Free tuition sounds good to many people. The UoPeople, as it is called for short, says it has 117,000 students from 200 countries. Reshef says 10% of them are refugees. Of those taking classes in the United States, 30% are black students, 60% are first-generation students, and 50% are parents. After the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in 2021, UoPeople recruited 1,600 Afghan women, who can study at home in secret. They all benefit from full scholarships.
UoPeople is not Harvard. It offers few choices and a narrow set of academic programs: business administration, computer science, health sciences and education. In addition to bachelor’s degrees, there are certificate programs, associate’s degrees, and master’s degrees in certain fields. To cut costs, the school is forgoing not only a football stadium, but also services such as mental health counselling. “We can’t afford it and we’re not giving it away,” Reshef said.
On the other hand, the university is accredited by the Distance Education Accreditation Commission, which in turn is recognized by the Ministry of Education. And Reshef says the school strives to receive standard (meaning not just online) accreditation from the School Accreditation Commission of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. If this process goes well, accreditation could take place as early as next year.
Simone Biles, the seven-time Olympic medalist in gymnastics, is probably the most famous person to have participated in UoPeople, despite taking time off, according to Reshef. (“We hope she comes back and completes her education,” he said.) UoPeople’s dropout rate is high, but so are all online schools. Reshef says students have to take two courses just to enroll, and about half never make it that far. About 25% of those who enroll in bachelor’s degree programs graduate in six years, he says.
UoPeople’s public relations team connected me with Sarah Merlino, 40, of Watertown, Wis., who graduated from school with an MBA in 2018. She was homeless in sixth grade. year, became pregnant in high school and had a second child a year later. She eventually got a high school diploma and a bachelor’s degree, but racked up heavy student loans and medical debt — and still couldn’t find a good job. With her MBA from UoPeople, she landed a job at Amazon. She has been promoted twice and last year was sent to work on a project in Saudi Arabia, her first time outside the United States. How did the UoPeople help change his life? I asked. “All of that,” she said.