University of the People: free, online education

Nora sez,

Founded in 2009 by educational entrepreneur Shai Reshef, University of the People is the world's first tuition-free completely online university, offering Associate and Bachelor degrees in Business Administration and Computer Science. Students are asked to pay a one-time application fee ($50), and $100 end-of-course final examination fees. Aside from that, there is no tuition and all courses, books, and resources are provided free of charge online. UoPeople is approved to grant degrees by the California Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education (BPPE), and is currently working to seek accreditation.

In keeping with its mission, UoPeople strives to ensure that no qualified individual is excluded from a chance at higher education for financial reasons. To assist students in financial need with their examination fees, UoPeople has dedicated student scholarship funds. Corporate sponsors include Hewlett-Packard's sponsorship of 100 HP Scholars as part of the UoPeople Women Scholarship Fund, as well as Intel Foundation's sponsorship of women students from Haiti. In the near future, UoPeople will launch a Micro-Scholarship Portal, the first of its kind, to allow donors to contribute to individual students.

To date, the university has been funded by Shai Reshef, and by grants from various foundations including The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Kauffman Foundation, The Hewlett Foundation, The Goodman Family Foundation, and The Passport Foundation, among others. With $6 million more, the University will be self-sustainable. In its quest to reach sustainability, UoPeople is currently in discussions with several foundations regarding grants, and is always seeking philanthropic and corporate donations.

University of the People – The world’s first tuition-free online university (Thanks, Nora!)


  1. I’ve been waiting for efforts such as this to take shape. I hope it’s the first of what turn out to be many such endeavors. It’s always struck me that a high-quality online higher education should be possible at very low cost, and that societal benefits will be significant and very far-reaching. Maybe crowd-funding could be a good model for supporting these types of organizations?

      1. An education alone is not meaningless, but for now, the degree would be. If I had extra time and no worries about a job, attending this school might be the perfect thing for me.

        1.  There’s still plenty of free education out there; no need for these guys if you just want to learn.

  2. I continually try to -Like- your many fine articles but when I do the dialog balloon is overlain by the margin of the article obscuring most of the dialog including the buttons to continue or cancel. I use Chrome on a PC

    1. Is yours?  Is anyones?  I’m feeling rather existential-y now… but they do have an intro to philosophy class… Hm.

      Personally, I think this is a great idea.  It’s something that’s been floating around since the 60s (free university level classes), but with some possibilities behind it.  I wonder how they line people up for teaching courses… I notice a lack of history courses (an art history and Greek/Roman civilizations, but that’s all).

      1. Like when someone asks if that’s your real hair color. As opposed to…. your metaphorical hair color?

        1. But, honestly, I’m an historian, so the question I want to answer is what is the material condition of my hair, within each historical contextual moment… or some such. 

          1.  A new book idea, history using Foucauldian theories: An Archeology of Oasisob1’s Hair! Anyone got Verso’s number.  They’ll be all over this one.

          1. I meant these two courses you mentioned. I think there is no lack as the students are majoring in either business administration and computer science. They offer other courses in humanities and social sciences as well.

  3. In order to get accredited there would have to be some way to guarantee that the person who is getting the degree is the same person who is doing the work. Also, if it costs nothing to take a course, who is assessing the students’ work? Volunteers? Computer programs?

    A “university” that allows people to get degrees by hiring someone else to take a battery of on-line multiple-choice tests for them is not likely to be accredited.

    On-line courses are fine if you just want to learn about something. Accreditation is another matter. It might be possible to verify the integrity of an on-line course if there is substantial instructor-student interaction, but if the students aren’t paying, what is the source of the instructors’ salaries? The website says next to nothing about the faculty of this university, but invites people to “volunteer to be a course instructor or course developer”.

    1.  I remember reading about an online university that offered all the course lectures, info and discussion sections online, but mid terms and finals were to be taken in person at one of the many existing for hire education and testing centers around the US.

      There are places that offer testing services/locations for other sorts of certification tests and perhaps things like the GRE or LSAT.

      Taking the tests was optional and had a cost. So if you just wanted to learn the education was free. If you wanted credits for the class, you had to pay the testing center to administer the test to you.

      That might make it past the one of the legitimate accreditation body’s requirements, but I obviously don’t know really.

  4.  In the USA, Canada, France and Germany the main source of regulation of questions of sponsorship is the instruction establishing tax effects of sponsorship, especially concerning the sponsor. Owing to absence in these countries of any special legal acts for sponsorship, it is possible to judge that the mechanism of sponsorship is considered as customary business practice.

  5. Hope this is better than the many other free/low cost university courses out there. It seem like every six months an effort like this is announced but when you go to the website, almost all of the courses are nothing but a list of books and a syllabus. Sometimes there are even homework assignments but usually not, and if there are, they’re often missing the solutions. Actual video or audio recordings of lectures are very rare. For the most part, these free open courseware type sites are little more than a collection of hand outs from the first day of actual university classes.

    No doubt someone will eventually get things right. Khan Academy seems to be moving in the right direction but at this time is still awfully thin on what they offer. Most of other efforts so far have been heavy on press releases and light on actual academics. 

    1. Actually Coursera has a bunch of good online courses (was taking one on the History of the World since 1300, but I couldn’t keep up the time commitment) and EdX is very reputable as well. Those are the two big ones that have been making news recently, so if you’re talking about them you should go back and take a second look.

      Full disclosure: I have recently been writing software for one of EdX’s science courses (though I haven’t seen the course yet).

      1. Thanks for the links, I’ll check them out. 

        What I was posting about is a long series of similar announcements from various organizations made over the past decade, all heralding the new age of free online university education which never really panned out. So I’ve become a bit cautious about getting excited when yet another announcement is made because they rarely deliver on the big promises made. I’m sure this is just part of the process of getting to where we want to be but for now I’m going to have to see actual quality offered instead of getting excited again over a press release filled with grand ideas that end up poorly implemented. 

    2. You are right. But university of the people offer a structured education. There are requirements that each student in the course has to meet such as answering the discussion forum question and participating, submitting the assignment and filling the learning journal which also has another question to answer. These are different ways to assess the knowledge of the students on the materials covered for the week.

  6. has gone a long way toward providing free, university level curriculum programs. It has the same problems that other of these programs have, namely some some of certification that any particular student has learned the material provided. I think it would be fair to point out that the same problem exists at traditional universities. For certain subject areas, such as in medicine, this is dealt with by having outside agencies provide certification exams (such as the NCLEX for nursing).

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