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.

  • Ken

    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!

    • Anonymous

      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.

      • anonymous

        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.

        • Caitlin

          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.

        • Gizymo

          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

    • Ronda O’Connor

      Where did you learn math? Doesn’t even come close to $8,000

  • asim

    Charging for exams really makes it even more expensive than regular degrees

  • Gizymo

    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.

    • Ronda O’Connor

      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.

  • newmom

    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.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/14/education/free-online-university-receives-accreditation-in-time-for-graduating-class-of-7.html?_r=0

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

  • Mark Robinson

    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.

  • Freewithyourheadinthesand

    This “free” college is going to cost be $4,000+ for a BA.