Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tuition Free University-Level Studies at University of the People

Here on The Innovative Educator blog, I’ve been excited about the implications of online learning in general and OER  (Open Ed Resource) in particular.  I’ve also shared insights from folks like Bill Gates who Says Tech Is The Key to Driving Down College Costs. Additionally, I’ve been critical of the "Generation Debt"-producing “College for All” mantra spoken at K - 12 institutions as I’ve written about in pieces like The College Myth: Why College isn't Worth the Cost for Many Careers Today.  

I love Will Richardson’s vision of learning who explains why it’s okay if his kids don’t want to got to college this way.  
More and more, all I want from my kids’ school is to help me identify what they love, what their strengths are, and then help them create their own paths to mastery of their passions. Stop spending so much time focusing on subjects or courses that “they need for college” but don’t interest them in the least. Help them become learners who will be able to find and make good use of the knowledge that they need when they need it, whether that means finding an answer online or taking a college course to deepen their understanding. And finally, prepare them to create their own credentials that will powerfully display their capabilities, passions and potentials.

While the entire quote is powerful, one part that I’d love to see come to fruition is students creating their own credentials that display their capabilities, passions, and potentials, rather than this being determined by a pre-packaged, expensive college program. 

I’m excited to learn about a new option for students who want to take ownership of their learning and have the opportunity to do so without paying an arm and a leg. University of the People (UoPeople) is the world’s first tuition-free online academic institution dedicated to the global advancement and democratization of higher education. The high-quality low-cost global educational model embraces the worldwide presence of the Internet and dropping technology costs to bring university-level studies within reach of millions of people across the world. With the support of respected academics, humanitarians and other visionaries, the UoPeople student body represents a new wave in global education.

UoPeople provides access to online, tuition-free, post-secondary education, enabling everyone access higher education. To do so it draws on the principles of e-learning and social networking, coupled with open-source technology and open educational resources.  In order to further drive down costs and provide tuition-free education, UoPeople harnesses volunteers. More than 2,000 have registered their interest in helping.  A roster of distinguished academics such as David H. Cohen from Columbia University lead UoPeople. All involved with UoPeople, from volunteers to academics, are dedicated to the University’s mission to democratize higher education for the world.

In addition to begin tuition-free, the University has chosen technology available to the masses in order to bring educational access to all those who are qualified, yet may be financially or geographically, denied. A global University, UoPeople has students accepted from over 115 different countries.  The UoPeople model exemplifies the amalgamation of using technology which is globally available, with an affordable tuition-free model, to benefit the majority, and not just a minority, of those seeking higher education around the world.

UoPeople currently offers programs in Business Administration and Computer Science with more programs planned in the future.  You can view their Catalog here.  

Classes do not lead to a degree at this time as UoPeople is in the process of pursuing accreditation. If we take the idea laid out by Richardson a bit further, students will be able to pursue free online courses from wherever they choose, whether it be UoPeople or MIT.  It will be up to the student to determine the courses that best prepare him/her to meet learning goals and also demonstrate mastery.  A future is possible where students can pursue learning in a way that payment, accreditation, and ties and control by an institution are no longer required.  All that is required is a desire to pursue your personal learning plan and create a portfolio that demonstrates how you are prepared for the work you plan to embark upon. 


  1. Sounds like UoPeople is an idea whose time has come! It's great to hear about innovations in education. Thanks for posting!

  2. University of the People is a wonderful concept, but its implementation leaves much to be desired. I know this first-hand–I am currently enrolled at the university. There are many problems with the de facto learning experience at the university:

    1. No enforcement of the Academic Honesty and Integrity policy. Plagiarism is covered in the first two required courses at the university, yet it is the rule rather than the exception in the discussion forums. It is also commonplace in assignments that require explanations (e.g. non-computational questions/problems). In fact, plagiarism is so prevalent that if one brings up the fact that a fellow student’s submission is completely cut-and-pasted from Wikipedia, he is likely to be told that “this is the way we do it in all our classes.”

    2. Flawed assessment model. Courses consist of discussion forums, learning journals, quizzes, assignments, and a final. The final, usually a multiple choice test of 5-10 problems to be completed in one hour (and usually completed in 20 minutes), is worth 40% of the student’s grade. At no other university I have attended did any course place so much weight on an exam that did not challenge the student nor represent the material covered throughout the quarter. The discussion forums are of questionable worth for the reasons stated above. On top of these issues, the lowest one or two scores is dropped from among the graded areas (DFs, assignments, etc.), allowing a student to forgo 1/9 to 2/9 (or more) of a quarter’s worth of work (excluding the final) and suffer no penalty. Such non-participation would likely reduce a student’s grade by one or two letters at a real university. This is related to the courses’ inadequate and un-enforced Participation policy.

    3. Lack of uniformity in grading. Peer assessment is part of the learning model. Unfortunately, you are just as likely to have a student who himself does not understand the material grading your assignment (this makes a huge difference, even though solutions are provided) as you are another student whose assignment received a 20 and is now out for blood. This is also a problem in the discussion forums.

    I want the university to succeed, but more than that I want a degree from this university that actually means something. As I note the lack of quality in my fellow student’s work, the lack of effort put into plagiarized posts and assignments that will, regardless, likely get an A, I find it hard to believe that even 30% of UoP’s students could cut it in a real university. I don’t see how, with things the way they are now, University of the People could possibly become accredited. Sad thing is, there are UoP students that are now more than half-way done with their four-year degree who have no notion of what an actual education is and who would probably flunk out of their first year at any two-year college.

    I can only hope that someone at UoP wakes up and appreciates the sad state of its affairs, the joke that UoP, in practice, has become and decides to do something about it.