A Free Online University Has Grown to 126,000 Students. What Can It Teach Traditional Colleges?

A Free Online University Has Grown to 126,000 Students. What Can It Teach Traditional Colleges?

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

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To save traditional Mohawk basketry, Akwesasne uses biology to outsmart the emerald ash borer

To save traditional Mohawk basketry, Akwesasne uses biology to outsmart the emerald ash borer

When the emerald ash borer was first discovered in Akwesasne Mohawk territory in 2016, it was a painful blow. Not only are ash trees essential parts of the forest, but they’re also the raw material for the basket-making tradition that’s at the heart of Mohawk culture.

To save traditional Mohawk basketry, Akwesasne uses biology to outsmart the emerald ash borer

Artists like Carrie Hill rely on ash trees as the primary material for their basketry. Hogansburg, NY. October 2019. Photo: Amy Feiereisel

So when scientists in Akwesasne took on how to stop the beetles from devouring all the ash trees, they started by observing how the insects kill a tree.

“They carve these very characteristic feeding galleries, which are like tunnels,” said Jessica Raspitha, land resources program manager for the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe’s environment division. “Over time, that damage gets so excessive that it cuts off the vascular tissue, which prevents it from transporting the water nutrients through the

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