post angry comments regarding school claiming tuition free, and students require to pay $100 exam fee/class ($4000 total for 4 year program).

      per definition: “tuition is a sum of money charged for teaching or instruction by a school”

      Non Profit organization: “any money earned by a non-profit organization must be retained by the organization, and used for its own expenses, operations, and programs. (sorry not in-text citation.. please google to verify it)

      Now that we get that out of the way, lets talk about school.
      Students pay $100 at anytime during the class (1 class). For some reason, you are no longer interest in the school. You are not require to pay the exam fee. Due to my workload, I had to drop 2 classes (half way through). I received “W” for withdraw, however, I DID NOT have to pay the exam fee because I did not take the test. (with tuition, you paid at the beginning of the class, you may receive partial or none if you dropped the class)
      If I took the test without paying the fee, my test result will be frozen and unable to continue the next course.
      COST: $2050 for 2-year program and $4050 for a 4-year program. No HIDDEN cost
      Program: I am in the BA program. Free books from Flatworld … excellent material. One of my class was using the same material with the major university. A lot of reading, research, discussion, and writing report at various difficulty. Personally, I start to arguing with my managers using information I’ve learned. I was able to identify my workplace culture/behavior and type of organization. I voice my opinion on why some of the program at my workplace is working against us.
      The school is well accepted in Africa nations. They even have UoPeople community where students using community computers to study. I have new friends from Korea, China, Europe, and Southeast Asia. We keep in touch via email and I feel like an international student. Most of the instructors are excellent. My English teacher is currently teaching at the UofArizona. The Greek history teacher is from that nation, for now she is living in UK.
      These are real classes and professional teachers conducting the class facilitation. You have to earn your grade. There is no free pass, no extra credit, no mercy credit. You have to earn them.
      This is working out for me as a full time worker. I will have a case for promotion and an opportunity to take on priority assignment that will further my career.

    • Nowhere does it say it’s “free”. it says “tuition-free” that’s not the same thing, and it is true. You pay for the test, not the class.

  6. Please I stand to be corrected, am from Africa and I found out about this school yesterday and started filling the Admission form not until I was asked to pay a 60 USD admission fee, I’ve been looking form an online programme that would be affordable because I am an offshore worker, my Questions are : how authentic is this school? Is their courses designed for offshore workers like me who would probably be in an environment where there will be no Internet for one week or more? Finally how much am I going to pay in total at the end of my programme?
    Best regards