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University of the People and the Online Education Revolution

SNA (Tokyo) — Shai Reshef, president of University of the People, explains how his accredited online university is expanding opportunities and making quality higher education available to an ever-wider network of globally-based students.

Transcript

Shai Reshef: My name is Shai Reshef. I’m the president of University of the People. University of the People is a non-profit tuition-free accredited online University: an American university that is there for students who do not have other opportunities and want quality education.

We accept everyone, or, to be more accurate, we let everyone take foundation courses which they need to pass in order to continue with us. So we open our gates wide. Let anyone try us. Let us see how good they are.

And assuming that they like what we offer, assuming they meet our academic standards, they get credit for those courses and they can continue with us towards their Bachelors or MBA.

I think that you know when we started we assumed that only people who have no other alternative will come to us. What we are experiencing now is that a lot of students come to us because they choose to study online, because the quality is there, rather than because they have no choice. So a lot of students come to us because we are the only alternative: being tuition-free, being accessible and affordable to all. Others come to us because we are of their choice of study, because when you look at… When you look at the cost of higher education, the cost is going higher and higher and higher all over the world.

In the US today, if you want to go to one of the best universities you are close to $300,000 for a BA, which is insane. Most people cannot afford it. Even in countries where the government pays for education, what happened is the cost is going higher and higher for the government. Governments cost cut the cost, which means that the quality is going down.

Why would you pay $50,000 a year and not pay $1,000 a year with us? Because the assessment fees with us costs $1,000 a year. So why pay $50,000 and not a not $1,000?

The model that we are building should be replicated by other institutions and by governments. I don’t think that we can educate over 100 million students. I hope that others will do it as well. But we are growing, and we are growing very fast, both because there are so many people who need our services, but also because we want to show other institution that it can be done, that has the right quality and it is sustainable.

We have students from 200 countries and territories, so we have students from every corner of the world. We opened our gates in 2009. We got to work for our initial accreditation 2014, at which point we had 500 students. Since then, we experienced an accelerated growth. We doubled the number every year. But our students are not typical students. While the US is our biggest country, almost half of our students are in the US, even in the US they are undocumented, they are students who come from inner city people who don’t have other or other alternatives.

But this is the case for other students as well. So we have refugees from all over the world. We have people who survived the genocide in Rwanda, the earthquake in Haiti. And talking again about refugees, we have about a thousand refugees all together, but 600 of them are Syrian refugees and these Syrian refugees, 300 of them are still in Syria itself. These 600 actually are more than any other university. This is more refugees than any university has taken to date, and we are very proud that we opened the gates to anyone wants to get higher education but cannot do it otherwise.

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