University of the People Shows Higher Education Doesn’t Have to Cost Big Bucks

Posted By Donna Fuscaldo on November 25, 2015 at 1:16 pm
University of the People Shows Higher Education Doesn’t Have to Cost Big Bucks

As the election season starts to heat up, politicians from both sides of the aisle are pounding the table about needed changes to higher education. They bemoan the fact that the cost of college is out of reach for many, and the ones who do attend often take out thousands of dollars in student loans, just to spend a large portion of their working life paying it back.

But amid all the calls for change, one school has been offering a four-year bachelor’s degree for a steal since 2009. Called University of the People, this online, newly-accredited college, charges students $4,000 to earn an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree in business administration or computer science. The school has over 2,500 students in more than 170 countries, the backing of some big names in higher education, and plans to expand into more degree areas.

Eliminate need for student loan debt

With student loan debt at a record high of $1.2 trillion, surpassing credit card, home equity loans/lines of credit and automotive debt, many people are questioning if a college degree is even worth it.  According to Experian, 40 million people have at least one open student loan with the average balance on the loans per consumer standing at $29,000.

“There’s millions of people in the U.S. who can’t afford higher education and tons of students drop out of college with unbelievable student debt,” says Shai Reshef, who founded University of the People after decades in both non-profit and for-profit secondary education. According to Reshef, “Higher education can be accessible and affordable.”

Realizing that by leveraging open source technology, open educational resources and the Internet, Reshef could remove most of the costs and expenses associated with college, he and his backers were able to launch an essentially tuition-free school.

Open to all high school graduates that speak English

In order to earn a degree at the University of The People, students have to speak English, have a high school diploma, and maintain at least a 2.0 GPA. Students have to take 20 courses to earn an Associate’s degree and 40 courses to earn a Bachelor’s degree.  Every course is nine weeks long and starts on a Thursday and ends on a Wednesday. Students can learn at their own pace during that week but they have to get the reading assignments and homework in on time as well as take part in online discussions.

The school charges a $50 application fee and $100 per end-of-course exam, and gives students ten years to complete their degree. A large portion of its students are working full-time and take longer to earn a degree, which is why they have some many years to complete the course work. For someone who did the bachelor’s straight through, the cost would be $4,000, a fraction of what even state schools and universities charge to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Consider this: according to the College Board, the average tuition per year at a state school was $9,139 in the 2014-2015 school year, and the average tuition at a private non-profit college or university was $31,231 in the same period. The school also has corporate sponsors including Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Western Union and Intel Foundation that offer scholarships to students who need financial aid.

University of the People is attempting to address the major problems associated with higher learning in its current form and as a result has the backing of some heavy hitters in education including John Sexton, Chairman of New York University, Nicholas Dirks of UC Berkeley and Emerita Martha J. Kanter, the former U.S. Under-Secretary of Education, to name a few. The University of the People is also affiliated with the United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development, the Clinton Global Initiative and Yale Law School Information Society Project.

Pricey and cheap can co-exist

Early on, the school kept its enrollment small at 500, as it awaited accreditation. That came in April of 2014, and now, Reshef says the school is in growth mode, with enrollment increasing five times in a year-and-a-half. The number of students is expected to double next year and in the coming years, he says.

University of the People hasn’t turned down any students as of yet, and is working on expanding their degrees to include health and science and an MBA program. While University of the People isn’t aiming to replace colleges and universities that charge thousands of dollars per semester, it is attempting to show the world there are other, more cost-effective ways to earn a degree.

“The price of higher education is just insane and can’t continue to be this way,” says Reshef. “There will have to be other alternatives. We’re showing that cheaper and quality higher education can exist. You don’t have to spend $30,000 if you don’t get value.”

Donna Fuscaldo
Donna Fuscaldo is a freelance journalist hailing out of Long Island, New York. She has also written for,,,, Business Insider, Dow Jones Newswires and the Wall Street Journal.

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