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The Revolution of Opportunity: University of the People

Higher education now has a higher purpose. Thanks to a shockingly simple-yet-ambitious Web-based enterprise called University of the People, students across the globe can now learn from theworld’s best college professors—for free.

In defying borders and breaking down barriers, University of the People mixes education with social interaction in a way that opens both minds and hearts. “Survivors of genocide in Rwanda have study buddies at Harvard, and every time a Palestinian kid takes a class he is almost certain to encounter an Israeli,” said Shai Rashef, the University’s founder. Through this open structure, young peoplediscover that they can accomplish really great things only by working together.

Joe Jean, a University of the People student from Haiti, was worried about his future following the 2010 earthquake. Soon after, he discovered UofPeople and was admitted with a full scholarship to NYU Abu Dhabi.

For Shai, this open structure can only exist if barriers to entry are removed—hence the free classes.  The only cost of attending University of the People is a small admissions fee that ranges from $10 to $50 and is based on the GDP of the home country. Roughly half of University of the People’s students don’t have high-speed Internet service, so classes are held in a web form that is accessible to low-speed service users. To facilitate close connections and collaboration, “classrooms” are kept small, typically with only twenty to thirty students.  The school’s most popular courses, business management and computer science, offer lessons that are applicable anywhere in the world, regardless of local language and customs.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of University of the People is the professors themselves. Over 2500 professors donated multiple hours of their time to dedicate to their one true love: teaching.

‘‘We’re only beginning to see the benefit of what goes on between people in settings like this that bring learning across borders,’’ Shai said. ‘‘I can imagine this being a model for all kinds of projects that will change the world.’’