Is A Tuition-Free University The Answer?

When it comes to education, the U.S. is experiencing some growing pains. Cost of living expenses have soared above employee wages, and students are certainly feeling the economic backlash. Degree-seekers may find it near-impossible to afford splitting their hours between work and school—and that’s if they’ve had the great fortune of receiving financial aid. For those whose fortunes lay in overdrawn checking accounts, a university education is the sort of lofty, improbable goal whole communities might admire a person for.

It was for these disenfranchised people, in the United States and abroad, that Israeli-born Shai Reshef says he founded University of the People (UoPeople). The accredited distance-learning program is a first of its kind experiment in tuition-free higher education—and its educational chops are nothing to scoff at. Professors from around the world have volunteered their time to design coursework and teach virtual classes. Jane Burman-Holtom is one of them. She volunteered to teach a business course at UoPeople because she was inspired by its lofty goal: educating people across the globe—no matter their socioeconomic background.  She said:

“We’re picking up people from all over the United States, A lot of them really want to make a better life, and that is what everybody is after: a better life.”

U.S. Immigrants Taking Advantage Of Tuition-Free University Programs

Recent immigrants to the U.S. are among those seeking “a better life” through the tuition-free university program.

Nathaly Ordonez is a Colombian-born immigrant who had given up on getting a university education. Although she worked full-time as a waitress, she didn’t earn enough money to pay for classes or even take time off of work to attend school. Many immigrants find themselves in similar situations, especially if their legal status prevents them from receiving financial aid.

Now, Ordonez is enrolled in UoPeople’s bachelor program and studies on her own schedule. “When I got in, I was so excited, because I was able to go to college,” she said. “I am going to do what other people do.”

Too Good To Be True?

Despite its tuition-free status, UoPeople isn’t entirely free of administrative charges. The school charges $50 for an application and $100 per final exam. This makes a bachelor’s degree cost around $4,000 in total. Applicants who can’t afford the admin fees can have them waived, and the school routinely offers full scholarships to severely disenfranchised groups—most recently Syrian refugees.

The tuition-free university program is accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission. Still, some wonder if employers will consider a degree from University of the People valid. In recent years, employers have shied away from similar degrees offered by for-profit schools like The University of Phoenix and DeVry. We’ve yet to see how UoPeople’s non-profit, charity-esque approach will define its reputation with U.S. businesses. One can only hope employers see a degree from the school as a personal triumph, and forgo sounding the familiar notes of economic classism.

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