Redefining the cost of higher education


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A student works at the University of the People computer center in Haiti. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

As aid for low-income students decreases amidst rising tuition costs, a new global university could redefine higher education as we know it. An authorized U.S. agency has just accredited the first tuition-free, non-profit, online university in history.

University of the People is the only non-profit, online global program of its kind, charging students minimal fees in the name of equal access to education. So far, the virtual school has enrolled 1600 students from 141 countries. The university just received accreditation from the Distance and Education Training Council authorized by the U.S. Department of Education.

Course charges for "UoPeople" are minimal compared to higher education costs around the globe. On average, four-year institutions in the United States charge 20 times what UoPeople collects—just $100 per course. While private schools in the United States charge an average of nearly $32,000 annually, University of the People collects around $1,000 each year from students. The university also provides scholarship funds for students around the world who cannot pay the $100 course fees. 

So far, admissions to University of the People requires a $50 fee, a high school diploma, academic merit, English-language proficiency—and internet access. The entire university operated on a budget of $1.2 million in 2013, with thousands of professionals volunteering to mentor, instruct, advise and administer for the school. To put that into perspective, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported last year that more than three dozen non-profit universities in the United States spent a million dollars or more on president salaries alone—as much as the global online university's operating budget. 

Five-year-old "UoPeople" has partnered with a number of organizations for internships, scholarships, mentors and recruitment for its Bachelors and Associate degree programs in business and computer science, including the United Nations, the Clinton Global Initiative,Yale Law School, New York University and Hewlett Packard. Microsoft and Intel have programs to specifically sponsor students from Africa and women from Haiti, respectively. 

"We believe that access to higher education is a key ingredient in the promotion of world peace and global economic development," president and founder Shai Reshef told Forbes in a recent interview

"For most of our students, we are the alternative to no alternative."

Read University of the People's report from last year:

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