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Tuition-free, online education?  November 16, 2023 – 02:19 pm
Here s what the Women s March

It is a grand vision: a global college with no tuition, accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.

When higher education entrepreneur laid out his ambitious plan to build a free university that would use modern technology to spread the promise of a college degree to all corners of the earth, he got an enthusiastic reaction from some high-profile institutions. The United Nations has backed the venture. So has Yale Law School's Information Society Project. Reshef and his lieutenants also like to mention the many letters of support and offers to pitch in from professors worldwide.

But the project drew skepticism as well. Higher education has seen more than one ambitious distance education efforts fail in recent years, including the internationally focused U21 Global, and those projects had the benefit of tuition revenue.

Questions about the so-called abounded: How do you build quality programs without charging tuition? How effective would the project's peer-to-peer pedagogical model be in classrooms of students from vastly different cultural and educational traditions? Who would accredit such an operation at a time when the perceived value — even necessity — of a postsecondary education is ascendant in virtually every country? Reshef's heart seems to be in the right place. But is his head?

A year has now passed since the University of the People opened its virtual doors to the world. And while it appears to be a functioning institution where education is indeed taking place, questions about the project's long-term viability — and its ability to replicate the essential functions of an actual university — are yet to be answered.

The biggest question is the most obvious, and that's money. Higher education might trade in ideas, but it runs on dollars. So how do you deliver education without tuition revenue?

Those instructors administer courses designed by a corps of faculty volunteers numbering about 800, by Reshef's count. Those professors put together courses using open courseware. They also write the final exams, which is one of the two ways the university makes its money; students pay to take the exams — between $10 and $100 each, depending on country of residence (students from poorer countries pay lower fees).

The other revenue comes from admission fees, which also run from $10 to $100 according to country. Admissions criteriaare rigorous and designed to weed out students who do not have high school certificates and a firm enough grasp of the English language to participate successfully in college-level courses.


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