When Shai Reshef started a free online university called University of the People nearly 15 years ago, skepticism was high. Online education was viewed as a poor substitute for in-person study, and anyway, how could something free be financially sustainable?
Today, the college has won accreditation. It has grown to serve 126,000 students. And it has some 37,000 volunteers. Its student body comes from all around the world, though 51 percent are first-generation students living in the U.S. And it has worked to support students who have unique obstacles to higher ed, including more than 16,000 refugees.
The University of the People has found a way to keep going and growing — with a basic model of requiring fees for taking the final assessments, and offering financial aid for those who can’t afford to do even that. It has also come up with plenty of clever ways to keep costs