Nonprofit College Takes Online Learning To A Higher Degree

The University of the People (UoP) plans to open its virtual doors in April 2009. No classrooms, dorms, not even what we would consider typical professors - and no tuition. If a college degree is free, can it have any value?

The Sloan Consortium estimates that 4 million students are enrolled in online education, but as a tuition-free service, the University of the People takes that concept of eLearning to a broader audience.

I have written about other similar efforts like the Peer2Peer University which has not moved forward according to plans.

The UoP website still has pages under construction and their URL redirects to It says there that "hundreds of students from all over the world have e-mailed wanting to apply, and hundreds of professors want to volunteer and admissions won't even open until April."

The college's founder is Shai Reshef who has a track record in online education companies. Until 2005, he served as Chairman of the Kidum Group, the largest for-profit educational services company based in Israel which he sold to Kaplan, one of the world’s largest education companies and a subsidiary of the Washington Post. Between 2001 and 2004, he lived in the Netherlands where he chaired KIT eLearning, the eLearning partner of the University of Liverpool and the first online university outside of the U.S. (KIT provides MBA and M.Sc. degrees in IT.) He sold KIT in 2004 to Laureate. Currently, Reshef is chairman of the board of, an online "study community." The University of the People is currently sharing office space with Cramster in Pasadena, California.

Through Cramster "I learned how powerful social networking can be for learning," Reshef ays. "It was like a great revelation for me and I said, 'Wow, we can use it for academic study.' "
Based on UoP's own FAQs, here are the basics about the project.

The learning model is peer-to-peer teaching with the curriculum and support of traditional scholars (active and retired professors, master level students and other professionals). Those "scholars" will also develop ongoing procedures for curriculum evaluation and development. Within the online study communities, students will share resources, exchange ideas, discuss weekly topics, submit assignments and take exams.

With a virtual home at, UoP is anywhere a computer and internet connection exists. As such, the students and professors who comprise the University represent a diverse group coming from both under-developed and developed countries. Founder and President Shai Reshef and the team of experts who developed the site are based in Pasadena, CA.

How can you run a non-profit college? Distance learning applied to a tuition-free model hopes to function on a limited budget without sacrificing quality of education by embracing collaborative and open-source eLearning. UoP is a tuition-free university and they plan at this stage to charge only a nominal application fee ($15-$50) and examination fees ($10-$100), which will be adjusted on a sliding scale based on the student’s country of origin.

In the initial stages, UoP will offer two undergraduate degrees: a BA in Business Administration and a BSc in Computer Science. Full time students should be able to complete the undergraduate degree in approximately four years. Students who study Computer Science will be eligible for a Diploma in Programming and an Associate of Arts degree after completing the first half of the program. The University plans to offer other degrees in the future.

Enrollment requirements include: proof of graduation from secondary school, demonstration of a sufficient proficiency in English (or passing two preliminary English courses at UoP) and access to a computer with an internet connection. Enrollment is expected t begin in April 2009, with classes slated to commence in September 2009. Three semesters will be offered each year. They anticipate tens of thousands of students to enroll within the first five years of operation, although enrollment will be capped at 300 students in the first semester.

UoP intends to apply for accreditation from recognized authorities in accordance with the rules, regulations and timelines of said authorities.

Their fundamental belief that "everyone, world-wide, should have the opportunity to change their lives and contribute to their communities, as well as understanding that the path to societal and individual prosperity is through education" is admirable. Their belief that the collective efforts of volunteers can develop and execute the programs is optimistic. I'm not even sure what adjective I might use to describe their ability to offer accredited academic degrees. Will traditional institutions oppose them as theydid in the early days of for-profit online colleges?

I tagged this post as "eLearning" but the real topic of interest here is the "trend" of open education. Is it a threat or the best opportunity we have to change and advance global education?

More press: from MSNBC and The L.A. Times


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