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Going Against the Flow in Higher Education: Deliberately Including those Previously Excluded
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Innovations Case Narrative:
University of the People

If everyone actually had the opportunity to obtain a university education, the world would be a different place.

I believe this so strongly that, though I could have retired in 2009, I chose instead to found University of the People (UoPeople): the world’s tuition-free, nonprofit, online, degree-granting academic institution dedicated to opening access to higher education globally. UoPeople is specifically designed to provide access to college studies for qualified high school graduates, despite financial, geographic, societal, or personal constraints.

We are proud to say that our institution has eliminated almost the entire cost of higher education. Three key innovations allow us to function effectively on a limited budget without sacrificing the quality of education: we embrace collaborative learning, we use Open Educational Resources and open source technology, and we get excellent assistance from approximately 3,000 registered volunteers. By opening the gates of higher education to a globalized student body while limiting operating costs, we are building a scalable model that can be duplicated by governments and universities to show that delivering quality education to masses of people need not be expensive. This model is especially relevant for governments in developing countries that want to reach citizens who would otherwise be left uneducated. Instead of building a traditional brick-and-mortar institution, an elite equivalent to Harvard, developing country governments can turn to quality online education based on resources like ours and thus serve thousands of individuals, offering the courses, especially in computer science and business administration, which will help them find good jobs.

UoPeople’s financial model is simple. While our institution is tuition-free, we do ask students to make modest financial contributions to their education. In our tuition-free model, we do not charge for the cost of instruction, books, teachers, or annual enrolment. All we ask of our students is that they cover the cost of processing their applications ($50) and examinations ($100 per end-of-course exam). There are no other costs whatsoever. For those who cannot afford even these nominal fees, UoPeople offers scholarships such as the Hewlett-Packard Women Scholarship Fund, the Intel Haitian Women Scholarship Fund, and the Micro-Scholarship Portal, the first of its kind at any university, which facilitates micro-donations from the public. We offer all of these scholarships to remain consistent with our mission and ensure that no qualified student is excluded for financial reasons. Our mission is to offer higher education to all, and to ensure that all qualified students have the opportunity to study towards an academic degree, whatever their financial situation.

Since we launched in 2009, UoPeople has partnered with Yale University to conduct research, New York University to accept our students for further study, and Hewlett-Packard, as part of its Catalyst Initiative, for internships. To date, we have admitted more than 1,500 students from 136 countries around the world; many had no other alternative. The University has gained the support of leading academics; among them are New York University President John Sexton, Academy of Paris Rector Emeritus Mrs. Michèle Gendreau-Massaloux, Indian Institute of Technology (ITT) Bombay Director Devang Khakhar, Oxford Vice-Chancellor Sir Colin Lucas, Rhode Island School of Design President Emeritus Roger Mandle, Barnard College President Emeritus Judith R. Shapiro, and George Washington President Emeritus Stephen Joel Trachtenberg. They all serve on our President’s Council. UoPeople has amassed over 1,250,000 followers on Facebook and garnered media coverage throughout the world. Student satisfaction is high. Each term, we ask students if they would recommend UoPeople to a peer—and 95% say yes.

Thus, we have created a viable solution to the pervasive problem of access to education.

The problem of educational access knows no country borders and is found in every region on earth as financial, geographic, placement, social, and personal constraints are widespread and youth populations grow. According to UNESCO, given the growth of youth populations worldwide, by 2025, an estimated 98 million youth will be hoping for places in universities that simply do not exist.

This narrative informs the successful launch and implementation of a solution to a pressing world crisis. Not only has it...

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