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.